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June 29, 2007


Then, document in excruciating detail the ways in which countries violate those treaties & fail to live up to those pretty abstract nouns--write reports full of concrete names of villages, the names of prisons, the names and numbers of the dead, the dates.


This is, of course, a very old argument. Here it is in poem form, by Langston Hughes in 1938.

My God, Katherine...you made my heart race.

Katherine: thanks. This is wonderful.

Thanks for taking the time to write this very fine post. I hadn't read that Douglass speech before; it is quite impressive.

Use these stories by all means, and give them as much life as you can. But let's not deceive ourselves about how much they are asperations, and how much realities.

The Hughes is a great treatment of this contradiction. Thanks for the link.

Katherine: A profound and exceptional post.

This may be the best blog post I've ever read.

This may be the best blog post I've ever read.

Katherine wins the blog!

Thank you Katherine. You've brought tears to my eyes with this excellent post.

Distinctions and questions later. Much later.

I've reposted on my own relatively trivial blog here, but I'm not sure how much or little Katherine would think is appropriate. I'll edit down or out any portions Katherine thinks is appropriate, the moment she makes contact with me.

How much would it cost to buy enough space in the NYT to print this there?

Re-post all you want, Gary--coming from such an exacting critic, that's got to be the most gratifying blog-comment I've ever read.

(If the title sounds vaguely familiar, it's because it came from me mis-remembering a line from "My Back Pages").

When I first checked the length of this post, as I always do for some reason (laziness?), I thought "Wow, this is a long one." Having read it, it now seems short. So, Katherine, will you marry me?

From a fellow Chicagoan, thank you. (At least I think you are from Chicago.)

If not, thank you anyway.

Jefferson Might Not Agree ...someone over at Pat Lang's place called "peter principle". The comments are good. Pat himself in the previous piece was pessimistic. I am really expecting a precipice before Bush/Cheney leave office, if they leave. But Bush/Cheney are only the immediate agents, just as Sulla or Caesar weren't the reasons the Republic fell.

"It is in the nature of things for republics, if successful enough, to evolve into empires. It is certainly unrealistic to expect a global superpower like the United States, with worldwide political and economic interests requiring the worldwide projection of military power, to remain one indefinitely."

Rome kept its Republic for as long as it had Carthage and other competitors. With the Fall of the Soviet Union the American Republic died also.

Katherine, you are young and committed and energetic. Take your ideals overseas. Italy and Germany are at least talking crminal trials.

The rest of the world still cares, will need protection from America, and might be encouraged by an idealistic ex-patriot. You can help them. A year from now it may be more difficult to get out.

It's over for America, although the bread & circuses will remain. But we are damned, and beyond redemption. Best hope for individuals of conscience is self-exile.

great post - internet has been out this afternoon, but i will comment later. very well done though

On the one hand, it's nice to see bob mcmanus back. But on the other, it's over for America.

How much would it cost to buy enough space in the NYT to print this there?

NYT? Nah - preaching to the choir anyway. I’m thinking a dramatic reading by James Earl Jones, Battle Hymn of the Republic (yes, I do know that is kind of an unofficial Republican theme song, that is the point) or some such as background music. YouTube. The views would dwarf the NYT circulation numbers. ;)

What I take away from this post is that it's okay for me to keep believing in American exceptionalism. I'm not sure that was the intended message.

The Founders, after all, believed they were establishing something special, even though they were condoning slavery and all sorts of other bad things. Lincoln, in his Cooper Union address, made the case that the majority of the Founders wanted to see slavery die out; clearly, they didn't think this was politically feasible in their time, but they laid the framework for things to hopefully get better, and eventually they did.

There are all kinds of atrocities in the history of this nation. For the most part, we've learned from them and resolved to do better. Not too long ago, we fought a war where we kept citizens of enemy ancestry in camps; does anyone really want to argue that we've made no moral progress as a nation just because Michelle Malkin still thinks it was a good idea? Come on.

I think we've learned a lot of moral lessons over the years. We have our occasional relapses, but as a society we're structured to evolve and we always manage to do so. The things we're guilty of in connection with the present war pale in comparison to examples from the history books. That doesn't mean we should dismiss them, but neither does it mean we're in some irredeemable state of ultimate sin. We've come a long way from the days of slavery and I see no reason why we shouldn't continue to progress.

The Founders knew that even though their generation wasn't going to fix everything that was wrong with America, there was still plenty of room for future generations to make things better. I still feel the same way.

The other things I wanted to note are:

(1) there's actually nothing magical about a date or a town's name or a person's name that prevents it from being used to justify something terrible. E.g. the function that "9/11" sometimes serves, or the function that his brother's name apparently serves for this Mahdi army commander. If you want to argue that someone killing your brother doesn't justify murdering Sunni civilians, you're probably going to end up invoking abstract concepts like "human dignity" and "civilians" and "murder".

(2) Contrary to publius, I don't think that arguments about values are all that much more susceptible to manipulation or misuse or lack of careful thought about the consequences of one's actions than arguments about interests. Maybe George W. Bush's dumb foreign policy mistakes emerge from his infatuation with shining-city-on-a-hill talk; I'll bet you that Dick Cheney's do not. But Cheney's "one percent doctrine" is no better thought out & corresponds no better to actual protection of U.S. interests than Bush's speeches correspond to actual support for human rights.

What is different is that politicians' arguments about "values" are more likely to be consciously insincere than their arguments about interests. But that's sort of a separate problem.

I don't see Katherine supporting American exceptionalism at all; she's stating that she will continue to work for the cause of liberty and justice, despite the fact that those terms have been used, and continue to be used, to prop up American exceptionalism.

Ah, people, this post couldn't be that good--Michiko Kakutani just did an appreciative review of Andrew Keen's book on the Internet and how the Internet is just ruining public discourse. You need editorial gatekeepers if you want to match the quality of thought we get on a weekly basis from the likes of Maureen Dowd or Thomas Friedman.

