Just Above Sunset
Volume 5, Number 10
March 11, 2007

The End Game

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

"Notes on how things seem from out here in Hollywood..."

The End Game - A Pinched, Sour, Ugly Vision of America

Looking back, one can see that one week out from the midterm elections things were falling into place. Monday, October 30, President Bush was out campaigning for Republicans and saying that "terrorists win and America loses" if the opponents of his Iraq policy win next week's elections.

Oh, a few Democratic candidates may win here and there, but the tragedy will be if they win control of the House, or the Senate, or both.

Rahm Emanuel, who heads the Democratic campaign committee, was saying fine - "There's a big national debate in this country about the direction of this war set by President Bush, Defense Secretary (Donald) Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney, and Democrats think we need to change that policy." The Associated Press covered it all here, if you like details.

But that was about it - the news early in the day was we had just lost one hundred one of our troops in the month, with one day to go. There was no way not to report that. And ads criticizing Republican candidates for following the president's lead on the war were being prepared for Connecticut, New Mexico, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Iowa and a few other places - hammering the "stay the course" folks. The polling justified the expenditures. Two thirds of the country has the notion that this war is pointless.

For the record the Democrats have to gain fifteen seats in the House and six in the Senate to bring on the new era of divided government, and to make the president's last two years in office a bit of a bother for him.

There were some odd complications - New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican who might want to run for president himself one day, campaigned in Connecticut for Senator Lieberman, the Democrat running as an independent (he lost the Democratic primary), who is hoping all the Republicans there would vote for him. They will. Lieberman has the endorsement of Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly thinks he's wonderful - and Lieberman says if he wins, which is likely, he will caucus with the Democrats and consider himself one, but vote with the Republicans on all issues, or something like that. He wants to be above it all - bipartisan or something.

The Democrat, who won the primary, Ned Lamont, is way off in the polling. The actual Republican candidate there is a nobody with gambling problems - banned from all sorts of casinos - so Lieberman has all the Republican votes and a few of his Democratic loyalists, and massive funding from the White House. He'll be fine. That state is not a worry. And the word is after the election, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld will resign, the president will appoint Lieberman to the position, and the Republican governor of the state will appoint a Republican to Lieberman's slot in the Senate. Problem solved. And Lieberman is on record saying things are going fine in Iraq - great progress is being made and the place is actually far more peaceful than anyone is reporting - and in this dangerous world no politician should ever question the president on anything, as that aids our enemies, or our enemas, or something. So the Connecticut senate seat is fine, even if the house seats there are not.

But the message had to get out for other places where the problem hadn't been so neatly handled. The president ridiculed Democrats in general - They had "come up with a lot of creative ways to describe leaving Iraq before the job is done. [But] however they put it, the Democrat approach to Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses."

Right. And he ended up in Texas, where Republicans hope that the write-in contender, Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, can hang onto former Majority Leader Tom DeLay's seat. Tom had to quit when he was indicted for this and that - conspiracy, money-laundering - and his name had to stay on the ballot as all this happened too late for changes. It's tough to write in Shelley Sekula-Gibbs - spelling counts, it seems. Oops. But you do what you have to do. You sell your competence to the people.

But the war is an issue everywhere, as AP notes in this collection of ads -

    "Rick O'Donnell. He's George Bush's candidate for Congress. O'Donnell wanted to send 75,000 more troops to Iraq," says an ad in a suburban Denver race that Democrats are particularly optimistic about winning.

    "Despite a war gone wrong and no plan for victory politicians like Rob Simmons keep voting to stay the course again and again, following George Bush's failed leadership no matter what the cost," is the accusation against Rep. Rob Simmons of Connecticut.

    Rep. Dave Reichert "just sides with Bush on Iraq," says the announcer in the ad against the Washington state congressman. "Iraq is just a disaster. Iraq is a complete disaster. It's heartbreaking."

    Yet another ad shows Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., saying, "We need to stay the course," followed by an announcer's voice saying, "No, we don't."

This is not going well for the Republicans. And things get worse by the day in Baghdad.

