Following up on the last post now that I have a little more time, I think it’s important to stress that the close alliance with Georgia, the crazy desire to expand NATO into the Caucasus and points east and the general willingness to provoke Russia with unnecessary intrusions into what it considers its sphere of influence are products of a general, bipartisan consensus that all three major candidates evidently share (or at least feel compelled to embrace publicly). This election is simply not a case where one candidate has a better or more sane policy towards Russia or better views concerning the pursuit of hegemony in Eurasia. Over the long term, this shared view of U.S. policy towards Russia actually matters a great deal more than whether or not a candidate proposes to end the war in Iraq. This is not an argument for McCain, who seems to loathe Russia at a visceral level in a way that the others do not, but a reminder that all candidates share the assumption that the U.S. should project power anywhere and everywhere and take on the risks and obligations of security guarantees to numerous states that have no connection to the national interest.
Saakashvili points out that Barack Obama was one of two co-sponsors of a recent Senate resolution in favour of Georgia joining Nato.
Can we agree now that this makes Obama just as reckless and dangerous in his foreign policy views as his rivals?
CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD,
TRAMPLING DOWN DEATH BY DEATH,
AND UPON THOSE IN THE TOMBS
CHRISTOS VOSKRESE IZ MERTVIKH,
SMERTIYU SMERT POPRAV
I SUSCHIM VO GROBEKH
CHRISTOS ANESTI EK NEKRON
THANATO THANATON PATISAS,
KAI TOIS EN TOIS MNEMASI
Let God arise, and his enemies be scattered: and let those that hate him flee before his face.
A sacred Pascha has been revealed to us today, a new and holy Pascha, a mystic Pascha, an all-venerable Pascha, a Pascha that is Christ the Redeemer, an unblemished Pascha, a great Pascha, a Pascha of the faithful, a Pascha that has opened for us the gates of Paradise, a Pascha that makes all the faithful holy.
As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish, as wax melts at the presence of fire.
Come from that sight, you women, bearers of good tidings, and say to Zion, ‘Receive from us the good tidings of joy, of Christ’s Resurrection. Exult, dance and be glad, Jerusalem, for you have seen Christ the King like a bridegroom coming from the grave.
So shall the wicked perish at the presence of God; and let the just be glad.
The myrrh-bearing women at deep dawn came to the grave of the giver of life. They found an Angel sitting on the stone, and he addressed them and said, ‘Why do you seek the living with the dead? Why do you mourn the incorruptible as though he were in corruption? Go, proclaim it to his Disciples.
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
A Pascha of delight, Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha, an all-venerable Pascha has dawned for us, Pascha. Let us embrace one another with joy. O Pascha, ransom from sorrow! Today Christ shone forth from a tomb as from a bridal chamber, and filled the women with joy, saying, ‘Proclaim it to the Apostles’.
On account of Pascha, for the rest of today and all weekend I won’t be blogging after this, except perhaps to put up some icons and troparia. Besides being part of the greatest feast of the Church, the days leading up to Pascha are also very, very busy.
Before I go, I wanted to respond to this post by Ross. We agree entirely that Obama will disillusion a great many people. I have said that the Obama campaign is a disappointment-generating machine, and it has already generated a fair amount during the campaign. Disillusionment will happen partly because it is inevitable that a politician will disappoint some of his supporters on account of the constraints and pressures of governing and political pressure, but it will be worse in this case because Obama has cast himself as some great transformative leader and people have been drawn to him in large part because they expect him to practice the “new politics” he keeps talking about. One of the causes of disillusionment will be that the “new politics” doesn’t actually exist and never will exist, so long as it is premised on the ideas that lobbying and partisanship are fundamental parts of the problem, when it is the lack of representation provided by the two-party system and the excessive concentration of power in government (facilitated through direct taxation) that protect the status quo. In principle, lobbying is a necessary function of representative government; it is the power of government that lends lobbying its particularly sinister cast. Partisanship isn’t blocking “solutions” from being enacted–bad policy priorities that are shared by members of both parties are the obstacle to making the desired changes.