Sarcasm aside, this was a superb post, and OCSteve, I think the NYT could only be improved by having it appear in their pages. (Of course, there are days when I catch one of our cat's hairballs on the NYT and it reads better to me. So to praise Katherine's post adequately I'd say it's not far short of Douglas or Garrison.) I don't quite get the sociology of the NYT reader--supposedly liberal, yet the paper is one of the chief purveyors of the myth of our noble intentions. Who is this supposed to fool?

I don't object to the noble dreams that America is supposed to stand for. What I mind is any pretense that we consistently act on those ideals in our foreign policy. And there's a lot of pretense on this subject, in the NYT and overwhelmingly so in our presidential campaigns.

Excellent post, Katherine. I appreciate the defense of American exceptionalism, but I fear we have gotten so used to accepting the notion of American exceptionalism that it doesn't allow us to even consider the possibility that we are wrong in our actions. For us to reject American exceptionalism rather than try to rehabilitate it in a benign form would requires a massive dose of humility, which seems to me to be just what is needed now. Perhaps it is just that Bob McManus is back (yah!), but I think sometimes, you need to take things completely apart before reassembling them rather than trying to rig the structures to work for another few decades or so. Of course, if America could do that, it would stand as the greatest proof of some sort of American exceptionalism existing as a force for good.

I think American exceptionalism is good as an aspiration, and bad as an assumption about the way things already are. Assuming your country (or your self) is already great, without your having to work at it, is always a bad idea; trying to make your country as great as it can possibly be, on the other hand, never is.

I always wondered what "girls' faces form the forward path" could have possibly meant.

Katherine, do you write professionally anywhere?

It completely depends on what you mean by "American exceptionalism". You can view it as:
(1) pride that your country formally committed itself, early on, to certain worthy ethical principles, & an obligation to make sure you continue to live up to them
(2) an empirical description of America's historical role
(3) as a license to do whatever we want because we stand for freedom and democracy and apple pie and God loves us and we're awesome.

I like (1). (2) is self serving & grossly exaggerated & I have less patience for it every day--it seems to lead into (3), which I despise.

DJ: Can you provide a link to the Kakutani?

How is it even fathomable that a network that allows people to communicate -- that lowers the costs and barriers to communication -- could ruin public discourse? This is like arguing that consumer do worse off when we give them more choices, all other things being equal. I'd expect that kind of sophistry from the Commissariat.

The net just threatens Kakutani's cultural centrality, likely all her fantasies of being a gatekeeper of the culture. And it *really* seems to threaten the fiction she loves, for reasons I can't quite place. She's just reacting.

I always wondered what "girls' faces form the forward path" could have possibly meant.

Well, people mostly have good intentions toward young girls, so it makes a certain surreal sense to pave the road with their faces....

The secret about Michiko Kakutani revealed!

"Girls' faces formed the forward path
From phony jealousy
To memorizing politics
Of ancient history"

"Talking earnestly about political theory helped me get laid"?

This may sound like a weird question, but when did "American exceptionalism" come to mean that we were divinely endowed with the right to tell everyone else what to do, or that our wonderfulness was so unquestionable that whatever policies we pursue are the correct ones simply by virtue of the fact that it's us pursuing them?

See, I was taught that the phrase referred to something entirely different: the particulars of America's founding. Our "exceptionalism" meant one: that we would not have an aristocracy or a monarch, that our leadership would be chosen from among the citizenry by citizens; and two, that our political systems and governing philosophy were based directly, even explicitly, on the precepts of Enlightenment philosophers.

America was exceptional because its political system was to be based on ideas, rather than on ethnic/religious* identity or classist distinctions. No other country had ever done that before. The sense of special virtue was limited to perpetuating those ideas in America, not anywhere else. If other countries wanted to use us as a model, that was fine, even desireable. But it never meant that we were uniquely qualified to Rule the World - as Ben Franklin noted, we'd have enough of a job to do keeping our own Republic.

*I get really, really angry when I hear people say this is a "Christian" nation, or that it was founded on "Christian" ideals. It isn't, and it wasn't. The Founders were very, very clear about keeping religion out of politics, no matter how many times they mentioned a Creator or Providence.

Good question. I've always understood American exceptionalism to be a secular form of Manifest Destiny, which, to me, gives it less of a leg to stand on, which makes me think that it evolved into the understanding that you have. But I'm not sure who is right.

I'll put the Kakutani link below. When I do links, strange unplanned things tend to happen, so it's safest to save them for the end.

Part of Keen's point is correct--blogs are no substitute for actual reporters. Somebody's gotta pay for that. But as far as commentary goes, the only NYT columnist consistently as good as the best blogs is, IMO, Krugman. And a lot of the so-called news in the news portion of the NYT is commentary, IMO. It's also rich to see Keen blaming the masses for the Iraq War. Anyway, this is a side issue--I liked Katherine's post a lot and don't mean to take the thread too far off on a tangent.

Buns and chou-chou (a couple of rabbits) had a pretty good interview with Keen over at Salon about a week ago. It was as good as the Kakutani piece. Strike another blow for the web.


Historically, American exceptionalism goes back to (among other things) the first Separatist colonists. (The Separatists were the extremists of the Puritan movement; most Puritans felt they could lead their lives without cutting themselves off from everything they thought of as civilization.)

Donald Johnson: I don't quite get the sociology of the NYT reader--supposedly liberal, yet the paper is one of the chief purveyors of the myth of our noble intentions. Who is this supposed to fool?

Ask me again another day. I don’t want to go OT here on any of the usual arguments. This is my favorite Katherine post by far and I don’t want to say anything other than great job here (which is what was intended with my last).