Digby at Hullabaloo notes the core issue -

    Let's say you have a problem. You have the choice of two people to solve the problem - the one who caused the problem, refuses to admit it even is a problem and won't change anything even as the problem grows worse - or the other one. Which do you choose?

    That's the simple logic of this election.

    There are, of course, many affirmative Democratic messages necessary for the future. But right now, this is it.

And so it would seem.

How bad is this? It looks a bit like a tidal wave.

See the widely read Cook Report from that date -

    With the election just eight days away, there are no signs that this wave is abating. Barring a dramatic event, we are looking at the prospect of GOP losses in the House of at least 20 to 35 seats, possibly more, and at least four in the Senate, with five or six most likely.

    If independents vote in fairly low numbers, as is customary in midterm elections, losses in the House will be on the lower end of that range. But if they turn out at a higher than normal level, their strong preference for Democrats in most races would likely push the GOP House losses to or above the upper levels.

    The dynamics we are seeing this year are eerily similar to those in 1994. The President and party are different, so are the issues, but the dynamics are comparable.

    In 1994, Democrats were in trouble because of tax increases, a failed health plan, and the crime bill (read, guns). There were also a myriad of scandals that started in the late 1980s that moved voters, including many Democrats, to reject the party's candidates, including some once-popular incumbents.

    This year, it is the war in Iraq and scandals. For conservatives, the list also includes the Mark Foley affair, immigration, high government spending and high deficits. For Democrats and independents, stem cell research and Terri Schiavo round out the list. Finally, it would seem that voters of all ideological stripes feel that the GOP-lead Congress has become dysfunctional.

So the numbers were not looking good. But the anecdotal evidence was worse.

After appearing on Bill Maher's HBO political show "Real Time," the rebellious conservative Andrew Sullivan offers this -

    I was chatting with some friends after the Maher show. They'd been against the war from the beginning. They were African-American and said it was obvious to them that the WMD argument was what they called "game." They weren't surprised. I was. I believed George W. Bush. And I trusted him. And as the evidence has poured in that my faith and trust were betrayed, my surprise has turned to rage. I'm not a generally angry person. But if I have placed my trust in someone on a matter of this gravity and I find out they lied, bungled and betrayed me and others who trusted them, then all I can say is: they picked the wrong guy to bamboozle.

    You don't send 19 year-old kids to risk their lives and die to protect your own political power or advance your own partisan purposes. You don't abandon thousands of innocent Iraqis who also trusted you to marauding gangs of terrorists and murderers, and stand by and tell critics to "back off." You don't ask people of good faith to support you in a critical war and then secretly breach the Geneva Conventions and torture people and blame only a few grunts on the ground for your war-crimes.

    The anger of the left, I realize, was always there. But the anger of the betrayed and decent right and center is deeper. Some readers think my anger has gotten the best of me. Maybe on occasions it has. But I'd rather be too angry than too afraid to call these people what they are.

But he's just one voice, and the president's supporters dismiss him for two reasons - he's gay, and a devout and very traditional Catholic, not a born again evangelical, so he harps on love and forgiveness and helping the poor and that sort of thing, not on smiting the evil people in this world and waiting for The Rapture.

But he's just one voice. The New York Times over the weekend offered many voices - the Republican professional class, well-off and well-educated, up in the Northwest.

These folks aren't happy either -

    "I am a Republican and have traditionally voted that way," Tony Schuler, an operations services manager at Microsoft with a Harvard M.B.A., said as he sat with his wife, Deanna, in their home above Lake Sammamish. But Mr. Schuler abhors what he sees as a new Republican habit of meddling in private affairs. "The Schiavo case. Tapping people without a warrant. Whether or not people are gay," he said. "Let people be free! It's not government's job to interfere with those things."

To that Sullivan adds this -

    American freedom and Bush-Rove Republicanism are increasingly at odds. Don't let them intimidate you. If you're a conservative who actually values the constitutional freedoms these people are stripping away, vote Democrat or abstain. If today's GOP wins, they will take it as vindication for their authoritarian streak. And the path we have already embarked upon will only get darker.

