Policy isn’t about personalities. Or at least, it shouldn’t be

LAST WEEK, I saw a clip from Martin Scorcese’s 2004 film about Howard Hughes, “The Aviator.” I had seen it before. But this time, I had a different reaction when Leonardo DiCaprio, as gazillionaire Hughes, went into a compulsive fit, helplessly repeating:
    “Show me all the blueprints. Show me all the blueprints. Show me all the blueprints. SHOW ME ALL THE BLUEPRINTS….”
    The first time, I thought, Whoa, that’s messed up. This time, I thought, I can identify….
Over the past weeks I’ve found myself saying something over and over — sounding just like Howard Hughes, only without the money:
    “How we should proceed with regard to Iraq should not be determined by our opinion of President Bush. The best course in Iraq is not dependent upon personal regard for the president. Success in Iraq isn’t about Bush. Iraq isn’t about Bush. Iraq’s not about Bush. It’s not about Bush!”
    Whether we should give Gen. David Petraeus more time to pursue his strategy that actually seems to be starting to work — whether a cause that Americans have fought and died for for more than four years will lead to a good result — is far more important than what we think or feel toward the guy in the White House.
    Compared to this profoundly important strategic decision, it simply doesn’t matter whether you think Mr. Bush lied to you before the invasion (he didn’t) or whether he applied grossly inadequate policies and strategies over the next three years (he did).
    Nor is it relevant that you think Dick Cheney must be what Darth Vader looks like without his helmet on (I’m not arguing with you there).
    But listen to how every development of the “decision-making” (most of the participants decided a long time ago, of course) process in Washington is expressed. It’s always about Bush.
    Democrats are said to be trying to deliver a setback to the president. John McCain is said to be steadfastly loyal to the president’s strategy (despite the fact that the “surge” was closer to his idea all along than to the Bush/Rumsfeld “do it cheap” approach). Dick Lugar is described as breaking with the president.
    Folks, the president isn’t the one fighting and sacrificing and bleeding and dying for this cause. It’s some of the bravest young people this nation has ever produced. It’s also a few million ordinary Iraqis who, brave or not, don’t have anyplace else to go.
    And as what I said a moment ago about the vice president suggests, not even this “not about Bush” rant I’m on is about Bush. It’s not even about Iraq. It’s more about whether a free people can govern themselves through a system of representative democracy. Not just in Iraq, but right here.
    We’re personality-mad, from the people on the tabloids who are famous just for being famous (what is it that Paris Hilton does again?) to deciding which course history will take depending upon who suggested the direction.
    Consider one of the most devastating arguments leveled against the late immigration bill — I mean, when critics got tired of saying “Grahamnesty” — Ted Kennedy’s for it. Whoa. OK. Case closed.
    (Yes, I realize that, just as with Iraq, many people who rose up against the immigration bill have detailed, point-by-point arguments based on a careful, critical reading of all the available facts. But you know and I know that for some folks, “Teddy” was enough. That’s why we heard it so often.)
    Sometimes, of course, a person is the issue. But even then, what’s most important to our society is what that person in the news represents in a larger sense. Thomas Ravenel’s drug problem, as described by his father, is a personal and family tragedy — and none of your or my business. But the indictment of the state treasurer, about whom the voters knew little beyond the fact that he photographed well, points to the serious flaw in our system for determining who’s going to hold our money for us.
    It’s up to Tommy Moore whether he wants to be a state senator or work for the payday lending industry. Forget him. What the rest of us should think about is how much longer we’re going to tolerate our Legislature rolling over for special interests instead of acting in behalf of the greater good.
    Finally, it’s not about Mark Sanford. Yes, he’s a pain with his ideology-over-reality shtick, up to the point that we endorsed Tommy Moore over him — even though our opinion of then-Sen. Moore was such that none of us was terribly shocked last week.
    But when he says we should restructure government to make it accountable, he’s right. When he says you shouldn’t dictate local laws from the state level, he’s right. He’s right about a lot of stuff. But lawmakers take a particular delight in sticking it to Mark Sanford personally. Sure, he gives them cause, but that’s not what they’re there for.
    South Carolina isn’t just about Mark Sanford.
    I could go on and on about the problems with making political judgments personal, but let’s face a critical fact: Either you get my point by now, or you stopped reading about 20 inches ago because you don’t trust that stupid Brad Warthen anyway. In which case you just proved my point.