So once again: terrific post Katherine.

i like your description of how human-rights agencies get bad actors to publicly sign on to fine ideals, and then work hard to hold the bastards to them.

sure, words are a dime a dozen, and tyrants can sign treaties with no intention of following them. but it actually turns out to be harder to backslide when you have taken a public stand.

a bit like publicly declaring that you are going to be a vegetarian; it makes it that much harder to order a burger when you're next out with friends. (the social world is essential here, or its international diplomatic/public opinion analogue, since the new sanction comes from loss of face, loss of standing, etc.)

i remember reading somewhere the phrase that "hypocrisy is the pawl in the ratchet of moral progress". it enables forward progress by making it harder to slide back. the former racist does not unlearn racist thoughts in a day; they learn hypocrisy first. but their children may grow up in a less overtly racist environment as a result of it. and that can have good effects.

anyhow--yeah, fabulous post. why the hell could people like douglas and lincoln write that way back then, and nobody now?

initial comments on second read

first, i agree with everyone else here that this was a great post -- you rarely feel fire in a post, but htis one had it. second, this took a crapload of research and time. third, you're at the top of your rhetorical game here (and i say that as a compliment).

On to the substance, in a sense, I think we basically want the same thing. We both want a foreign policy based on reality. (The Farewell to Arms quote is one of my favorites, by the way). We want people to know the villages, the names, etc., rather than just relying on the abstract words as illusions.

And we've offered different views on that. i want to run from the words altogether, and you want to fight for them (not ceding them to Shrub & Pals). If you imagine the word "freedom" as an open arena, you want to fight the Bushes of the world and reclaim that word for the good guys. As Douglass did, you want to work within the concepts and reflect them back powerfully rather than burning the whole thing down.

either way, the goal is the same. we want people to be aware of reality. The question is how exactly to make that happen, and this is where I'm having my doubts. (But I'd love to be convinced -- i'm cynical but cynics are simply Romantics scorned.)

I guess the question is does it work? I feel like we've tried to point out the names, we've tried to point out the deaths, we've tried to point out the torture, but it doesn't work. Even right before and after the 2006 election, the Dems were too chickenshit to block habeas repeal.

My fear is this -- the public has this abstract illusions that their country is an unmitigated force for good stuck in their head and quite literally blocks the names and villages from penetrating. in a perverse way, standing and fighting for those words legitimates them, which may (again perversely) reinforce the problem. If that's true, then maybe the answer is to abandon them (the concepts, the words) and relentlessly focus on the concrete. Again, it's an over-correction.

That said, I get a bit sick reading myself say this. Your post was inspiring and - like Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi - I could feel the good in me fighting to get out.

To turn this into a therapy session, I think my distaste for these words is a contingent product of coming of political age in the Bush era. The events and actions speak for themselves. But the think that drives me absolutely postiviely ballistic is when I read some DC Democrat say "we've ceded the moral high ground to the GOP" or "We can't let the GOP be the party of idealism." I get mad just thinking about it.

And the reason is this -- the very fact that this person could write that is itself indicative of a big f-ing problem. The problem is that people think words are the same as values. Bush can start wars, torture people, break laws, but he uses fluffy words, AND PEOPLE PAY MORE ATTENTION TO THE DAMN WORDS. That's what drives me absolutely crazy. That's also what drives me so crazy about Lieberman -- casting these horrific actions as high-minded moral ideals.

And so, largely because of DC Democratic elites, I have an almost visceral reaction when i hear many of hte values words. It's not only that they've been recited so much, it's that THEY WORK. The reason the bottom hasn't fallen out is b/c a lot of people think we are fighting evil, etc.

To your credit, you recognize this, and basically say "Get the Hell Up and Fight Back. Wrestle the concepts from them."

It's an inspiring post, and something I'll think about. I just wish it would work. Even today, the declining support for the GOP is b/c of the war. It is NOT b/c of torture, habeas, and the things you hilzoy have spoken so powerfully about.

And yes, I recognize this a snotty, elitist-sounding post. And I loathe that as well, and I'll probably feel guilty after writing. But I"m just so incredibly frustrated with our nation's choices right now. I'm so incredibly frustrated that even today the public really doesn't care about torture or habeas.

I'm probably just looking for a scapegoat. Maybe I've found the wrong one in abstract values.

Anyway, good post -- hope to see many more.

On the DC Democratic elite point, let me be more clear. It makes me mad (enraged actually) that any sentient human being (much less a Democratic foreign policy expert) could assess Bush's actions and conclude "the GOP has the moral high ground." It's just enraging to see them so hung up on the words that they lose sight of reality.

And this is just Hemingway again - the words are obscene (and your hyperlinks illustrate this perfectly).

[At the old pad, I tried to do a similar contrast after the Second Inaugural - here.]

It's an inspiring post, and something I'll think about. I just wish it would work. Even today, the declining support for the GOP is b/c of the war. It is NOT b/c of torture, habeas, and the things you hilzoy have spoken so powerfully about.

And yes, I recognize this a snotty, elitist-sounding post. And I loathe that as well, and I'll probably feel guilty after writing. But I"m just so incredibly frustrated with our nation's choices right now. I'm so incredibly frustrated that even today the public really doesn't care about torture or habeas.

I hear you on this, but buck up, man. It's a long war, as they say, but we're winning it slowly but surely. While torture and habeas may not be driving things, the Administration's policies in these areas is being as discredited as in other areas.

I'm continually surprised by people who, contrary to my expectations, have come to agree with me on both subjects. Now obviously, congressional Republicans are, for obvious reasons, going to be about the last to come around -- at least in public. But even they can see the wind blowing, and sooner or later, the Administration will run out of stunts (eg KSM to GTMO on the eve of the MCA; look for his indictment [or some other headline grabber] on the eve of oral argument in Boumediene) and is going to have to face Republican opposition.

publius: And yes, I recognize this a snotty, elitist-sounding post.

Actually publius, to me, IMO, this is the most human, honest, down to earth thing I have read from you.

