Tuesday, August 10, 2004

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Let the robots rule

A memory, hazy: I was walking to the Fortway Fiveplex with my father. At the entrance, we came upon a gentleman in full movie-palace regalia, festooned with golden buttons and all that. He had a geri curl, a look I find very unflattering to this day. (An old Bloom County cartoon featured a member of the gang singing, “Middle of the road / Man, it’s stank / Let’s run over Lionel Richie with a tank.” Pan to the waiting record executive, with a massive autographed poster of Richie right behind him.) It seemed to my ingenuous eyes that this fellow was literally handing out cash to patrons as they entered the theater, and it occurred to me that this might be some kind of rebate. Naturally, I reached into the jar to take some for myself. What I hadn’t realized was that patrons were in fact putting money in the jar, to donate to some worthy cause (not the “Let’s-Buy-Reihan-a-Kit Kat-Fund”). And so, naturally, this fellow slapped me on the wrist, literally. I was mortified. My father was cool about it, which makes sense: he’s cool, in the beret-wearing beat generation way. (These things skip a generation.) It was then that I discovered (a) my bottomless capacity for shame and (b) my burning love of the movies.

Which leads me to my baby—no, not that baby (“Billy Jean is not my lover / she’s just a girl who …”)—the …

Wait. It occurs to me that I can’t disclose this idea for fear that some Hollywood fat cat moguls will steal it from me. If you are in fact a Hollywood fat cat mogul and are interested in a solid-gold sensational idea, please let me know. Your socks will be knocked off; and if you’re sockless, the sheer gale force of the idea will strip your feet of dead skin and bunions. Somehow I find this image revolting in the extreme.

Instead, I will write about the election and the celebrities. (Gasp!)

For reasons not dissimilar to Jacob Levy’s, I can’t see myself pulling the lever for Bush in November. (I should note that one of my great passions in school was normative political theory, and particularly the political theory of multiculturalism. Levy delivers. I waited for his book with baited breath, devoured it, and exploited it remorselessly.) The main difference between our respective positions is that I think conservatism, understood as a constellation of beliefs quite distinct from libertarianism concerned primarily with fostering self-reliant “cultures of competence,” and that doesn’t share the libertarian (and left-liberal) hostility towards limited, humane, prophylactic forms of state paternalism, would be best served by a Bush defeat. My suspicion is that Levy is indifferent to the fate of this constellation, as I’ve described it.

Anyway, at the tail end of Levy’s post, he included a few caveats:

All that's left are a) the tax cuts, which are good but something close to meaningless in the absence of spending cuts; b) a general positioning as "hawkish;" and c) annoyance at various elements of the left who I'd rather not be aligned with and certainly don't want to listen to crowing. (I really don't want Michael Moore to spend four years feeling like, and crowing that, he decided a presidential election.) Those aren't sufficient reasons to outweigh the general inability to govern competently or to make good policy judgments.

Because I’m very petty—certainly more so than I’d like to be—the most trivial of Levy’s caveats, the third, has had particular resonance for me of late. As I noted earlier on, I grew up among smug lefties; and to this day, I know a disproportionately large number of smug lefties. I know a handful of smug right-wingers, but the vast majority of right-wingers I know, and I realize that this is almost certainly atypical, are thoughtful, open-minded, self-effacing, self-critical, and susceptible to evidence and persuasive argument. I mean, this is probably because I know, like, eight people who can be described as right-wing, nine if I count “knowing myself,” and several of the others are economists. And really, I’m a sucker for economists: they start with the regressions and I’m swooning. It’s pitiful. Had I grown up in, say, the Deep South among ribald Lincoln-bashing economists who would gang up periodically to beat me senseless, there’s every reason to believe that I’d be a Bolshie with a love of touch football. My sense is that our worldviews and dispositions are very contingent, which strikes me as a strong case for humility.

One might think, “Aha! Reihan, you’re susceptible to peer pressure! That’s why you’ve gone wobbly!” Couldn’t be further from the truth. I leapt off the Franz Ferdinand bandwagon just as it was gathering steam, and I say good riddance. Any unreserved expressions of enthusiasm for Kerry—apart from his health care proposal, which strikes me as decent (check out Kerry advisor David Cutler's book)—give me a queasy feeling, more now than before his speech to the Democratic National Convention (which struck me as a massive bust after what had been an unusually watchable and successful exercise in political atmospherics). If Downtown is for Democracy, government by robot is the thing for me.

