BEDROCK

Posted in Rants on December 13th, 2017 by Ed

The most significant failing of American foreign policy during the Cold War was the pervasive unwillingness to establish a limit to the value of anti-communism. There was no conception that the returns of anti-communist policy was, at some point, not worth the cost. That is why, to make a very long story short, the U.S. supported one vile dictatorship after another for four decades – choices that we are paying for in the most visceral terms to this day.

Among the worst regimes we supported (and suffice it to say the contenders for that title are many) was the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. It had it all – brutality, corruption, repression, and above all the cockiness to not even try to hide its crimes. If you were alive in 1983 you remember that Marcos had the opposition leader, Benigno Aquino, assassinated the moment he stepped off a plane at the country's major airport. Just walked up to him, shot him in the back of the head in the full view of anyone who cared to look, and walked away. That's ballsy. Your average dictator arrests him and does it in a dark jail cell. Only someone fully confident that nothing he does will ever have consequences would do it this way.

People were pretty horrified all around the world, and even the Pentagon started to get a little queasy about being associated with the regime. But – and I will never forget the first time I read this many years after it happened – Ronald Reagan made an admission in a press conference that was, if nothing else, startlingly and unusually honest. Referring to the two massive U.S. military facilities our country maintained with the blessing of Mr. Marcos – Subic Bay Naval Station and Clark Air Force Base, both cornerstones of the global reach of American military power into Asia – Reagan said, instead of defending Marcos's actions, "I can't think of anything more important than those bases."

And that was the problem. When literally nothing is more important than achieving your goal, you are inevitably going to do some pretty reprehensible things to achieve it. There has to be a line. A limit. Some point at which you say, OK, we are paying in prestige, dignity, and human decency more than the goal of presenting a strong military face to Global Communism is worth. Maybe we could put the bases somewhere else. Maybe we could stop backing this guy and find someone equally amenable but considerably less awful.

During the Cold War, that almost never happened. American policy under leaders of both parties and of different generations was, "No cost is too high if we can convince ourselves that it is fighting communism." And that is why it was, in so many ways, horrible policy. That is why we are embroiled in wars and conflicts that are, in direct and indirect ways, consequences of the repressive regimes we propped up.

I'm going somewhere with this. The history lesson is just a bonus.

It is trendy for people, myself certainly included, to feel hopeless about the future of American politics right now. It is equally trendy for commentators to predict "the beginning of the end" of the current group of people in power. Time will tell where that turning point truly is. But I believe that the decision made two weeks ago in the White House, in the Senate, and in the Republican National Committee to reverse course and endorse Roy Moore was a mistake that in the long run will turn out to be very significant for the right. By failing to make what was a very easy play – disown Moore and claim some sort of moral high ground – they signaled that literally nothing is more important to them than maintaining power. Nothing. There is no "bridge too far." And if you will support a pedophile if you think it will help you pass some legislation, then why should anyone believe that collaborating with a foreign power to influence an election is beyond possibility?

Why, for that matter, should anything be considered beyond possibility? Moore was insane and a borderline joke candidate even before the 14 year old girls stuff came out. He had a strong challenge in the primary. The national GOP was not happy about his candidacy. Rather than following through with what, in whatever they have that passes for a soul, they knew was the right thing to do, they instead convinced themselves that Triggering Libtards was a more important goal than basic human decency.

I'm not a huge fan of arguments based on moral authority. The argument that gay marriage is wrong because "it's immoral," for example, is sophomoric and unpersuasive. But if you have no line you're willing to draw based on morality, you will pay the price in the long run for the terrible decisions you make as a result. If you can't say what is beyond the pale for you or your party, it raises the very strong possibility that nothing is.

This should have been a slam dunk for the GOP. Disown the guy, throw him under the bus, and say "Look, one Senate seat that will be on the ballot again in 24 months is not worth embracing this piece of shit." Then boast about how you're willing to draw the line somewhere and bask in the rewards. Instead, they doubled down on a question that was already lingering from their decision to embrace Trump – what, if anything, won't these people do to get what they want?

History is littered with examples of what happens when the answer is "Nothing." Over time, none of them work out especially well.