Charley's right. We're winning. I mean, damn, publius, in 2004 John Kerry rarely used the word "Guantanamo"; today Bob Gates & Colin Powell have said it should be shut down. And public opinion is really not that bad when you consider how terrified Democrats were of these issues for so long. A significant minority of the public cares quite a lot about torture & habeas--as a result of this a number of the democratic senators who voted for the MCA are now co-sponsoring its repeal, and every Democratic candidate is promising to close Guantanamo. Another healthy percentage is vaguely disturbed but not paying close attention--really, the poll results on this aren't terrible.

What gets me down is not despair of public opinion, but a combination of fatigue, & a feeling that things are changing a bit too little, a bit too late. The MCA passed with Democratic votes, and now we need to get past a cloture vote and a veto threat to get rid of it. (Well, maybe not, after today--the Boumedienne reversal is obviously good news). The Democrats are unwilling to attach repeal to an appropriations bill and aren't particularly likely to hold hearings. I am skeptical about whether a new Democratic president will do all that much about issues--I think the worst abuses will end and Guantanamo will close, but as far as a thorough investigation & changes in our laws to prevent it from happening again, I'm a lot more dubious. (The idea of a Romney or a Giuliani getting elected doesn't bear thinking on.)

And on Iraq--God, it's so much too late. I don't really have a problem with Bush losing more support over the war than over habeas; if I had to pick which was worse I would certainly say Iraq. I focus on the torture stuff because for a long time it was easier to know what to do about it, and by the time I realized we had to withdraw I had all this expertise.

But what gets to me right now, is the disconnect between how unpopular Bush is, and how discredited all his policies are, and our inability to change anything before January 2009 (if then).

A final thing to keep in mind: the concrete names & dates don't penetrate but I'm not sure it's because people ignore them. They may never see them. The % of the public that actually reads this blog, Balkinization, Human Rights Watch reports, or a given news story that appears on page A12 of a daily newspaper is just tiny. And TV news doesn't cover this stuff much. And Democratic politicians don't discuss it so much.

That most people don't go searching for the evidence of their country's wrongdoing, and don't particularly want to believe it, doesn't mean they'll be indifferent if & when they actually do see it.

One last thing: I am not particularly suggesting that we make speeches about what freedom really means. I am very much focused on the factual details. Regarding torture/detention/civil liberties issues, aside from restoring habeas I think the single most important thing a Democratic president could do would be to empower an investigator to find out & publicly report exactly what happened (I am open to persuasion as to whether this should be a DOJ prosecutor or an independent commission of some sort. Any prosecutions are secondary to finding out what happened).

But you can't just hit people with a litany of awful facts--they tend to go numb, stop reading. It's far more effective if you offer people not only the litany of facts, but a story that makes somes sense of them, and that is reconcilable with their beliefs about this country.

I'd heard some people argue recently that offering such a story is counterproductive, or dishonest. I don't believe that's true.

It's far more effective if you offer people not only the litany of facts, but a story that makes somes sense of them, and that is reconcilable with their beliefs about this country.

A lot of bytes under the blog, so I may be focussing in on this unfairly or simply misreading it, but how do we offer a story that reconciles in such a way, and (and I guess this is the kicker) makes it clear to the rest of the world that we understand. I just had a long talk with my daughter about how simply saying sorry when you do something wrong is not, in and of itself, sufficient, and you need to undertake to change the thing that you are apologizing for. Perhaps with the SCOTUS taking the question up again, we will have some actual change in our behavior, but after seeing the fireworks over the school diversity question, any story that we offer about the way we have treated the detainees will have a minority trope that will be reconcilable with the notion that we were just protecting ourselves and they had it coming. And that is assuming that the decision is 5-4 for the good guys, which I don't think is at all a given.

Perhaps this is just fatigue and cynicism talking, and it shouldn't be taken as any criticism of what you have written here. But how do we fashion a narrative that is acceptable to the majority of people's beliefs about this country, and isn't a flat out lie? Even moving closer towards the truth, we are in an area where notions such as 'they are committing suicide to wage asymmetrical warfare on us' are proferred with a straight face so moving closer to the truth still doesn't put us within arm's length of it.

Again, this is not to disagree with the point that the correct view is slowly but surely winning. But I'm just seeing how there can be any victory celebration.

"As Douglass did, you want to work within the concepts and reflect them back powerfully rather than burning the whole thing down."

Currently studying Hiroshige's Tokaido Road prints. With affection and irreverance, Ando subtly caricatures the Japanese political archetypes in the eternal backdrop of the landscape. The age of the shogun and daimyo was over.

Frederick Douglass and Lincoln at Gettysburg were creating something new, a nation that enforced individual rights. "A new nation..."

That nation is gone. Conservatives figured it out decades ago, and adjusted accordingly. Bushism is not Goldwaterism, and very far from the last Gilded Age. And nostalgia and reaction work pretty well for conservatism.

But they are horrible for liberals and progressives, and what I am hearing and seeing from Greenwald(who is a conservative) and too many others on the left is nostalgic and reactionary.

The old framework(s) for these words and ideals is gone. That is why Bush has been able to attack habeas abd been able to torture, because the base of opposition is damaged beyond repair. There is no longer an "American nation" with an identity that would be weakened or embarrassed by torture, and so there is no bloc of people that can be informed or enlightened to the point of stopping it. There are factions that no longer accept shared ideals and goals even as a principle, and the idea that some things can bridge the gap can no longer be communicated. The suspicion is too great, the trust isn't there, the bonds have been broken.

We need new frameworks, communities, either larger or smaller than the old ones. Maybe an end to nationalism, maybe a new localism. Whatever. But check yourself out to see if you are not founding your key concepts on a political structure that can no longer support them.

Conservatives can use the words with their distorted meanings because their base still hangs on to that old structure. Progressives of course are uncomfortable and ineffective if they try to emulate them.

America is over.

Bob, it isn't over till she sings Gotterdammerung.

It looks bad now, but we could still get a new consensus. Probably something with a strong libertarian element.

