October is the cruelest month of any election year, but by then the pain is so great that even the strong are like jelly and time has lost all meaning for anybody still involved in a political campaign. By that time, even candidates running unopposed have abandoned all of hope of victory. They live only for the day when they can seek vengeance on treacherous bastards who said they were loyal friends and swore they were in it to win it.

October in the politics business is like drowning in scum or trying to hang on through the final hour of a bastinado punishment. . . . The flesh is dying and the heart is full of hate: the winners are subpoenaed by divorce lawyers and the losers hole up in cheap hotel rooms on the outskirts of town with a briefcase full of hypodermic needles and certain knowledge that the next time their names get in the newspapers will be when they are found dead and naked in a puddle of blood in the trunk of some stolen car in an abandoned parking lot.

Others are not so lucky and are doomed, like Harold Stassen, to wallow for the rest of their lives in the backwaters of local politics, cheap crooks, and relentless humiliating failures. By the time Halloween rolls around, most campaigns are bogged down in despair and paralyzed by a frantic mix of greed and desperation that comes with knowing that everything you have done or thought or worked for or believed in for the past two years was wrong and stupid.

There are never enough seats on the last train out of the station . . . .

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, “Songs of the Doomed: More Notes On The Death Of The American Dream/Gonzo Papers Vol. 3”

God Help Us All

Do you believe in omens? Back in the day, 1985 to be more precise, the Sovs were in political, social and economic crisis. A procession of decrepit old men tottered on the scene only to wheeze, cough and expire in rapid order, from Brezhnev, Andropov to the sublimely pathetic Chernenko.

So the scared old men gathered once again to select another Red Tsar. This time, Andrei Gromyko, Foreign Minister and like Mikhail Suslov, a connection to the ‘good old days’ of Stalinist ‘order and discipline’ nominated the objectively very young and inexperienced Mikhail Gorbachev. We know today much of what transpired at these Politburo sessions. Gromkyo told the gerontocracy ‘This man [Gorbachev] has teeth of steel !’. Six years later that man destroyed the Soviet Empire in a series of purposeful, accidental, random, intended and blind stumbling policies.

So today Joltin’ Joe promises us that of course the world sees what we do in the Boy King: a callow and inexperienced punk youth. But ala Gromyko, Joltin’ Joe tosses off blandishments — the Boy King has ‘a spine of steel’ doncha know.

Lord knows he showed it post Denver. It must take titanium vertebrae to be so passive in the face of unprecedented opportunity. Had the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac/Lehman debacle waited until February 2009 frankly Sarah Palin’s odds of moving into the Old Naval Observatory would be pretty good. It’s actually astounding that it took a financial collapse psychologically akin to 1929 (if not objectively the same) to vault the Democrats into the lead.

As a thought experiment, let’s imagine the “Boy King With Backbone Of Steel” deigns to be carried by events into the Oval Office. Now let’s think about General Jello and the ‘Liberation of Paris’ euphoria over his endorsement within the so-called ‘Foreign Policy Establishment.’

Jello and the Benchpresser lost 2001-2004 for one primary reason they still don’t understand. They have no philosophy of their own other than pragmatism and ‘crisis management’ — think Graham Allison’s almost pornographic worship of the Kennedy Administration’s process during the Cuban Missile Crisis stretched into a bureaucratic, cultural and world view routine. Ad hoc pragmatism always in the end will be vulnerable to a coherent ideology or philosophy simply because one side has a clearly defined agenda, end game and the ability to tack to get there.

Past As Prologue

Zbig was on Morning Joe with his daughter discussing General Jello and an Obama Administration. (We’ve talked with him about his daughter before — his genuine love and pride at first seem to erupt incongruously from his otherwise carefully cultivated stoicism. So to honor the moment, let’s skip the usual and justified snark about *that* show).

We must with regret disagree with him on the Boy King. There is zero evidence to us that he is in fact ‘made of steel’. Nor is there any evidence that we can see of a coherent, overarching world view and philosophy. No one disputes the Boy King is bright. (So is Sarah Palin. Laurence O’Donnell was thunderstruck this morning after standing with Palin on the SNL stage. He said the entire show was stunned by how sharp she is (and how much more charismatic she is in person)).

In fact, let’s delve into Zbig’s own moment in the sun to see what lessons there might be for today. The Peanut Farmer was bright. He also was untutored on foreign affairs. Many thought they could be the consigliere behind the throne. The Peanut Farmer resisted a dauphin presidency and played the factions off each other. The policy and geopolitical ramifications were disastrous.

Within 4 short years the U.S. lurched from one policy to another. First the Peanut Farmer embraced Warnke and Vance’s attempted (and failed) appeasement of the Soviets. Anyone remember Warnke’s ‘Apes on a Treadmill’? Vance’s disarmament mission to Moscow in 1977 remains an epic flameout in diplomatic annals. The Sovs did not appreciate the ad hoc, the unpredictable and above all disdained weakness.

So as the Sovs moved into Ethiopia, etc. Zbig got to drop his Top 40 Hit, ‘detente was buried in the sands of Ogaden’ The Peanut Farmer waivered and tacked back towards Zbig’s more hard line views. The U.S. hosted the ‘chain smoking Communist dwarf’ (ala Pat Buchanan) Deng Tsaio Ping in 1978. We started other collaboration with China that is still not in the public record. The next year? The Peanut Farmer waivered again, watches Samoza fall and only later the U.S. frantically crawls to its own puppet entity, the Organization of American States, to try and belatedly contain the Sandanistas. Sophomoric confusion and ineptitude.

Should we go on? How about the Shah calling the Peanut Farmer asking Carter what he should do. When the Peanut Farmer hems and haws, the Shah blurts out “It’s your world Mr. President !” You know the rest. There’s no point in even rehashing the whole “I learned more in 3 days than in 3 years” when the Sovs went into Kabul.

So that’s what can happen when a very bright, in control but untutored president *presides* over competing agendas and philosophies. Pragmatism/ad hoc crisis management is in a way its own null philosophy. You didn’t have to be a wing nut in 1980 to have been convinced that another 4 years of the ‘bright’, ‘change-bringing’ Peanut Farmer would have left America on her knees.

Joltin’ Joe’s spinal diagnosis of the Boy King aside, we won’t be holding our breath. Among the many Imperial City truisms to keep in mind? ‘Personnel *is* policy’.

And Survey Says !? (ding, ding)

More to come apres l’accident de voiture . . . well, if Alessandra Stanley says it, it must be so. But Stanley is this once much more perceptive than the tiresome Joan Walsh. Walsh, Olbermann and the Maddows of the world don’t seem to realize that it is no longer 2003-4. Being an Oppositionist is no longer a furtive, brave thing. No one beyond the 30% dead enders doubts the essential critique. Especially today.

Perversely, the more shrill Olbermann, Walsh or in the tank Tweety, MSNBC et al. are for Obama, the more it actually galvanizes the (until St. Paul moribund) Republican base. And one does wonder what will become of all of the above under a Boy King reign. What will they really do? Their self identity the past eight years (understandably) is one of beleaguered outrage. (or in Tweety’s case, shamelessly tacking with the wind, so let’s drop him as an outlier). What new phantoms will they need to shadow box? To retain the cognitive focus and emotional engine that sustains them. Will they belatedly discover the Boy King campaigned as all things to all people?

In Japan, they defined Imperial Rule under different ages for a given Emperor since the Meiji Restoration. Hirohito’s tumultous reign is the Showa period. The new Heisei era began in 1989 when his son Akihito took the throne. We seemingly are on the edge of our own new era: nobika na funari (serene inexperience).

One good sign. The Godzilla and Gamera movies improved noticeably in the Heisei era. So there’s always some hope here.

David Brooks Lectures Us, The Boy King And Palin On The Art Of Being Weird

At least Fosse’s Cabaret had Joel Grey as MC. How very Splenda. For 2008 we must endure David Brooks’ faux earnestness to tell us:

. . . For candidates, the lesson is: Weirdness Wins . . .

Last winter, Barack Obama succeeded by running a weird campaign. He wasn’t just a normal politician aiming for office, he was going to cleanse the country of the baby-boom culture war mentality . . . But over the course of the spring, Obama’s campaign got less weird . . . [b]ut by campaigning in this traditional way, Obama ceded the weirdness edge to McCain.

The old warrior jumped right in. Think about how weird last week was. The Republican convention was one long protest against the way the Republicans themselves have run Washington. McCain’s convention speech barely mentioned his own party. His vice-presidential nominee came out of the blue and seems totally unlike the regular crowd of former eighth-grade class presidents who normally dominate public life. McCain’s campaign ideology, exemplified in a new ad released on Monday, is not familiar conservatism. It’s maverickism — against the entrenched powers and party orthodoxies.

If I were advising the candidates, I’d tell them to double down on weirdness . . .The candidates probably won’t take this kind of advice. But remember: Weirdness wins. Surprise me most.

That’s it. His finely honed analysis – ‘weird, man.’

[Read more…]

Buying Time For History

Is the U.S. sliding into war with Iran? Sy Hersh may be right.

What most Oppositionists and certainly the ‘Left’ [sic] in the U.S. fail to understand is that the EU behind the scenes is on board. Rumblings from Brussels (not just Carla Bruni’s beau) are clearly hawkish. In fact, EU blatantly public worries are that the Crowned One ironically may undercut the UN like the Warlord – here, seeking to use personal charm for engagement while ignoring UN sanctions and other action.

Zbig’s weighing in on all this is getting stale. He needs to retire. His son is a lobbyist and law partner. His daughter is now a blondika version of J Fred Muggs to Scarborough. More importantly, Zbig’s argument that the Iranians sought the bomb *because* of the Warlord is simply specious. (Zbig is often an ass when he writes about things outside the Polish-Great Russian geopolitical corridor — his immature writings on Japan back on the day merely one example). The Iranian program according to most honest observers began to take shape during their war with Iraq.

Interestingly, while this unfolds, a leading Neocon, Jim Hoagland in the WaPo advocates a backhand strategy for Russia. He argues that the Russians are feeling American weakness and are pushing for the rollback of American power across the board. Hoagland is at least sober about in old Sov speak the relative ‘correlation of forces’ and how depleted American assets are under Cher Condi and the Warlord. Instead of the typical cant one expects from Neocons (and Hoagland) of standing firm, promoting democracy, freedom, Georgia in NATO, etc. Hoagland says something different. He offers that we should let the Russians push, until they exhaust themselves. Then he envisions a new equillibrium of punched out American and Russian visions — sobered and weakened. Very much like Manstein at Kharkov in 1943 (hence the back hand label) — although as we all know, ‘that whole thing didn’t end so good’ as the kidz say.

Is Tehran vaut bien un Conférence sur la sécurité en Europe on Russian terms? Would it even buy Tehran? We think not. Yet, oddly, this notion of talking as a strategy — or even accomodating to a rollback — is not too far from what is emerging from the Crowned One’s camp as the framing architecture of his world view and policy.

One must ask therefore if the Crowned One and his retinue understand Power. Sentiments are fine. Lofty rhetoric is a nimbus and neither here nor there. He holds a bad hand thanks to the Warlord et al. But the world is still anarchical and Power still determines how international law, international institutions and international discourse function. How will he achieve U.S. goals balancing the UN, Brussels, Moscow and Beijing with Tehran? If Zbig and the crowd we know tossing themselves at at future Administration are any clue, we truly fear a calamitous Kennedy – Khruschev summit in Vienna. With all the potentially catastrophic misjudgments that ensued. And that is merely one small example of the larger question: what is Obama’s principle about the purpose and role of American power in the world?

That question of course cuts both ways. Domestically, forget for a moment whether he wears a flag pin, ‘she rocks’ or if he says love of America (Amerikuh?) is a given. He has yet to explain and demonstrate to the American voter his vision in practical terms. Similarly, abroad, it is not enough simply to say he will reverse the Warlord’s policies. Across the globe, everyone is asking the same question: does the Crowned One understand how to use and impose Power? Many of those flocking to the banner of Change for appointments do not, in our opinion. Talk as a strategy for buying temporal space can make sense — engagement — if part of a coherent framework that is strategic and furthers both American interests and power (not necessarily identical). Even provocations domestic and foreign (read recent choreographed exercises) can actually be used as tools to make engagement appealing. Nimble opportunism can be a plus if the goal does not get lost. But in the end, it is all about understanding the application of Power. We do not mean the Warlord’s ultimately nihilistic (behind the facade) machtpolitik. The Crowned One’s position is unenviable. So much frittered away thoughtlessly the last 8 years.

We just wonder.

The Wave

One must tip the hat to the Crown Prince. For good (and we suspect) or for ill, empty phraseology of ‘change’ may well hynoptize the nation. So the pablum pendulum swings from ‘evil doers’ to ‘change and hope’. The only real significance the Stiftung can see is that it is now “our” empty suit without any real experience over “their empty suit smirking chimp”. Naturally, “our” empty suit is not inherently ignorant nor prone to malignant assistants like Cheney et. al.

What do the signs tell us? No good omens. The declining WaPo via Kurtz gives Tweety a get out of jail free pass at this critical juncture (and while David Shuster languishes in media limbo). Now empowered, today Tweety feels unleashed to re-assert his misogyny and low brow chauvanism at the same time. If one has not seen the mash note, voila.

Having said all of that, the Stiftung feels and sees the tide fleeing rapidly away from the shore. Look at all the shiny shells at the college rallies ! Out as far as the eye can see ! All labelled “change”. Only a few see the thin dark line looming on the horizon, accompanied with a deep rumble. As a tactical matter, we are not sure the HRC disavowal of rhetoric will yield success. At least enough to sustain her until March. Offering an uninspiring laundry list of policy depth is a hard sell in American Idol besotted nation.

She must be willing — however phrased, to let the gloves come off. The Crown Prince can not (nor should he) be allowed to ride into the White House without every really undergoing the fire of a contested election. No matter how much the netroots, some in the media and the Usual Gang wish it to be. All these fine sentiments count for nothing in Beijing, Moscow, Tehran and host of others; they could care less about his audacity. Unless HRC begins to counter punch beyond the delicate “we are substantive”, their stand in Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania will recede further into the dark line on the horizon.

Odd? We still think it will be unlikely. The Penn-Grunewald tension Tweety revels in discussed today a natural outgrowth of tension, long hours and different visions.

The American people embraced the empty, ill-defined Warlord to our mutual near destruction. He laughed well. Handled an awkward Gore at the debates. And did not, according to the press “claim to have invented the Internet”. Now Americans embrace empty rhetoric from the other side. Intentions may be well be different, but a calamitous outcome is by no means ruled out, by merely a different path.

Let’s be *audacious* and *hope* that we can survive an inexperienced law review geek as well.