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After the disastrous election results, I heard a sort of theory that, now bereft of conservative members, Democrats could now finally wage aggressive liberal campaigns without worrying about collateral damage. I think this is wrong, and a complete misunderstanding of the elite liberal mentality. The roots of Braleyism run deep in the Democratic Party. And what is Braleyism? Well, it’s the sort of behavior that typified the improbably failed campaign of Iowa Senate candidate Bruce Braley: an insatiable desire for respectability. Democrats want to look like the reasonable adults in the room. They don’t want to resort to “nasty” politics. They don’t want to seem overly obstructionist. They want to feel as though they’re reasonable, give all sides a fair hearing, etc. And they want to strike the contrast with those unreasonable, crazy extremist Republicans. That’s really the best explanation I can come up with for this atrocity. Can you imagine Republicans losing an election and then caving on major legislation that is of high ideological and substantive importance? The answer is of course no, and we have a factual example, 2012, where Republicans did not change one iota after a wider-than-expected loss. So why would Democrats work with Republicans on tax breaks for business? Unless Harry Reid is considering retiring and becoming a lobbyist (which I do not consider very likely), there’s no other real explanation.

Democrats continue not to get this (this being power). Republicans, on the other hand, understand it quite well. Holding power and wielding it effectively is what gains you respect. Running wimpy campaigns designed to avoid making yourself look bad, hoping that the media will back you up, and then governing in a way to make yourself look reasonable and accommodating are utterly irrelevant to the equation. This is what lost the Democrats at least one Senate seat this year, and certainly any chance of beating Bush in 2004, among others. Obama seems at last to get this, but too many liberals continue to choose feeling good about themselves over victory. I would have thought that Harry Reid–whose 2010 victory was an almost inspiring exercise in Democratic ruthlessness and lack of vanity–would have been the most immune to this syndrome. That he is apparently not just proves how deep Braleyism runs.

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Carly Fiorina will explore a presidential run. Most likely it’s more a “business plan” run for her to increase her profile and sell some books, rather than a bid with a serious chance of succeeding. Still, it’s worth remembering that her career has been an escalating series of disasters, first in business, and then in politics. She got fired from HP, got benched as a McCain surrogate, spent many millions to lose to Barbara Boxer in a race she gave herself no chance of winning, and then helped preside over an improbable loss of Senate seats for Republicans in 2012. This is a record that would convince any self-respecting political party to avoid her like the plague. But she can raise money, so the defeats piling up mean little, apparently.

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I’m fully willing to believe that Chuck Hagel wasn’t a great Defense Secretary. It seemed an odd choice to start with, a guy with no executive experience sent to manage one of the most complicated bureaucracies in the world, not to mention that neither Republicans or Democrats have much use for him. Unsurprising that it didn’t work out so well. Still, to kick him out in the same exact way Van Halen fired Sammy Hagar* seems bizarre and out of character for Obama. And it is hardly surprising that the top-tier candidates for the job are demurring when getting the job means:

  1. A Senate confirmation hearing that is going to be about as pleasant as a simultaneous root canal/colonoscopy.
  2. Upon getting the job, having to go up against the Rice/Power axis who seemingly hold all the power, especially considering that the former apparently got the last guy who held the post fired.
  3. Doing the job for two years tops, and if the past couple of people who held the office are to be believed, very likely leaving it without much satisfaction.
  4. The possibility of getting scapegoated when decisions you have no part in go wrong.

I’m on record saying that Chuck Hagel’s bravery ended when he got back from Vietnam–I’m not impressed by someone whose long-gestating, well-publicized, “agonized” misgivings about the Iraq War only were given shape well after the public got there, how such CYA bullshit somehow got commended as courage I’ll never know–but he was treated disgracefully, and it looks like it’s going to cost this time. A frightening thought: what if Obama goes ahead and just names Samantha Power as Secretary of Defense? Might as well, considering she seems to be doing the job de facto.