But seriously, back to humility: seeing celebrities—even unusually articulate celebrities like Natalie Portman, whom I continue to believe is the best thing, after “Harold and Kumar,” to happen to the movies since sound—express their shock and amazement at the fact that some have the temerity, or, polemically, the simple bad taste, to disagree with them on crucial questions irritates me in the extreme. Keep in mind that I love celebrities, and know far more about then than I’d care to admit. I think Tom Frank was, in this one respect, absolutely right:

Somehow this glitzy world of risque dresses, pseudo-transgressive stylings and velvet ropes (i.e., the things that make up "creativity") has precisely the opposite effect on a huge swath of the American public. They hate it, and they hate everything that Hollywood has come to stand for. After all, Hollywood stars are as close as America comes to an aristocracy, and being instructed on how to be kinder and better people by pseudo-rebellious aristocrats can't help but rub people the wrong way.

Dead on. Shrewd celebrities will make generous contributions and hope for the best.

My discomfort runs deeper than that. Take Levy’s (b), “a general positioning as ‘hawkish.’” Sebastian Mallaby’s column in yesterday’s Washington Post is a solid jumping-off point for this. Mallaby, who wrote an indispensable essay for Policy Review outlining the ideal future orientation of the center-right, is a sensible, Whiggish writer, and scrupulously even-handed. The column’s basic argument is that Bush vs. Kerry is a tough call. A big part of why it’s a tough call, from Mallaby’s perspective, is that the broad outlines of Bush’s foreign-policy worldview are sound, and in an important, nontrivial way; the same can’t be said of John Kerry, who has been on the wrong side of a whole host of crucial foreign policy questions.

So how can I, as a talon-bearing, don’t-tread-on-me, hawkish Neanderthal, disfavor a president I supported for a really long time, always giving him the benefit of the doubt? Here’s the anticlimactic (and conventional) answer: it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a second Bush administration or a Kerry administration launching any decisive armed interventions over the next four years. Our failure to send a robust force to Liberia was a sign of things to come, and the crisis in Darfur will never command the attention it deserves, let alone the resources. Colin Powell has the upper hand, and Kerry has the same gut instincts. And yet there is a chance, a slender one, that a clean break will make a difference. That remains to be seen.

posted by Suzanne Nossel on 08.10.04 at 04:42 PM


Mallaby is clearly wrong when he says "Bush smashed the Taliban in Afghanistan, even though large parts of the Democratic foreign policy establishment opposed any strategy involving boots on the ground." and with a view like that of history it's not hard to see which way his views are aligned at their root. So the game is kind of given away.

Aftern 9-11 you had people like Paul Berman writing pieces for the Prospect. It simply wasn't controversial that the US should invade Afganistan and destroy the Taliban and AQ.

And indeed, I recall The New Republic (an accurate barometer for a substantial part of the Dem foreign policy team) running on its cover in December 01 an article calling for more troops. December was right smack dab in the middle of the war, and before Operation Anaconda, for example. 12/01 wasn't post-war.

And the opinion in favor of more troops in Afganistan has only gained strength across the moderate, liberal wings of the Democratic Party.

So Mallaby is quite wrong on that germane point.

posted by: SamAm on 08.10.04 at 04:42 PM [permalink]

"Kerry's own instincts are not dissimilar."

God, I hate you pretentious academics and your pseudo-intellectual double-negatives. It doesn't make you sound smarter!! Just stop it already!

posted by: grammarnazi on 08.10.04 at 04:42 PM [permalink]

Dude, you are a killer writer. You are like the intellectual love child of Drezner and Choire Sicha. All the erudition of this blog with the snark and starfucking of Gawker. Keep it up. Maybe that other guy will stay on vacation for a while longer.. just kidding!

posted by: brett on 08.10.04 at 04:42 PM [permalink]

To be honest, I prefer a more direct approach to posts... it can be a bit tough to follow exactly what point is being made when one meanders so much

posted by: Alex on 08.10.04 at 04:42 PM [permalink]

"Dude, you are a killer writer."

agreed. outsourcing rules.

posted by: praktike on 08.10.04 at 04:42 PM [permalink]

Dude, why is everyone snarking at Reihan's style? Double negatives, grammarsuck, are not verboten: It's one thing to say that Kerry's views are similar; it's a qualitatively different thing to say they are not dissimilar. No soup for you.

