Where Lincoln is Iffy

(Via Politico’s Jonathan Martin)

According to the Washington Times’ Ralph Z. Hallow and Stephen Dinan, presidential candidate Rudy Guiliani was on a roll at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) convention, until he screwed up and started praising…Abraham Lincoln!

In interviews afterward, some attendees said Mr. Giuliani lost momentum when he heaped lavish praise on Abraham Lincoln.
    While many conservatives regard the Civil War president as the spiritual founder of the Republican Party, others deeply resent him as a man who ruthlessly suspended constitutional rights and freedoms in order to militarily challenge the South’s belief in its right to secede. Some saw similar disdain for individuals’ rights in Mr. Giuliani’s successful war on crime in New York City.
    Mr. Giuliani took the side of the Bush administration on an issue that troubles civil libertarian conservatives, saying that “you need the tools like the Patriot Act and legal intelligence surveillance.”
    “Rudy thought he was addressing a Republican audience,” said Mike Long, chairman of the New York State Conservative Party. “Mitt understood this is an audience of people who are conservatives first.” 

Implying, of course, that Mitt Romney wouldn’t be dumb enough to go around saying nice things about the Great Emancipator at a convention of conservatives.

This is the flip side, I suppose, of Bush defenders invoking Lincoln’s and FDR’s wartime transgressions against the Constitution to justify what’s going on today.  To some, this doesn’t elevate Bush.  To the extent that the comparison is seen as apt, it degrades Lincoln and FDR.  

Nonetheless…I am astonished that Lincoln could possibly be controversial at an allegedly mainstream political gathering in the United States in 2007.  The Washington Times is a friend to the right-wing, God knows.  Did the reporters get this story right?
 

John Edwards’ Blog Lesson*

If you know this blog, you know I tend to stay away from the stuff that other bloggers go on and on about.  The bigger the meme, the more room I give it to roll on through. But the story of John Edwards and the two bloggers he hired and then had to let resign (or whatever), is so mysterious, it’s been nagging at me, so I have to discuss it.

I don’t think Amanda Marcotte is a bigot.  On her site, Pandagon, she says she is “pro-sex, pro-feminist, pro-freedom,” which is like motherhood and apple pie, baseball, hot dogs and Chevrolet as far as I’m concerned.  She’s got a mean streak, no question, and she lets fly with harsh and graphic sarcasm particularly in response to organizations like the Catholic church that, in her view, repress women. 

She’s not the first feminist to feel rage like this against the Catholic church.  Remember Madonna, dancing in front of a burning cross?  Or Sinead O’Connor, ripping up a picture of the Pope?  I’m a guy, so I don’t feel this rage, but I’m hardly in a position to begrudge her the feelings she has. But anyway, it’s not like she’s obsessed with the topic.  She can be a charming and perceptive writer, and she’s energetic in her approach to blogging.

Melissa McEwan also seems like a bright young writer with a progressive bent, for whom the “anti-Catholic” charge was a bad rap.  However, she is also a fierce feminist who refers to herself as “Queen Cunt of Fuck Mountain,” and to the religious right as “Christofascists.” 

If you read a lot of blogs, especially on the progressive side, this kind of language is fairly typical.  It is not aimed solely at religious people; it’s aimed at conservatives, Republicans, DLC Democrats, Joe Lieberman Democrats, the media especially Fox News… It’s how they express themselves. 

If asked, I would tell all these progressive bloggers that words like “fucktard” and “Bushitler” are getting tired.  They aren’t persuasive, they’re alienating.  But it’s the language they seem to enjoy, and the Internet was made for this kind of thing.

Amanda was supposed to be the blogmaster for candidate Edwards, and Melissa was supposed to serve as a liaison to the extensive blogger network of progressives.  They had both settled in North Carolina to assume their new jobs.  But then Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League released a statement demanding they both be fired.  Edwards didn’t fire them, but he publicly disassociated himself from the things they’d said in their blogs, and, inevitably, both resigned within days.  

Marcotte and McEwan had done nothing new to warrant Edwards’ scolding statement, nor the termination of their political careers, between the time of their hiring and the time the controversy surfaced.  If the campaign had done minimal due diligence, they would have known the kind of electronic paper trail these bloggers had left behind.  They must have done this. So why did Edwards hire them? 

Presumably, the campaign knew that anytime a journalist or commentator is hired by a politician — never mind if they use a blog as their medium — their past words will be thrown in their face.  Pat Buchanan is the most famous columnist to serve stints on the White House communications staff, and there was no shortage of adversaries who tried to hang intemperate words he wrote as a journalist around the presidents he served.  Sidney Blumenthal had the same experience when he worked for Clinton.  (His response was to become even more outrageous as a political aide than he’d ever been as a writer.)

