Condi's Reading List

Condoleezza Rice's bold June 21 proclamation that violence in Lebanon merely represented the “birth pangs of a new Middle East” was a minor diplomatic fiasco, prompting denunciations and outrage from around the Muslim world.

But where did she come by the odd turn of phrase? Lefties may smell a hint of Karl Marx, who wrote in the preface to Das Kapital that “society … can neither clear by bold leaps, nor remove by legal enactments, the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development. But it can shorten and lessen the birth pangs.” Perhaps, then, the secretary of state was offering an homage to neoconservatism's Trotskyite origins.

President Bush's constituency, however, is more likely to recall Jesus' description of the Apocalypse in Matthew 24:6: “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars … nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”

The key thing, according to the Gospel, is simply to keep one's faith through the chaos even though the devout will, like the contemporary United States of America, “be hated by all nations.” This is fine if you foresee eternal paradise at the end of the road, but those of us not expecting the imminent end of the world would probably prefer fewer pangs and more stability.

--Matthew Yglesias

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Loud and Proud, I

Facing a strong electoral headwind and approval ratings dipping near the levels enjoyed by Mikhail Gorbachev in his final days, congressional Republicans have, to put it mildly, a bit of a branding problem heading into the November elections. Orders from on high -- that is, from the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) -- have dictated that GOP incumbents and challengers alike focus on local issues and eschew explicit identification with the national party. Congressman Tom Reynolds, facing a serious challenge in his moderate New York district, is following that strategy to a tee -- he released an ad in July that never mentioned his party affiliation. Slightly complicating the incumbent's gambit, however, is Reynolds' current role as chairman of the NRCC. As The Hill pointed out, other members of the House GOP leadership, including Majority Whip Roy Blunt and Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce, are running ads on their Web sites that similarly neglect to mention the fact that they're Republicans. Call it an inconvenient truth.

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Loud and Proud, II

Speaking of GOPers standing tall, in July, a Republican running for Senate anonymously blasted President Bush at a lunch with journalists, criticizing the administration's handling of Iraq, Katrina, the budget, the country -- everything. When asked whether he would let Bush campaign for him, he responded “probably not,” and described the “R” after his name as a scarlet letter. Alas, he didn't stay anonymous for long. A classic off-the-record/on-background terminological miscommunication led to the revelation of the candidate's identity within 24 hours: Maryland's lieutenant governor, Michael Steele. A spokesman for Steele, Doug Heye, went into damage control mode: “When he agrees with the Republican administration, he absolutely does so. When he disagrees, he speaks his mind.” Absolutely! It's just that disagreements are off the record. But we reckon Steele -- a right winger running in a blue state -- wanted to be outed, and the press abetted him. Which gives him points over Tom Reynolds.

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Still Useful Idiots

Pennsylvania progressives turned off by Bob Casey's relatively moderate posture just may get a real choice this fall, thanks to the Green Party. Candidate Carl Romanelli, whose platform includes universal health care, immediate withdrawal from Iraq, robust support of abortion rights, and legalized gay marriage, stands a decent shot at getting on the ballot thanks to $66,000 in donations to the Luzerne County Green Party, which is funding his petition drive. As it happens, The Philadelphia Daily News' Will Bunch reported that every dime of that money was donated by conservative Republicans sporting long records of support for various Republican politicians, including Casey's opponent Rick Santorum. Ah, the Greens. Plus ça change

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War Count

In a July Meet the Press appearance, Newt Gingrich characterized the current outbreak of fighting in the Middle East as but a single battle in “World War III,” which pits the United States and Israel against the nefarious forces of Islam. The theory proved controversial on the right. “I think that those who argue this is World War IV,” observed National Review's Jonah Goldberg, “have a better argument.” According to the IV-er school of thought, pioneered by Norman Podhoretz and James Woolsey in 2002, the Cold War should actually count as World War III. This controversy will no doubt roil conservative historiography for years to come, but on one thing the right agrees: Israel's fight against Iranian-backed militias in Lebanon is identical to America's fight on behalf of Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. Only the leaders of Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Iran, and Iraq, along with a handful of lunatic liberals, can't see this fundamental truth.

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Rosy Rummy

Donald Rumsfeld on Iraq, August, 2006: “I have never painted a rosy picture. I have been very measured in my words, and you'd have a dickens of a time trying to find instances where I have been excessively optimistic.”

Rumsfeld, December 2005: “Which view of Iraq is more accurate? The pessimistic view of the so-called elites in our country -- or the more optimistic view expressed by millions of Iraqis and by the some 155,000 U.S. troops on the ground?”

Rumsfeld on Iraq, November 2005: “The strategy is working, and we should stick to it.”

Rumsfeld, November 2004: “Success in Fallujah will deal a blow to the terrorists in the country, and should move Iraq further away from a future of violence.”

Rumsfeld on American troops in Iraq, February 2003: “There is no question but that they would be welcomed.”

Rumsfeld on Afghanistan, December 2002: “The Taliban are gone. The al-Qaeda are gone.”

And our favorite, Rumsfeld on Iraq, November 2002: “I can't tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days, or five weeks, or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that.”

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The Question: Back-to-School Time: What's the one class bush should audit?

“Remedial high school English. As Bush himself said of high school, ‘The illiteracy level of our children are appalling.'”

--Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland

“U.S. Constitution: Theory and Practice. Emphasis on the limits of presidential authority. Midterm, final, term paper. No prerequisites.”

--Michael Bérubé, Paterno Family professor in literature, Penn State University

“A course on Lyndon Johnson's presidency to learn the dangers of prosecuting a war without a clear plan for victory.”

--Bruce Bartlett, author, Impostor: How George W. Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy

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