As for meandering: I dig it. Unlike that dull dullard Kerry, Reihan's meanderings suggest to me some nuance that actually evidences (yes, grammardouche, that is a verb) a big brain.

On to a more important topic: Reihan, vote for Bush. You'll likely diagree with me, but I think Bush's Christian statism, er, compassionate conservativism is (or is at least designed to be) a form of the limited, prophylactic state paternalism you pine for. It's a third way for non-secularists.

And as a hawk, how could you even stomach the APPEARANCE of a former peacenik with his boots up on the desk in the Oval Office? To be sure, a President Kerry will lob some cruise missiles in the desert every now and then just to stretch his legs, but do you really think America's enemies are going to be cowed by a man who was a simpering spider on the wall during the Cold War and who's self-proclaimed doctrine in the WoT is to withdraw our boys from Iraq, pander to the French and Germans, and use force "only when we have to?" As you predict, Bush might sit on his hands for four more years. But he's already shown himself to be one crazy motherfucker who will not react judiciously to any terrorist attack. Do you think the jihadists share your prediction, Reihan?

(Remember that scene at the beginning of Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula when Sirius Black found out his family or whatever was dead and lost his shit and put on that red armor and just started fucking killing everything he saw? That's how I think the jihadists imagine Bush. They probably picture Kerry wearing that funny NASA spacesuit.)

Finally, if you care at all about the two party system, you gotta vote for Kerry. If he loses, then the Dems have an out: they can blame Kerry's pretty obvious personal shortcomings and turn their attention to getting Hilary ready for '08 -- consolidating the mainstream left behind an actual platform and finally driving the Michael Moore nutcases off the cliff. Unlike Major and the Tories in the UK, the Republicans are not intellectually or physically exhausted and they will have a half-dozen strong candidates to pick from in 2012.

But if Kerry wins this time (thanks to your support), the psycho Dean weenies in the party who bit their lips in Boston will be expecting their reward -- big time. And I know that after 9/111, American voters will never again put up with a feckless, Carteresque administration that has no clue of how to proactively project or use American power. Imagine the Tehran hostage crisis time 10. That's the Kerry administration. Carter II: Electric Boogaloo will ring the death knell of the modern Democratic party.

So, Reihan, if you want Republican hegemony for as far as the eye can see -- and a dirty bomb or two in Times Square to boot -- pull the Donkey lever. But if you really are pro-competition, pick Dubya.

posted by: Larry on 08.10.04 at 04:42 PM [permalink]

A very good post, right up to the point where you say "it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a second Bush administration or a Kerry administration launching any decisive armed interventions over the next four years."


I can certainly imagine both Kerry and Bush responding with force to some new 9/11.

I admit I can't imagine Kerry initiating anything, but that's because he's psychologically trapped in 1969. But just because Bush isn't rushing into new wars on a monthly basis doesn't mean (to me, at least) that he won't start the wars we need to start.

Don't get me wrong, Liberia and Darfur are awful situations; something should be done, and probably won't be done. (Hello, Jaques!) But in terms of current threats to the United States, both are waaaay down on the list. And that's what the President is obligated to consider before all else.

Next up: Iran. North Korea. Syria. Various 'Stans. China. Russia. Putative allies.

Sometimes history takes time. Give Bush time.

posted by: Mark Poling on 08.10.04 at 04:42 PM [permalink]

There was an article in my morning paper which talked about the conjunction of Iran and terrorism and weapons of mass destruction with the same emphasis as we had before the war on Iraq. That's obviously the Bushies next target and we haven't finished with Afghanistan, the Taliban and Al Qaeda yet. Have your read the history of the French Revolution? War is a dandy way to keep people from questioning what's going on until it is too late.

posted by: chuck rightmire on 08.10.04 at 04:42 PM [permalink]

> War is a dandy way to keep people from questioning what's going on until it is too late.

So true. That must be why there's no one questioning what's going on.

posted by: brett on 08.10.04 at 04:42 PM [permalink]


I, too like complex sentences

I, too dislike almost everything that bush has done

Except, of course, two invasions, massive buildup in military spending, and damn tasty tax cuts.

As you may or may not have known when you posted, Powell ain't going to the convention and is widely (massively) rumoured to be just this side of Tenet in terms of toastiness

Powell gets fired after the election if Bush wins (who knows, kerry might hire him). Cheney, Rice, or one of the other Sith lords gets sec state to kick ass at Foggy Bottom and really scare the Shizzit out of those people on the "next" list (maybe Rummy, but that'd just be too mean... something I would do)

If you want less government intervention, taxation, and to see some serious hawk power, you must vote Bush

I mean, really.. Porter Gross... Tenet hates him for A, Rockefeller hates him for B, every other Democrat hates him for C, he's a former operator at the pointy end of covert ops for D, and he ain't exactly worried about what the lawyers say for E (that's one of Slate's complaints, but for bloodthirsty warmongers that has to be a double positive, he's the anti-berger)

Kerry will only do what the french allow him to do (wave the white flag high.. ok for a dido song, bad foreign policy for western civilisation's only defender)

BC04, for the defence of civilisation and to avert armogeddon (well, at least to avert the nuclear annihilation of the middle east...)

posted by: hey on 08.10.04 at 04:42 PM [permalink]

ah, Colin Powell, who has quietly done a great deal to lessen the likelihood of a nuclear war over Kashmir while deftly handling Pakistan in its unprecedented invasion of tribal areas, successfully guided a transition in Georgia. opened up new relationships in Central Asia, painstakingly put together a regional coalition around NK (albeit way late in the game) ... noooooo, we can't keep the competent guy around, can we? Far better to turn our foreign policy to the nutjobs who have gotten nearly everything wrong thus far.

posted by: praktike on 08.10.04 at 04:42 PM [permalink]

Praktike, I think you need to understand that when Rehihan says he and his 8 republican frieds are suspetible to evidence -- they mean evidence that confirms their idealogy. A failed occupation and a false war are not 'evidence', and hence insignificant -- idealogy first, and it must march forward at all cost. It's not his fault, all those smug lefties scared him.

His outrage at Natalie Portman's disbelief, is probably because Rehian's never read Science or Nature -- but, hey political masturbation is not a science.

posted by: Jor on 08.10.04 at 04:42 PM [permalink]

"Praktike, I think you need to understand that when Rehihan says he and his 8 republican frieds are suspetible to evidence -- they mean evidence that confirms their idealogy."

If he meant that, he would have said that. He does not need you to tell us what he means.

posted by: Harold on 08.10.04 at 04:42 PM [permalink]


Given that you believe that Pres. Bush's overall foreign policy view is correct, does it not weigh heavily in his favor that the entire world will see a Bush defeat as a repudiation of Bush's view? That's a big deal, and a serious barrier to any effort (by any President) to act in a manner consisent with Bush's view of the challenge we face.

posted by: rds989 on 08.10.04 at 04:42 PM [permalink]


Kerry Lied, 2 million Died.
Nice bumper sticker, no? Or a protest sign at every Kerry event.

Cambodia is the important, UNFINISHED business
of America after Vietnam.

REAL alternatives are the issue; in Iraq, Iran, Sudan today.
In SE Asia from 1968-1978.

Killing innocents to stop evil is the moral problem.

The anti-Vietnam War Left, in America, and the EU, have totally failed to look at the two
real alternatives, and the one they "really" chose.
1) Stay and fight and die (draftees!) and kill bad guys AND some innocents?
2) Leave, stop dying (good!) let evil commies win, and accept the Killing Fields.

Kerry advised (2), Nixon cut and ran, and Pol Pot, the kind of evil commie the US was fighting against, committed genocide in Cambodia (little complaint by Ford or Carter in 76-77).

If you ask any anti-Vietnam War protester: "did you support the commies winning in Vietnam?" -- they'll say NO!
But they are, in "reality", lying. This is the BIG LIE at the heart of Bush-hate.
Opposition to war in Iraq IS "really" support for Saddam.

Kerry's Important Lie was that the US leaving SE Asia was "good".

The “Moral Superiority” of the Left is based on the assumption that being against the US war in Vietnam is the morally superior position – that the US fighting evil commies in SE Asia was wrong/ evil.

Is genocide worth fighting against? Worth dying for, worth killing for?

Gandhi said no. Is that really the morally superior answer?

posted by: Tom Grey on 08.10.04 at 04:42 PM [permalink]

The lyric is actually "man, it stanks". I never understood why.

posted by: jason on 08.10.04 at 04:42 PM [permalink]

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