The most recent example before Marcotte and McEwan is White House Press Secretary Tony Snow. ThinkProgress, a progressive site, had a ton of fun finding critical things Snow had said about his new boss, President Bush — calling Bush “an embarassment” and “impotent.”  For some reason, Bush looked past this record and hired Snow anyway, and any controversy about it died quickly.  But Bush is a lame-duck president.  Edwards is a candidate, a dark horse, running for the nomination of a party where big-city Catholics are important.

Lots of Catholics will vote for a pro-choice candidate.  They’ll vote for Democrats, knowing that among their elites are many who disdain their faith.  But they’ll have a hard time swallowing a candidate who embraces people who seem to have no reverance for their beliefs whatsoever.  To quote Donohue:

“Writing on the Pandagon blogsite, December 26, 2006, Amanda Marcotte wrote that ‘the Catholic church is not about to let something like compassion for girls get in the way of using the state as an instrument to force women to bear more tithing Catholics.’ On October 9, 2006, she said that ‘the Pope’s gotta tell women who give birth to stillborns that their babies are cast into Satan’s maw.’ On the same day she wrote that ‘it’s going to be bad PR for the church, so you can sort of see why the Pope is dragging ass.’ And on June 14, 2006, she offered the following Q&A: ‘What if Mary had taken Plan B after the Lord filled her with his hot, white, sticky Holy Spirit,’ to which she replied, ‘You’d have to justify your misogyny with another ancient mythology.’ 

This kind of colorful talk — which goes way beyond commenting on the church’s anti-choice stance — is something no mainstream campaign could tolerate.  Edwards’ people should have found it, and it should have stopped them in their tracks.  Forget the Catholic League.  Edwards’ political rivals would have hauled this stuff out.  It’s often forgotten that the first candidate to attack Michael Dukakis for releasing rapist-murderer Willie Horton on a weekend prison furlough was not George H.W. Bush, but Al Gore.  Gore didn’t put the racial twist on the story that Bush did; but he looked for the weak spot, found it, used it, and then left it for the Republicans to pick up in due course.

You think Hilary Clinton would do any different?  But say she didn’t.  Say the Marcotte/McEwan writings had gone unexposed until the November campaign — perhaps against GOP nominee and (pro-choice) Catholic Rudy Guiliani.  You think Guiliani’s campaign would have been able to resist grandstanding to the faithful about these ‘blasphemous’ campaign aides?

The rules of politics haven’t changed just because of the Internet.  If anything, they’ve been reinforced and accelerated.  Hard-core, wild-west, shit-stirring bloggers have no more place on a political campaign than slash-and-burn op-ed columnists did; and it was unprofessional of the Edwards campaign to think otherwise. 

I don’t feel bad for Marcotte and McEwan.  In the short run, their lives are disrupted, but this controversy could end up making their careers in the field where they are best qualified — as writers. 

But I keep thinking about Edwards, who made his zillions as a plaintiff’s lawyer suing doctors and hospitals.  Litigators like him know the “gotcha” game better than anyone on the planet.  One stray word that strengthens their case, and they will hammer the defendent with it until they’ve reduced them to bloody pulp.  How could people working in his name not have seen what was inevitably coming?

*UPDATE:  Happened to run across a post by Dan Gerstein in The Politico.  Gerstein, was communications director for Sen. Lieberman’s general election campaign win over netroots’ crush Ned Lamont.  He assails the liberal blogosphere for its unquestioning defense of Marcotte and McEwan:

But the reality is, as I experienced over and over again in the Lamont-Lieberman race, this is the liberal blogosphere’s standard-less operating procedure. They have decided that the best way to fight the “right-wing smear machine” that they so despise is to create an even more venomous, boundary-less, and destructive counterpart and fight ire with more ire.

It also goes to show just how deeply most liberal bloggers believe that Republicans and conservative are morally illegitimate, and as such, any criticism or argument made by the other side is on its face corrupt and dismissible. If it is said by Catholic League President Bill Donohue, who has a history of controversial statements himself, it automatically becomes invalid, no matter the inherent integrity of the underlying proposition.

What these liberal bloggers fail to appreciate is that this petty, polarizing approach is not how you ultimately win in politics – especially in an era when most average voters outside the ideological extremes are fed up with the shrill, reflexive partisanship that dominates Washington, and when the fastest growing party in America is no party.

The blogger bomb-throwing may be good for inflaming the activist base, and, as they demonstrated in the 2006 Lieberman-Lamont Senate primary race in Connecticut, for occasionally blowing up the opposition. It’s not bad for bullying your friends, either, as the liberal blogosphere did last week in pressuring Edwards to not fire the two bloggers who penned the offensive anti-religious posts.

But the typical blog mix of insults and incitements is just not an effective strategy for persuading people outside of your circle of belief – be they moderate Democrats, moderate Republicans, or the swelling number of independents – to join your cause. In fact, it’s far more likely to alienate than propagate them. 

*ANOTHER UPDATE:  Thinking about this issue, I remembered another unlikely combination between a politician and an out-of-control writer:  Jimmy Carter and Hunter S. Thompson.  But Thompson was never more than an “unofficial advisor” to the future president.  This post is a Thompson bio that includes the story of his visits to Plains, Ga.

Legacy Fever: Predicting the Next Two Years

George W. Bush is going to be focused on his legacy for the next two years. He doesn’t want his legacy to be 9/11 or the war in Iraq. Merely coping with a crisis does not give a president a prominent place in history. Certainly the Iraq war will leave a mixed legacy at best — toppling Hussein was good, but the handling of the insurgency was terrible. Anyway, the war’s final reckoning we won’t know for a long time, if ever. The nature of what the neocons were thinking when they decided to invade Iraq ironically cancels out the potential for historical credit.

For example:  If Britain had invaded Germany when Hitler marched his armies into the Rhineland in 1936 in violation of the treaty of Locarno, the Nazis would have been defeated, Hitler likely deposed and, we know now, perhaps 50 million lives would have been saved. But no one would know about that now, because history only runs forward, not backward. Such a move by Britain might have been seen as unwarranted aggression at the time, and infamous for the rest of history. That’s why the British government didn’t do it, even though they had a right to, and the dead from WWII would wish for it.

I think the neocons around Bush were determined to jump ahead of the curve of history. We’ll never really know if what they did saved any lives from, say, a nuclear Hussein. Right now, it mostly looks like a bloody mess, and the neocons are finished.  The dismissal of Rumsfeld closes that chapter, even though the war grinds on.

So where will Bush turn to build a legacy? Every president of my lifetime has left at least one positive thing for which history will remember them. In some cases the fulfillment of their legacy occurred after they left office.

Eisenhower — The Interstate Highway system.

Kennedy — The Apollo program.

Johnson — the Civil Rights bill, Voting Rights Act and similar measures to fulfill the promise of equal rights for all Americans.

Nixon — Opening up China

Ford — Pardoning Nixon, which wrapped up the Watergate episode.

Carter — Arab/Israeli peace accords

Reagan — Taming inflation for a generation; peacefully ending the Cold War.

Bush 41 — Winning the first Gulf War (which inspired the Coen Brothers classic “The Big Lebowski.”)

Clinton — Welfare reform, NAFTA.

Bush 43 has done nothing comparable.  If his presidency ended today, he’d be seen as the president who was on duty on 9/11, and rallied the nation.  But that’s not a legacy, and in fact one could argue that he has failed to persuade the entire country that we are really at war with Islamic fundamentalists. Bush turned it into a divisive political issue — although I can’t put all the blame for that on him.  He’d also be seen as the president who topped Hussein, but at this point, that looks like an outrageously costly accomplishment — although maybe history will judge it differently.

I don’t think Bush will be satisfied to leave things that way.  Oh, it’s possible.  He might already be doing the Crawford Countdown.  There was always an element of truth in Will Farrell’s Bush parodies in 2000, in which Bush seemed ambivalent about being president, seeing as how it was such a hard job.  But I tend to think by now, he hungers for respect and validation from future historians.  So what will he do?

Given the current makeup of Congress, it will have to be bipartisan.  I’m going to guess that he’s going to take another run at Social Security.  Saving that program from the baby-boom bulge would be something to point to. My guess is that’s what he’ll try.

I know what he’d really like.  The liberal side of W has to do with immigration.  He sincerely believes that the illegal aliens working in this country now should become citizens, in some way. It’s good for business, and it’s humanitarian; that’s how he sees it.  Maybe he’ll go in that direction, but if he did, I think the politics would be explosive.  Not only would the Republican party fall apart, but significant parts of the Democratic party might be tempted to redefine itself as a nationalist party, the party of Lou Dobbs, as Slate’s Jacob Weisberg puts it today.

Most of those (Democrats) who reclaimed Republican seats ran hard against free trade, globalization, and any sort of moderate immigration policy. That these Democrats won makes it likely that others will take up their reactionary call. Some of the newcomers may even be foolish enough to try to govern on the basis of their misguided theory.

Until we know where Bush is going to take his legacy fever — and until we know if he even has one — it’s impossible to really predict the 2008 election.   The next two years will set it up, just as Clinton’s last two years set up the trainwreck of 2000.