In his early days as President Kennedy's new Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara was frustrated by the insistence of each service on it's own unique design of tactical weapons. There was no design advantage in any of the variations over any of the others. The only practical effect was to increase the cost of defending the nation to no discernible purpose. The issue was turf. Nobody wanted to give up even a little of his backyard.
According to biographer Deborah Shapley, McNamara called a conference of all of his deputies. The agenda was singular. The Secretary hosted a fashion show. "The different services' belts and butcher's smocks and women's bloomers were modeled, as were jackets, caps, boots, and other things."
As each item was modeled, McNamara decided which variation would be standard for every branch of the military. As the procession advanced, the decisions came with accelerating speed, until McNamara thought the point had been adequately pressed. The clothing did not matter. He had chosen without wasting time and resources agonizing over insignificant differences.
He tripled the speed of defense responsiveness to potential attack. He questioned the targeting of Soviet military centers, and so increasing the incentive toward a first strike. He was the chief architect of MAD, mutually assured destruction. It was horrific, although it did seem to work.
He will be forever remembered for his role in another mad policy, that of Vietnam. The re-examination of defense strategy during the brief Kennedy era focused on Communist insurgencies. Small brushfire wars of "National Liberation" had been countered by conventional means. McNamara introduced tactics of winning hearts and minds, protecting friendly populations from a hidden enemy. It sounded good but, in practice, it became more brutal than the World War II vision it was intended to replace.
The unspoken assumption McNamara never got around to questioning might have saved America tens of thousands of lives, and Vietnam might have experienced hundreds of thousands fewer casualties. US actions were predicated on the idea that Communist strategy was initiated and controlled from a single small council in Moscow's Kremlin. During his tenure, the notion that Communism was not, and could not be, the monolith policymakers imagined was never introduced as far as we know.
McNamara eventually decided that the war was misapplied on the face of it. The evidence was simple. While Americans were fighting and dying on a terrible scale and Vietnamese lives were lost in even larger numbers, not a single Russian commissar even had his mustache singed. But even then, he stayed on for months, then years, administering a policy in which he had slowly lost faith. In the end, this was his sad legacy.
Requiescat in Pace, Robert Strange McNamara.
I don't object to its being called "McNamara's war." I think it is a very important war and I am pleased to be identified with it and do whatever I can to win it.
Reactions to Sarah Palin's resignation range from cynical (Josh Marshall believes "any pundit who thinks this is some risky but potentially brilliant strategic move is absolutely smoking crack.") to bizarre (Peter Ferrara suggests it frees her to "... oppose mandating replacement of incandescent light bulbs with the new mercury poison gas bulbs.").
Speculation is rife. A personal or family revelation is about to emerge. Some political scandal has yet to be made public. She is mentally unstable. Parallels are drawn to the sad, endless Harlequin story of Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina. Conventional wisdom says that this bit of Baked Alaska has melted in the heat of national politics.
Conventional wisdom is aided in this judgment by the setting, audience, and unprepared nature of her announcement. Was nothing thought out? President Lincoln's Secretary of State and his lonely vision shared center stage with the image of high school basketball layups, all accompanied by a Greek Chorus of flying geese. The announcement was unprepared, halting, amateurish. As such, it does provide some clue about what would be the next best move for the Shooting Star of the Arctic.
She was a former village mayor who decided to run an unlikely campaign to become Governor of Alaska. Her platform was simplicity itself. She was against corruption. She ran against a Republican establishment that was tainted deep down with the stain of money grubbing and deal making. Alaskans were fed up and voted in the lady who had the single virtue they wanted: a cleanliness that was next to Godliness. She was the real deal.
She knew as much about national issues as most uninterested citizens. And her method of self-instruction was familiar. She gathered as much information from the ordinary folks around her as she needed to perform her only national duty: voting for national officeholders. Like those of most folks, her opinions came from local prejudices. She was not a policy wonk. She was unprepared for the national campaign into which she was unexpectedly drafted. But as we ridicule the Couric interviews and unlikely policy pronouncements, we should remember that it was not really her decision to be promoted so aggressively. She was thrown into an unfair role with no capable coach.
Her next best project would be the Palin Policy Institute with herself as the only student. Guest speakers, seminars, reading requirements, and basic study should be core requirements. If she acquires a national policy education, we can expect that her new perspective will be conservative. The national leadership of Republican Party is decimated by scandal and what the public interprets as hypocrisy. Those remaining in leadership are dominated by ... how to say it ... boneheads. The GOP needs a grownup.
Governor Palin will do a service to her party and to the country if she provides that element. She might consider becoming that grownup.
But really, what kind of role model is a woman whose fifth child was recently born with a serious issue, Down Syndrome, and then goes back to the job of Governor within days of the birth?
But really, what sort of woman would consider balancing family and career with that sort of pressure?
"My right to the pursuit of happiness is in the Constitution," insisted the woman. "Those magazines are interfering with my happiness."
It was a generation ago in St. Louis County, Missouri. Republican Gene McNary was the County Executive and the confrontation was with a group seeking to purify the reading habits of county residents. They wanted sexually oriented publications to be banned at local seven eleven shops.
The besieged McNary was almost pleading with the evangelical group to see the broader difficulties involved. He asked them to consider the constitutional issues. To them it was clear that their rights were threatened by allowing others to break God's law.
That was then. Now a fundamentalist group is promoting a video called Silencing Christians. The premise is that Christians in America are losing freedoms because a "liberal minority" is "undermining the morals and values of mainstream America." Got that? The focus is on the anti-gay message the group wants to advance. For some oppressive reason, gays reject it. Even more outrageous, non-gays and even many Christians reject them. They are truly oppressed.
A video from the American Family Association carries the message in it's unabridged title: Speechless: Silencing the Christians: How Liberals and Homosexual Activists are Outlawing Christianity (and Judaism) to Force Their Sexual Agenda on America.
The logic carries to politics. President Obama made discernible progress in removing many years of anger and distrust between the US and much of the Muslim world. Inspired by the address, in which Mr. Obama quoted the Koran, the Council on American-Islamic Relations plans to distribute 100,000 copies of the Koran to national, state and local leaders. But of course some, regarding Christianity more as a tribe than a faith, are dismayed. They conclude that President Obama "has a 'low view' of biblical Christianity."
Here is my take: If you want to express your anti-gay bigotries, or denigrate people of other faiths, your rights should be protected, just as the rights of anti-Semites, white supremacists, and Nazis are protected. As long as you do not engage in violence, assault, stalking, or harassment - which is to say you obey laws and do not violate the rights of others - your prejudices are your own. That's part of freedom.
I get to say you are a bigot. I even get to call or write local television, radio, or print media when they broadcast your propaganda. If you advocate hate, I get to point it out. That's my right.
Those few Christians who can't stand that sort of rebuke from fellow Christians may want to re-read Matthew 15. It's in the book.
Nuggets of internet gold:
Our favorite paranoid at Puma by design 001 finds a conspiracy at a townhall meeting in a question to President Obama from a Democratic volunteer who is a cancer victim. Sneaky, those liberal cancer patients.
Bryan Lee Peterson at Johnny No One: I Hope You’re Happy has news about McCain, the financial meltdown, the climate meltdown and the most frighteningly radical environmental future imaginable.
Max's Dad has thoughts on Fort Worth deputies beating up gays, health care, filibusters, overdosing on Michael Jackson and more.
- Tim McGaha at Tim's Thoughtful Spot laments problems with the Orion spacecraft
Have a safe weekend. Be careful out there.
...says Lyda Green, a former Republican state senator who once represented Palin's home district, and who over the years went from being a supporter of Palin's to a bitter foe, "her nickname in high school was 'Barracuda.' I was never called Barracuda. Were you?"
They were among the best known heroes of the tragic sinking of the Titanic in 1912. They were an eight member orchestra. As the ship went down, they played a combination of songs. Some were happy and fast, ragtime, pop tunes. And they also played solemn tunes of spiritual hope. Nearer My God to Thee was probably not among them, although the myth persists.
The goal seems to have been to comfort and calm the doomed passengers in their last moments. Accounts of the survivors indicate the band played right up to the end. All eight perished. The bodies of three were later recovered. Five were lost forever.
Their final tragedy came after they had died. On paper, they were not really the ship's orchestra. They had not directly been hired to play by the White Star Lines, the owners of the Titanic. White Star had hired subcontractors, C.W. and F.N. Black of Liverpool, to in turn hire the eight musicians.