Obama will necessarily disappoint those from the center and the right who think that Obama respects or appreciates their views, because he really doesn’t, and even if he did he isn’t going to do anything when setting policy that will offer any but the most meaningless nods to their concerns. When most people say they want respect, they really mean that they want agreement. (This is related to the habit of crying about intolerance when one is not accepted by others, as if tolerance and acceptance are the same.) A lot of conservatives who mistakenly believed that Obama respects pro-life views have expressed shock that he is, in fact, an absolutely staunch pro-choice Democrat who takes the hardest line on this question of any of the remaining presidential candidate. As I have said, his nods to other views are head fakes. That’s not surprising, since it is in the interest of a left-liberal to make non-liberals believe that he is not as far to the left as he is, just as a very conservative politician would need to make some gestures that suggest he is not as far to the right as he really is. It’s also not as much of a criticism as it sounds–head fakes of this kind help to throw the defense off guard and put them out of position, so they are politically smart things to do. However, once your opponents recognise that they are intended as misdirection, you can’t use them as effectively. So Ross and I view the enthusiasm for Obama from antiwar, libertarian and conservative people as a case of people setting themselves up for serious disappointment. Indeed, should Obama win he will go from being broadly trusted to deeply mistrusted by almost everyone, as all will feel that Obama misled them in one way or another.
However, Ross has incorrectly described the arguments of Kmiec and Bacevich, saying that they “have concluded that the Illinois Senator is a more conservative choice than John McCain.” That is definitely not what either of them has said. Both proceed from the assumption that the Bush administration has proved to be a disaster, and argue that McCain represents a continuation of the same disastrous policies. Prof. Bacevich further argues that the GOP should not be given the benefit of the doubt about any issues important to conservatives after its record of failure or inaction, which he believes makes objections on pro-life or other grounds moot. Ross disagrees quite strongly with this part of the argument, and now is not the time to go over that ground again, but at no time do Bacevich or Kmiec say that they think Obama is “more conservative” than McCain, even if Bacevich is arguing that McCain and the GOP hardly measure up to his definition of conservatism. Bacevich backs Obama as the less terrible option, because he sees McCain as irredeemably bad on so many things, particularly the war, and so supports Obama in spite of acknowledging all the reasons why Obama is also pretty terrible. In contrast, Prof. Kmiec wants to believe the best about Obama and so proposes ideas that Obama could use to show his good faith and willingness to bridge great divides over contentious issues, but as Ross points out today this hope is completely misplaced. Even so, Kmiec has never said and presumably does not think that Obama is “more conservative” than McCain; his arguments for him do imply that he thinks Obama is more competent.
Also, following up on Ross’ old item from The Current, the Pennsylvania results drive home just how unrepresentative of general Catholic opinion about Obama Profs. Kmiec and Bacevich seem to be and the profile of his supporters does suggest that as academics they are drawn to Obama the academic. They also cite particular foreign policy issues that have driven them towards him out of necessity, which underscores how atypical they are, since most voters are not voting on issues and very few issues voters are focused so much on foreign policy almost to the exclusion of everything else. This is not a complaint about academics, a category of voter that Barone keeps flogging so much that it is becoming unrecognisable, and I obviously am not one to make such a complaint in any case, and it is not even one of my usual complaints about single-issue voters, but simply an observation that academics tend to support Obama so heavily because of the war and probably because they prefer his cerebral style to Clinton’s interest group laundry list and McCain’s apparently blissful ignorance of policy detail.
P.S. Worrying about whether or not Obama will disappoint people may be a futile exercise: Rasmussen shows a nine-point swing against Obama in Pennsylvania in the general election poll during the last two weeks. He was leading by eight, and now trails by one. Since everyone has been talking about Obama and working-class voters, this crosstab seems most significant: those making $40-60K back McCain over Obama 56-27. Lower income groups back Obama, while they split the higher income voters ($75-100K back Obama, $100K back McCain), and the $60K-75K give McCain a seven point advantage. If we don’t think that white working-class voters matter for Obama in the general election, it’s worth noting that he’s also currently losing independents in Pennsylvania 44-39. The bottom line is that he has to poll better than 43-47% in states such as Pennsylvania if he is going to win the election, and that hasn’t been happening.