41 thoughts on “Policy isn’t about personalities. Or at least, it shouldn’t be

  1. JbB3

    The cult of Mark Sanford, that he actually cares about restructuring government or making government more accountable, is amazing. The reality is so far removed from the perception that it renders the argument pointless.
    Sanford remains aloof from the legislative process, other than griping about it, and then shows up to veto everything. So he gets the credit for trying to lower taxes, but in reality he was AWOL from the process and was therefore BEATEN by the old guard in the legislature. Had he invested the time and energy early in the session the outcome would have been very different. But that story is absent from the media.
    He talks about accountability, but refuses to make appointments to hundreds of important boards and commissions…all of whom could be overseeing state government agencies. He could easily have his fellow conservatives asking questions, demanding changes, and altering the “old” way of doing government business…but they remain unaccountable. Sanford could have reshaped state government by utilizing these entities, but he left them vacant, or filled them with his rich but uninterested friends.
    He has left the Department of Health and Human Services (the state’s largest spender of cash!) without a director for nearly 5 months. The interim was to step down on Friday…and still he has not named a permanent director.
    I could go on, but what is the point. The State is interested in style and appearances and minivans and speeding tickets…not the actual events that affect the average South Carolinian. But if Sanford were to be nominated as candidate for VP…the national press would not be so kind. They would love the hypocritical story of yet another conservative saying one thing and doing another. And they would be correct.

  2. Margaret

    Okay, Brad, you’ve inspired me this Sunday morning. I’m going to practice repeating, “I don’t know enough to have an educated opinion…I don’t know enough to have an educated opinion…” For example, as a SC expatriate currently living in Idaho, I should be picking up enough from the daily state news about conflicts over limited water supplies (rural vs. urban) and wolves vs. ranchers and elk hunters. I probably don’t know enough to have a meaningful opinion, but it is darned hard to say that out loud. Sunday morning confession. So instead of reading more, I look at elected official Y who irks me, and with whom I disagree on other issues, and decide that the chances are I’d not agree with him on the next issue either. In an information-overload age, shortcuts are appealing. Go wolves!

  3. bud

    Brad, this is the dumbest editorial you’ve ever written. Nobody I know who opposes the war in Iraq does so because they dislike the president. They oppose the war because it’s wrong. Many who oppose the war now even voted for Bush. You really should appoligize to your readers for this crap.

  4. E. Burnham

    Great article this morning which in my opinion lays the groundwork argument for a third party revolution. I am one of those that advocates impeachment but not as a rant but as a necessary process to assert control over our government by the people.
    We have to face the fact that both parties have betrayed the vision of participatory democracy formulated by our forefathers and have become nothing more than self serving and self perpetuating institutions.
    In the state of South Carolina this is best exemplified in the legislature by their resistance to streamlining state government. I think it is more than just resentment for Gov. Sanford it is nothing more than putting their own job security above the peoples interest.
    I really believe that on a national level we must put parties and personalities aside and unite to regain control and accountability or pretty soon the opportunity to do so will be removed. We should send every legislator home permanently and rehire a new congress and state legislature that can restore accountability. Is time to disregard the divisive issues temporarily and worry about or system of gov’t as a whole. Until we are willing to do so, as you pointed out we will get the steady diet of “Teddy is for it”, “Grahamnesty”, etc. as an effective strategy for divide and conquer.
    We must have a UNIFIED Congress that can use the peoples tool of impeachment to reign in the abuses of all government. Notice I have never advocated impeaching a person in the hope we will get personalities out of the picture. After all a “signing statement” that defies the law is the same when Reagan, Clinton or Bush does it. It is the office that needs to be impeached not the person and on a local level it s the state legislature that needs to be sent home not an individual. Until we can restore total integrity of institutions it is useless to rant on about “liberal” vs. “conservative”, I suggest that 90 per cent of the voters do not know which is which.

  5. Jim Byrum

    Reading your editorial this morning, I was moved to respond here (for the first time). Of course, you’re right….extreme partisan politics uses blinding personal attack as its cavalry. The ruthlessness of the onslaught most often overwhelms rational discussion of the real issues. ……and this tactic seems to have steadily gotten worse (at least in my mind) since Mr. Nixon’s hardline politics were publicly exposed. (Now, was that statement meant as a personal attack….? Nope, pure reality! But if in our sports-infatuated ‘world’, the tactic is to never let your ‘opponent’ have any advantage, then we will never be able to find our common ground.)
    But let’s not fool ourselves… elected political ‘leaders’ direct our government at all levels. They must take responsibilty for the positions they take. True, as good citizens, we should consider all political positions rationally, not on the basis of personality or strict partisanship. (At least, we should all be able to agree that the republic would function much better if we, as citizens were able to be more impartial in a partisan/personal manner in considering our choices.) So, as much as it goes against our basic human nature to be more rational, we ‘should’ all strive to structure our consideration of issues with an open, free mindset.
    In that vain, if it were possible to consider the international catastrophe that is the Iraqi War without involving the personality that led us into this, the major disaster of our generation, we the citizens, through our leadership, should review the facts, consider the options and take appropriate action immediately. Not a simple task or an easy one when the personality that created the problem still sits in the Executive chair (and others in Congress). However, I believe that is exactly what key leaders in Congress are valiantly trying to do now, against all odds…..and that movement is becoming more and more non-partisan, as it should be.
    Now, that we have patted ourselves on the back for supporting this most rational, non-partisan and personality-less movement, why don’t we rationally consider the War on Drugs, Gay marriage, Stem cell research, Women’s rights in childbearing, and many, many more. Maybe we could actually make some progress in creating a better country for us all.
    Need I say more…..it is possible for all of us to be more rational in considering our options, but it certainly is made more difficult with the poor level of leadership that we citizens are dealing with…..and unfortunately, that comes back to a basic problem: personality and partisanship.