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Somehow I didn’t realize that, last year, the Australian Labor Party’s rank-and-file gave an overwhelming win to the left-leaning progressive Anthony Albanese to run their party, but they were effectively overruled by the elected members of Parliament, who gave it to the much more conservative Bill Shorten. That’s a pretty bizarre system, though you have to wonder why they even bothered to implement it if they were simply going to ignore it. Granted, in America, the more left party routinely just ignores its base and activists, and its elites oftentimes even seem angry about the need to deal with them, rather than sitting in a conference room negotiating away the Great Society for some pittance of tax increases (that they’d never get). But this would be like if Obama had won a half-dozen more primaries in 2008, but the superdelegates gave it to Hillary anyway. Which is to say, very difficult to imagine.

Major fail, Australian Labor Party. First, you govern so incompetently that the rest of the world has to deal with a blithering fool like Tony Abbott. Then this. You once produced the late Gough Whitlam. Please. Do better.

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Over at Balloon Juice, mistermix has a funny post making fun of right-wingers tendencies to reduce everything to a WWII analogy. It’s a good point. Why is it always WWII for these people? I think the answer is basically that a huge portion of the right really, really wants to fight another WWII. They want to do it for our sake. After all, couldn’t we use one? America is deeply divided domestically. You know when that wasn’t the case? Back when we were fighting Hitler. American power has grown steadily weaker over the past few decades. You know when we were strongest? Back when we were fighting Hitler, and right after that, as a (possibly Divine) reward for fighting Hitler. And you know when we all last agreed on the moral correctness of a great cause? Yep, Hitler. This is what the endless “appeasement” talk is about, it’s what the endless hyperventilation over second-rate dictators ranting against America (Who else did that?), and of course the biggest one, the Iraq War was supposed to be the long-awaited sequel to WWII. No more of this wimp-ass containment, no more liberal “nation-building” bull, no more “holding at the 48th parallel” or whatever. This time, we were going to kick ass like Patton. It was all over the sales job. Remember “Axis of Evil,” the silliest non-sequitur historical reference in memory? Try as he might, Bush couldn’t quite recreate the magic. It takes more than spin to turn a third-rate dictator into a real threat to the world, and you can’t change centuries of culture by putting a bunch of conservative hacks on the case.

The basic problem is that, while much of the GOP’s elderly base remembers the war (or think they do), the romantic, innocent narrative they’ve constructed of the war (like what they construct about just about everything) misses a lot of key facts that would make trying to give us another WWII an obviously bad idea. And I say this all as someone who has no doubt that fighting the war was unquestionably the right thing to do, but also someone that understands that no war is won without doing things that make stomachs churn, the point the song makes. Anyway, you know the narrative about WWII. Appeasement, Chamberlain, Pearl Harbor, Women making munitions at home, D-Day, Victory, Reflections on the sacrifice, Greatest Generation. It doesn’t include the Eastern Front at all. Too messy, no real good guys to root for. It ignores the atomic bombs, the firebombing of Dresden, the self-confessed war crimes of people like Curtis LeMay. It ignores how soldiers actually felt about the war as they were fighting it–something like Eugene Sledge’s With The Old Breed with its heavy ambivalence and soldiers who don’t understand why they’re fighting and don’t really care, would be incomprehensible to these folks; or the fact that the troops who survived came home to a broken economy and an atmosphere of suspicion, darkness, and betrayal, who might reasonably wonder who actually won the war or why they fought it. How else could they feel? They’d given more than any other generation ever had, and they came back to a domestic situation that presented nothing but more confusion and more challenge. All that “moral certitude” stuff was projected onto them by the same Baby Boomer morons who would later call them “The Greatest Generation” and wanted to convert all that distasteful realness into a narrative that could make them feel better about themselves. Their parents had beaten Hitler, goddamn it! And they all but said “shucks” after it. How dare they not celebrate themselves for it, and if they won’t, we will, since it reflects onto us by extension! Well, they want to feel better again. Problem is that they don’t realize just how inaccurate this story they told themselves truly is. A read of history would show that political divisiveness is a near-constant byproduct of war, that the “victors” of big wars often wind up feeling as though they’ve lost after the fact (as Niall Ferguson brilliantly showed of Britain, the “winner” of World War I, in The Pity of War). WWI was more typical, where Woodrow Wilson used the war to batter his conservative, Republican critics, to such an extent that they’d be moved ultimately to destroy him and his cause, creating a new era of polarization. And if you look hard enough, you see it in WWII, where Democrats’ isolationist epithets would do much the same thing, with Republicans seeking payback with the Red Scare.

