Dick Cheney’s Final Sadism

Of all of Cheney’s various crimes and corrosive acts, his book may be the cruelest. Not because of its dubious authenticity. Rather, Cheney gives new leases of life to mealy-mouthed Colin Powell and the entire spineless cavalcade of our past.

Across D.C. one can’t escape General Jello’s plaintive, salad fork-like rebuttal. Again we are forced to endure the spectacle of a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and alleged warrior whining about ‘cheap shots’ — as if he’s in the NBA working refs after getting dunked on. A patent lawyer almost wholly oblivious of anything political couldn’t shut up about seeing Colin Powell on TV. Now that’s evil. Curse you again, Dick Cheney.

It’s Cheney’s misfortune that books themselves mean so little in 2011. As a cultural artifact they no longer command and monopolize the Imperial City hive mind. Not in the way say the former court reporter (in all senses of the words) Woodward’s routinely used to. Certainly not in the way Kissinger’s ghost written memoirs did. In fact, as Palin showed, a few well placed tweets command as much media spotlight. We draw comfort in our assessment because the kids at the WaPo disagree:

The difference between all these books and Cheney’s is the author. While the books listed above were often written by staffers and sometimes by political appointees, Cheney is a former Vice President of the United States. That gives his autobiography a certain amount of heft lacking from the others.

We doubt it. Not just because the WaPo is itself so enfeebled. Cheney, no matter how malefic, can not repeal the Law of Commodification. Already his book has been read, reported on. Thousands have fed its contents into the Twitter, StumbleUpon and other disposals of the modern intellect. Sliced, diced and churned. We doubt there are significant new details remaining that haven’t already been reported whether on Iraq, torture, Wilson/Plame, Rumsfeld, Afghanistan or domestic spying.

Cheney can count on the AEI/Hudson networks for a certain annuity. But his publishers want sales and Cheney clearly relishes attention. So both need Tenet, Rice, Leahy and others rise to the bait (“heads will explode”).

Thus is the full scope of Cheney’s sadism revealed. He is like the manipulator from the Saw movies. He opens a path to escape if the victims immolate themselves. Our only hope is they show the good judgment, courage and fortitude that evaded them when in office and spurn the invitation. General Jello already failed.

And for us, once again, we are forced to recall the bitter taste of pinning expectations on such a sorry bunch of self-serving mediocrities. We can in a way slightly sympathize with Cheney’s contempt for them all.

Curse you indeed, Dick Cheney.

В чем дело?*

Here’s a question for you, Dear Reader, about the road ahead. Over the years together we’ve explored and explained much of the American experience under Christian Socialist Authoritarianism 2001-2008. Sadly, we also assessed Obama correctly in 2007 and warned of recent events. So, what now?

Our lengthy joint conversation remains (begun before YouTube, when Arianna was still swanning for fleeting TV camera glimpses behind Arnold in California). Sure, some (many?) of the posts were hit or miss. But together we did lay down more than a few good ones. Those remain just as relevant today.

We watch with dismay ‘informed’ Democratic thinkers post-election smugly intoning that smart Democrats need to accommodate the Movement even more. Obama’s 2 year ineffective political disengagement will suddenly morph into Clinton’s adroit, intensely engaged political counterpunching? Boehner will be as psychologically fragile as Newt? Or is it some fundamental Democratic compulsion to commit ‘suicide by Movement’?

One is reminded of the apocryphal person determined to drown. One can offer help while remaining careful not to get ensnared and pulled down, too.

Because one thing is for sure: Democrats won’t learn a thing. Again.


* ‘What’s the deal?’

Rightist Collective Narcissism And Why Obama’s Own Fantasy Of Rational Dialogue Is Doomed

(N.B.: this originally was posted in the comments section but upon reflection think it deserves its own post. No worries, no effort to impersonate Krauthammer or a certain Senate Majority Leader with the deliberately stylized prose. Just some observations).

Narcissism is an occupational hazard for political leaders. You have to have an outsized ambition and an outsized ego to run for office.