More dispassionately Digby again notes the real issue -

    I think that is one of the most interesting observations I've read in a while (certainly in the New York Times.) The Republicans and the Christian Right are leading America on a backward march into the Dark Ages - and that is stepping on our dreams. As a culture, we have always been idealistic about progress and inspired by new discoveries to improve the lot of the human race. We're about invention and reinvention. It's one of our best qualities.

    These people are telling us that those days are over. We have to depend upon brute force, superstition and ancient revelation. Science is dangerous. Art is frightening. Education must be strictly circumscribed so that children aren't exposed to ideas that might lead them astray.

    It's a pinched, sour, ugly vision of America. For those who believe that their time on earth is all about waiting for The Bridegroom, perhaps that doesn't mean much. But for the rest of us, things like scientific breakthroughs or artistic achievement are inspirational, soaring emotional connections with our country and our fellow man. It makes us proud. The dark-ages conservatives want to take that away from us.

    This country has been divided at 50/50 for some time. That probably cannot continue much longer and a real majority will emerge before long. Tax-cuts have held together the GOP coalition up to now, but their dark vision of the future may be the thing that finally drives the suburban, educated voters to our side of the ledger for a long time to come. We're the ones with the progressive dream of the future and that's as American as a Big Mac and fries.

The Republicans may get out heir base and find the base is fourteen people in South Carolina.

And the stem cell thing isn't helping, when after being attacked as a manipulative faker by Rush Limbaugh for the ad where Fox argues such research should be fully funded, Michael J. Fox was using another really sneaky tactic, refusing to cave in -

    As you may know, I had a run-in with a less than compassionate conservative. I guess I'm not supposed to speak with you until my symptoms go away, or maybe I'm supposed to go away, but I'm not going to go away and neither are the millions of Americans and their families who live with these diseases…

Yeah, Limbaugh was doing to Fox what Ann Coulter had done to the World Trade Center Widows - telling them they were being unfair because folks would feel sorry for them and anyone who thought they were wrong would look like a fool and a bore. But the same thing happened with Michael Fox. No one is going away like they're supposed to.

Will the base hold, and make the votes gay Catholic, the suburban, educated usually Republican voters, and all the others, insignificant?

E. J. Dionne doesn't think so -

    President Bush's six-year effort to create an enduring Republican majority based on a right-leaning coalition is on the verge of collapse. The way he tried to create it could have the unintended consequence of opening the way for an alternative majority.

    … The strategy pursued by Bush and Karl Rove has frightened most of the political center into the arms of Democrats.

    … [T]his approach created what may prove to be a fatal political disconnect: Adventurous policies designed to create enthusiasm on the right turned off a large number of less ideological voters.

That's a rather pedestrian observation, but it seems lost on Karl Rove.

See the Houston Chronicle here - Bush stumps for Sekula-Gibbs in Sugar Land. It seems most of the speech was about the evils of gay marriage, and it was received with wild enthusiasm. To many this hardly seems the most pressing issue the nation faces, but you need to fire up the base. Rove doesn't seem to see the implications.

Ironically, the big science article of the same day was Mirror Test Implies Elephants Self-Aware - elephants are much smarter than anyone thought, introspective and perhaps aware, in the Cartesian sense. Thomas Nast chose the wrong symbol for the Republican Party - but then Nast didn't have the new research. Ah well.

And sometimes you just have to forget the labels. One of those awful World Trade Center widows that Ann Coulter mocked, Kristen Breitweiser, says forget the labels -

    Go ahead. Call me a Democrat. But, I am not; I'm anti-terrorist - which means that I cannot support the Republican agenda.

    Go ahead. Call me crazy. But, I am not. I favor common-sense logic, sound judgment, and smart leadership proven by and rooted in truth and reality - which means that I cannot support the Republican agenda.

    Truth and Reality: Five years since 9/11, the Republicans have done more to further the terrorist agenda than Osama Bin Laden could have ever hoped for on the morning of 9/11.

