Category Archives: Presidential politics

The irrepressible Maya Angelou

Yes We Can

This little video is a perfect example of multimedia reporting. A great summary intro which narrates the civil rights precedents to the Obama victory which combines historic footage intercut with Obama’s victory speech and contemporary commentary is followed by an interview with the perfectly chosen Maya Angelou. She concludes with a recitation of her poem “I rise” which resonates with the type of rhetorical speech making of Obama and other black leaders from the opening report. It also has an accompanying text feature

Enhanced by Zemanta

Good Mother Bad Mother Politics

It is hard to imagine what the impeccably dressed Condoleezza Rice feels when she has to defend a President that she must now know deep down is a tremendous disappointment. She endured hours of Senate grilling including a bravura performance from Senator Barbara Boxer :

BOXER: October 19th ’05, you came before this committee to discuss, in your words, how we assure victory in Iraq, and you said the following. In answer to Senator Feingold, “I have no doubt that as the Iraqi security forces get better — and they are getting better and are holding territory, and they are doing the things with minimal help — we are going to be able to bring down the level of our forces. I have no doubt” — I want to reiterate — “I have no doubt that that’s going to happen in a reasonable time frame.” You had no doubt, not a doubt. And last night, the president’s announcement of an escalation is a total rebuke of your confident pronouncement.

Now, the issue is who pays the price, who pays the price? I’m not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old, and my grandchild is too young. You’re not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, within immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families, and I just want to bring us back to that fact.

NPR has done a series of interviews with families who have lost kids. And the announcer said to one family in the Midwest, “What’s changed in your life since your son’s death?” The answer comes back, “Everything. You can’t begin to imagine how even the little things change, how you go through the day, how you celebrate Christmas”…

RICE: And let me just say, you know, I fully understand the sacrifice that the American people are making, and especially the sacrifice that our soldiers are making, men and women in uniform. I visit them. I know what they’re going through. I talk to their families. I see it.

I could never — and I can never — do anything to replace any of those lost men and women in uniform, or the diplomats, some of whom —

BOXER: Madame Secretary, please, I know you feel terrible about it. That’s not the point. I was making the case as to who pays the price for your decisions. And the fact that this administration would move forward with this escalation with no clue as to the further price that we’re going to pay militarily — we certainly know the numbers, billions of dollars, that we can’t spend here in this country.

The exchange has been called a “flash point” by the NYT and has been the talk of the blogsphere with many like Rush Limbaugh accusing Boxer of “hitting below the ovaries”. Rice said in a later interview that Boxer has “set back feminism” with her comments:

“I thought it was okay to be single,” Ms. Rice said. “I thought it was okay to not have children, and I thought you could still make good decisions on behalf of the country if you were single and didn’t have children.”

The anti-feminist line is of course a furphy. Boxer’s emotionalism highlights something essential that is missing from the public debate. The orchestration of the war and Rice’s own quibbling over words – such as whether Bush’s new plan is a “surge” “escalation” or her latest obfuscation: “an augmentation” – abstracts the reality of war’s mortality. That Bush and Rice are put under personal notice of their complicity in the deaths of not just US troops but of thousands of Iraqis is only right in what has become their personal crusade. A crusade where they have repeatedly ignored the advice of their own experts. Bush and Rice have no option but to continue to defend the fantasy and it is up to people like Boxer to puncture the plausibility this fantasy with the real stories of those being affected.

Andrew Sullivan says that Boxer’s statement “was the kind of cheap shot that makes substantive discourse impossible. Boxer was questioning Rice as a senator questioning a secretary of state. Their family relationships are utterly irrelevant to the point at hand, i.e. the current Iraq strategy.” This is typical of those that imagine that “substantive discourse” must remain in a Habermassian rational mode. Neither Bush nor Rice produce “substantive discourse” on Iraq their statements are littered with emotional appeals very similar to Boxer’s. This is merely a clash of stories and sits uncomfortably because it is clearly emotive where as Bush and Rice’s rhetoric is often cloaked more carefully.

Technorati Tags:

Naming the Civil War

As GWB steadfastly resists calling the conflict in Iraq a “civil war” despite the pronouncements of many of his own current and ex-military advisers, media outlets also grapple with the nomenclature. E&P reports that starting Monday The Los Angeles Times, NBC and MSNBC, will all be using that troublesome phrase to describe what is going on in Iraq. More interestingly the Washington Post seems to be stuck in a precautionary loop. Leonard Downie, Jr., the Post’s executive editor told E&P:

“We just describe what goes on everyday. We don’t have a policy about it. We are not making judgments one way or another. The language in the stories is very precise when dealing with it. At various times people say it is ‘close to a civil war,’ but we don’t have a policy about it.”