Stanley Renshon

The Right’s compulsive need to maintain its Narrative within which all adherents can act out their own form of idealized Self is essentially collective narcissism. That’s offered as a lay person’s experience working, talking, and socializing with them over decades. From the Newts of the world to the most vicious ‘unknowns’ (except today the latter likely have so many Facebook ‘friends’ they have their own ‘fan’ page).

Narcissistic need to support a fantasized, grandiose self-image within a larger heroic Narrative explains alot. Not just the daily evidence of disconnect between actual behavior and the projected idealized (often censoring) personality. The post 2008 purge and radicalization are inevitable consequence. A complimentary analytical framework from a conventional political/historical perspective of Movements here and on the Continent.

Narrative radicalization and escalating vehemence through cant and acting out must — by internal logic — treble when fantasy can not surmount the limits imposed by Objective Reality (say Nov. 2008). Obama’s victory is a crisis threatening the ability to segregate their disassociated fantasized self-image with their often fragmented and undeveloped self. Why anyone remotely close to the Movement who said after defeat “now is the time for introspection” was doomed to be mau maued and kicked off the island. And Lord help you if there was a photo with you hugging Obama . . .

On one extreme one gets birthers. Another? Secession. And so on. They’re really the same. Their commonality is an irrational imperative to retreat to a safe Narrative that protects their idealized, fantasy Self. From that Barlett-esque non-emprical world adherents safely can continue to use the objective external world as a mere prop in their own internal movie.

This is in marked contrast with more normative modes of collecting and processing input, cognition and productions of ‘knowledge’ below:

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‘The Left’ [sic], Tennis Courts And Why They Deserve To Lose — Part 32

Sandy Levinson continues to pine for a Constitutional Convention to fix our ‘broken system.’ He notes he’s just affirming his long standing position, one we’ve discussed at length here as well. It’s unfortunate he cuddles up to David Brook’s hush puppy bleat to join him on the Tennis Courts.

Levinson, whom we’ve respected for 20 plus years, is in some ways another, much smarter, Larry Wilkerson – both consumed with process. Recall Wilkerson’s pathetic arguments after his firing in 2005 (not before, mind you) that amending the 1947 National Security Act would halt future Cheneys/Addingtons/Scooters/Rumsfelds/Feiths/etc. from by-passing the orderly flow of paper work and inter-departmental consultation. Who knew Addington would have been halted in his tracks with just one more statute to ignore?

Utter idiotic claptrap and nonsense, of course. We here together for years understood the essence of the Warlord’s regime: *the law didn’t matter*. Even adding 1,000 more pages to the U.S. Code? Meaningless. Note that our disdain for Wilkerson is not limited to this website. We’ve said this to his face and exposed his ignorance at fora. He continues to shine at his full 15 watt potential.

Similarly, the much brighter Levinson, so-so Larry Sabato and now Brooks claim process will fix an obviously broken government. Once again, Levinson adopted the external political science approach rather than an internal legal one.

Summon Les Estates-General

Levinson acknowledges concern about calling the Estates-General in today’s polarized political environment. But not enough. Like Wilkerson, Levinson fails to understand true political radical reality (we say this with kindness, he is an accomplished professor, not political operative). If Levinson ever worked on the Hill for a period of time and participated in electoral processes, he would see that the U.S. government is not paralyzed *because* of a flawed Constitution but in *spite* of it. More clever drafting of Constitution 2.0 (with a Bill of Tweets? Lord help us) will not address our underlying problem – the societal collapse of ‘virtue’ (per Douglas Adair), belief in republican liberal democracy or even ward room Dahl-esque pluralistic politics.

Assume one could re-write the Constitution along the lines Levinson suggests. Assume again Christian Socialist Authoritarian efforts to hijack the country’s DNA are rebuffed. Still, only deck chairs are moved. No piece of paper can mandate responsible outcomes. The fragmented Movement merely will game the new framework. 10 years? 5? 20? Eventually we will be back here. Efforts to seek better outcomes merely by changing the Constitution are akin to a substance abuser who moves to a new city thinking everything will be different.