Right libertarians come off as tools of big business, but it doesn't have to be that way. Remove some of the "artificial person" aspects of corporations and we might get somewhere interesting. Perhaps each corporation should have at least a president who has personal responsibility, with unlimited liability, along with 51% of the stock. That would make a big difference.

We don't have enough left libertarians or center libertarians, but we could get them. Under the right circumstances libertarians could be very good allies. Traditionally a whole lot of libertarians have supported republicans because they disapproved of big-government democrats. That thinking is stretched to the tearing point already.

It isn't impossible we can restore democratic ideals, and add some good new ones. What it takes is a consensus among groups of people who at present consider each other idiots.

But what gets to me right now, is the disconnect between how unpopular Bush is, and how discredited all his policies are, and our inability to change anything before January 2009 (if then)

That's why I've been mulling around more radical, if you will, changes to the american political system. i mean, are we well-served by a separate executive branch in light of its capacity for unaccountable mischief (consider we have 18 more months of a largely unaccountable Cheney/Bush).

Maybe we should adopt some sort of parliamentary system -- just something to get the war powers into a more accountable branch.

by the way Katherine - i'm about to send you an email

I don't have time to really flesh out a good comment, but I have to mention the fact that Lincoln was the most hated despised President in our country's history. He was called an idiot and depicted as a monkey.

I have been through something personally where some high minded people who have all these great plans, and are excellent critics, have taken over with their big ideas and almost destroyed an institution, so this kind of stuff cuts both ways.

Frederick Douglass may have been a fine talker, but in reality, slavery was ended by an awful, terrible war. You know, maybe all those lives were wasted. Maybe it was not worth it to preserve the union. Yes, I again will mention the aftermath of Vietnam with Cambodia, and Laos included. You can say all you want to about how this was all Nixon's fault, but in reality you have to examine the fact that the United States withdrew ALL support from South Vietnam, and think about those consequences. So, there is no blood on your hands. Fine. You are a young person and think that if you personally do nothing wrong then everything will be all right. Let me give you some advice: It does not work out that way.

J Thomas: Traditionally a whole lot of libertarians have supported republicans because they disapproved of big-government democrats. That thinking is stretched to the tearing point already.

Boy you’ve got that one right. I agree with you that left and right leaning libertarians could easily join forces under the right circumstances – and they could pull a lot of independent voters along with them.

"What it takes is a consensus among groups of people who at present consider each other idiots."

There are some disagreements om policy that could be compromised.

But check out the Senate. The Republicans are forcing cloture votes on everything. This is not about policy, this is a scorched-earth political strategy.
This will not be bridged with a new consensus, a new consensus is simply not desired. I think, along with Digby and others, this is again mostly regional and tribal.

A Democratic President will not make a difference, and there are not enough progressive, liberal, or moderate Senate seats that are reasonably available to stop the obstruction. Only illiberal or conservative legislation can be passed.

Obstinate, united, committed minorities can have a de facto veto in a democracy, but they really cannot pass their agenda on their own, so they seek capitulation. This breeds contempt and paranoia.

If publius or the guys at Balkanization want to take a chance on a Constitutional overhaul in these circumstances, they are far more optimistic than I am.

I warned about this in 2005. There is no longer a Democratic Party path to progressive legislation. The Solid South has risen again.

Actually, DaveC, lots of liberals and even most lefties who aren't pacifists agree that military force is sometimes necessary. The problem isn't that there might be a handful of lefties who think America is the sole source of all evil in the world (and when you get down to it, even some lefties accused of thinking this don't think this). The problem is that there are far too many Americans who either don't know or choose not to know about the evil our government has done.

Get people to be honest about America's sins (and not just the ones safely in the distant past, like slavery) and maybe we could have a reasonable discussion about when war really is necessary.
We're a long way from there.

And if you're going to try and argue that Bush is Lincoln, good luck with that.


Sigh. Just...sigh.

You seem like a nice human being and yet the things you say are so, um, disconnected from reality, that I literally don't know what to say. Or, actually, I know exactly what kind of point by point refutation I'd make for the various insinuations and outright misrepresentations of history that your post contains, but what would be the point?

Do you ever visit the east coast, say Boston or New York or DC? If you do, please let me know so that I can buy you a beer and show you an actual living breathing liberal who bears no relationship to the bizarre caricature of liberals that you fight so heroically against in your head.

Seriously, I'd be delighted to buy you a beer, if only so I could have some context in which to place your writings. Come to think of it, that offer goes double for OCSteve, whose writing doesn't...exhaust me.

For us to reject American exceptionalism rather than try to rehabilitate it in a benign form would requires a massive dose of humility, which seems to me to be just what is needed now.

"If we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us; if we're a humble nation, but strong, they'll welcome us. And our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power, and that's why we've got to be humble, and yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom.

George W. Bush, 2000 Debate

Oh the lure of pretty pretty words.

McManus: Has anyone noticed that the same right-wing types who were insisting on up or down votes last term, who were calling the Dems obstructionists, have no problem whatsoever with filibustering now?

Ara, I scarcely ever think about Republicans.
I think about liberals and progressives. I believe much of the motivation for Cheneyism was as a test and demonstration:

habeas destroyed, innocents tortured, millions dead:will liberals fight?

Yes, with the determined application of the rule of law, upstanding conduct, comity, generosity, and magnanimity, and pretty words and sentiments.

This place makes my skin crawl. Bye.

During the weeks and months leading up to the war on Iraq my son and I along with other people would stand on various corners holding up American flags and signs saying NO WAR. He was 10.

Later his mother took him to DC where he saw the VietNam Memorial. It's the monument to war that starts off showing names of the first soldiers killed in Nam and then shows more and more names until the apex of the war is reached and then tapers off until finally the name of the last to die is etched in the stone memorial. He was twelve.

The other day we were talking about things and how one of the soldiers who recently died in Iraq had graduated just the year before from his high school. He is now fourteen.

Today Katherine I read your essay and I cried. I cried because I too lost friends in my generation's war whose names are now on that wall in Washington and because once again, when all this is over, there will be one name to remember as the last to die in this generation's equally senseless war.

Monday I will pick him up from his mom's house and when we get home I will give him your essay to read. I will give him your essay because on Wednesday when we celebrate the 4th of July I want him to see that it takes good people, people like Frederick Douglas, believing in those fine sentiments of freedom and democracy and eager to defend them and willing to fight for them is what it takes to win the battle of good over evil. I want him to see that what we honor on that day are not just empty words but values really worth fighting for. And I want him to see that fighting for values producing real freedom when the good guys win like in the battle over slavery.

I realize that at age fourteen, smart as he is, he may not have the same comprehensive knowledge as the readers of Obsidian Wings or the New York Times, so much of it he may not understand. But neither is he yet cynical. So he is going to read it, at my insistance if need be. And because we've each read it we'll talk about things.

We'll talk about the flag as we put it up on the morning of the 4th of July. We'll talk about how it is the same flag we saw at the war protests and the same flag given to grieving parents of the war dead.

We'll talk about the national anthem and the words of Francis Scott Key honoring a new nation as the 'home of the brave and the land of the free'. We'll talk about how bravery is required to stand in protest of military action and how bravery is equally required by some who serve in the military.

We'll talk about freedom and how even those who gave us the finger or threw things at us or yelled at us or spat at us as we stood amongst American flags and signs expressing our NO WAR opinions have an equal right to their opinions.

We'll talk about picnics in the park and fireworks diplays at night and how they represent our nations' coming together in memory of the many battles it took to earn and preserve our freedom. And we'll talk about those scarred by battle, whose damage is so deep that they cannot stand the sound of explosions and will remain in hiding from the festitivies taking place all around.

But we'll also talk about the final Harry Potter book soon to be coming out. We'll talk about how throughout the series the abstract values represented by such words as loyalty are emphasized as the theme of good vs evil plays itself out in chapter after chapter after chapter.

And we will talk about how after many long years we will finally know in a few weeks time the outcome of that battle between good and evil that is taking place in the fictional world created by Rawlings. We will find out the ending of that tale but it will be of no real consequence to us because we do not live in a world of fiction.

And finally we'll talk about the real world where the battle over values is also taking place and how the outcome remains uncertain. And we'll talk about how the difference between the world of fiction and the real world is massively consequential.

I'll tell him how much I love him and that I would die rather than see his life sacrificed to a war based upon lies. His name is not going on a momument to the war dead. I will not be accepting a flag as fair exchange for his death.

Honor, country, patriotism, these words are obscenities in the mouths of people like George W. Bush who do not know their meaning and would use them to lay cynical claim to our childrens lives to further right wing republican purposes.

We'll talk about how in these dark and dangerous days we live in that it takes good people, people like Frederick Douglass and Katherine, whose last name we do not know, to help keep faith in American values alive, to stir others to action, and to maintain peoples hope that in the end good will prevail over evil.

So thank you Katherine. I see your beautiful essay as a work of art and a birthday gift to our nation. Thank you for taking the time to do the research and thank you for taking the time to write and rewrite and put this out there for all to read in time for the 4th of July.

Hope I didn't drive bob m away with the acknowledgment that even lefties favor war once in a while. WWII, for instance. I sorta half agree with him--the problem in the US is partly that even the left grants way too much ground to American exceptionalism. I'm not talking about Katherine, but, for instance, Wesley Clark in the NYT Sunday Magazine. (No link handy). If even liberal politicians talk this way, our country will never grow up.

Still, bob, you haven't exactly struck me as the pacifist type, so I wonder what pretty words or realistic ones you favor when you call for bloodshed. Which I think I've seen you do fairly often. I just can't recall the rhetoric, exactly.

Yeah, whatever bob.

Ara: I've noticed. It doesn't make me angry at the Republicans so much as at the Democrats for agonizing about being seen as obstructionists before every filibuster, and not even considering it half the time.

What ken said.

Also, what Katherine said. Whatever, Bob.

When you want to work against something, you have to ask yourself what it is you're working against, what tactics will actually succeed against it, and whether those are tactics you're willing to employ. Bob and I obviously differ over the third of these. But I think we also differ over the second. Whatever it is that he thinks will work where "the rule of law, upstanding conduct, comity, generosity, and magnanimity" etc will not, I doubt very much that it will actually produce the kinds of change he wants. I think, that is, that the tactics that make his skin crawl are not just morally better, but also tactically better.

We will never reclaim our country through force, and we will not reclaim it by doing things like stealing elections. We will reclaim it, if at all, by actually persuading people. And if Bob knows a better way to do that than being generous and reasonable, he should let me know.

Because it's not just that there are means I'm not willing (and, I think, in his eyes too wimpy) to use. It's a very serious disagreement about whether the means he advocates are means at all. He thinks I'm too prissy to do what it takes to win. I think he's making the same mistake as Peter Beinart:

"Violence is not a way of getting where you want to go, only more quickly. Its existence changes your destination. If you use it, you had better be prepared to find yourself in the kind of place it takes you to."

On what sort of rhetoric to use--I was not kidding or doing rhetorical "on the one hand, on the other hand" about tactics like Garrison's having their place. Being deliberately inflammatory does get more people's attention, and it can wake them up a bit, and it moves the debate--what's the word, Overton window?. A country where I am the face of the far left or even the 90th percentile is probably in quite a bit of trouble.

But this is how I write. If I try to sound like a revolutionary I'm not going to be real convincing. If you want more radical, less liberal-sounding, denunciations of these policies, write them, instead of hating on me for not making molotov cocktails.