  6. Phillip

    Brad, in today’s column you grudgingly acknowledge that many who opposed the immigration bill did so for reasons beyond mere hatred of Ted Kennedy. I wish that at least once, somewhere, in your column, you would have also granted that many who oppose our continued Iraq presence do so for reasons that go far beyond any dislike of Bush or anger over what he has done in the past.
    As many Iraq-invasion-opponents have expressed, Bush himself (and the events of 9/11) merely was the vehicle, the trigger, for a very dangerous doctrine that was espoused for a long time beforehand by many neo-conservatives, such as Cheney, Feith, Wolfowitz, Perle, and many many others. So it’s far from being about one personality; it’s about a doctrine, a philosophy, one which I feel would ultimately transform America into ultimately much less of a force for good in the world, and more of just, well, a force.
    You and I have clashed on this blog a few times about this doctrine, this Wilsonian approach to world affairs which you seem to embrace and which I oppose. It’s a legitimate argument about the role America should play in the world, with understandable points-of-view on both sides, far beyond the “politics of the personal.”
    No question, partisan politics being what they are, Democrats will be hoping to use this issue to augment their political advantage, and possibly some of the Republicans bailing out on the surge are doing so more from the standpoint of saving their political hides than for genuine policy reasons. To the extent that is happening, I will agree with you that is a shame, as the merits of the surge or the American presence in Iraq must be debated on their own terms.
    I respect your viewpoint and understand why, according to your philosophy, our presence in Iraq is vital. All I ask is that you grant our views similar respect by not dismissing those who favor fairly immediate troop withdrawals/redeployments and a re-evaluation of our whole approach to the so-called “War on Terror” as merely a bunch of Bush-haters. We will continue to oppose misguided foreign policy no matter who is in the White House, Democrat or Republican.

  7. Brad Warthen

    Everybody, please welcome Jim Byrum.

    Phillip, I did what you ask me to in the same sentence as I acknowledged that the folks angry over immigration have other points:

    (Yes, I realize that, just as with Iraq, many people who rose up
    against the immigration bill have detailed, point-by-point arguments
    based on a careful, critical reading of all the available facts. But
    you know and I know that for some folks, “Teddy” was enough. That’s why
    we heard it so often.)

    Yes, it’s a mere parenthetical thought, but I put in that parenthetical digression — cutting out other stuff I wanted to say in support of my point to do so — in order to deal with the objection you raise. Yes, many people have other reasons for their positions. But this column is about the excessive role that personality plays in the thinking of many OTHER people.

  8. Phillip

    Oops, Brad, my bad…looking at the overall message of the column and missed that detail. Apologies. But you get my overall drift, I think.

