Kevin Drum

Knowledge != Power

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 12:01 PM EDT

KNOWLEDGE != POWER....Robert Kagan says it's OK — maybe even better! — for national politicians to lack experience or knowledge of foreign policy. Matt Yglesias thinks he's expressing his honest opinion:

Kagan, like most neoconservatives, thinks that in-depth knowledge of foreign countries and the politics and culture of foreign societies isn't helpful in thinking about foreign policy questions. Similarly, they believe that in-depth knowledge of theoretical and empirical work in the field of international relations isn't helpful. Indeed, they think that this kind of in-depth knowledge is actually harmful. They prefer the judgment of people who have little knowledge of the outside world but do possess a degree of gut-level nationalism.

Sure. Conservatives never trusted either Nixon or Bush 41 on foreign policy, even though both of them were knowledgable and sophisticated students of foreign affairs. They thought that knowledge slowed them down and made them wimps, always worrying about what world opinion might think. Conversely, they loved Reagan and Bush 43, both of whom had a couple of basic instincts about foreign affairs and not much else.

So John McCain? He's great! And Sarah Palin? Even greater! You, elitist that you are, may think that knowledge is power, but that's decidedly not the position of most modern Republicans.

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The "Enough" Club

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 12:30 AM EDT

THE "ENOUGH" CLUB....Michael Kinsley is a liberal, but he's about as moderate and contrarian a liberal as you're likely to find. After a lie or five too many from the McCain campaign, however, he's finally had enough:

Maybe when this is over, one way or another, McCain will swear off corrupt lying the way he has sworn off corrupt money.

But it shouldn't be necessary to wait for one of McCain's conveniently delayed conversions to righteousness. In a democracy, obvious lies and obvious liars should be self-defeating. Why aren't they?

One reason is that the media have trouble calling a lie a lie, or asserting that one side is lying more than the other — even when that is objectively the case. They lean over backwards to give liars the benefit of the doubt, even when there is no doubt.

....But that shouldn't let John McCain off the hook. He says he'd rather lose the election than lose the war. But it seems he'd rather lose that honor he's always going on about than lose the election.

So how many people have joined the "Enough" club? It only counts if they sort of liked McCain in the first place, so folks like Krugman and Harold Meyerson don't count. Off the top of my head I count eight and a half: Kinsley. Friedman. Mallaby. Joe Klein. Dionne. Marcus. Halperin. Herbert. Brooks seems like he might be getting there. Who else?

Lipstick-Gate

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 11:03 PM EDT

LIPSTICK-GATE....As the entire world knows, yesterday Barack Obama made the following comment about John McCain's claim to be an agent of change: "You can put lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig. You can wrap up an old fish in a piece of paper and call it change. It's still going to stink after eight years. We've had enough."

Now, I've been aware of this remark, along with the idiotic Republican attempts to pretend that Obama was calling Sarah Palin a pig, since the words were first uttered. But only vaguely. The whole thing was so stupid that I just didn't bother clicking on the various links to see what everyone was saying.

Just now, however, I happened to surf over to The Corner for the first time in a day and it was....instructive. The very first mention of lipstick-gate was a brief link at 6:53 pm. This was followed by a couple of straight reax posts and then this from Yuval Levin:

Does anybody really think Obama meant to call Sarah Palin a pig? Come on. Can this really be worth anyone's time?

Of course not! That's just dumb! This was then followed by an avalanche of 31 separate posts on the subject in less than 24 hours. Turns out it was worth NR's time after all. And make no mistake: after a couple of hours of momentary confusion about whether they could get away with it, they decided that Obama had indeed meant to call Sarah Palin a pig. By early this morning everyone was obediently on board, the chum was in the water, and the moral dudgeon was so thick you could stir it with a stick. In fact, their only real argument was over how Palin should handle things: attack back or play it cool? (For the most part, they decided cool was the way to go.)

And that, my friends, is how it's done in the big leagues. It's the noise machine at work.

Lies Etc.

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 6:39 PM EDT

LIES ETC....Good for Mark Halperin for calling John McCain on the relentless BS his campaign is spewing. Still, as long as they continue to call this stuff "amazing and outrageous" and "demonstrably false," instead of using the blunt Anglo-Saxon term we'd normally use in a case like this, it's not going to get through. If the press knows he's lying, they should say so.

McCain's Style

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 6:09 PM EDT

McCAIN'S STYLE....John Judis on John McCain's increasingly slimy campaign style:

McCain himself has clearly demonstrated that he'll do anything to win. In 2000, he ran an honorable campaign. Leave aside what he advocated — he tried to win on the merits. This year, he has been willing to distort and lie about his opponents. It really started with the way he dealt with Mitt Romney's positions on the Iraq war.

Indeed it did, and it's something worth keeping in mind. Steve Schmidt has obviously been responsible for some of the recent change in tone of the McCain campaign, but it didn't start with him. It started with McCain himself, who, in the days leading up to Super Tuesday, cheerfully and repeatedly smeared Mitt Romney as a guy who wanted to surrender to the terrorists in Iraq. It was a plainly bogus charge, but it was one that McCain peddled without compunction for an entire week — and it was one of the things that put a final nail in Romney's coffin.

McCain's revolting campaign style isn't something he had to be talked into by a cabal of ruthless advisors. He genuinely likes this stuff.

