Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Republicans should spare us 2012

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I am what many folks would consider conservative. I did not vote for Obama in 2008 and was more or less pleased with the results of the 2010 midterm elections. It is from this perspective that I offer a plea of sanity to the Republican party.

The current Republican field of known or talked about presidential candidates is perhaps the weakest I've ever seen from either party since Walter Mondale in 1984. There are the usual entertaining but afterthought candidates like Cain and Paul who command an enthusiastic 5% of the electorate. And then there are establishment candidates like Gingrich, Romney, and Pawlenty, all of whom have problems and none of whom have demonstrated an ability to unify the party or build momentum for a serious challenge to Obama. Others like Huckabee have wisely stayed out, knowing they can't win. Palin and Bachmann, if they have any sense at all, will do the same.

Even all the recent pep talk surrounding Daniels is illustrative of how uncompetitive the Republicans are. Daniels only attracted decent interest because the present field is so abysmal. If Republicans had a good electable candidate who was generating any enthusiasm at all, Daniels would be an afterthought. The fact that he was recently anointed as a potential savior in certain Republican circles prior to staying out speaks volumes about how terrible the field is.

Put simply, the Republicans have virtually no chance of winning in 2012. None of the current candidates can beat Obama or even seriously threaten him. And this is despite the fact that Obama has weaknesses and vulnerabilities that the press and Hollywood won't be able to completely disguise despite what is certain to be their best efforts to do so. Romney and Pawlenty have both been unofficially running for president for 2 years now. To be at it this long and have so little voter enthusiasm to show for it really oughta tell them something. I suppose both Giuliani and Christie could provide needed gravitas and enthusiasm, but both have significant problems as well, and Christie has repeatedly said 'no way' to getting in. Many Republicans have been pining away for Paul Ryan to get in. But Ryan, as a true believer-type, is absolutely right in saying that his ability to make the most impact is right where he is, in a safe congressional district that won't punish him for sincerely trying to address titanic problems that most politicians are too scared to touch. He'd be a fool to get into the presidential game right now, and my bet is he's smart enough to know it.

The 2012 math simply doesn't work for the Republicans. Obama isn't riding high, but he's in better shape than he was a year ago, which means the ground that was so fertile for Republicans last year is a bit less hospitable now. The ground is likely to be even less hospitable next year as a result of Republicans in Congress embracing (needed) spending cuts that voters often like in theory, but dislike in real life. The Republican presidential candidate will likely be facing an electorate that is far less enthusiastic about the budget slashing message in 2012 than they were in 2010, and facing a big enthusiasm gap at the base level. Not saying this is right or wrong; just saying it is. When we throw in the "fact" that the Republican candidate will be a lightweight in comparison to the battle-scarred but press-propped-up Obama, I leave it to somebody who's either a whole lot smarter or a whole lot more delusional than me to figure out how a Republican is giving a presidential victory speech on election night.

If such calculus is correct, the best thing Republicans can do is spare the country (and themselves) a costly and mostly meaningless campaign season. They're not going to win. Their victory was in 2010. The 'Republican wave' has come and mostly gone. Forget about 2012.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Obama's Right

The bin Laden photos shouldn't be released. No matter how gruesome or not gruesome the photos are, images of a dead bin Laden would offend not only committed radicals, but would also likely inflame the passions of some who are not currently radicalized. This would not only be a threat to American troops, it could also unintentionally provide a resurgence of energy and new blood into a terrorist movement that has been rendered increasingly ineffective over the last 10 years. This is in nobody's interest.

The idea that the photos should be released as a way of providing proof of death is also a pretty faulty argument. I understand the view of folks like Krauthammer that conspiracy theories and hair-brained intrigue are not the sole property of the idiot fringe like the birthers on the Right or the truthers on the Left, but are in fact an integral part of mainstream thought and discourse on 'the Arab street'. Therefore, so the theory goes, releasing the photos would provide the kind of evidence that would dampen a potential conspiracy frenzy in the Arab world. I politely dissent.

Government policy, both foreign and domestic, has to accommodate and even at times 'condescend' to the level of the masses. But such accommodation needs to have reasonable limits. Government policy that accommodates and is even dictated by mass stupidity is dangerous, because it jeopardizes national interests, does nothing to elevate the discourse or national conversation, and in fact, concedes ground to the point where the inmates can start running the asylum.

Look, doubts about bin Laden's death aren't fueled by a lack of proof; they're fueled by a lack of thinking. When the United States openly tells the entire world that bin Laden is dead, that claim instantly becomes the easiest claim in the world to debunk if it isn't true. All bin Laden would have to do is record a video or audio that says, "Hey, I know the United States is telling the world that I was killed in a raid on April 30/May 1 2011 at a compound in Abbottabad Pakistan by Navy Seals. Well, this claim is obviously a lie, since I'm still here." This kind of verifiable statement is what Hitler gave in the aftermath of the Stauffenberg plot to assassinate him in 1944, and it's what any high profile person would do to set the record straight, 'reassure' his loyalists, and not allow a lie to demoralize his movement/forces. When the US makes a claim like this, the burden of proof is just as much on bin Laden to disprove the claim as it is on the US to provide reasonable evidence of the claim's veracity. If anyone doubts this, they might want to consult the religious leaders in Palestine in the 1st century, since all they had to do to stamp out Christianity forever was produce the corpse of Christ. As Jack Nicholson said in The Departed, "If you coulda, you woulda."

The bottom line is that we don't need potentially inflammatory photos to be evidentially satisfied that bin Laden is dead. bin Laden's silence since the episode is the most compelling proof of all. There's no accounting for stupidity, and US policy shouldn't be writing a blank check to such stupidity, particularly when lives could be lost and evil movements rejuvenated by doing so.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Death of bin Laden

Kudos are warranted for Mr Obama and the complex nexus of defense and intelligence teams for punctuating the finality of a 10 year odyssey to hold the first major mass murderer of the 21st century to account for his crimes. Mr Obama in particular deserves credit. 10 years is a long time to be hunting after someone. Memories fade, priorities change, and even important things can be overcome by other events, making them less important. Mr Obama should be commended for staying the course and seeing this mission all the way through, and by all accounts so far, doing it in a determined responsible way. Obama has invited legitimate criticism of his foreign policy during his first 2 years with what many (including me at times) have seen as unsteady, unsure, compromised and even ineffective diplomacy. Many have legitimately wondered if Obama has the stomach for a serious foreign policy that takes the negative realities of the world seriously, while also seriously capitalizing on generational opportunities such as the Arab Spring phenomenon. Obama's willingness to head an effort to dispose of bin Laden tells us (or me at least) that Obama can indeed temporarily abandon an almost obsessively paralytic search for gray when something really is black or white. Bravo.

Amidst the celebrations in DC and NYC, one should be reminded that certain things do indeed overcome human fickleness. Newscasters across the board seemed genuinely surprised by the outpouring of joy bin Laden's death evoked. People do indeed still remember how terrible bin Laden's crimes were. And even though I personally find it a bit paradoxical to 'celebrate' someone being shot dead and literally thrown over the side of a ship, my conscience is soothed by the almost certain reality that bin Laden never would have allowed himself to be captured alive, making his death the only way for justice and reasonable closure to be realized in this life. His death is a reminder that no matter how idealistically positive some of us may want to view the world, the stain of sin is still with us and must be reckoned with for any responsible view of the world to win the day.