Perhaps it’s because I’m tired after a three-hour service for the reading of the Passion Gospels, but I’m in more of a contrarian mood than usual. On the main blog, Freddy notes a string of recent Clinton blunders in foreign policy after saying:
Barack Obama has been justifiably criticized for being vague on foreign policy. But at least he isn’t offending anyone. By contrast, Hillary Clinton, in her determination to grab the Democratic nomination, has hurled principles of international diplomacy out the window.
Obama hasn’t been offending anyone recently, but his comments on Pakistan last year (made around the same time as Tancredo’s “we might nuke Mecca” remarks) drew a rebuke from the State Department and his shot at the Australian contribution to the Iraq war prompted John Howard, then in a political tailspin at home, to engage in a very public argument with Obama. As I said in my column at the time:
From his widely reported spat with Prime Minister John Howard over Australian troop levels in Iraq to his saber-rattling against an unstable, vulnerable, and strategically critical state, Obama is proving as adept at irritating and unnerving U.S. allies as the Bush administration was in 2002 and 2003. Indeed, together with some incendiary remarks by Rep. Tom Tancredo, Obama’s statements caused such a tumult in U.S.-Pakistan relations that the State Department called on all presidential candidates to refrain from speaking so carelessly about foreign policy.
Add to this Obama’s rather blithe statement during a debate this year that we have “obligations” to defend Kosovo from attack, which is a security guarantee that presidential candidates shouldn’t be making regardless of the policy idea in question, and we begin to see that Obama can be just as careless and sloppy in his foreign policy statements as his current opponent. More to the point, the dispute with Australia’s government was a pretty sharp criticism that Australia was somehow making a half-hearted or minimal effort, paying no heed to the protestations of the Australian defence minister that Austrlia’s armed forces were pretty much stretched to the max between Iraq, Afghanistan and its other obligations in the Pacific, so this was a more serious episode of effectively mocking an ally’s war effort rather than making a lame joke about the prime minister of an allied country that is not actively involved in ongoing military operations alongside the United States. Luckily for Obama, Howard is out of office now, so if he should win the election there will not necessarily be much bad blood between him and the government in Canberra, but I have to think that there were more than a few Australians who found his comments fairly insulting and many of them are probably in the Australian military, which is the one military in the world that has been on our side in every major conflict of the last 100 years. Such was the foreign policy and diplomatic finesse of someone who knows from his extensive experience in southeast Asia about other parts of the world. It was a minor episode, but potentially a revealing one for what the Obama era of U.S. foreign relations might look like.
In domestic politics, there is a run-off election for Mississippi’s First District after neither candidate received more than 50% of the vote in the special election to replace Rep. Wicker, and Dan argues that this is evidence of GOP doom in the South. In this case, I think people are making too much out of apparent GOP weakness. First of all, as I understand it, ballots in the MS-01 special election did not list party affiliation, so it’s possible that many of Childers’ voters did not think of him as the Democratic candidate. By all accounts Childers has adopted every socially conservative position imaginable, while talking up a brand of economic populism and opposition to the war. He seems to be a lot like Jim Webb, except he is even more like what some of us might have wanted Jim Webb to be like. Davis probably comes across to small town and rural Mississippians as the standard-issue suburban Republican, while Childers is one of them; the race has broken down along geographic lines. It occurs to me that this makes him something of a unique case resulting from unusually good Democratic recruitment paired against pretty bad Republican recruitment, plus a bruising primary battle for the Republicans and lackluster party support for the nominee. Now it is significant that the NRCC has to fight for this seat at all, since it is notoriously low on cash and has been fighting holding actions in places where Democrats have no business competing. That does point to the broader weaknesses of the GOP in the House elections this year, but even if Childers should pull off a remarkable upset in the run-off I am very doubtful that the Democrats could hold such seats come November.
Meanwhile, there’s something Childers said that annoyed me, because it reminded me that this is the sort of antiwar argument that really works, and it is one of those arguments that is based on a lot of nonsense. Childers said:
But that cookie cutter message is not working. How long can you put a round peg into a square hole? Those people have been fighting for centuries [bold mine-DL].