An innocent war is such an obvious oxymoron that Oliver Stone deflated it three decades ago with a movie tagline, but the longer and bigger the war is, the more sunk cost logic sets in, and combatants will undergo ever more desperate acts in order to win. This is why another WWII is not in the cards. I’m not sure which I even find more bothersome anymore: the “splendid, innocent war” types or the “more in sorrow than in anger” types, who barely put a face on the tedious undulations of a failing quasi-empire. Today, probably the latter.

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  • This is a pretty good postmortem on the election fiasco. Given that Udall only lost his race by about two points, while most of the red state Democratic senators were wiped out, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that delaying the immigration reform EO was indeed a major blunder, based on Democrats fancifully hoping to save Pryor and Landrieu (and Walsh, prior to his collapse), instead of having a much more sensible Colorado/Iowa/North Carolina-first strategy.
  • It probably doesn’t matter all that much that Chris Christie isn’t actually a very good governor. If the Republican money men decide he’s their guy, they have no shortage of people who can make it take whatever shape they want it to with the media. Christie’s bigger problem is that the base will have legitimate choices in 2016, so it’ll be hard for those folks to force him on a party that dislikes him. If I were them, I’d build up Cruz to some extent in order to scare the moderate/less conservative Republicans who choose these things into going for Christie, that’s a double game that could work. But damn if that’s not a dangerous one.
  • Much as I love David Cross, his albums are largely just not built to last (and arguably are not intended to, given how topical they are). Last time I took a trip through Shut Up, You Fucking Baby, I found myself rapidly skipping anything with political content because I’m worked up enough about present-day politics, who really still cares about John Ashcroft! But this actually has aged extremely well. If you’re a Prime person, it’s free.
  • Hillary Clinton can win the coveted Library Grape endorsement for President in exchange for one small thing: pledge not to give a job to Samantha Power. That’s all we ask, and believe me, you’ll be better off without John Bolton’s doppelganger.
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Shia militias acting with Iraqi government cover are leading the persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Iraqis, sharply increasing their risk of death or exile, a report has found.

The role of the militias has added a new layer of danger to the country’s vulnerable LGBT community, which was already among the least protected groups in Iraqi society, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Association and the women’s human rights group, Madre said on Wednesday.

Given that the stated rationale of the ISIS war is in part to preserve the Iraqi government, perhaps the Obama Administration might kindly ask them to knock this shit off. Or, better yet, to simply call off this misconceived, panicked reaction called the ISIS war, though I very much doubt that will be considered.

At the moment we’re trying to preserve stability and human rights in the Middle East. Last time it was about democracy. Before that it was curbing aggression. US policymakers always find reasons to intervene in the region, though the longer I watch this, the less of an idea I have as to why. I don’t even think it’s entirely about oil–eliminating all sanctions would get that flowing smoothly, after all, and nobody seems to be advocating that. Christian fundamentalists may account for why Republican presidents love wars in this region, less so for why Democrats provide nearly as many. But of course this is merely facetious: I do know the answer. It is at this point a fully-fledged imperial enterprise that touches too many interests to simply be abandoned. Don’t get me wrong, America’s not an empire–more like a bunch of missionaries with machine guns, which is stupider and worse–but this is all too familiar. Even though, according to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, the American public soured on the imperial adventure in the Philippines very quickly, it continued for four decades. It took the New Deal sweeping out the entire political order that cared about such things, ultimately, to end it. Getting the hell out would make eminently more sense, though it seems as far off as ever.

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