This is typical disingenuous strategic objectivity. The obvious question is how and when does ‘close to civil war’ become simply ‘civil war’? How can a media outlet make ‘very precise’ judgments about such matters? The Post’s top reporter Dana Priest is more revealing:

“Well, I think one of the reasons the President resists that label is because it equates almost with a failure of U.S. policy. I will say for the Washington Post, we have not labeled it a civil war. I have asked around to see why not or see what’s the thinking on that — and really our reporters have not filed that. We try to avoid the labels, particularly when the elected government itself does not call its situation a civil war. I certainly — and I would agree with General McCaffrey on this — absolutely the level of violence equals a civil war.”

Priest’s comments reveal that the Post’s caution derives not from some grand commitment to journalistic objectivity it is in fact a text book example of “official source” theory and Stuart Hall’s argument that one of the subtle but highly influential ways official sources hold power over media portrayals is that they are usually the ones that define the language that is used. Hall argues that it is incredibly difficult for other “secondary definers” to move through this initial textual definition of the issue. A classic quote from Hall:

“The more one accepts that how people act will depend in part on how the situations in which they act are defined, and the less one assumes either a natural meaning for things or a universal consensus on what things mean, then the more socially and politically important becomes the process by means of which certain events get recurrently signified in certain ways.” (Rediscovery of Ideology 1982)

Technorati Tags: ,

Huffington in fine form on Woodward

The Blog | Arianna Huffington: Woodward as Journalistic Hero: the Real State of Denial | The Huffington Post:

Talk about being in a state of denial: praising Woodward for his very-late-to-the-party Iraq pile-on is like a music critic writing a rave of “Let It Be” and getting credit for discovering The Beatles. ….

Then there was the revelation, breathlessly delivered by Wallace in his intro, that after two years and more than 200 interviews, including “most of the top officials in the administration,” Woodward has come to “a damning conclusion: That for the last three years, the White House has not been honest with the American public.” Stop the presses, hold the front page! And burn all the copies of “Fiasco,” “Cobra II,” “The One Percent Doctrine,” “Hubris” — plus 99.9 percent of the blog posts on Iraq that have appeared on HuffPost since we launched — that have previously come to exactly the same “damning conclusion.” Why fork over $30 for much-older-than-yesterday’s news?

In her New York Times review of “State of Denial,” Michiko Kakutani says that Woodward paints a portrait of President Bush as “a passive, impatient, sophomoric and intellectually incurious leader, presiding over a grossly dysfunctional war cabinet and given to an almost religious certainty that makes him disinclined to rethink or re-evaluate decisions he has made about the war.”

To which I say: “Welcome to 2002, Bob.” I can only hold my breath in anticipation of what headline grabbing insights “the best excavator of inside stories” will “unearth” for his next book: “Paris Hilton: Shallow Party Girl,” or, perhaps, “Islamic Fundamentalism: Could be a Problem in the Future.”

A China moment?

0214_bush_460x276_1Stanley Fish says that it’s time for Bush to go to China.

I don’t mean that literally, but metaphorically. It’s time for George Bush to do what Richard Nixon did – perform an act whose effectiveness is a function of the fact that he is the last man anyone would have expected to do it. What would that act be? It won’t be – and shouldn’t be – agreeing to a face-to-face, one-on-one debate with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, if only because when you accept the other guy’s invitation you cede him the initiative and the position of leadership, and we all know that George Bush will never willingly do that. No, it has to be something that a) makes clear that he is the one in charge, and b) is so surprising and (apparently) out of character that its very announcement alters the geopolitical landscape and disarms criticism in advance.

Fish’s idea is that Bush should announce a personal fact finding mission to the Middle East. An intriguing idea but I am not so sure it’s a China moment or would have the far reaching effects – symbolic or actual – that Fish proposes it might. What’s interesting are the comments at NYT.com. Here’s a typical comment:

Dear Mr. Fish: Indeed, the Grand Tour is an excellent idea (It is also clear you were enjoying yourself, tongue-in-cheek-or-otherwise, while you were composing this piece.) Here’s why it won’t happen: 1) George Bush does not expose himself to criticism; 2) George Bush does not expose himself to possible harm (Vietnam); 3) Mostly, George Bush does not do anything anyone else thought of first, unless that person’s last name is Cheney or Rove. You last name is Fish. Nice try anyway.

Both Fish and the commenter think they know who Bush is and how he thinks. They want him to act outside the square, jump out of his box because they are convinced they know exactly what box he’s in at the moment.

There’s a lot written about and a lot of evidence to support the incurious, man on a mission, black and white Bush – so much so the very idea of a China moment seems pretty preposterous. But more fundamental then any character flaws that we may or may not be able to identify is Bush’s sense of history. Bush and Nixon have very different notions of their own relationship to the world and to history. Nixon for all his flaws fundamentally saw himself as a statesman that’s what made China possible. Nixon prepared his whole life for that China moment, he not only wanted to be president, he wanted to be a historically significant President. He spent the last twenty years of his life ensuring that legacy. Bush is an accidental president. I suspect he would not have run again had he lost in 2000.

Nixon had both a domestic and a foreign policy agenda that had evolved and matured over time. He was an archetypal politician who for all his paranoia and self-aggrandizement knew – from bitter experience – that politics, real politics occurred over time. Bush has not set out to achieve anything because he believes he has been given a mission.

Bush believes – and in some senses he is right – that he has had his China moment. For Bush the transformation came early on: grabbing the megaphone in the rubble of ground zero, addressing the memorial at the National Cathedral and addressing the joint session of Congress in the weeks after 9/1, Bush unexpectedly declared himself to be a real leader – a war president. The puppet from Texas began to take hold of the strings. Sure his speeches were being written for him but what was new was a deeply personal sesne of mission that animated those speeches like never before.

Bob Woodward has been rightly criticised for giving Bush a free ride in Bush at War and Plan of Attack but what emerges clearly is Bush’s own conception of who he was and how he reacted and Bush believes himself to be a man called and transformed.

According to Woodward’s book, in the lead up to the joint session speech Bush had been insistent that it include a strong sense of his personal dedication to this new moment in American history. He hammered Mike Gerson and his coms team for a set of words that matched how he said he felt:

“I will not forget this wound to our country and those who inflicted it. I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people.”

Gerson waited anxiously for a call from his boss following the speech. When the call came, according to Woodward, they both remember what the President said:

“I have never felt more comfortable in my life.”

After he made that declaration, the Presidency of George W. Bush jumped outside its box. Bush grabbed at the power of the “war time president” he quickly declared himself to be. Bush believes quite resolutely he has already been to China. Bush maybe worried about the short term prospects of his party in the mid-terms but I don’t think he worries about his role in history.

Technorati Tags:

TIME.com on the NIE

TIME.com: Why the Fight Over the NIE Report May Be a Wash:

Mark M. Lowenthal, president of the Intelligence & Security Academy, in Arlington, Va., supervised the preparation of National Intelligence Estimates from 2002 to 2005, when he was vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Lowenthal tells TIME that such estimate always allow people “to pick and choose to find whatever you want.”

“The Administration is smartly pointing out that there has not been another major attack in five years,” Lowenthal said. “You can argue whether that’s an accurate portrayal of how much progress we’ve made. But it’s more likely to resonate with people than something in the sixth paragraph of an NIE.”

The President’s friends and advisers say that his most critical mission is to leave his successors the tools to fight and win a multigenerational war on terror. If the trends described by the report materialize, that fight may be at least as harrowing for them as it has been for him.

Technorati Tags:

Condi the true believer

President Bush Returns To White House
Media Matters has a great analysis of the Katie and Condi show that aired recently on US 60 Minutes. The interview was pure Couric and pure 60 Minutes and represents what is best and worst about both those brands. Couric sits with that intense look that somehow manages to convey admiration and slight approbation at the same time but doesn’t convey the import of either emotion. She asks how you ask the Secretary of State out on a date (Rice: “I’m not going to go there”) and uses a quote from her daughter “Who made us the boss of them” as a question about American intervention in the Middle East. There are moments when she pulls Rice up: “But that’s not the question…” but she basically gives her a free ride and doesn’t challenge her on any substantive point. Significantly for Couric who’s move to CBS was wrapped up in the rhetoric of wanting to do serious journalism she never comes back at Rice or argues a a single question based on research.

But the show does what it sets out to do brilliantly, it produces a powerful piece of television which appears to grant the viewer unique and intimate access to the most powerful women in America. And just as the segment title proclaims, Rice is a “True Believer”. This is the myth of Rice that we see played out again and again. The girl who rose from Bombingham and emerged with determination and ambition. The loyalist who selflessly serves her president. The woman of conviction who wants to change the world. This is summed up in a little set piece Rice delivers early in the interview:

“I probably have at one level, a better understanding, or perhaps, let me say a more personal understanding of what the dark side of human beings can look like. I remember very well in 1963 when Birmingham was so violent. When it acquired the name ”Bomb-ingham. That even with my wonderfully protective family, you had to wonder why are they doing this to us? And on the other hand, I have a great faith in the ability of people to triumph over the dark side of human beings.“

She also uses her experience growing up in the pre-civil rights south to great effect to counter criticisms of the Bush administration’s push to ”spread democracy“ in the Middle East:

”And so when I look around the world and I hear people say, ‘Well, you know, they’re just not ready for democracy,’ it really does resonate. I hear echoes of, well, you know, blacks are kind of childlike. They really can’t handle the vote. Or they really can’t take care of themselves. It really does roil me. It makes me so angry because I think there are those echoes of what people once thought about black Americans.“

Many profiles of Rice draw comparisons between her and the President: sport, faith, fitness and steely conviction. As Nicholas Leeman once wrote: ”When you hear Rice speaking, that is what Bush would sound like if he was as articulate as she was.“

 

Rice and Bush are an intermingled myth she is always by his side, always whispering in his ear. Of all his advisers Rice is the one that is most visibly by the side of the decider. There has been speculation about the extent or power of her actual influence at different points but her most powerful role of being the other Bush – the same but different – has not changed. It can’t change without fundamentally altering the whole script: she’s a true believer.

Technorati Tags:

Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terror Threat

Finally what was bleeding obvious is now official. The New York Times reports on a new US Intelligence Estimate that comes to terms with the other effect of the Iraq war:

A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.

An opening section of the report, ”Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement,“ cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology.

The report ”says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,“ said one American intelligence official.

Technorati Tags:

The Greatest Story Ever Sold – By Frank Rich – Books – Review – New York Times

In a review of NYT Columnist Frank Rich’s new book, The Greatest Story Never Told, writer and now Bard professor Ian Buruma sums up some of the general problems with current journalism – not startlingly original but neatly expressed:

THERE may be one other reason for the fumbling (over WMD and Bush-critical jounrnalsim): the conventional methods of American journalism, marked by an obsession with access and quotes. A good reporter for an American paper must get sources who sound authoritative and quotes that show both sides of a story. His or her own expertise is almost irrelevant. If the opinions of columnists count for too much in the American press, the intelligence of reporters is institutionally underused. The problem is that there are not always two sides to a story. Someone reporting on the persecution of Jews in Germany in 1938 would not have added “balance” by quoting Joseph Goebbels. And besides, as Judith Miller found out, what is the good of quotes if they are based on false information?

Bob Woodward, one of Rich’s chief bêtes noires, has more access in Washington than any journalist, but the weakness of his work is that he never seems to be better than his sources. As Rich rightly observes, “reporters who did not have Woodward’s or Miller’s top-level access within the administration not only got the Iraq story right but got it into newspapers early by seeking out what John Walcott, the Knight Ridder Washington bureau chief, called ‘the blue collar’ sources further down the hierarchy.” This used to be Woodward’s modus operandi, too, in his better days. Fearing the loss of access at the top and overrating the importance of quotes from powerful people, as well as an unjustified terror of being accused of liberal bias, have crippled the press at a time when it is needed more than ever. Frank Rich is an excellent product of that press, and if it ever recovers its high reputation, it will be partly thanks to one man who couldn’t take it anymore.

Technorati Tags:

Bush’s Black and White Ball – he’s threatening to take it on home.

A lot of stuff in the press – news, analysis and opinion – about opposition to Bush’s wiretap and torture plans from leading Republicans like Colin Powell. It is interesting though that even when these pieces seek to address substantive issues they nearly always end up analysing policy as posture rather than policy as content: Bush as defiant or Bush as backed into a corner.

Bush Untethered – New York Times Editorial:

Watching the president on Friday in the Rose Garden as he threatened to quit interrogating terrorists if Congress did not approve his detainee bill, we were struck by how often he acts as though there were not two sides to a debate. We have lost count of the number of times he has said Americans have to choose between protecting the nation precisely the way he wants, and not protecting it at all.

On Friday, President Bush posed a choice between ignoring the law on wiretaps, and simply not keeping tabs on terrorists. Then he said the United States could rewrite the Geneva Conventions, or just stop questioning terrorists. To some degree, he is following a script for the elections: terrify Americans into voting Republican. But behind that seems to be a deeply seated conviction that under his leadership, America is right and does not need the discipline of rules. He does not seem to understand that the rules are what makes this nation as good as it can be.

Analysis: Bush Sees Fewer Policy Options – Washingtonpost.com:

WASHINGTON — When President Bush addresses world leaders at the United Nations this week, he will have fewer options and lower expectations on almost every major foreign policy front than a year ago.

The United States is relying more readily on international institutions and alliances for help in Iran, Lebanon, North Korea, Sudan and elsewhere. Yet, according to analysts, the Bush administration has less room to maneuver. Bush and his foreign policy advisers have tried with some success to dispel the caricature of Bush abroad as a Texas cowboy riding alone and herding the U.S. into an unpopular war in Iraq.But the war, now in its fourth year, devours resources and energy for other global objectives and feeds mistrust about U.S. intentions, experts say.

“I’m not sure they have changed their mind about to what extent to proceed unilaterally and how much to use military force so much as they have run out of options,” said Richard Stoll, a political science professor at Rice University who studies foreign policy and national security.

With Bush nearly halfway through his final term, time is dwindling for him to accomplish his signature goals of confronting terrorism and spreading democracy, and he faces more distractions at home, said Andrew Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University.

When the president speaks to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, he plans to carry a strong message, “based upon hope, and my belief that the civilized world must stand with moderate, reformist-minded people and help them realize their dreams.

”I believe that’s the call of the 21st century,“ Bush told reporters Friday.

ABC News: Bush and Congress Butt Heads

In the Rose Garden Friday, President Bush was loud and clear: If Congress doesn’t agree with him, the hunt for terrorist plots will be crippled.

”The bottom line is simple,“ he said. ”If Congress passes a law that does not clarify the rules, if they do not do that, the program is not going forward.“…

”The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism,“ Powell wrote to lawmakers. Redefining the Geneva Conventions ”would add to those doubts“ and ”put our own troops at risk.“

The president dismissed that argument — and some attempts from reporters to ask him about it.

”But sir, this is an important point,“ NBC’s David Gregory said in one exchange.

”The point I just made is the most important point,“ Bush replied.

President Bush was feisty and confident. Experts say his attitude is sure to bolster the mood at the White House.

Ana Marie Cox, Time.com’s Washington editor, commented on the White House’s strategy.

”I think they’re banking on the American public liking to see that strong president, liking to see someone be decisive,“ she said.

Technorati Tags: , ,

In Latest Push, Bush Cites Risk in Quitting Iraq – New York Times

In Latest Push, Bush Cites Risk in Quitting Iraq – New York Times:

“The war we fight today is more than a military conflict,’’ Mr. Bush said in a speech to veterans at an American Legion convention here. ”It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century.’’…..

At the same time, he placed various factions of terrorists — Sunnis who swear allegiance to Al Qaeda, Shiite radicals who join groups like Hezbollah and so-called homegrown terrorists — under one umbrella.

Experts said that might be overstating the facts.

“ ‘Network of radicals’ suggests they are actually connected in some practical fashion, and that’s obviously not the case,’’ said Steven Simon, a State Department official in the administrations of President Bill Clinton and Mr. Bush’s father.

But the comparison is central to Mr. Bush’s message, said Ken Mehlman, chairman of the National Republican Committee, who has played an integral role in developing Republican strategy for the midterm elections.

”I thought linking together the different elements of this ideological movement was important to do, and was effective,’’ Mr. Mehlman said.

Technorati Tags: ,

Fundamentally adversarial

Maybe my post yesterday was too pessimistic. Perhaps the controversy over the Pulitzers will round support for a press that is taking itself more seriously. As the NYT reports:

Some observers on the press side saw the awards as a recognition that the split between the government and the press, which many thought had been papered over during the first Bush administration, had widened again.

“I think that there is a renewed recognition that the relationship with government is fundamentally adversarial,” said William L. Israel, a professor of journalism at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “I have not seen the kind of unanimity from the Pulitzer board for some time. Over and over, they endorsed work that held the government to account.”…

But Eugene L. Roberts Jr., a former editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer and a journalism professor at the University of Maryland, said that the press policies of the administration in power were always worse than those of the administration that went before it.

“I think every generation of journalist thinks they are more put-upon and aggrieved than the one that came before it,” he said. “I worked in the 50’s and 60’s at Southern papers, and there was plenty of pressure back then.”

Still, the press likes to cite its moral authority, especially in the face of an administration that has reflexively invoked executive privilege, a tool that was used 4 times between 1953 and 1974 at the height of the cold war and 23 times between 2001 and 2004.

Since the beginning of his presidency, Mr. Bush has made it clear that he does not buy the industry’s widely held conceit that it serves as a proxy for the American people. That, he has suggested over the course of his two terms, is his job.

Technorati Tags: