Up Front

Shock and Aaaugh!

I've never been a swing voter before," mused David Brooks a few weeks after the election. He was far from the only dejected partisan who'd grown confused trying to process the GOP's thumping. On November 30, the conservative Hudson Institute held a panel wondering if it wasn't "time for conservatives to reexamine their own intellectual infrastructure in light of the progressive network's success."

Those of us old enough to remember all the way back to 2004 recall the Democrats' endless conversations about how to counter the "right-wing noise machine" while simultaneously convincing Red America that progressives, too, adored the Baby Jesus. Did all that hand-wringing and confabbing actually work? Let's assess: In 2004, Democrats could be described as muddled critics of the Iraq War who believed the federal government should do more to protect against the vagaries of the global economy while taking a permissive attitude toward social behavior. In 2006, they were slightly less muddled critics of the war who believed the government really should do more to protect against the vagaries of the global economy while taking a very quietly permissive attitude toward social behavior.

So what accounts for the differing outcomes? It's the reality, stupid. Iraq, the economy, Katrina … Turns out that political parties should pursue policies that don't end in disaster, and that the trick for the opposition is basically waiting for your opponents to screw up. With the caveat: If you ape them along the way, when they fail, you will, too.

-- Ezra Klein --

United We Fall

David Broder reached new heights (depths?) of self-parody in a December 6 column gushingly touting the Iraq Study Group's work as an "exhilarating experience, a demonstration of genuine bipartisanship," regardless of what the substance of the report might be. His "comity uber alles" outlook unfortunately seems to have mirrored the commission's own. ISG member Leon Panetta discussed at a press conference the need "to try to take one last chance at making Iraq work and, more importantly, to take one last chance at unifying this country on this war." Panetta's panaceatic prattle elides the fact that the war was conceived by the Bush White House to divide the country politically, and to the Democrats' disadvantage. Beyond that, though, he also said that uniting America behind an Iraq policy is more important than that policy actually working. Which does make a certain crazy sense, since the only thing uniting Americans on Iraq is that our current policy isn't working and, increasingly, that there are no policies that will work.

Message: Prevail

Meanwhile, President Bush held a joint press conference with Tony Blair following the release of the Iraq Study Report. He hewed to an impressively consistent theme when answering questions; see if you can spot it: "I also believe we're going to succeed. I believe we'll prevail. Not only do I know how important it is to prevail, I believe we will prevail. I understand how hard it is to prevail. … As you can tell, I feel strongly about making sure you understand that I understand it's tough. But I want you to know, sir, that I believe we'll prevail."

Blaming the Victims

The January 2005 Iraqi elections offered conservatives their last real occasion for maximal gloating and denunciations of war opponents' indifference to Iraqi freedom. Bill O'Reilly noted in the run-up to the elections that "you would think everyone in the world who values freedom would be rooting for the Iraqis to have them, but they are not," and followed up after the vote by remarking that "President Bush looks like a sage" while his critics look churlish. In a higher-brow iteration, columnist Charles Krauthammer later wrote that the democratic wave sweeping the Middle East was "simply astonishing -- well, astonishing to the critics." But by the end of 2006, conservatives' tone regarding those liberated Iraqis had darkened just a bit. Krauthammer in November: "We have given the Iraqis a republic, and they do not appear able to keep it." O'Reilly in December (as noted by Media Matters): "Let them kill each other. Maybe they'll all kill each other, and then we can have a decent country in Iraq."

To Putt is Glorious

One more scene from the marriage of capitalism and Chinese communism: Bloomberg News reports that at Xiamen University, on China's southern coast, golf is now a mandatory requirement for law, economics, management, and software engineering majors. "First-rate universities should cultivate the elites of society," university president Zhu Chongshi said on the university's Web site. Let a hundred flowers bloom on the 18 holes. Or else.

American Dreams

James K. Glassman, free-market fanatic and author of the eerily prescient tech-boom-era tome Dow 36,000, has started a new venture -- a print magazine called The American, covering business and economics. The debut issue included a feature story tackling one of the great injustices of our time: underpaid CEOs. "There's strong evidence," writes Dominic Basulto, "that, far from being paid too much, many CEOs are paid too little." Surely some concerted state action is in order here. (Where are the Democrats on this issue?) Presumably, enhanced stock options will only look more appealing to CEOs as a policy remedy when the stock market finally commences its Glassmanian ascent.

Delay vs. Readers

Set your bookmarks: Tom DeLay has started a blog. Adjusting to the rough-and-tumble world of blog comment threads proved difficult at first. As the Hammer told The Hill on December 11, "Yesterday, we were up on the blog for just an hour and we had over 100 [comments] … that were mean, nasty … vulgar." Those comments were deleted. Over the course of the blog's first few days, however, (days featuring posts attacking Kofi Annan and Jimmy Carter), the censorship relented somewhat and let through some negative sentiments. One can only presume, for example, that this comment was intended as parody: "I, for one, do not understand why the Arabs and Israelis cannot settle their disputes like good Christians."

THE QUESTION: How many U.S. troops will be in Iraq on January 1, 2008?

"Unfortunately, close to the current 140,000. The bungling of the war means the Iraqis are not yet up to the job."

-- Nancy Soderberg, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations --

"80,000, as politicians from both parties will demand we shift our focus from combat to training and support of the Iraqis."

-- Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress --

"Roughly 100,000 -- 50,000 as trainers and combat support, 25,000 withdrawing, and 25,000 in Kurdistan or the Iraq-Saudi border."

-- Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School --

PARODY: From the Secret Files of Donald Rumsfeld

"Two days before he resigned as defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld submitted a classified memo to the White House that acknowledged that the Bush administration's strategy in Iraq was not working and called for a major course correction. … The final page of the memo is a brief list of six 'less attractive' options, which Mr. Rumsfeld describes as 'below the line.'" -- The New York Times

Unreleased appendix to Rumsfeld's memorandum:

Finally, I also wanted to float some even less attractive options, in the below-below-the-line category. They might just work:

  • Sponsor a national Sunni-Shiite anger management program. But with rewards -- like an iPod, or the new Xbox.

  • Start several additional commissions like Baker-Hamilton and see who comes up with the niftiest ideas. Make it a yearly event, with prizes.

  • Tell a million Americans they'll be going on a free trip to Bermuda and place them instead on planes to Iraq. At least half will survive, giving us a vital foothold. (I floated this with David Addington, who said it should be legal.)

  • Try reverse psychology: Make secularism and moderation seem anti-American by having President Bush convert to radical Islam and behead Josh Bolton.

  • Open some gyms. There's just a lot of restless energy over there.

  • Encourage the Shia to form extra-legal militia groups that operate with government support and kidnap and kill random Sunnis in revenge for al-Qaeda-linked terrorism. (Actually, looks like this idea is taking off.)

  • It is said that two countries with McDonald's don't go to war. Open a McDonald's in Iraq. Then see if anyone says it anymore.

  • Invite Wal-Mart to Iraq and tell it that the insurgents are trying to unionize. Then stand back and wait. (Not for the squeamish.)

  • Crush the Kurds. They're not expecting it.

-- T.A. Frank --