  9. Tom Robinson

    Brad, I have to say that this post disappoints me. I and others have done our best in the other thread to educate you, but you don’t seem to have taken any of our counsel to heart. This makes me sad.
    Your insistence that the best course in Iraq has nothing to do with one’s approval or disapproval of Bush seems to me irrelevant. I’m not aware of anyone who bases his or her disapproval of America’s war policy on dislike of Bush. It’s true that more Americans disapprove of the war, just as more Americans disapprove of Bush, and it’s even true that these phenomena are related.
    But disapproval of Bush does not drive disapproval of the war; rather, more and more Americans have come to a belief that the war is the wrong policy for America, and what they see as Bush’s reckless and foolish determination to pursue it at all costs has driven an increasing disapproval of him.
    Certainly, a dislike of Bush hasn’t been the factor that led to the increasing disapproval of Bush, has it? Many of the people who dislike Bush now liked him a great deal before this, so how can a dislike for Bush that did not previously exist be the basis for disapproval of him now? The idea that Americans oppose the war because they dislike Bush seems to me to be giving Americans too little credit for rational thinking.
    Now, some Americans disagree with you on the wisdom of continuing an American military presence in Iraq, and I am asking you to consider possible reasons why these people might disagree with you.
    One reason for this disagreement might indeed be that Americans are blinded by a dislike of Bush so that they fail to consider the situation rationally.
    Might there, however, be other possible reasons? I am simply asking you to tell us whether there MIGHT be other possible reasons that so many Americans disagree with you, not to accept that these ARE the actual reasons.
    I am also saddened by the fact that you insist that the surge is showing signs of success. The only evidence I have seen you give is the opinion piece by Ms. Kagan, and I think that I and others on the other thread have demonstrated that she is not a credible authority, and that the evidence and reasoning supporting her conclusions are weak or nonexistent. I believe that the evidence that has been presented to you has demonstrated that the surge is in fact not showing any signs of success, and I am disappointed that you have failed to take that evidence into account in rendering your conclusion.
    I am also disappointed by your claim that Bush did not lie to the American public before the invasion. One fact that is now known with as much certainty as anything can possibly be known is that Bush did lie about the threat posed by Iraq in the months leading up to the invasion. The Lewis Libby trial presented reams of evidence proving that people within the Bush administration mounted a campaign to silence critics of administration claims because they knew those critics to be accurately pointing to the falsity of administration claims.
    Again, I ask you to consider why people might disagree with your conclusions on these factual points. True, they might be misinformed, or they might not be thinking clearly. But is there any other possible reason why someone might have come to a conclusion different from yours?

  10. Brad Warthen

    Actually, Tom, it’s was y’all’s reaction to the Kagan piece that got me on this tack. It just would have taken too much of the column to explain that whole incident to people who hadn’t read the blog, and I wanted to get into the immigration and restructuring examples, so I had to satisfy myself with the way Washington defines positions on the war in terms of either opposition to Bush or "loyalty" to Bush.

    But the way y’all paid so much attention to WHO Kimberly Kagan was, rather than what she might understand about the situation, is what got me on the whole subject of people placing the identity of the thinker as a more important consideration than the idea.

    I’ll bet if I point to Charles Krauthammer’s piece, which I found encouraging and sensible in the same way as Ms. Kagan’s, y’all will have the same reaction. You’ll pay little attention to what he writes about the miraculous turnaround in Anbar province, and say, well he’s Krauthammer, so what do you expect (as though that preordains him to be wrong). Am I right?

    It would also behoove everyone who entertains the unrealistic notion that we can get out of Iraq anytime soon to read the Brooks piece in today’s paper (sorry, I can’t link to it, because it’s NYT; read the paper). It’s one thing for a majority of senators to be against the surge. It’s another for them to reach 60 votes on an alternative. They’re just not going to do that. So the reality is, the surge is what we are doing, and it’s what we’re going to be doing, so everybody who cares about our people over there really ought to start hoping and praying for them to succeed. That’s the only game plan there is. It always has been.

    Once again, in the name of "education" as you put it, I refer everyone to what I wrote when we first went into Iraq. It’s as true now as it was then. Whether you think the invasion was a good, bad or indifferent idea, we were going to have to STAY involved for a long, long time. And frankly, because of the way the situation over there is affected by the political situation here, the sooner everyone settles down and accepts this truth, the sooner our efforts are likely to produce progress that no one will dispute.

  11. bud

    Brad talks about accepting the truth. Here’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The political situation here is driven by the situation in Iraq, not the other way around. It was never a tenable strategy, nor did those proposing we invade Iraq suggest that it was, to continue a long term military occupation that would last for several decades. There are perfectly good reasons why it is not a good idea to stay for decades. It’s expensive. It costs many young men their lives. World opinion of the USA is impacted negatively. Iraqis are displaced and killed. But most important of all, it proves the radicals of Islam are correct, thus helping them with their recruiting efforts and creating long-term security issues for Americans both at home and abroad.
    Now we are faced with the stark truth that it is not tenable, nor is it in our long-term best interests, to stay in Iraq much longer. We simply must find a way out. If the president and most Republicans in congress will not try to reach a bipartisan consensus on reducing our involvement then Democrats can and should cut off funding. That would be the lessor of two evils (staying indefinetely being the other). It would only take 40 senators to block any funding legislation.
    And by the way, the truth of this situation applies whether or not the ‘surge’ succeeds. If it succeeds then we will leave behind a stable, functioning Iraq that can take care of itself and become a productive member of the world community. It it fails we should still leave and let the Iraqi people sort this out for themselves. A determination of success or failure absolutely, positively, emphatically MUST be made by the end of September. At that time we will have 8 long months of the “SURGE”. That is far long enough. (Frankly I thought the whole thing was dumb to start with. We’ve been ‘surging’ for 4 years. Why is this any different?) Whether we’ve succeeded or failed we need to plan on leaving soon. That is the truth.