It’s the last sentence that bothered me. What it does is to make it seem as if foreign conflicts that started more recently would be more amenable to resolution, but obviously the more fresh, the more recent the injuries and wounds the harder it is to settle outstanding questions. “Those people” are, of course, Sunnis and Shi’ites, I suppose, but any mix of people will do, and this can be applied to every conflict and it will typically be false in almost every instance it is used. (In the Iraqi case, it is false.) This is the sort of thing one heard during the ’90s all the time about different ethnic groups in the Balkans (centuries of violence! completely irrational!). There are two kinds of people who like to perpetuate the myth that “those people have been fighting for centuries”: those who are uninterested in finding out the actual causes of a conflict, for whatever reason, and those who have a stake in making a conflict seem to be essential to one’s identity. Thus Greek nationalists dusted off Basil II “the Bulgar-slayer” when it was suddenly necessary to start fighting Bulgarians over Macedonia, and Bulgarian nationalists reciprocated by idealising the medieval Bulgar empires and interpreting Bogomilism as an expression of “Bulgarian” resistance to “Greek” religion, but prior to the late nineteenth century Greeks and those who would later become Bulgarians belonged to the same general religious community and had no quarrel with one another at all. Virtually no two groups today resent and dislike each other more, on the whole, than Turks and Armenians, but they had not been “fighting each other for centuries” when their greatest conflicts erupted. We do not need ancient rivalries and grudges to explain something like the genocide (whose day of commemoration, incidentally, is today), since its origins are much more immediate and are to be found, again, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Talking about centuries of conflict allows us to ignore proximate causes and a lot of modern history, which is a way of making foreign violence, especially when it is on a massive and horrific scale as the genocide was, seem un-modern and a holdover from some barbaric, dark period to which we have no connection. It makes perfect sense why this is the one kind of antiwar appeal that has real traction: it makes people feel good about themselves, which is usually what the jingoistic arguments succeed in doing.
When the glorious disciples were enlightened at the washing of their feet before the supper, the impious Judas was darkened by the disease of avarice, and to the lawless judges he betrayed You, the Righteous Judge. Behold, this man because of avarice hanged himself. Flee from the insatiable desire which dared such things against the Master! O Lord Who deals righteously with all, glory to You!
Megan McArdle responds to my earlier post, and clarifies her point enough that I see that we aren’t very far apart on this question. I mistook Ms. McArdle’s description of what can happen in war, which she correctly says is often far removed from the original causes of the war, for an argument that war crimes are somehow an unavoidable consequence of going to war. The misinterpretation was mine, and I regret berating her over that, since I have evidently read too much into her remark about Dresden. However, in the post just before it in which she is responding to Sullivan’s critique, she makes another statement that strikes me as odd:
I said that what the Bush administration has done was not the result of choosing what Glenn Greenwald called an “aggressive” war in Iraq. (To be distinguished, presumably, from the peaceful, passive sorts of wars that other countries have.)
In fact, except for this parenthetical remark, I generally agree with Ms. McArdle in this post as well, but the remark seems unnecessary. There are aggressors in war, and in the case of Iraq I hope we could agree that our government was that aggressor. Since aggressive war is itself a crime and a violation of international law, it is reasonable to expect that governments that wage aggressive war will be more likely to ignore legal conventions against other kinds of crimes committed during war. No one would deny that governments defending against invasion can commit atrocities, but because as the state of the war has been created by the aggressor there is some sense in which all atrocities that take place during the war can be traced back to the aggressor and the aggressor is responsible for them to one degree or another. Obviously, no state wages “peaceful” or “passive” wars, but not all states wage wars of aggression and I would wager that there is a connection between launching wars of aggression and the frequency of war crimes and other violations of international law. As the example of Dresden reminds us, though, a state that is responding to another state’s aggression can commit war crimes, which I suppose brings us back to Ms. McArdle’s more recent post.
What a difference two months make. On the day of the Wisconsin primary, Obama was leading McCain by twelve in Nevada, and now trails by five. No doubt everyone will say that this doesn’t matter, but I found the size of the swing and some of the crosstabs to be pretty remarkable. Nevada is a competitive state this year, and it is considered a toss-up, so Obama’s slide over the last two months, if it is not just a temporary result of the primary fight, is bad news for the Democrats. Clinton runs even more poorly overall (as she did in February), but Obama retains less Democratic support (just 59% of Democrats say they will back him, and 29% say they will back McCain) while he also picks up some additional Republicans and independents. The internal movement has been very interesting: in February, 30-39 year olds backed Obama 60-34, and have since flipped and now back McCain 51-47. Instead of losing all but the 65+, as he did two months ago, McCain now just loses among 40-49 year olds by four and among 18-29 year olds by a wide margin of 24. Obama now has a 51% unfav rating, which is 13 points higher than it was two months ago. Obviously, unfav ratings tend to go up over time, but this is a pretty significant change. The “good” news for Obama is that Clinton’s unfavs are worse (56%). Meanwhile, McCain’s unfavs have gone down from 53% to 43%.