Mrs. Powell: Mr. Majority Leader, What Have We Got, Obama-Care Or A Birth Certificate?
Mr. Armey: Tax Cuts, If You Can Keep Them!

A liberal democratic republic will exist only when its people and representatives subscribe to those underlying ideals and notions. The Left [sic], progressives and decimated moderate Republicans allowed them to die largely undefended. Even in 2010 they collectively still don’t really understand what they are up against. Our government fails because its institutions have lost self-identity, something we predicted would happen under the Counter Enlightenment ideological government of 2001-2008. They can operate – even with people like Shelby and the filibuster problem – if collective institutional memory and will exist. Both don’t. More importantly, the American people must step up. A Constitution 2.0 will be meaningless without that fundamental change at the societal level. Changing the rules merely shifts how the Movement’s nihilist game plays out. The same conditions that would enable Constitution 2.0 to function also render it moot.

That’s the hard truth the ‘Left [sic]’ is only now recognizing. (We here have all been discussing this for 6 years now). A substantial portion of the American people don’t believe in or want liberal democracy. They will play along to gain power but reject investment in the system should they lose. Once the Movement tasted unfetted power 2001-2008 it refuses to go back on a Ken Duberstein-esque leash. No Constitution 2.0 can accommodate that. It’s the anti-Bruce Ackerman ‘High Constitutional Moment.’ No liberal democracy can function so without descending to Weimar feebleness, contempt and vulnerability to a Man on a White Horse.

Levinson perhaps can visit CPAC. He can watch Tea Partiers on cable. Superficial tourism – like suggesting someone can conduct a real federal trial based on watching CSI. Until he, Sabato et al. are immersed in the Movement at the actual granular level, none of them can understand how irresponsible it is to urge everyone onto the Tennis Court. The question is who plays Danton.

Republics are finite. History tells us that. We are way past America’s ‘Machiavellian Moment’ – Pocock’s examination of how a Republic confronts a crisis of ideals and self-awareness. Sandy, before you open up the Constitution on the Tennis Court, think twice about stepping through that dark doorway. None of us have any idea what will emerge.

A precondition to any successful Constitutional Convention? Advocates of Constitution 2.0 first must make every concerted effort to remind the American people of their inheritance. What is it to be a liberal democratic republic? Do people want a republic as much if not more than those determined to tear it down? A republic is not $19.95 DVD players from Shanghai, tax cuts or sectarian/authoritarian cults. Franky, we don’t think the Academy and others are up to the job. If they were, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.

Our Common Peril (revised)

Paul Krugman succinctly sums up the relationship among Fox News, Rightist Talk Radio, political extremism and now murders. He says in passing, “And at this point, whatever dividing line there was between mainstream conservatism and the black-helicopter crowd seems to have been virtually erased.”

Here at STSOZ we’ve discussed and diagnosed the differences among the Movement, its various strands and ‘Republicans” since 2004. The Movement is the controlling parasite astride its enfeebled Republican host. The Movement’s reaction to Obama’s victory only underscores the point.

Seemingly bright ‘mainstream media’ still do not understand the dichotomy. Or its implications. They still treat ‘Republicans’ and Democrats as equivalent political actors playing the same game by the same rules for the same prizes. As long as relative neophytes view politics in this prism, the Movement wins.

What we here at STSOZ call the Movement within the conservative base always plays a different game for a different prize. The Movement may speak in normal political talking points from ‘Republican’ institutions. Yet is is not committed to Dahl-esque pluralistic politics. It has has never sought compromise or ‘moderation’. That’s because for the Movement, politics is existential warfare. Compromise is defeat.

Because Krugman et al. fail to grasp the fundamental difference between the Movement, the former Republican Party and the Democratic Party, talking heads refer to the Movement as the ‘Republican base’. As if somehow the Movement and its Manichean zero-sum nihilism is the same as the Democratic base. Say the the Sierra Club or unions. How one can be a professional political analyst and assume a base is a base is a base. Well, we live in truly decadent (technically defined) times.