There was sad celebration of their heroism and the comfort they had been to the Titanic's victims. But after the melancholy fanfare died out, White Star Lines refused to pay the widows and orphans of the eight men the standard compensation. In fact, White Star demanded payment from the parents of one of the band members, a violinist. They insisted on reimbursement for the loss of the uniform he had been wearing when he died.
The guiding principle of free market enterprises is enlightened self-interest. When you shop at your local supermarket, they do not withhold the groceries they wish to sell you. If they did that, you would not pay them and the sale would be lost. Their honesty and kind hearted ethic is not the reason. Instead, it is the recognition of their own self interest. The highest responsibility of management is to stockholders. So you walk out carrying groceries, and the market has some of your money.
For the owners of the Titanic, publicity had died out, the public had moved on to other things. White Star Lines saw no profit in standard payments to the survivors of the eight men. Technically, they were not direct employees. No legal obligation could be brought to bear.
Insurance companies are not so much in the position of the supermarket as they are in the position of White Star Lines. They get your money, and return nothing until it is needed. In case of a major illness, unless public opinion or the law compels payment, they will maximize profits by denying claims. The law does indeed compel many payments. Public opinion does provide pressure in a very few cases.
Of those who go bankrupt because of major medical costs, about 75% had insurance when they got sick. Fake insurance is worse than no insurance. Let's think about that when conservatives argue that insurance corporations cannot compete against a public option.
Imagine what you’d do with an extra $1,000. This isn’t a theoretical number, but the extra amount American families and employers pay each year to cover the health care costs of the nation’s nearly 46 million uninsured residents.
The President has been in office for less than half a year. The economy was broken when he came in, banks were in serious trouble, the auto industry going under, the world climate barreling downhill, health care seriously ill, pandemics hovering, nuclear proliferation a world wide concern, and al Qaeda still at large. At least he didn't inherit a plague of locusts.
For a couple of weeks before Michael Jackson's death, the focus was on the brave people of Iran. The US has had a relationship with Iran's population that might be fairly described as rocky. We have done things like topple elected governments. That was 50 years ago, but more recently, we gave Saddam Hussein chemical weapons to use against Iranians. More recently, conservatives have publicly advocated bombing the people of Iran.
In fairness, the bad blood has not exactly been one sided. Thirty years ago, we had an embassy in Iran. Embassies are supposed to be a place where folks are ... you know ... safe? Our guys were kidnapped by scary religious fundamentalists. America tossed out a fairly good President, in retrospect, and put in a conservative, who was expected to be a lot tougher with Iran.
The call then was not to bomb, bomb, bomb ... bomb, bomb Iran, as a recent Presidential contender put it. It was to make that country glow in the dark. Saddam Hussein attacked, and the hostages were finally freed. One of the former captives was asked what his plans were. His answer resonated at the time: "Buy Iraqi War Bonds!"
Back in the present, President Obama has had to be circumspect about reacting to what has looked a lot like a fledgling freedom movement in that country. Protesters quietly let it be known the best way America might help would be to stay out of the picture. Obama offered only cautious support.
Conservatives blasted him. Bill Kristol spoke for most on the right, demanding the President intervene. Former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer talked vaguely about the virtues of invasion. John Bolton wanted the US to argue for regime change. The President must always support the forces of democratic change, no matter the consequences in the country actually experiencing the conflict.
So here comes a coup in Honduras. And President Obama spoke up to criticize the overthrow of a democratic government. Glenn Beck says he is "sending the wrong message to our allies and our foes." The Wall Street Journal joins in the attack on the US President. Charles Krauthammer supports that point of view and so does, oh my, Bill Kristol.
The unified conservative position is that a President must support democratic forces, favor overthrowing democracy, speak up, be quiet, take a stand in distant lands, and sit out what is next door. In physics, it's called the Heisenberg Principle. In politics it's the Obama can't be right postulate.
On Governor Sarah Palin's political prospects:
You cannot sustain a campaign of platitudes and clichés over a year and a half if you're running for the presidency...
- - Charles Krauthammer
Could this apply to a declining political party as a whole?
Quicksand is deceptive. It is sand on top of a slow salt water flow from an underground source. The pressure is just enough to keep the sand in suspension, but can't be seen. Leaves and other small debris can settle on top without sinking. From the surface, the sand looks solid.
The GOP has been slowly sinking for decades. The ebb and flow of national events have disguised the tidal nature of the change. But each wave in favor of the party has been a little less than the last, each trough a bit lower.
Some has been because of performance. Folks in their late forties and early fifties tend to be a little more conservative. Their formative years were influenced by the seeming failure of Jimmy Carter and the success of the early Reagan years. Those in their thirties, and those in their twenties, and those in their teens, have lived through Bushes and Clintons. The contrast has left a lasting impression. The Obama presidency looks promising. That could mean a total of 16 successful Democratic years alternating with 12 very painful Republican years.
FDR inherited the Hoover economy. Economic cycles often made it unclear whether his spending strategies were working. But folks supported him overwhelmingly. They saw in every appearance, a President fighting on their behalf. His enemy was seen as conservatism.
Even if Republicans succeed, by filibuster and coalition with a few conservative Democrats, in blocking the success of the Obama administration, the perception of a President fighting for ordinary folks, and the sight of Republicans opposing him at every turn, are having a similar effect. Hoping, waiting, working for Obama to fail, will not help the GOP.
Yet it is hard to see what can. Most parties, stung by successive election defeats, recover through the painful process of self-evaluation. This is not happening with today's Republican party. The base is, in fact, becoming more extremist. It is as if a major segment of the dark ages had been transported to modern times.
The cycle is easy to see. Extremism drives out moderate Republicans, which leaves the remaining, shrinking segment as even more extreme, which drives out more moderates. And the cycle continues. So pundits and pols ask why the party does not stop the madness.
What is not so apparent is the role of technology. Internet and cable commentary gives the shrinking base what no party has ever had before: the constant reassurance that they do not need to change, that everything will be fine if they just cling to their core bigotries.
Conservative media, internet and cable, provide the hidden spring fueling the treacherous quicksand of contemporary political conservatism.
On the Cap-and-Trade Energy bill just passed by the House:
It is pathetic that we couldn’t do better. It is appalling that so much had to be given away to polluters. It stinks. It’s a mess. I detest it.
Now let’s get it passed in the Senate and make it law.
Baseball is typically boring to me, one of the slight differences I have with my beloved daughter, who unaccountably loves the game. But at least with baseball, we can peacefully contemplate strategy while waiting endlessly for something, anything, to happen. The commentary is easy to follow. Hockey, on the other hand, is a complete mystery.
Mason passes to Brewer, and Brewer sends it to Wozniewski. Wozniewski was born in nearby Buffalo Grove, Illinois, making himself a name with the Toronto Maple Leafs before coming to AND HE SCORES!
What kind of game is that?
I found myself thinking about the Maple Leafs as I read about the latest agonizing by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.). Both fellows are decent sorts who find themselves on the wrong side of history. Both are moderately conservative as their party demands deeper conservatism, both dislike liberalism as the country drifts leftward.
They join in lamenting the lack of attractiveness the GOP has developed for young voters. "Demographically and with young people we’ve got our work cut out for us," Senator Graham is quoted. "We’ll do well in 2010 but I’m worried about 20 years from now for us to do better—to be a party not a club—we’re going to have to adjust." Governor Pawlenty points specifically to the waning hatred toward Gays. "I think there’s a lot of data that says young people feel differently about that issue than older people."
Both fellows advocate change, but neither can find anything specific. Pawlenty explicitly rejects tolerance toward gay marriage. What they are not saying speaks more to the future of the GOP than their warnings.
Officeholders who are Republican, rational, and want to see a resurgence are in a tough position. If they advocate anything other than moderation, their dreams of national prominence are doomed. The public is heading in another direction. If they even hint at anything other than extremism, their dreams of continuing in office are in peril. The GOP is becoming a national replay of the doomed Donner party. Conservatives, fanned on by the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity, and O'Reilly, are ravenous for the taste of moderate flesh.
As a kid, I visited relatives in Detroit. As it happened, the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs had just pounded the Red Wings into the ice. The captain was rueful about the 13-0 score, but faced it in good humor. "It would have been worse if we hadn't blocked the kick after Toronto's second touchdown!"
Senator Graham and Governor Pawlenty are simply in the wrong game.
Bigotry is kind of patriotic, if you look at it the right way:
Isn't that the ultimate homeland security, standing up and defending marriage?
- - Former Republican Senator Rick Santorum