  12. Ready to Hurl

    Brad, the invasion was not just a bad idea from the beginning– it was an impossible long shot which has been botched.
    Staying is just the worst option that we have. It continues to prove Osama’s propaganda to his audience.
    You think that if we continue to sacrifice American lives and money, Osama’s potential recruits won’t realize that we’re defeated.
    What will it take to convince you? When 100,000 Americans are dead after 20 years to support a dysfunctional foreign government will you finally admit that the last death was just as meaningless as the first?

  13. Mark Whittington

    There is something useful in this piece: Brad is right in his assertion that “It’s more about whether a free people can govern themselves through a system of representative democracy. Not just in Iraq, but right here.”
    Exactly right.

  14. Ready to Hurl

    Please explain why anyone should take seriously Charles Krauthammer’s opinions about Iraq.
    Yes, as amazing as it may seem to you, those of us in the reality-based community actually consider the source. We consider whether the source has been a fanatical ideologue committed to invading Iraq since the early ’90’s. We consider whether he’s been wrong far more times than right about Iraq. We recognize that someone who wants the U.S. to militarily dominate every country on the planet may not be the best source evaluating a situation where military action is failing us.
    You, of course, find Krauthammer’s opinions comforting because it substantiates your unlimited willingness to sacrifice (other) American lives and monies in a Middle Eastern civil war.
    Who’s being unreasonable and self-serving? Look in the mirror.

  15. Brad Warthen

    Folks, RTH has had trouble meeting the standard for civil discourse that I’ve set on this blog, and doesn’t get his messages approved much. But if you go through the ones I HAVE approved, you’ll notice that I bend the standard when there is something redeemable about the message.
    The redeemable thing about this one is how beautifully it illustrates the point of this post. You see, nothing Charles Krauthammer says is credible because it’s Charles Krauthammer. Nothing that I say counts because it’s ME saying it. Under this sort of logic, Krauthammer and I agreeing with each other just proves we’re both wrong, because I’m agreeing with HIM, and he’s agreeing with ME, and (in case you’re having trouble following this open-and-shut case) he’s HIM, and I’m ME.
    Get it?
    How does any rational person every get anywhere with that kind of thinking? How do we have self-governance, debate, deliberation? It’s impossible.
    I continue to hope that this blog can be a place where people can talk to each other meaningfully, which means I want this to be a different sort of universe from most of the garbage you find on 24/7 TV news, or on most blogs.
    It’s countercultural, and sometimes it seems amazingly difficult to explain — maybe because so many folks these days lack the common vocabulary — but that remains my hope.

  16. bud

    Brad, if Osama bin-Laden, or Kim Il Jung or Mr. Ahmadinejad says it’s in America’s best interest to remain in Iraq for the next 20 years wouldn’t you be skeptical just on the basis of who is making the claim? Of course you would. You would strongly consider his history and motivation. Conversely, shouldn’t you give a great deal of weight to someone you’ve generally agreed with in the past when it comes to Iraq who may now see things in a different light? Colin Powell, George Will and to a lessor extent Thomas Friedman are all much less supportive of the war effort today. Shouldn’t their opinions carry more weight than someone who has been opposed to the war all along? It is a legitimate consideration to look at the source for a given point of view.
    Clearly Ms. Kagan’s opinion is biased. That’s ok if she provides real evidence. But at least some of her claims are clearly incorrect or at best highly misleading (the mortar issue) which further calls into question any other claims she makes.
    I would maintain that Brad is doing exactly what he claims others are doing. He’s looking at a claim made by someone of dubious credentials but who happens to have a long-term history of supporting the war as an authority to buttress his own support of the war. Not because of any particular facts, there really are none in the Kagan piece, but simply because that position coincides with his own.

  17. Doug Ross

    When there is a body of work, whether a series of columns or blog entries, it allows a reader to formulate an opinion of both the content and intent of the writer. Like it or not, you have produced enough on this blog for regular readers to establish who you are and what you stand for. You may stamp your feet over and over claiming to be the most non-partisan person in Columbia, but your readers don’t agree. You cannot allow yourself to admit you were wrong on any aspect of Iraq. The house of cards would tumble then.
    Look at how you responded to the Tommy Moore situation. You said, basically, “yes, we endorsed him… but look at the other guy… and if there was a better candidate, we would have endorsed him.” Why not either a) not endorse someone in the first place b) admit you got suckered by a political player or c) recognize that your distaste for Sanford blinded you to the faults of Moore.

  18. Brad Warthen

    Yeah, Doug. That’s why I do the blog — to help readers of the paper “to formulate an opinion of both the content and intent of the writer.” In general it seems to help. Then there’s you (and a number of other folks who comment on blogs a lot, no offense): If you can read my blog and still draw bizarre conclusions from it, that’s your lookout, not mine.
    I just let it hang out there, and trust to reading comprehension. Lots of folks do possess that admirable quality, you know.