Revealed In All The Debacle - Sir! We've Just Isolated The Talking Point Gene, And There's No Doubt Wealthy White Northern European Males Have A Better Gene!  We Win !!

It wasn’t always like this, of course. The Republican Party as an independent actor and entity was able to keep the Movement within bounds. But after Reagan, and especially the Bush debacle in ’92, the Movement learned to seize power on its own within and without the Republican Party. As a sign of their increased power, the Movement’s rage, paranoia, and conspiracy fever in 1993 seemed novel. By 1994 and certainly 2000 the Movement had completed its subversion of the Republican Party.

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Stone’s Unexpectedly Empathetic ‘ W ‘

Stone’s new flick is surprisingly balanced, even sympathetic. Think an over long contemporary SNL skit, albeit with sharper writing. W here has pathos. He is often a passive reactor to events, especially those he himself sets in motion.

We’ll let you decide whether Stone made a ‘good’ movie. As a rule, we don’t care for most Stone movies. ‘Wall Street’ is perhaps the notable exception. The inevitable comparison to ‘W’ will be with Stone’s earlier ‘Nixon’. As Stone himself says and we agree, there really are no comparisons — he clearly did not feel constrained by boundaries of form when making ‘W’.

One reason? So much leaked in the last 2 years from this most secretive of regimes. The Warlord’s actions are accepted consensus truth. Impeachment now is a formalism. Global judgment already is both fact and truth. Second, in Stone’s telling, W’s tragic flaws are more forgivable. The man himself is so genially banal. Nixon by contrast possessed infinitely greater skills and correspondingly more dangerous *capacity* for darkness.

Stone’s movie provides enough characterization and factual detail for strong partisans of all viewpoints. We could imagine almost all emerging from a theater amused, ready to argue points over a beer or three. Why? Because in a strange and possibly unintended way, Stone exonerates W from culpabilities.

This shifts the key debate to who is the most venal in the Warlord’s retinue. The script sticks to actual quotes and facts even if composited from different meetings or places to maintain dramatic flow. Each historical character by necessity is a moving sketch. Stone continues the Left’s bizarre infatuation with General Jello Powell. Here, General Jello is given a wholly undeserved ‘presence’ and personal backbone. The Left’s school yard crush is beyond tiresome, it’s stale. Cher Condi is depicted with pitch perfect detail and historical accuracy. Even her amen chorus in the Imperial City will be deflated knowing that her efforts to airbrush away 2001-2005 will be for naught. Richard Dreyfuss as Cheney gives his most wickedly funny role in our opinion since ‘Moon Over Parador’. Finally we laughed out loud when our old acquaintance Steve Cambone gets a shout out.

The movie’s climax is understandably Iraq and the immediate fall out. Stone choreographs missing WMDs, David Kay’s resignation and bitter recriminations swirling around a puzzled and frustrated W. Inter-staff quips, snide comments and ducking of responsibilities are shown in historically accurate and entertaining detail. The Stiftung could not help but feel that with a few slight changes the same would portray Cheney’s machinations hiding DoJ’s opposition to surveillance and other Cheney/Addington initiatives.

The movie ends abruptly. When the lights came on, Rachel Maddow’s demographic clapped and hollered. We shared the general sense of thumbs up but left in a different place than the Maddow types. Our reaction on the fade out of Stone’s W the man surprised us. For him, we felt pity.

Valmy 2008

Of all the serious oddities this year above and untouched by the day-to-day banalities of our media and alleged intellectual class (has anyone else been amused and appalled by the plaintive emails for our ‘leading specialists’ ‘ desperate for eyeballs and attention?), one issue is conspicuously absent. Why and how the Warlord’s Christian Socialist Authoritarian regime collapsed so completely, silently and vaporously. What happened to the Counter Enlightenment’s offensive of just 2 years ago? Does a mere election cycle mean ‘change’?