Educational Nationalism

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 2:59 PM EDT

EDUCATIONAL NATIONALISM....Kevin Carey quotes Barack Obama on education:

If we want to keep building the cars of the future here in America, we can't afford to see the number of PhDs in engineering climbing in China, South Korea, and Japan even as it's dropped here in America.

Carey isn't happy with the way Obama phrases this:

I'd like to see this and similar sentiments phrased so it's clear that more PhDs in China, South Korea, Japan, and elsewhere is a good thing that will help America in the long run. The world has many vexing problems and the more smart, well-educated people to solve them, the better. An expanded well-educated class in China and elsewhere will create new markets for the kind of high-value goods and services that America produces, and they'll make newer, better products that we'd like to buy. Perhaps most importantly, they'll improve the lives of people in those countries, which we should all care about.

This comes via Matt Yglesias, who finds this tic even more annoying than Carey does. But I wonder if we're all being a little too high-minded here?

Paul Glastris told me something interesting the other day. He said he had recently read every convention acceptance speech of the past few decades, and that successful candidates invariably framed a significant chunk of their message in nationalistic terms. Sometimes it was military nationalism, sometimes it was economic nationalism, but one way or another successful candidates always framed their message as us vs. them to at least some degree.

Obviously you can argue that this situation is unfortunate — and perhaps it is — but if that's what it takes, then that's what it takes. And Obama's formulation is certainly as benign a form of economic nationalism as you're likely to find. If that's what he needs to say in order to get Americans interested in serious improvements to our educational system, it's a pretty small price to pay.

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Russia's Military

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 2:03 PM EDT

RUSSIA'S MILITARY....Eric Alterman's buddy, LTC Bob Bateman, suggests that Russia's upcoming "training mission" with Venezuela's navy shouldn't worry us too much:

Today the Russian Navy is a shell of its previous self. Someday that may change, but for now it seems they have only one small aircraft carrier (which would not even have that title in the US Navy, because it is too small), two "Battlecruisers," three Cruisers, 26 Destroyers, and 16 Frigates. It is unknown how many of these can do more than float while securely tied up at a pier....Of their once-vaunted (and frankly, feared) undersea capability there is also little left but a skeleton. At the end of the Cold War the Soviet Union could field some 170 submarines, many, if not most of them, nuclear powered. Today there are but fifty still in the inventory, and of that only 26 were operational as of 2006 according to open source reporting in Russia.

On the other hand, Russian airpower, which also fell on very hard times after 1991, has started to revive. But it's still a shell of its Cold War self too, which is yet another reason not to panic too strongly over recent events in Georgia. Putin's bluster aside, Russia's military capabilities these days are distinctly limited.

The War Within

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 1:19 PM EDT

THE WAR WITHIN....Yesterday I linked to Derek Chollet's suggestion that Bob Woodward's The War Within was, counterintuitively, actually fairly sympathetic toward George Bush. Today, Tim Rutten reviews the book in the LA Times and says exactly the opposite:

Bush, in Woodward's view, is the worst kind of wartime president: controlling and disengaged, all at once. Worse, he frequently is not only detached from unpleasant or inconvenient facts but is also positively hostile to those who recite them. As Woodward reconstructs the last two years — in a stunning series of on-the-record interviews with participants — this willful blindness has spilled out of the White House and into the departments of Defense and State in a perfect maelstrom of dysfunction.

That certainly sounds more like the George Bush we've all come to know and love, but I suppose I really better read the book myself and see what Woodward has to say. I'm extremely unfond of Woodward's technique of reconstructing events and conversations based on reams and reams of anonymous and obviously self-serving interviews, but if The War Within is based mostly on on-the-record interviews it might go down a little easier. I'll start in on it tomorrow.

The Nature of Existence

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 12:59 PM EDT

THE NATURE OF EXISTENCE...The Large Hadron Collider has been turned on and I'm still here. At least, I think I am. How about you?

Passion Play

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 2:33 AM EDT

PASSION PLAY....I'm not generally a big fan of Tom Friedman, but his advice today to Barack Obama seems right on target:

Whoever slipped that Valium into Barack Obama's coffee needs to be found and arrested by the Democrats because Obama has gone from cool to cold.

....Forget trashing McCain's ideas. If Obama wants to rally his base, he has to be more passionate about his own ideas. I have long felt that what propelled Obama early was the fact that many Americans understand in their guts that we need a change, but the change we need is to focus on nation-building at home. We're in decline. We need to get back to work on our country. And that is going to require strong, smart government.

Who is bailing out Fannie Mae? Who is going to build a new energy system? Health care? More tax cuts are not going to do it. But I am just not sure that Obama is making the sale that he has the plan and passion to unite and mobilize the country for this task.

All politicians are sales people first and foremost, and the first thing they sell is themselves. But Obama, I think, has done a pretty good job of that already. His next step, then, is to sell the country not just on change, but on specifically liberal change. As Friedman says, "When you say Obama's name today and ask people for their first impression — a quick, flash, gut, first impression — no single word or phrase or policy comes to mind."

Obama needs to correct this, and quickly. He needs to sell the country on a few core liberal ideas the same way Ronald Reagan sold the country on a few core conservative ideas three decades ago. So far, though, he's been too cautious to really try this, and it's showing. He better start showing a little more liberal conviction, and soon, if he wants to sit in the Oval Office come next January.