  19. Brad Warthen

    Oh, and Doug — as for the silly stuff you said about endorsements. The short answers are: We endorse one or the other, except in the most extreme circumstances, because one of them is going to be the governor, or what have you. The voters don’t get to choose "none of the above," so we almost always go ahead and say which one is the lesser of the evils. And we’re pretty damned clear about it, as you can tell if you actually read the endorsements.

    As for the long answer to all that, I’ve probably said it all 1,000 times and I’m not going to type it again. I’ll just link to some past explanations of the whole phenomenon — and, you know, trust to the reading comprehension thing. (One of the most frustrating thing about spending time to do a blog is that no matter how much trouble you go to, there are always people who will respond as though you never went to the trouble of explaining it to begin with.)

    And because I’m in one of those moods (it’s the steroids, I think), I’ll finish with this thought. Partisans and other people who think that if one guy is a bad choice it means the other guy is a GOOD choice … well, such people have something for brains other than the usually preferred gray matter.

  20. Brad Warthen

    And back to what bud said (you’ll have to scroll up a bit):
    It Osama’s got something to say, you bet I’m going to listen. Let’s hope our intel folks are doing the same. Ditto with Ahmadinejad. But Kim Jong Il? I don’t know. You ever get the feeling that he just got into the Axis of Evil for the sake of diversity? I mean, he’s pretty evil; let’s not sell him short (nyuk, nyuk), but it always seems kind of like changing the subject, his evilness is so separate and apart from the other two.
    Of course, you never saw a whole lot of connection or mutual support with that OTHER Axis, except for Hitler declaring war on us in connection with our Pearl Harbor declaration. But at least there was that, and they DID have a formal agreement…

  21. bud

    Brad, why don’t you set up one of those online polls and let the readers decide whether or not you’re a partisan. Many people who regularly read your opinions have reached the conclusion that you are. It’s crystal clear to me that you are a stubborn partisan for virtually every position where the choice comes down to (1) government intrusion into the affairs of people vs. (2) government staying out of the affairs of others (including other nations). Let’s settle this once and for all. If the poll results show you are not a partisan then I will never mention it again. I’ll even buy you a latte at Starbucks. If the poll says you are a partisan then you can never accuse of others of being a partisan when they take a stand on an issue.

  22. bud

    Brad, you dodged my question. I didn’t ask if you’d listen to Osama’s comments in general. I asked if you would consider his opinion about the specific issue of staying in Iraq. Wouldn’t you consider his opinion on that issue in a different light that John McCain (or even John Edwards)? I would certainly hope so.

  23. Brad Warthen

    I didn’t dodge your question. I didn’t know you were serious.
    Yeah, I would look at it differently if Osama bin Laden said we should do such-and-such about Iraq or whatever than if either of the two Johns (in a non-Vitter girlfriend sense) said something on the same subject.
    Not sure what that has to do with my column, though, since I was talking in an American-politics, how-we-make-decisions-in-a-representative-democracy kind of way, rather than analysis of intel from the enemy. Despite what Clausewitz said about war and policy, I generally separate the way I look at political speakers and actors in this country from the way I look at a guy who wants every single one of us dead.
    I assume, or hope, that both of the Johns mean the best for our country, or at least wish as American politicians to be seen as wanting the best for our country, within the context of the American policy-decision-making process. OK?
    Tell you what, from here on, we’ll just put bin Laden and Ahmadinejad and even the Dear Leader — we’ll let him in for the purpose of this discussion — into their own special category of guys whom it’s OK to distrust (on account of them wanting us dead and stuff) and if you don’t mind, we’ll just go back to talking about how we Americans react to each other during policy discussions.
    OK. We got that straight, and we got the “partisan” thing straight (see my response on another thread; I forget which one). I’m starting to feel like this 13-hour working day has almost been worthwhile. As J. Jonah Jameson might say, “Goody.”

  24. Doug Ross

    My reading comprehension is fine, Brad. You thought Tommy Moore would be a better governor of South Carolina than Mark Sanford. And, presumably, still do. And you secretly wish Lindsey Graham could clone himself so he could serve as Governor, Lt. Governor, and Treasurer.
    I’ll go back to what I said before – there is enough body of work in this blog to get a clear picture of your ideas as well as your faults, foibles, and faux pas. You are predictable in your attachment to lost causes and government as the answer to all of society’s questions. You prefer BIG ideas versus incremental fixes. You prefer systems and processes versus actual solutions. And you’re a leg man…

  25. Doug Ross

    > The voters don’t get to choose “none of the
    Uh, yeah, they do. In several different ways. Not voting, write-in, or choosing someone from one the of other parties… too bad The State is so “partisan” in its selections of only Democrats and Republicans.