    The Republican's pre-emptive war in Iraq gave Bin Laden exactly what he dreamt about on the morning of 9/11: it has strengthened terrorist organizations worldwide; made American Republican policy makers and leaders look weak, ignorant, and arrogant; drained U.S. military personnel ranks and morale; eaten up massive amounts of our national budget; destabilized the world; harmed the U.S.'s reputation in the world; weakened U.S. Constitutional principles and the ideals of free and democratic society; allowed North Korea and Iran to not only become emboldened but also real, credible threats to American security; and left our homeland defense alarmingly vulnerable to a dizzying array of future terrorist attacks (i.e. biological, chemical, nuclear, aerial, nautical, etc).

    In short, Republican leadership since 9/11 has been (to quote our Defense Secretary) a "catastrophic success." "Catastrophic" to us Americans. And a "success" to the terrorists bent on killing us.

    Republicans scare us with their smoke and mirrors; their quick double-talk and their expensive campaign tactics, advertisements, and distractions. None of which are rooted in truth or reality. Republicans boast that they are the only ones to keep us safe from terrorists. Republicans have threatened that a vote for a Democrat is a vote for the terrorists. Republicans draw attention to the fact that we haven't had another attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.

    But, the aftermath of the Republicans maintaining their majority in Congress will likely bring: more worldwide instability; more unjustified and illegal wars against the wrong targets; more U.S. soldiers' lives placed in danger to defend dead wrong Republican policies; thousands of innocent lives lost in the cross-fire of the Republicans' lethal "stay the course" agenda; and apparently a never-ending and ever-ballooning vulnerability to our homeland security due to Republican bad judgment and misfit priorities.

    Know this: the Republicans have had five years to make this nation markedly (not merely marginally) safer from terrorist attack. They've chosen not to do so.

She goes on for a bit more. But you get the idea. She's no Democrat, but things happen. The base may be gone.

Maybe the base will finally notice this (those that are sitting on a pile of debt, who fear losing their job, who have dropped their health insurance because they cannot afford it any longer - but would never vote for anyone but a Republican). From Jonathan Chait, just some facts -

    Over the last quarter century, the portion of the national income accruing to the richest 1 percent of Americans has doubled. The share going to the richest one-tenth of 1 percent has tripled, and the share going to the richest one-hundredth of 1 percent has quadrupled.

Kevin Drum asks the question -

    Whenever you hear someone propose an explanation for skyrocking income inequality over the past few decades, try to think about whether it explains the fact that inequality has gotten immensely worse not just between the top 20% and the bottom 20%, but between the top 1% and the 9% just below them. For example:

    Greater returns to education? Do you really think that the top 1% are better educated on average than the next 9%?

    Greater rewards for technical skills? Do you really think the top 1% have greater technical skills than the next 9%?


    More stable families?

    Race and gender?

    A failure to take account of the growing value of health benefits?

    Do any of these things plausibly seem like big differences between the top 1% and the next 9%? Pretty clearly they aren't. So why is the top 1% outpacing even the well-to-do who inhabit the next 9%? What's the big difference between these groups?

Someone is being had, and loving it. Others aren't so happy.

And on the same day, the same rumbling in the distance -

    A spasm of violence seized the capital on Monday. Forty-six Iraqis were killed in six bombings across the city and a moderate Sunni Arab figure was gunned down by two men on motorcycles.

    The American toll for October rose to 102, the highest since January 2005, with the military's announcement of three more deaths.

    In a single deadly strike, 33 Shiite laborers gathered around food stalls in a Sadr City square were killed when a bomb in a bag exploded at 6 a.m., scattering glasses of tea and remains of breakfasts. The workers had been waiting for offers of $10-a-day jobs.

    The attacks continued as the American national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, met in Baghdad with Iraqi officials. He came to discuss the work of a committee set up by the leaders of the two governments on Sunday, whose aim includes giving Iraqis more control over their troops.

    The attack in Sadr City came despite the American Army cordon that has been in place for a week in a search for a missing soldier, whom the military believes was taken there. It was the fifth bomb in the area, Al Mudhafar Square, where poor workers line up to seek work, said Haidar Said, a police captain on duty when the bomb exploded.

    "Please deliver this message," said Officer Said. "This city has suffered a lot. These are poor people. We want to reach our voice to the world."