“A few months ago,” Mr. Brooks concluded, “Mr. Obama was riding his talents. â€¦ Now, Democrats are deeply worried their nominee will lose in November.”
Eh, not really. That logic fixates on all of the ammunition that Republicans have at their disposal against Mr. Obama. But it ignores the more basic question of whether voters, upon being exposed to the caricature, will actually buy into it. ~Steve Kornacki
Hope really does spring eternal, doesn’t it? Consider John Judis’ latest article, in which he seems to confirm Brooks’ description of growing Democratic anxiety:
Meanwhile, Obama’s weaknesses as a general election candidate grow more apparent with each successive primary.
The main difference is that Judis wrote this after the Pennsylvania results, and Brooks wrote his column before them. They are otherwise making closely related arguments. Judis went on to say:
Indeed, if you look at Obama’s vote in Pennsylvania, you begin to see the outlines of the old George McGovern coalition that haunted the Democrats during the ’70s and ’80s, led by college students and minorities. In Pennsylvania, Obama did best in college towns (60 to 40 percent in Penn State’s Centre County) and in heavily black areas like Philadelphia.
Its ideology is very liberal. Whereas in the first primaries and caucuses, Obama benefited from being seen as middle-of-the-road or even conservative, he is now receiving his strongest support from voters who see themselves as “very liberal.” In Pennsylvania, he defeated Clinton among “very liberal” voters by 55 to 45 percent, but lost “somewhat conservative” voters by 53 to 47 percent and moderates by 60 to 40 percent. In Wisconsin and Virginia, by contrast, he had done best against Clinton among voters who saw themselves as moderate or somewhat conservative.
Obama even seems to be acquiring the religious profile of the old McGovern coalition. In the early primaries and caucuses, Obama did very well among the observant. In Maryland, he defeated Clinton among those who attended religious services weekly by 61 to 31 percent. By contrast, in Pennsylvania, he lost to Clinton among these voters by 58 to 42 percent and did best among voters who never attend religious services, winning them by 56 to 44 percent. There is nothing wrong with winning over voters who are very liberal and who never attend religious services; but if they begin to become Obama’s most fervent base of support, he will have trouble (to say the least) in November.
Those who are sympathetic to the idea that Obama represents a break with the past may be both heartened and terrified by this. On the one hand, this evidence could be used to rebut my claim that Obama seems to be an old-fashioned liberal with respect to much of domestic policy. One could argue that he has to appear to be more to the left than he “really” is, because that is where his primary coalition is, and he will eventually, to use Kaus’ word, pivot to the center as all nominees supposedly have to do in the summer, and more importantly would not govern in the manner of a progressive. Besides, you might add, his health care plan puts him to the right of Clinton on that issue. You could push this more and say that he is doing exactly what I said he would have to do, shoring up his support on the left, because this had been weak earlier in the primaries when he was talking up unity, bipartisanship and reconciliation, and that he will later turn out to be the coalition-expanding, independent-attracting dynamo that many hoped/feared he would be. Then again, the demographic profile of his coalition for most of the primaries has actually remained pretty constant, and to the extent that it has changed it has only grown more predictably liberal over time, which suggests that even if I am wrong about the content of Obama’s liberalism his coalition of supporters may end up identifying him in the public mind with their politics and thus make him less electable.
Whether you buy the “Greater New England” thesis that explains Obama’s success in such places as Wisconsin and Iowa, he seems to prevail in primaries in those almost entirely white states where there has been a particularly strong progresstive tradition in the politics of those states, so the electoral limitations of a candidate identified with this coalition seem clear. Technically, the composition of his coalition and the content of Obama’s liberalism are distinct matters, but if his primary coalition is liberal or very liberal this will tend to draw attention to those areas where Obama is more liberal than Clinton and will cause people to neglect those instances when he is moving to her right (for instance, on Social Security to the endless aggravation of Paul Krugman). Of course, perception counts for a great deal, and if Obama becomes identified with the profile of his voters, as McGovern (who was personally more conservative than Obama) was, as a practical matter it won’t make any difference whether he is actually neoliberal or “centrist” on a number of things, because he will be perceived according to the views of those who support him rather than his own stated positions one way or another.
This is perhaps the same reason why so many on the left became convinced that George W. Bush was some great right-winger, since his primary coalition in the fight with McCain was made up of the most conservative members of the GOP and may also help explain why conservatives embraced him as “one of their own,” despite plentiful evidence to the contrary, out of resistance to McCain’s campaign. The images forged during primary battles do not disappear quickly (hence McCain remains in the fantasies of the media the reasonable, moderate Republican!), and the opposing party has every incentive to exaggerate the “extremism” of the nominee. I still think my earlier assessment makes sense based on what Obama has said about policy, but perhaps we on the right are mistaking episodes of necessary primary pandering to a voting coalition for Obama’s convictions and that Obama would govern as a liberal every bit as much as Bush has governed as a conservative, which is to say not much.
Whether or not Obama really is as far to the left as I think him to be, the profile of Obama primary voters will reinforce that image throughout the year. That is really why Pennsylvania will be so damaging to him. It isn’t just that certain demographic groups in Pennsylvania voted against him by large margins, though that isn’t a good sign for general election performance, but it is the impression the rest of the country gets from the results is that he appeals to a fairly small part of the country and to people whose ideological persuasion is not shared by all that many Americans. He runs the risk of being pigeonholed as Huckabee was, except that this is happening much later in the process. What happened in Pennsylvania will end up, in a somewhat circular fashion, ensuring that the pattern of voting in Pennsylvania will occur again in November, because the Pennsylvania results seem to confirm the limits of Obama’s appeal and can then be used and re-used frequently to characterise Obama as past Democratic nominees have been characterised. In Iowa Obama once boasted that every place he visits becomes Obama country, but after spending the better part of the last six weeks in Pennsylvania this obviously didn’t happen. The results came back almost as if they had been generated by a computer program that plugged in the demographics of the state and ran an equation based on Ohio’s voting. Everyone knew that Obama wasn’t going to win in Pennsylvania, but the sheer intractability of the demographic groups who didn’t vote for him is what has to worry those who want to see the Democrats win the White House in the general election.
Dresden would have been unthinkable in 1939; by the time it happened, anything was justifiable if it saved Allied soldiers. ~Megan McArdle
McArdle uses an unusually bad example to back up an unfortunate position. Of course, it is true when you opt to bomb civilian centers, especially in an indiscriminate, fire-bombing way, that you have at that time chosen to commit war crimes, and it is also true that people who have reconciled themselves to the mass slaughter of civilians have chosen to justify pretty much anything in the name of fighting the enemy. It does not follow that because you have gone to war against another state that you have therefore necessarily embarked on a course that requires you to engage in those war crimes. The choice to commit those crimes comes later, and that choice becomes inevitable only if those crimes are absolutely necessary to achieve victory. In fact, such crimes tend to stand out for just how utterly unnecessary and excessive they are. If you accept the inhuman calculations of total war and unconditional surrender, you might say that war crimes are inevitable, but if you really accept the logic of total war you don’t believe that there is anything done in war that violates morality or law, because total war is the practical negation of both. The category “war crime” presupposes a distinction between combatants and non-combatants that total war effaces, so one either repudiates total war as immoral and an invitation to the commission of war crimes as a matter of policy, which it is, or one should cease to speak of war crimes.
Even so, the example is almost uniquely bad to make McArdle’s case. Dresden was not an effort to try to “save Allied soldiers,” the dubious justification that is also usually given for the vaporisation and incineration of hundreds of thousands of Japanese, but was very definitely and consciously an exercise in inflicting terror on the civilian population and was purely a punitive raid conducted under the catch-all of “strategic bombing.” No strategic goals were advanced in burning the people of Dresden alive (not that this would have made it less of a war crime had some such goal been advanced in some way), and we should never pretend that Dresden was anything other than a bombing carried out to satisfy a vendetta in the most horrifying way imaginable.