  26. Brad Warthen

    Actually, Doug — and I hope I’m not breaking a political trade secret here or anything — they don’t.
    You see, either the Democrat or the Republican is always elected. Hence this duty we feel — based upon brutal reality — to be honest with the reader about which one we would hold our noses pick (the candidate, I mean, not the noses). Because one of them is going to win.
    And then there’s the awful truth about Santa Claus, but this has been enough for one day.
    But I should explain before I go that there is a HUGE difference between “better governor” and “less bad.” And there’s no secret about it — I think it would be very good for South Carolina if Lindsey would run for governor, but he won’t. I would never want him to waste his time on something so insignificant as the Gov Lite position. And treasurer — not what I would pick for him to do.
    As for your picking up on the “leg man” thing — astounding, Holmes. What gave it away?

  27. bud

    We’re making progress here. Brad admits that you view Osama Bin-Laden’s opinions in a different light than you would John McCain’s because of who he is and what he has said in the past. Brad has no problem seeing that as a rational and logical bias.
    So by that same logic those of us who oppose the Iraq war view the opinion of Kimberly Kagan in much the same way. She has a motivation to defend the war, and especially the surge, because her husband was instrumental in developing the plan. She crafts her arguments and spins the facts in terms of how it helps her husband rather than how it helps the country. She has a motivation beyond what’s best for the country.
    Osama has a motivation to make statements that furthers his cause. That should be considered when evaluating the validity of his points. Kimberly Kagan likewise is motivated to make statements to further her cause. That too should be considered when evaluating her points. Once her motivation is considered, and Brad has conceeded that motivation is a valid consideration, her arguments are nothing but conjecture and spin and should be ignored.

  28. Brad Warthen

    Oh, what a blinding light! Never mind Damascus; I’ll go there later! This sudden revelation is much more important…
    I understand now! The scales have fallen from my eyes. Osama bin Laden and Kimberly Kagan are morally equivalent! I have absolutely no obligation, as a sincere person listening to fellow citizens in good faith (bah!) to trust her or her motives any more than Osama bin Laden’s!
    See, if only everyone could understand this, the world would be such a better place. I’m going to quit my job and go from town to town, spreading this good news.
    Now, to switch to being serious: No, I did not say it was OK to ascribe to fellow Americans the same sort of bad faith that a reasonable person might assume when listening to a guy who, by his own account, wants us all dead.
    Call me crazy, but I see a difference. I’m very, VERY sorry that you, and apparently quite a few other people, don’t. That may be the one thing that’s most wrong with our country right now, coloring every difficult issue we deal with — not just the war.

  29. Doug Ross

    So, Brad, you have never voted for anyone who wasn’t a self-declared Democrat or Republican?
    It might be interesting to understand the endorsement process for The State – how frequently does The State endorse candidates who you would not vote for? Is the endorsement process a democratic one within the editorial board or is it a benevolent dictatorship where you put a name up and allow the serfs to try and convince you otherwise?
    By sticking to the “any candidate as long as he’s a Democrat or Republican” endorsement policy, you basically are supporting the partisan system that exists today.

  30. Brad Warthen

    Actually, Doug, I don’t know if I’ve ever had the opportunity — and mind you, having Libertarians on the ballot doesn’t count as an “opportunity.” If there’s anything I consider worse than the Democrats and Republicans, it’s the hyper-ideologues of the Libertarian Party.
    I certainly would have voted for Bubba Cromer when he was in the House (as David Wilkins once said, Bubba was the head of my caucus). But I didn’t live in that district. I didn’t vote for George Wallace, if that’s OK. I didn’t vote for John Anderson (I was a fervent Jimmy Carter man, so why would I have). I definitely didn’t vote for the unofficial chairman of the Elect W campaign, Ralph Nader.
    What does that leave? Seriously, tell me when I’ve passed up a viable, serious, noncrazy alternative. I can’t think of any (does voting for Jerry Brown once count?).
    And yeah, we endorse people I don’t much like, and we definitely endorse people I don’t vote for. A minority of the time, of course, but there are usually some each election.