    … In another assassination, Raad Naem al-Jeheshi, a Shiite who led an organization of former Iraqi prisoners, was gunned down in Dora, a Sunni suburb that American troops had swept.

    The militants' use of government uniforms for deception continued in a particularly grim way on Monday, when a suicide bomber dressed as a police officer passed through two checkpoints in the police headquarters in Kirkuk, north of Baghdad. Three people were killed, including a 5-year-old, the child of a woman who works as a cleaner. Thirteen were wounded.

    Total Iraqi deaths reported for the day was 81, The A.P. said, including bodies found in rivers near Baghdad.

    Violence in Baghdad was also responsible for an American's death, when a member of the 89th Military Police Brigade was killed Monday in the eastern part of the city. Another soldier died when the vehicle in which he was riding was struck by an explosive device south of Baghdad.

    The other American whose death was tallied on Monday was a marine who was killed in fighting in Anbar Province the day before.

Some are angry our guys are caught up in this, and dying for some goal that is now unclear, if it ever was clear. Some are angry with those who think that.

Some are appalled at what we have unleashed - Saddam Hussein is gone and that is fine. But what have we done?

Some want to flood that place with three times the troops we have there now and shut down the violence, until we leave, and maybe we can never leave. Some want to back out slowly and carefully, and soon.

Some say just tinker around the edges and things will get better, if we just have patience. Some want to just rethink all this. Some say even thinking about rethinking any of this is treason.

No one is happy. It's not a good time to be running for reelection.



Bill Maher is also not happy -

    America must stop bragging that it's the greatest country on earth and start acting like it. Now, I know - I know this is uncomfortable for the faith-over-facts crowd, but the greatness of a country can, to a large degree, be measured. Here are some numbers: Infant mortality rate, America ranks 48th in the world; overall health, 72nd; freedom of the press, 44; literacy, 55th. Do you realize there are 12-year-old kids in this country who can't spell the name of the teacher they're having sex with?

    Now, America, I will admit, has done many great things: making the New World democratic comes to mind, the Marshall Plan, curing polio, beating Hitler, the deep-fried Twinkie. But what have we done for us lately? We're not the freest country. That would be Holland, where you can smoke hash in church, and Janet Jackson's nipple is on their flag.

    And, sadly, we're no longer a country that can get things done, either. Not big things, like building a tunnel under Boston or running a war with competence. We had six years to fix the voting machines. Couldn't get that done. The FBI is just now getting email!

    Prop 87 out here in California is about lessening our dependence on oil by using alternative fuels, and Bill Clinton comes on at the end of the ad and says, "If Brazil can do it, America can, too." Excuse me, since when did America have to buck itself up by saying we could catch up to Brazil?! We invented the airplane and the lightbulb. They invented the bikini wax, and now they're ahead?!

    In most of the industrialized world, nearly everyone has health care. And hardly anyone doubts evolution. And, yes, having to live amid so many superstitious dimwits is also something that affects quality of life. It's why America isn't going to be the country that gets the inevitable patents in stem cell cures, because Jesus thinks it's too close to cloning!

    Oh, and did I mention we owe China a trillion dollars? We owe everybody money. America is a debtor nation to Mexico! We're not on a bridge to the 21st century. We're on a bus to Atlantic City with a roll of quarters.

    And this is why it bugs me that so many people talk like it's 1955 and we're still number one in everything. We're not. And I take no glee in saying this, because I love my country, and I wish we were. But when you're number 55 in this category and number 92 in that one, you look a little silly waving the big foam "Number One" finger.

    As long as we believe being the greatest country in the world is a birthright, we'll keep coasting on the achievements of earlier generations and we'll keep losing the moral high ground. Because we may not be the biggest or the healthiest or the best educated. But we always did have one thing no other place did. We knew soccer was bullshit.

    And we also had a little thing called the Bill of Rights. A great nation doesn't torture people or make them disappear without a trial. Bush keeps saying the terrorists hate us for our freedom. And he's working damn hard to see that pretty soon that won't be a problem.

It's time for a change.

This item posted November 5, 2006

[The End Game]

Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik