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

Things Changed

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

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

Things Changed

Out here in Los Angeles, Election Day was the hottest November 7th on record - ninety-seven degrees downtown. The records go back to the 1870's or so - and this was off the charts. But it was hotter elsewhere. The war in Iraq and President Bush's stubbornness and air of militant entitlement, and the openly corrupt and stunningly ineffective congress, and the sense that the economy was only good for the rich folks, and so much else, seemed to have people rather angry. Exit polls couldn't quite capture it - for some it was the war, for some the Teri Schiavo business, for others it was the incompetence revealed with the nearly useless and inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina more than a year ago, for others all the money that went to Halliburton and the like there and in Iraq, for others the issue of the president claiming no laws applied to him - and underneath it all the inarticulate who couldn't afford health insurance, who knew they could lose their jobs tomorrow with the next round of "enhancing shareholder value" and who just felt something was wrong and it might be time for a change. The midterm elections changed things

By late Wednesday it was clear what had happened. The nation seems to have agreed it might be nice to have a House and Senate of new people, not the old crew making their friends and families rich and agreeing to whatever the president said, and when they eventually got around to working concerned with issues like changing the constitution to ban flag-burning as a form of protest and making sure gay people couldn't ever get married or even have the legal rights straight folks have. Three weeks before the election they spent a day or two working on banning the commercial production of horsemeat - a niche export industry but very worrisome. With legislator after legislator reading statements into the record documenting the love of horses things did reach the near edge of the absurd. (For the record, Just Above Sunset thinks horses are fine animals.)

Late Wednesday is when Associated Press and NBC called the final Senate race - Jim Webb over the incumbent Republican, George Allen, in Virginia. That assured Democrats of fifty-one seats when the Senate convenes in January. That was a net gain of six seats - a sweep but for Tennessee. Earlier, State Senator Jon Tester - the outspoken organic farmer who long ago lost three fingers in a meat grinder accident (a "man of the people" in some strange way) - had won over the incumbent Republican Senator Conrad Burns Montana. Both races were close and the results late, but the possibility of a recount changing things was so remote only the concession speeches were in question - seeing who could be most gracious. Rick Santorum had set the bar high there.

The Democratic Senate total does include two independents - Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont - but they both say they will caucus and vote with the Democrats. Bernie Sanders certainly will, but Lieberman is an odd duck - a six term Democrat with a long history, from the Civil Rights days in the sixties, of voting with that side, but a recent history is whining and voting with the Republicans on all issues and scolding Democrats for any public or private disagreement with any policy or position of the president. He's the wild card, publicly saying the war in Iraq is going great and no one should disagree with this particular president on anything. And when he lost the Democratic primary and ran as an independent, financed to a large extent by the White House and saying it would be better than having him in the Senate rather than the man officially selected by the Party, he burned a few bridges. The Senate may actually be split in an odd way.

The House will not be split - by Wednesday the Democrats had gained almost thirty seats, and they only had needed fifteen for a majority. Ten more seats were too close to call, but control of the House was not in question. Things had changed.

And other things had changed. Conservative values were in question.

In Arizona voters rejected a measure to ban gay marriage and any sort of civil unions - in spite of John McCain arguing that this had to pass for the moral good of that state and the whole nation. So in the land of Barry Goldwater the people spoke in one voice - restricting the rights of gay folks was dumb, intrusive and mean-spirited. The late Barry Goldwater had actually held that same position, although the issue at that time was gays in the military and in public office. He didn't see the big problem. And neither did the voters there now - they'd had enough of being jerked around by the "values" crowd. (Oddly enough, somewhere around here, perhaps in a box in the back of the closet, I have a tape of my second ex-father-in-law, when he was Assistant Secretary of Defense for Heath Affairs in the Reagan administration, appearing on the McNeill-Lehar News House show arguing the opposite, and not very convincingly.)

In Missouri the voters also told the values crowd to take a hike - the initiative funding stem cell research passed handily, and the incumbent Republican senator who opposed it was tossed out as well. The argument that such research involved murdering actual children - or that it secretly legalized human cloning - didn't gain much traction. The "values" crowd seemed a bit loopy on the issue.

In another setback for values conservatives, South Dakota rejected a law that would have banned virtually all abortions. This had been passed overwhelmingly by the legislature earlier in the year and would have been the toughest abortion law in the country, allowing abortions only to save a pregnant woman's life. The idea was that the ban would be challenged in court, and that might provoke litigation that might eventually lead to a Supreme Court reversal of Roe v Wade. It lost by a 55-45 margin - folks saw it as too intrusive, with language that failed to guarantee the rights of victims of rape and incest. It was a bullshit ploy, and they'd have none of it.

"It was a thumping," Bush conceded in his press conference Wednesday at the White House. "It's clear the Democrat Party had a good night." (He will not use the term "Democratic" Party - it gives them too much respect - it's the "Democrat" Party.)

But with power on Capitol Hill tilting the other way now, the president faced the unpleasant reality of both houses in the opposition's hands for the final two years of his term. This will not be nice. He announced that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would step down as Democrats, and most everyone, have demanded.

That was a surprise. Two weeks earlier he had said Rumsfeld would stay on to the end of his term - two more years - as Rumsfeld had done an "excellent job." He was adamant, and vehement, about that. Things change, and the big issue really was the war. Something is happening.

Internationally, you got things like this -

    … from Paris to Pakistan, politicians, analysts and ordinary citizens said Wednesday they hoped the Democratic takeover of both Houses of Congress would force Bush to adopt a more conciliatory approach to global crises, and teach a president many see as a "cowboy" a lesson in humility.

    In an extraordinary joint statement, more than 200 Socialist members of the European Parliament hailed the American election results as "the beginning of the end of a six-year nightmare for the world."

    Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has consistently railed against the Bush administration, called the election "a reprisal vote."

    In Paris, American expatriates and French citizens alike packed the city's main American haunts to watch results overnight and early Wednesday, with some standing to cheer or boo as vote tabulations came in. One Frenchman, 53-year-old teacher Jean-Pierre Charpemtrat, said it was about time U.S. voters figured out what much of the rest of the world already knew. "Americans are realizing that you can't found the politics of a country on patriotic passion and reflexes," he said. "You can't fool everybody all the time - and I think that's what Bush and his administration are learning today."

    … In Copenhagen, Denmark, Jens Langfeldt, 35, said he didn't know much about the midterm elections but was opposed to Bush, referring to the president as "that cowboy."

    In Sri Lanka, some said they hoped the rebuke would force Bush to abandon a unilateral approach to global issues. "The Americans have made it clear that current American policy should change in dealing with the world, from a confrontational approach, to a more consensus-based and bridge-building approach," said Jehan Perera, a political analyst. The Democratic win means "there will be more control and restraint" over U.S. foreign policy.

    Passions were even higher in Pakistan, where Bush is deeply unpopular despite billions in aid and support for President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. One opposition lawmaker, Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, said he welcomed the election result, but was hoping for more. Bush "deserves to be removed, put on trial and given a Saddam-like death sentence," he said.

    … in China, some feared the resurgence of the Democrats would increase tension over human rights and trade and labor issues. China's surging economy has a massive trade surplus with the United States. "The Democratic Party ... will protect the interests of small and medium American enterprises and labor and that could produce an impact on China-U.S. trade relations," Zhang Guoqing of the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said in a report on Sina.com, one of China's most popular Internet portals.

    The prospect of a sudden change in American foreign policy could also be troubling to U.S. allies such as Britain, Japan and Australia, which have thrown their support behind the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Will there be a change in policy? Rumsfeld was cut loose while his old friend and best friend from their days together in the Nixon and Ford administrations, Vice President Cheney, was off on his first hunting trip since he shot another old friend in the face. One of Lloyd Bridges' lines in the movie "Airplane" was "I guess I picked the wrong day to quit sniffing glue." Cheney picked the wrong day to go hunting up by the Canadian border. Or he knew what was coming and decided it would be best to be out of town, shooting small animals.

The replacement is Bob Gates, and one way of looking at it is like this -

    How twisted is this country? An Iran-Contra crook and ex-CIA chief is immediately greeted as a sane, grown-up yet "fresh" replacement for the delusional old Donald Rumsfeld.

    Even more fun, Gates' nemesis Daniel Ortega was elected president of Nicaragua on Monday. You may remember Ortega as the Sandinista leader who fought off the Contras in a long bloody "civil war" in large part engineered by … Oliver North, William Casey and deputy CIA director Robert M. Gates, among others. North, a convicted felon and official fall guy for Iran-Contra, was in Nicaragua last week campaigning against Ortega.

    History doesn't just repeat itself; it repeats itself with the same exact people.

A more conventional way of looking at it is this -

    In turning to former CIA Director Robert M. Gates to take the reins at the Pentagon, President Bush has selected a low-key loyalist who is in many ways the opposite of outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Whereas Rumsfeld often seemed bent on running roughshod over the Pentagon brass, Gates is described by longtime associates as collegial and a consensus-builder.

    If Rumsfeld had little regard for President George H.W. Bush and many of his pragmatic security advisers, including Brent Scowcroft, Gates was part of that inner circle. He remains close not only to Scowcroft but to other Rumsfeld rivals, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rumsfeld placed little trust in intelligence agencies and pushed the military to encroach on their turf. In a turning of the tables, a 27-year veteran of the CIA and the National Security Council is poised to take charge of the military.

    Democrats praised Gates' nomination, hoping for a less combative Pentagon chief. But Gates has proved controversial in the past. He was forced to withdraw from his first nomination as CIA director before winning a split-vote confirmation four years later.

So one of Daddy's friends is coming in to clean things up, a man who is already part of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group - charged with developing an array of alternatives to the current Iraq policies. Gates recently traveled to Iraq as part of that team and met with Iraqi leaders and our military commanders. The intervention has begun. The president's father is reported to have a long-standing problem with Rumsfeld - he would have nothing to do with him, and the son appointing Rumsfeld to Defense, or letting Cheney tell him he should, had been an in-your-face thing in the family. Things change.

And the big change may be this -

    Rumsfeld "is a guy who is kind of burdened with his own certitude at times," said John Gannon, a former high-ranking CIA official who worked with Rumsfeld and Gates. "That is not Bob Gates. He came out of an analytic culture where listening to the ideas of others and questioning your own assumptions is part of the tradecraft."

Listening and questioning your own assumptions? Things really are changing at the White House.

Rumsfeld was a leading advocate for invading Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11 - deposing Saddam Hussein was unfinished business the wimp father had screwed up. Gates was one of those who cautioned the first President Bush not to press toward Baghdad after we fixed the Kuwait thing in 1992. To be fair, of course, Cheney was saying the same thing at the time.

And for the record, Gates was first nominated to be CIA director by Reagan in 1987, but he withdrew due to congressional opposition - he was too closely tied to the Iran-Contra scandal, and that had been engineered by CIA Director Casey while Gates was his deputy. He was not charged with anything, but people wondered. Instead Gates joined the National Security Council staff at the White House, where he made connections with Brent Scowcroft and Condoleezza Rice. When he finally got to run the CIA four years later one of his first initiatives as director was to deal with the accusations that that intelligence had been politicized within the agency. He appointed a task force on "analytic objectivity" and implemented all of its recommendations. So we're talking a major change here - he'd not tolerate visits from Cheney to anyone to badger them for the "right" results. He may run Defense the same way - let's deal with what we know for sure, the actually facts. Yipes! New thinking!

As for Rumsfeld, there was one last shot -

    In brief remarks, Rumsfeld described the Iraq conflict as a "little understood, unfamiliar war" that is "complex for people to comprehend."

Ah! He got it, no one else did, and they we're not as smart as he is, and people are just so stupid.

An assessment of that from Andrew Sullivan -

    He then compared himself to Churchill. Yep: still clinical. The truth is: it was Rumsfeld who little understood and was unfamiliar with the actual conflict he was tasked with managing. It was not too "complex for people to comprehend." It was relatively easy to comprehend. If you invade a post-totalitarian country and disband its military, you better have enough troops to keep order. We didn't. Rumsfeld refused to send enough. When this was made clear to him and to everyone, he still refused. His arrogant belief in a military that didn't need any actual soldiers was completely at odds with the actual task in Iraq. But he preferred to sit back as tens of thousands of Iraqis were murdered and thousands of U.S. troops died rather than to check his own ego.

    So let me put this as simply as I can: Rumsfeld has blood on his hands - American and Iraqi blood. He also directly ordered and personally monitored the torture of military detainees. He secured legal impunity for his own war crimes, but that doesn't mean the Congress shouldn't investigate more fully what he authorized. He remains one of the most incompetent defense secretaries in history (McNamara looks good in comparison). But he is also a war criminal: a torturer who broke the laws of this country. The catastrophe in Iraq will stain him for ever. His record of torture has indelibly stained the United States.

But other than that he did a fine job. It should be an interesting next two years.

As for the election itself, Sullivan had a few choice words -

    The obvious result of last night's returns is the complete historical and geographical inversion of what was once the Republican Party. Nixon's cynical Southern strategy has now been played out to the nth degree - and, after a good period of opportunistic success, it has failed. All the states Lincoln fought against are now the bastions of his own party. And most of the rest of the country - especially the sane, common sense conservatives of the Midwest whence Lincoln himself hailed - have been forced into the Democratic camp. Formerly solid, freedom-loving Republican states, like California, are now overwhelmingly Democratic.

    The GOP is now very much the party of Dixie; and the consequence of this election is that the Congressional leadership is even more Southern than it was before. The irony is that it was the moderate Republicans who were disproportionately punished electorally by the extremists in their midst. And so the party that lost because of its extremists now sees itself more dominated by the extremists. Nixon's cynical ploy - played beyond the extreme by Rove - has, in other words, come back to haunt and defeat his party in the end. Because it over-reached.

    So now the battle for the soul of conservatism can begin in earnest. Either the Democrats will capture it; or the Republicans will recapture it.

The short version of that - the Republican Party is now the party of the Old South, racist, delusional, anti-science, xenophobic and evangelical. That's all they've got left. The real and principled conservatives have gone and hooked up with the progressives/liberals to deal with reality. (And that's where Barry Goldwater would be too.)

There is too a lot of comment out there on the Rove strategy floating around, and it hooks into that.

Since before 2000 his "genius" was realizing you could win by removing the middle, the "swing voters" and moderates, as there really were no such people. You rile up your base against the godless liberals, and make them seem somewhere between evil and stupid, and by default you get just enough of the uninformed to augment your unwavering base, and you get 50.0001 percent of the vote, and then you insist you have an overwhelming mandate that's so obvious that the media concedes that the nation has obviously changed course and become just like your base. And it worked for six years. Then it didn't. There actually seems to have been a middle after all.

Juan Cole, the University of Michigan Middle East scholar, puts it this way -

    The fourth popular revolution of the twenty-first century (after the Ukraine, Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan) swept America on Tuesday, as voters engaged in the moral equivalent of storming the Bastille. The United States of America has roundly repudiated the Bush Administration and Republican Party dominance of all three branches of the Federal government and its dominance of many state offices, as well. Corruption and war drove this slap in the face to the Old Regime crafted by Newt Gingrich and Traitor Rove.

    … In my view the real significance of the Democratic victory is four-fold.

    First, it demonstrates once again that the American public simply will not put up with a return to the age of colonialism and does not want to occupy Asian countries militarily. Do you think that Abu Ghraib and American torture-pornography, the daily grind of violence, the stupid mistakes, have passed them by so that they didn't notice? They might swallow all this reluctantly but they want light at the end of the tunnel. There is not any in Iraq… They want it over with. It isn't.

    Second, Bush is not going to be able to put any more Scalia types on the Federal benches or the Supreme Court.

    Third, a Bush administration war on Iran now seems highly unlikely. A major initiative of that sort would need funding, and I don't think Congress will grant it. The Democrats don't want an Iran with a nuclear weapon any more than the Republicans do. But they are more likely to recognize that there is no good evidence that Iran even has a nuclear weapons program, and have been chastened by Iraq enough to distrust purely military solutions to such crises.

    Fourth, there will now finally be accountability. It is obvious to me that the Bush administration has been engaged in large-scale crimes and corruption, and has gotten away with it because the Republican heads of the relevant committees have refused to investigate these crimes. Democratic committee heads with subpoena power will finally be able to force the Pentagon and other institutions to fork over the smoking gun documents, and then will be in a position to prosecute.

    … The Democratic victory has enormous implications for US domestic politics. There will likely be an increase in the minimum wage, e.g. And the creeping tyranny of the evangelical far right has been slowed; even a lot of evangelicals seem uncomfortable with where that was going, and a lot of them deserted the Republicans in this election.

    What are its implications for Iraq policy? Those are fewer, just because the executive makes foreign policy. Congress can only intervene decisively by cutting off money for foreign military adventures, which the Democrats have already pledged not to do. Moreover, the Iraq morass is a hopeless case and even if the legislature had more to say about policy there, it is not as if there are any good options.

    … What we can say is that the electoral outcome is a bellwether for the future of American involvement in Iraq. It will now gradually come to an end, barring a dramatic disaster, such as a guerrilla push to deprive our troops of fuel and then to surround and besiege them. More likely, the steady grind of bad news and further senseless death will force Bush's successor, whoever it, is, to get out of that country. One cannot imagine us staying in Afghanistan for the long haul, either. Bush's question in 2003 was, can we go back to the early 20th century and have a sort of Philippines-like colony with a major military investment? The answer is, "no." Iraqis are too politically and socially mobilized to be easily dominated in the way the old empires dominated isolated, illiterate peasants. The outcome of the Israel-Hezbollah war this summer further signaled that the peasants now have sharper staves that even penetrate state of the art tanks. The US can still easily win any wars it needs to win. It cannot any longer win long military occupations. The man who knew this most surely in the Bush administration, Donald Rumsfeld, most egregiously gave in to the occupation route, and will end up the fall guy as the public mood turns increasingly ugly in both countries.

And that happened fast. And then the Democrats called for a summit on Iraq -

    Eager to show "Democrats are ready to deliver", Senate Democrat leader Harry Reid called for a bipartisan summit "to find a new direction" on Iraq.

    "The President must listen and work with Democrats to fix his failed (Iraq) policy," he said.

That might not be a bad idea, given this -

    In the final days before Tuesday's midterm election, President Bush dispatched two top officials to Iraq in a bid to pressure al-Maliki to quickly disband Shiite militia groups and death squads that have killed thousands of Sunni Muslims.

    National Intelligence Director John Negroponte was rebuffed by al-Maliki, however, when he demanded the Iraqi leader disband militias and wipe out death squads this year.

    A top aide to al-Maliki, who refused to allow use of his name because of the sensitive nature of the information, told The Associated Press the prime minister flatly refused and said the task could not be taken up until next year.

    Al-Maliki's refusal to act against the militias has caused deepening anger among Sunni politicians who took enormous risks in joining the political process.

    Sunni lawmaker Salim Abdullah said the Iraqi Accordance Front bloc had sent messages to other political groups warning that if there is no balance and the militias are not dissolved "we will withdraw from the government."

    "We are under political pressure, and if these demands are not met we will abandon politics," Abdullah said. "And this will leave us with only one alternative, which is carrying arms, and then it will be civil war. And we are against the civil war."

Yep, what we've been doing is just not working. It's time for a change. We got one.


Curious post-election quotes from Rush Limbaugh -

    The way I feel is this: I feel liberated, and I'm going to tell you as plainly as I can why. I no longer am going to have to carry the water for people who I don't think deserve having their water carried. Now, you might say, "Well, why have you been doing it?" Because the stakes are high! Even though the Republican Party let us down, to me they represent a far better future for my beliefs and therefore the country's than the Democrat [sic] Party does and liberalism.

    … I'm a radio guy! I understand what this program has become in America and I understand the leadership position it has. I was doing what I thought best, but at this point, people who don't deserve to have their water carried, or have themselves explained as they would like to say things but somehow aren't able to? I'm not under that kind of pressure.

    … There hasn't been in the ideology in the Republican Party, any conservatism for at least two to maybe four years. You could argue Bush was more of an ideologue in the presidential campaign of '04, but in looking at what happened yesterday, it wasn't conservatism that lost. Conservatism won when it ran as a Democrat. It won in a number of places. Republicanism lost.

It's a new world.

This item posted November 12, 2006

[Things Changed]

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