  31. bud

    Brad, I don’t think I said, or even implied, that Osama Bin-Laden and Kimberly Kagan are “morally equivalent”. What I did say was that they each are motivated to say things that may not be in the best interests of the U.S. Ms. Kagan probably believes what she says is in the best interests of the U.S. but she definitely wants her husband to succeed. That very powerful motivation clouds her thinking. It creates a strong bias for her to ignore certain facts that may counter her argument. As a journalist you should consider the possible bias that she brings to her writing.
    Since you have already conceeded that a person’s identity and past history is an important consideration for at least one person why wouldn’t you simply take into account a known bias whenever you evaluate any writing? This was simple enough for me. Someone indicated Ms. Kagan was affiliated with the chief architect of the surge strategy. That immediately suggested in my mind that her points should be carefully researched. I very quickly determined that her point about the mortar sites was poorly thought out since mortar attacks continue and have possibly even increased. Had my research indicated that mortar attacks were sharply down then I would have been more comfortable with the rest of Ms. Kagan’s story. But since one point was rebutted that cast even more doubt on Ms. Kagan’s story.
    As it turns out most of her story was worthless. Sectarian killings are heading back up so the evidence for progress is really not there. But Ms. Kagan did get me to think. And I guess that’s of some importance.

  32. Ready to Hurl

    bud writes:

    Brad admits that you view Osama Bin-Laden’s opinions in a different light than you would John McCain’s because of who he is and what he has said in the past. Brad has no problem seeing that as a rational and logical bias.

    The wicked irony is that Osama, Brad and McCain are all of the same opinion– the U.S. should keep troops occupying Iraq for decades.
    Osama supports the occupation because it’s the single best recruiting tool for Al Qaeda and radical Islamism worldwide.
    Brad and McCain apparently find living in delusions peddled by ideologues preferable to admitting defeat in a self-inflicted war.

  33. Brad Warthen

    Yes, that’s something. In fact, it’s sort of the point of the whole editorial/op-ed/blog thing — getting us to think. (I’m responding to bud here, not RTH. Scroll up a little.)

    Beyond that, excuse me for sticking up for the little woman sticking up for her husband, and giving her more benefit of the doubt than the tall guy with the spooky eyes. Let’s all condescend to her for a moment. Let’s say she’s cute, for a neocon. Come on, we can agree on that. Think "Wolfowitz."

    Most of the conflict here results from degrees of importance we attach to what a Jane Austen character might call her "connections." To me, it was a take-note-of thing, something to file. When Tom brought it up, I thought, OK, like those Kagans, the guys I sometimes mix up with John Keegan, the historian. And I was ready to move on. I just didn’t think it put her in a "don’t trust this person" category.

    With me, people sort of have to earn that. And no, it doesn’t depend upon their opinions on the war. Nicholas Kristof is a trustworthy person, and he’s anti-war. Rumsfeld is … well, let’s not be uncharitable.

  34. bud

    RTH, I only have one quibble with your comments. The term “war” is used by those supporting the occupation of Iraq. That confers a certain legitimacy to something that is anything but legitimate. In actuality the war ended in May 2003 and the correct term for what we’re doing is conducting an “occupation”. From now on I won’t refer to the Iraq situation as a war, because that’s not what it is. Instead I’ll use the more accurate term: occupation.

  35. Brad Warthen

    This is indeed confusing. See, I thought it was the people who wanted us OUT of Iraq who preferred to call it the “Iraq War.”
    People who disagree speak of the War on Terror, of which Iraq is just a part. As I said, confusing.
    As for occupation — well, we wish, right? If we had an occupation going on, we wouldn’t have such a tough situation. An occupation would involve, what, about 10 times the number of troops we have — much much larger than the current entire Army? You want an occupation, look at Germany in 1945.
    If we fail in Iraq (and yeah, I know you think we already did, but let me continue the thought here), it will be to a great extent because we never had an actual occupation in place.
    Our military is very offense-oriented. We’re very, very good at that — as good as anybody in history. Better. The “surge” is offense-oriented. We’re going on the offense in key areas, trying to create the space for political solutions. If we had an actual occupation, we wouldn’t need a surge.

  36. Doug Ross

    > Beyond that, excuse me for sticking up
    > for the little woman sticking up for her
    > husband, and giving her more benefit of
    > the doubt than the tall guy with the
    > spooky eyes.
    Were you talking about Hillary Clinton and Dick Cheney?

  37. bud

    CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER’s article is shocking for a couple of references he slipped in that appear to signify a gigantic shift away from his previous statements on the Iraq occupation:
    In paragraph 5 we have this:
    Iraqi Sunnis are not looking for a heavenly date with 72 virgins. They are looking for a deal, and perhaps just survival after U.S. troops are gone.
    Krauthammer’s final paragraph starts with this:
    In either case, that will be Iraq’s problem after we leave.
    The rest is typical Krauthammer blather about how things are working in Anbar; why it’s a good thing to be arming the Sunni militia; why Petreaus is such a genius. Yada, yada, yada. But the two statements about leaving indicate that even among the most ardent supporters of the occupation there is a recognition that we must, at some point, leave the place.

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