The Warlord’s regime is a historical phenomenon; it is sui generis and not of the tapestry of politics as usual. Its rise, destructive reign and diaphanous dissolution stands out among the histories of modern authoritarian regimes. Yet it remains similar to them in their internal morphologies and external dynamics. Indeed, all of the regime’s power centers in society remain intact. They are in fact relatively healthy; none have suffered significant socio-economic damage. For example, plutocratic wealth remains concentrated on an unprecedented scale; exposure to the various bubbles by storied institutions and executives aside, this sector remains largely immune to the travails descending on the rest of the nation.

The collective religious strands known as ‘evangelicals’ in the mass media remain committed to their values and the subordination of reason to the irrational. Indeed, its political power is shown daily by McCain’s requirement to pay obeisance to those whom he just a few years earlier called agents of intolerance. We see similarly traditional conservatives heartened by the Supreme Court’s continuing lurch to the right. Untold millions of illegals continue to flow into the U.S. despite the housing bubble’s collapse; the Hispanic enclaves encroach upon even the toniest Imperial City’s non-gated but very gates communities. All of these charged batteries that electrified the regime’s dynamos are intact — as are spineless and feckless Democrats that stand a 50-50 chance of grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

We all know the ‘Republican brand has been damaged yada yada yada’ as every talking head intones nightly. We know the Warlord is at 31%. Yet Congress remains lower. What really happened? Why did the regime collapse? Was it Katrina, Iraq, and drum beat of incompetence? Did the cadres lose faith in The Leader per se, but not the cause? How did the quietest whispers of rationality intrude upon American commodification of thought?

We remain unconvinced that the American demos became progressives, etc. overnight the past few years. A further post will be coming on this — our view is that the authoritarianism we witnessed of the past few years — with a public either ignorantly embracing it or indifferent — is not gone, but dormant. A truly droll comment by History would be that American devotion to authoritarianism bowed before bloated infatuation with land dinosaur SUVs and $3.00 gas. Recessionary — or worse — times can indeed be the flower bed for dynamic action and Movement. “Yes We Can” is opaque enough to encompass just about every aspiration under the sun. Yet the Warlord’s Movement understands. Theirs is the radicalism of exclusion, the Other a needed projection. Their moment is not and cannot be about inclusion.

They naturally wait for their next radicalizing moment — ala Charlie Black and another attack on CONUS. Or the Crowned One carrying the day — and the Pretender McCain destroyed as an example.

Nonetheless, one should savor this brief respite. This regime’s eclipse was not a foregone conclusion. True, it may be only an interregnum. But it does open the door to hope. And possibility. At least for a little while.

The Hegelian Bush: Fallujah as Jena

Slate’s David Greenberg offers a belated gloss on the Brooks interview with the Warlord.

But perhaps there’s a more charitable way to think of Bush’s understanding of history: as a Hegelian. (Scott McLemee of Inside Higher Ed, for one, has offered an intriguing Hegelian reading of Bush.) Like Carlyle, who was influenced by his work, Hegel venerated heroes who steer the course of events. After seeing Napoleon ride into battle to defeat the armies of Prussian monarchy at Jena in 1806, Hegel famously described the emperor as “the World Spirit riding on a horse”—a great individual shaping history. But Hegel also believed the battle at Jena to represent, as Francis Fukuyama stressed in his influential 1989 essay, the “end of history.” History, Hegel argued, had an inner logic, a teleology, with the unfolding of liberty as the ultimate plan. For Hegel, Great Men like Napoleon don’t just happen to find themselves as emperor of Europe; they’re driven by an inner spirit that serves the aims of historical destiny.         

The Stiftung long argued that Bush-As-Spirit-Of-The-Age is perhaps not entirely comically absurd. Christian Socialist Authoritarianism in the U.S. came from somewhere. True, the Movement’s various strands took advantage of 9/11. And true, they together routed and used the hapless Democrats as props and sock puppets until 2006. But the extent of the regime’s transformation of American social fabric, mores, politics and destiny was not wholly imposed top down. The Joe Kleins of the world didn’t and still don’t get it.

The Enlightenment was always a thin veneer in America before 2001. It’s thinner still in 2007. 
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