Monday, October 22, 2012

Who can best pilot America's killer robots?

Mitt and Obama should just cut the crap tonight and get down to demo-ing their mastery of the hardware. The winning candidate's answers will sound closest to this dude showing us features from the latest Call of Duty game.

Anyway Obama has probably got this one nailed. Hard to compete with this argument from Greenwald.

But if there is one thing the 2008 campaign should have permanently taught, it is that campaign rhetoric often bears little relationship to what a person will do once empowered. More important, it is almost certainly the case that an Obama-led attack on Iran would generate far more public support than a Romney-led attack, because most Democrats will almost certainly cheer for the former while pretending to be horrified by the latter, will while Republicans would support both (that's the dynamic that made the very same "counter-terrorism" policies that were so divisive in the Bush years become wildly popular once Obama embraced them).

That's true on the international level as well. Recall the 2008 CIA report fretting about growing anti-war sentiment in western Europe and concluding that the best weapon to safeguard against its continuation would be the election of Obama. That's because, the CIA presciently realized, Obama's election would massively increase public support for US wars because it would be a kind, sophisticated, progressive constitutional scholar rather than a swaggering, evangelical Texas cowboy who would be the face of them. Add to all that the Nixon-to-China dynamic - just as only a conservative president could have established relations with the Chinese Communists, arguably only a Democratic president could start a new war in the Muslim world, cut Social Security, etc. - and the picture is far more muddled than many like to depict it as being.


Charles said...

Many of these points are why I do think it's offensive for Democrats to shame progressive third party voters.

Charles said...

"Elections matter" but only the immediate one, apparently. Kind of leaves us stuck in the trap described above.

oyster said...

"But if there is one thing the 2008 campaign should have permanently taught, it is that campaign rhetoric often bears little relationship to what a person will do once empowered."

Sometimes I forget that Greenwald hasn't studied politics all that long a time. But then I read a statement like that one and its difficult to put it aside. Once Greenwald realizes that policy talk on the campaign trail is mostly about political positioning, he could probably save himself a lot subsequent bewilderment. (Not saying his moral arguments aren't righteous, in a good way, but he apparently has some bedrock assumptions about politics and perhaps history that need to be unpacked and scrutinized.)

Presidential campaign politics is highly absurd. HST understood that. Expectations about campaign promise-keeping... are almost childish. Haven't we learned this before-- gracious-- 2008? Candidate says X,Y and Z to get elected. THen, hoo boy, the candidate gets into office and someone explains to, say, Bill Clinton in 1992 that the bond market calls the shots and all his budget numbers are way off and he has to dial back half of his economic promises from the campaign trail (or else piss off the country, or the Establishment Elites, and lame duck onetermer from Day 1). Or there's a guy with a black book of classified intel secrets and the newly elected President reads it and is never the same again. Or there's an international or domestic crisis, and everything changes. Nothing's more useless to analyze a candidate than a campaign platform or "plan".

One would do better to figure out why Dick Cheney was chuckling evilly about why he didn't expect Obama to close Guantanamo, stop torturous interrogations, drones... etc. (I don't claim to know why, but that sent a shiver up my spine when Cheney said that, and he's been largely proven right... That would be something worth finding out. Does the CIA have a veto on the President? How is this expressed... etc. [Of course that assumes that Obama was serious about these matters, most of which are Greenwald's top issues== perhaps not== it's hard for me to know])

But the sophistry can work both ways-- for example, nothing Lyndon Johnson said before he became VP would've led anyone to conclude he would sign Civil Right legislation and (at least) declare a War on Poverty. In 68, Tricky Dick ran on Law and Order and his secret plan for peace (read: bomb Viets in cambodia and create the conditions for the Khmer Rouge). He didn't run on setting up the EPA... but he did.

I'm just trying to explain a couple things I think I know that perhaps Greenwald still doesn't. (I'm sure Greenwald could have a much longer conversation with me about all kinds of things he knows that I don't.) ANd I'm Not trying justify, defend, analogize, or predict.

Now the quote below, found later in GG's post, almost as an aside, is qualified as being possibly naive. In my opinion, his general point about the power of ideas and subversion and destruction and strategy is-- however seemingly idealistic or unattainable at this particular historical moment-- not naive at all, if you remember that our insipid, broken political system/process/discourse is not the only vehicle or venue for such notions.

"It may be a form of naiveté, but I believe in the power of reason, ideas and - especially - persuasion, as well as the ability of any structure built by human beings to be subverted - torn down and replaced - by other human beings if the right passion is invoked and the right strategy found."

jeffrey said...

I don't disagree. Clearly the campaigns are more about creating pretty advertisements than they are about earnest policy discussion. Just below here I wrote a blurb around that very point. Happily for us and for Greenwald, though, we are not running for office. And so unencumbered by the political imperatives that come with campaigning, we are free to use these occasions to talk about what's important as opposed to what voters might find gratifying to hear.

You can say Greenwald is being naive in the way he presents this. "Remember the broken promises of 2008" certainly sounds silly. But it's not important. Like you, I don't read him for political analysis and I don't think a naive sounding phrasing blunts his purpose. We have a right if not an obligation to demand that the public discourse
accompanying our elections be about actual things rather than messages
even if we don't expect those demands will be met.

oyster said...

I know, but I'm frustrated on a quadrennial basis that the "issues" discourse heats up precisely when it least counts-- during a presidential campaign. "Swing" voters will say they want to hear about "issues" and "detailed plans", but they often vote because of how the candidate presents the issues rather than the actual policy substance. (Or worse, they're swayed by incomprehensibly pettier things.) It's like we-- generic "we"-- wake up every four years and ask, "Why is this system so broken and idiotic?!"

The debates are theater and even the "fact-check" segments on the meager substance are impossibly stupid. And the larger, moral and political principles-- duly and tenaciously noted by Greenwald-- are not even on the radar.

I keep waiting for this absurd's snake tail to bite and eat itself-- the foundations of this system of inert, perma-campaigns can't be that strong.

What interests me most about what Greenwald said was the disclosure that he's an idealist about strategy. Me too! Not only can it work (electoral) wonders in the current absurd corporate-media-political complex (See: Carville or Rove or Plouffe), but I think it could be used to infiltrate and expose the system from within perhaps by using the rampant absurdity against itself (a la Colbert or Onion or Yes Man campaign).

I don't know-- maybe I'm the wacko, thinking the apple cart can be so easily upset. But it just seems so clear to me. I get frustrated with 3rd parties and a lot of leftists for their lack of long-term strategy. Somerby's bemoaned the lack of a sharp left wing punditocracy daily, for over a dozen years. Yet I can name a dozen effective right wing scripts for every decent left wing script. The left wing is just a response-mechanism to right wing "outrages". ANd moderates are... I dunno... the sober guardians of whatever moderate GOP idea was in vogue twenty years ago.

Among other things, you need to plan eight or twelve years in advance. In other words, you need to have a strategy. I don't want to be reading Greenwald or Somerby banging his head against the wall in 2024. Are any Progressives Dems (or Greens or independents or libertarians) actively planning anything(?) for the long-term? Sure, you gotta strike while the iron's hot, but you also need a long-term gameplan that goes beyond "Let's really heat up the complaints about the entrenched system four years from now."

To use one example. Three years ago, if Gary Johnson had any serious presidential hopes, he would've left the GOP because he would understand that his views on drug legalization would never fly in a GOP primary. It's a dealbreaker. He could've declared himself Libertarian and used his position as Governorship to make all kinds of noise, and get the Tea Party/Libertarian/Paulites interested. Then he might actually be at six or eight percent nationally right now, and at least get on Meet the Press (as Nader did several times in Presidential election years) and truly make some noise about not being included in the debates.

He did none of that.. yet he still might be a difference-maker if the election is close. That's pretty interesting to someone like me, who didn't know who the hell Johnson was two years ago. With almost no effective long-term strategy, he could conceivably make a difference in a close national Presidential election.

What if, instead, he had spent the past four years doing everything "right" from a strategic perspective? It's hard for me to even imagine how much he would've effected the dynamics of the race.