NO PASSING FANCY

Posted in Quick Hits on December 12th, 2017 by Ed

In many ways the Roy Moore phenomenon is a harsher indictment of all the things wrong with this society than Trump's victory 13 months ago. As many observers have said all along, Trump is only a symptom of what the GOP has done to embrace nationalist, racist, clannish right-wing populism and xenophobia since the 1980s (but accelerating sharply during the W years when "court the evangelicals at all cost" became party dogma).

Moore's campaign is also doing a lot to give the lie to the centrist mantra that there are Good People on all sides and we will overcome our differences with dialogue. As Charles Pierce (hi!) said after his attempt to take in Monday evening's Moore rally:

You grow exhausted from the effort it takes to keep mockery at bay long enough to explain that what Moore and Bannon are selling is a dangerous blend of religious extremism and McCarthyite bombast, Roy Cohn in Torquemada drag. You grow exhausted by the effort it takes, over and over again, to remind yourself that there are good people in the crowd cheering this river of sludge and nonsense.

Finally, you give up. Roy Moore is a vehicle for collecting suckers, for liberating them from their responsibility as citizens in a self-governing republic, and anybody who thinks this waterheaded theocrat belongs in the United States Senate is a dupe and a fool. Finally, you don’t care if the people behind Roy Moore, and the people in the crowd in front of him, believe you are a member of the coastal elite or an agent of Lucifer. Finally, you grow weary of the smug condescension of religious bigots. Finally, you decide to put down the twin burdens of excusing deliberate ignorance and respecting the opinions of people who want to light the world on fire to kill their imaginary enemies. And you give up and tell the truth.

These people deserve what they get.

tl;dr – At some point you have to recognize that these are adult human beings making a choice, not hapless Good People being "bamboozled" (that word is all the rage lately) into supporting a theocratic demagogue. It's exhausting and unnecessary. Eventually we have to call this what it is: a bunch of really shitty people getting exactly what they want.

In the long run, they will deserve every bit of what happens to them.

NPF: DISRUPTED TIMELINE

Posted in No Politics Friday on December 8th, 2017 by Ed

One of the 20th Century's most famous photos depicts Lyndon Johnson taking the Oath of Office on Air Force One after the assassination of JFK. The (now-former) First Lady is at his side, with blood on her clothes.

Most people don't notice that the person swearing him in is a woman. She remains the only woman to swear in a president. Her name is Sarah Hughes, and she was just the third woman ever appointed to the Federal courts when JFK appointed her in 1961. She began her career on the bench as a state district court judge in Texas in 1936 – 18 years before women were even allowed to sit on juries in Texas.

Also, note that anyone over 65 was alive at a time when some states didn't allow women on juries. Is America great again yet?

PATRONIUS

Posted in Quick Hits on December 5th, 2017 by Ed

In response to some big changes that will be taking place in the near future – more on those presently – I've yielded to the suggestions of "You should start a Patreon."

When I said I would podcast if I got 500 people to sign up I was 78% kidding. But it looks like the goal is…not exactly in sight, but plausible? I suppose that after many false starts and hesitation wounds, I may finally have to figure out how in the hell to make a podcast. But only under duress.

VICTORIAN REDUX

Posted in Quick Hits on December 4th, 2017 by Ed

For the past few years I've noticed with great interest that the modern aristocracy's attitudes are reminiscent of – and in some cases identical to – those that prevailed among the landed aristocracy in Britain prior to the agricultural depression of the 1870s. I'm sure that's neither the only nor the best historical comparison; it just happens to be a period about which I've consumed a fair amount of information. So the links stand out.

During that age of Darwinism and formalized class distinctions, the theories about the poor that prevailed among the privileged ranged from patronizing but kind of coming from a place of good intentions to legitimately contemptuous. Malthusian social and economic theories were, shall we say, quite popular among that class of privileged people who identified the main problems with overcrowded London as 1) too many people, and 2) too many people with character flaws that kept them poor (drunkenness, licentiousness, etc.)

And more than a few people still think that way: too many people, and too many people who lack the Character and Good Breeding to avoid poverty and the loving embrace of Charity. Here's a quote from Chuck Grassley (R-IA) after the tax bill vote:

I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.

And here's Thomas Malthus from An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798):

The laboring poor, to use a vulgar expression, seem always to live from hand to mouth. Their present wants employ their whole whole attention, and they seldom think of the future. Even when they have an opportunity of saving they seldom exercise it, but all that is beyond their present necessities goes, generally speaking, to the ale house.

Can you spot the differences? Me neither.