I do think this is an excellent, eloquent post, but the thing that bothers me, and the reason I can't agree as much as I would like to, is this- the Soviet Union, like the United States, was ostensibly founded on some very stirring and exalted principles itself- internationalism, solidarity, social justice, an end to poverty, inequality, and racism. It loudly trumpeted itself as a champion of those values, and occasionally it even did something that aligned with them somewhat, though probably more for reasons of realpolitik than anything else. (opposing apartheid and giving aid to the ANC in South Africa, for example.)

Yet, if one tried to apply the argument Katherine makes so well for the United States to the Soviet Union, it just wouldn't work. After a certain point, I don't think there were very many people who thought that the key was for the USSR to simply try to become the story it told about itself, that the proper approach was to convince it to live up to it's own "glittering abstract nouns"- in practice it almost never displayed any evidence of them, the nature of the Soviet system was such that it couldn't even if it had wanted to, and after Stalin's enormities the whole concept just seemed like a sick joke. No, the general consensus was that nothing could redeem that system short of the end of it, which of course is what finally happened.

Now, of course, the gulf between the reality of the United States and the principles and values it claims to uphold is not anywhere near as great as that of the Soviet Union was, and, at least for now, citizens of the US still have more influence over their government than those of the USSR did- yet, I often wonder if, with Bush, a line has been crossed, and I fear that the American system, like that of the USSR, may now essentially be beyond salvation.

Though I usually appreciate his posts and wish he would stick around, I certainly don't agree with Bob that violence is the proper response at this time, if that is indeed what he means- I think that would be a terrible, terrible mistake both morally and tactically. But I wonder if the time is coming when something like the Vaclav Havel approach might be more appropriate than trying to reform the American system. A lot probably depends on the outcome of the next election, a fact which may itself be a good argument for Katherine's position...

(Incidentally, on the subject of Vaclav Havel, "The Power of the Powerless" is online, and I strongly recommend reading it. I think it already has some relevance for our current situation, and it may well have even more in the future.)

Ok, the bomb-thrower threw a bomb. Nothing was specifically targeted, so it may slide by posting rules (or not) but my disagreement is with hilzoy.

I don't recommend violence, or make any recommendations. There are whole libraries of political strategy and tactics to choose from. Feel free.

Paul Krugman was the first and foremost to say it. The Bushites are revolutionaries, not reformists, and cannot be treated with politics-as-usual. Once the revolution has started, the opposition, the "conservatives and reactionaries"...read liberals...do not have the option of a measured cautious response. They will most surely lose. We cannot go back.

The only response is counter-revolution. We cannot be assured of the outcome, we must make sacrifices and take great risks. Process liberalism is not viable in a revolution or counter-revolution. We must take clear and starkly-defined sides. Consequentialism is a losing attitude. We may get a Terror or a Gulag, but what we will get if we don't fighr may be worse. We cannot know. Revolutions may always be tragic, but we didn't choose this one. We can't choose to not live in our times.

The media has sided with Republicans because they think they will win. Cheney doesn't worry about consequences, he is too busy planning the next day's battle. If you don't think he is winning, look harder.

We have whatever many more months of Bush-Cheney. Reid & Pelosi will annoy with supoenas but are scared of actual confrontation. Cheney wants to attack Iran because it will be a winning move in domestic politics. Cheney's base is willing to go violent, and the opposition is not, under any circumstances. If he can convince Bush to bomb Iran, and I think he can, it will be over. I think it is over already.

I am not asking for hate and violence. I am asking for the possibility, which I believe to be a necessary condition for freedom. I am not hopeful.

I really am uncomfortable here, and don't feel I can contribute amicably. Apologies to all my friends and fans.

We will never reclaim our country through force, and we will not reclaim it by doing things like stealing elections. We will reclaim it, if at all, by actually persuading people.

For that to work, we have to persuade people that the rules of the game matter.

If we play by the rules and the other team cheats, and a majority of the audience thinks that cheating is a smart move and we're wimps to accept it, then we'll never win until they change their minds.

When the other side breaks the rules and your guys are magnanimous about it, why would anybody else take up for you?

If the other side breaks the rules of the game, and you just keep playing by the rules and talk calmly like they ought to play by the rules too, and you act like a good sport about losing -- why would anybody else stand up to the bad guys? They might do it on their own, but they know they won't get any support from you.

The next elections are what, 16 months away? And we still don't have an audit trail on the votes? Does any reasonable person trust the GOP to play fair on this topic?

And the gerrymandering.

Eavesdropping on phones of Democratic campaigners? Any reason to think they aren't doing that?

If your team acts all civil about it, you deserve to lose. It's time to be at least a little bit blunt.

"Yes, I think you're doing election fraud. No, I don't have to prove it. I want an election with an audit trail because I don't trust you one little bit. If you say we don't need one and we won't have one, then I'm not going to accept that election."

When somebody steals your wallet -- or your election -- and then instead of doing anything about it you're polite to him afterward, you look like a loser. And in that case it's absurd for you to be the only alternative for honest people to vote for.

Molotov cocktails are not appropriate at this point. They won't be appropriate even if the NG starts driving out the tanks. Far better to use the czech approach and have pretty girls with picnics try to persuade the NG. They need to be polite (or more friendly than polite) with the national guard. But they don't need to be polite about the lying cheating thieves.

Common Sense,

You don't have any idea who I am and what I am about. Here is something that you might look at. I love the guy that fired me, like a brother.

I have worked with smart people, dumb people, all different ethnic backgrounds from world famous neurologists and audiologists to people in manufacturing from the inner city of Chicago. My family is all vegetarian liberals. I treat them all with dignity and respect.

Right now I don't give a rat's ass about Boston, NYC, or DC. You ought to seriously consider the fact that people who have differing opinions than you, or live in the South or Midwest are human beings, too.

Re: Katherine's comment at 8:08 of June 29, I can say as a holder of a PhD in political theory that it doesn't help much. Of course I don't talk about it in the same way Dylan did/does, but still.

As a Bob M fan, (and I would love to hear more about your look at the Hiroshige prints) I'd suggest that, after a long absence, bob may have a bit of anger built up, and some slack should be cut (as well as some verbs passivized). I think that the discussion about defunding Cheney's office as meaningless political theater or as a meaningful tactic is probably along the lines of something fruitful to discuss. Hilzoy has already said that she thought is was the latter, and on my good days , I'd agree with her, but those days are fewer and far between when I think about what has been happening.

It was Shelby Foote who said, in Ken Burns Civil War series, that the genius of America, which didn't operate in the run up to the civil war, was not the ability to hold fast to certain principles, but was the ability to compromise. If one takes bob's point not as an assault on the principles that individuals here hold, but on the turns and twists in the road ahead, I'm afraid he has more of a point that we care to admit.

FYI: List of originating countries of first generation immigrant people I have worked with in the office:

Korea, China, Laos, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Israel, Ghana, Brazil, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, England, and even Canada.

And I have worked with visitors from Palestine, Iran, Germany, Netherlands, etc.

I shook hands with everybody in the office, and knew the names of every one but three temporary workers.

Oh yeah, I forgot sexual orientation.

Here in the Midwest, the homosexuals I work with are not activists or flamboyant. They are worried about the pressures of their jobs, their aging parents, etc., the same as me.

It is probably different out east.

Last thought:

I was talking to one of my ultra-liberal ex-coworker friends, to see if she could be a life coach for my buddy that fired me. He really needs comfort more than me.

She told me that she never watches the news, etc. It seems to work for her.

"Last thought"

Thank God.

I grew up in the south too. It was not uncommon for people to hate Yankees and feel looked down upon and hated. I never had any sympathy for this attitude. Still don't.

Okay, that was harsh. But DaveC, what gets into you when you post this stuff? You don't come across here as though you respect liberals--if you did you wouldn't have to tell us how many ethnic groups you work with and how many of these people you've shaken hands with.

daveC: in reality you have to examine the fact that the United States withdrew ALL support from South Vietnam,

Really? Would you care to substantiate that allegation (or should I say ALLegation?)?

In August 1974, Congress authorized (and newly-installed President Ford accepted) $700 million in aid for RVN. At that time ARVN still had ten shells for every one the enemy possessed.

By January 1975, Ford asked for another $300 million in military aid. Congress did not authorize this, but mooted the possibility of humanitarian (non-military) aid; US Ambassador resisted this, on the grounds it woud signal RVN that we had given up on them. (Meanwhile, Ford's special emissary to the front, Army Chief of Staff Frederick Weyand, concluded that even if military aid were to be provided, the chances for survival of RVN were "marginal at best.")

As far as I can tell, much of the previous $700 million was still in the pipeline when the war ended, and certainly ARVN still had far more arms than the PAVN did. How does this constitute the withdrawal of "ALL support"?

Ted: Things must have been different in the 60s.

I expect that this is one of the best things I will read this fourth of july weekend. I'm sorry that DaveC and Bob Macmanus showed up to reveal that you can toss pearls before swine but it doesn't do the swine much good and it sure doesn't help the pearls. Still, its a fantastic essay.

I don't see you arguing at all for "american exceptionalism" but rather saying what bears repeating which is that though ideals and words are not enough without them we can't begin to try to shape action and reality. I can eat dinner without calling it dinner and the calorie content of the meal will keep me going but I can't just declare myself married--I need state intervention for that--and I can't just declare myself a parent--I need biological or social intervention for that.

We resort to words to describe and pursue our goals. Sometimes those goals are value neutral, or value free, or value laden but harmful. Individual actions taken in the aggregate are more complex to understand and evaluate than individual goals taken on an individual basis.

At any rate in a democracy we can appeal to values to move the voter/implement a policy/launch the weapons or we can appeal to need and greed. Either way we have to appeal to get something done. Abandon the content of the appeal to the bastards and you not only lose the high ground, you pretty soon lose the terrain altogether.


The most intelligent thing I read in the post was the suggestion that Katherine should take it over the ocean. I recommend tha that, too.

People were punished for Abu Ghraib. Prisoners released from Guantanamo have gone on to muruder again. Haditha has been shown to not be the massacre it was claimed.

Katherine has a foundation of sand... its really quite sad.

When I write these days, it is all about ME: I might as well lay all my cards on the table. One of my main purposes in writing comments here is an attempt to elicit some sort of equivocation after reading sweeping moral judgements. This kind of thing dates back to a formative high school experience, when I confounded both my hippie friends, and my sort of ex-friends from church, by supporting President Nixon's re-election.

I don't really expect anybody to take my word over dr. ngo's. That would be crazy. But I feel this obligation to be contrary somehow.

bob mcmanus, I am sorry I got you into trouble with everybody that time. I am so glad that you and Andrew reached a mutual understanding.

As far as coming across as not respecting liberals, all that stuff I talked about was yet another attempt at establishing my bona fides as a human being. I'll let you in on something that may not be obvious: Over the years, just in the comments, no personal correspondence involved, Jesurgislac and I have had a secret crush on each other. At least I hope she feels the same way about me as I do about her. It would be embarassing if I am wrong. I think that we have some sort of unspoken mutual understanding between a "bad boy" and a "bad girl".

By the way, Jes, I am not, like, soliciting you. I really, really am going to lay off the blogs and comments and so forth, for a long time. What is past is past. I have just been sort of introspective lately, and am into making all of these personal statements. Things are actually going quite well for me, so don't worry.

DaveC: Over the years, just in the comments, no personal correspondence involved, Jesurgislac and I have had a secret crush on each other. At least I hope she feels the same way about me as I do about her. It would be embarassing if I am wrong.

*blushes demurely*

(Betcha didn't think I could do that, did you?)

Having written a column this weekend on American dream and reality, I must say you did it way better. My compliments.

Any Clinton supporters out there who have concerns about electability, just look at this, this, and this trendline. And ask yourself in a month from now or nine months from now, who will be the better candidate for beating the Republicans in the general?

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