Sometimes you get one of those odd news days – what they call a slow news day – when the news is the residue of the previous day’s blockbuster story, and you can see the next big story barreling down on us all, but all you can do is wait, as it’s already scheduled.
Thursday, May 29, was one of those days. The Scott McClellan bombshell tell-all about the Bush administration was all over the airwaves – and so was he, in interview after interview. But it had turned into a what-it-might-mean gabfest, without much reporting. There was nothing to report – no news, just talk about news. On MSNBC’s Countdown, Keith Olbermann spoke to McClellan for the full hour – there was nothing else but the two of them, save for the last three minutes with John Dean (Keith likes irony). McClellan came across as overwhelmingly decent, and thoughtful, and careful not to exaggerate anything. It was impressive – and it all seemed like his sense of decency has just caught up with him, as much as he wanted to believe in Bush, initially, and year after year, until he just couldn’t. Olbermann kept calling this book the new Rosetta Stone – it will explain everything. Yeah, right. Keith tends to exaggerate. But we’ll see.
But McClellan did define something not noted elsewhere – the whole idea of “coercive democracy.” Bush apparently got a bug up his ass about transforming the world with that. That would be his legacy, and he just knew it, in his gut, as it were – so he fudged about everything else, like the WMD and all the rest, to insure it. Didn’t work out, did it? Of course guys with big, transformative ideas are dangerous – particularly when the idea is a bit fuzzy, and any fourth grader could see the inherent problems with implementation. Most of us would take “incremental and constantly adjusted” over the one big idea any day. And this “one big idea” was just dumb, anyway. But it was big.
But all this was analysis, not news, and that big story was waning, like the moon that day – waning crescent, twenty-eight percent full. And the next blockbuster political story wasn’t due until Saturday, the Democratic Rules Committee meeting to decide what to do about Florida and Michigan. There was nothing to say, so you got a whole lot of intricate and mind-numbing analysis – but the Clinton folks were organizing a big demonstration, to storm the place and intimated the committee members perhaps. Obama told his folks to just let the meeting happen – stay home. But it was all two days off. There was no news.
And everyone seemed to agree the ruling will disappoint the Clinton camp, and effectively ends things, and she will say it is not ended at all and take this to the floor of the convention in late August, and if she loses there, take it to court, hoping to get an injunction so no Democrat can run until that case runs up through the system with all the possible appeals. Or she’ll pack it in. No one knows. But she has no good case, and everyone seems to be assuming Obama will be the candidate.
And if that is so, and the old news was just old news, and the new news not yet arrived, you could run with that and talk about what an Obama versus McCain contest would really be about. You don’t do a news story, you do what Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, calls a thumb-sucker – a quite useful insider term for a story that is pretty much either highly-detailed deep background stuff, or extended, thoughtful speculation. That would be filler on a slow news day.
The best of that seemed to come from Andrew Sullivan:
I’m not sure how it will feel if the Clintons leave the stage. Personally speaking, I may suffer a sudden loss of purpose in life. Collectively, we’ll have the luxury of the best choice in many years for the presidency. It could have been Giuliani or Romney or Huckabee or Clinton, remember? And one result of Obama’s success and McCain’s emergence has been the beginning of a new debate about reforming conservatism. That debate would have been much less likely if a true Bush heir were on the ticket, and the inherited mau-mauing of all internal criticism were in full effect.
Yes, six or eight months ago we all knew it would be Clinton versus Giuliani. Everyone knew that. But now we have to weigh McCain and Obama on domestic and foreign affairs. Who would have ever imagined that? And Sullivan lays out an interesting contrast.
My major worry about Obama is the ghost of Jimmy Carter. Will Obama be too reflexively diplomatic? Does he believe that some of our enemies are reasonable in a good way rather than rational in a malign way? Could his admirable desire to restore America’s standing be compromised by naiveté? And how will he respond if our enemies attack? More telling to me will be: can he adjust to new realities and possibilities in Iraq? I don’t mean not withdrawing. I mean withdrawing in the best way for our interests as possible.
He has the opposite worry about McCain, who is too much of a Joe Lieberman for his taste:
Has his admirable sense of the danger of our foes blinded him to ways in which a defter diplomacy and shrewder deployment of force can help advance our interests? Or will he revert to a binary, victory-or-surrender blather that typifies the Bush-Cheney mindset? Does he understand the need to appeal beyond Muslim leaders to Muslim populations? Is he temperamentally suited to the delicate chess game of the new global politics?
Now those are good questions. And you know it all comes down to who is more flexible:
The question then becomes: is Obama more capable of adjusting to toughness or is McCain more capable of adjusting to nuance? Neither is perfect. Our job is to figure out who is more perfectible in office.
My sense at this point is that Obama is more capable of strength than McCain is of subtlety. And that McCain’s domestic weakness with his own base may force him into cruder measures than are appropriate to the threat we face.
Now that’s something to think about between news stories. And Sullivan’s colleague at the Atlantic, Matthew Yglesias, author of the recently published Heads in the Sand: How Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and how Foreign Policy Screws up Democrats, on a book tour, adds fuel to that fire:
We need to stop making foolish proclamations like, “Well, if we invaded this country, we can solve all its problems.” The truth of the matter is that it’s really hard to solve problems by invading other countries. There’s a certain mindset – a kind of false machismo that comes around where some people get interested in humanitarianism and in helping foreigners only when killing some other foreigners is the method at hand. There’s a desire to cherry-pick situations where allegedly sending in the Marines and dropping bombs will help people, which I think reflects an attitude of militarism more than it reflects a concern with humanitarianism or human rights.
In short, something must change. Playing out our effort at coercive democracy in Iraq – McCain saying he will NEVER SURRENDER! – may sound great on the stump. It makes little sense. But it really does sound fine, kind of like this – “That he which hath no stomach to this fight, Let him depart; his passport shall be made, And crowns for convoy put into his purse; We would not die in that man’s company That fears his fellowship to die with us.” But McCain is not Olivier playing Henry V.
And we have other problems – as Amnesty International released their report on human rights abuses. They are not nice to the United States – something about indefinite detentions at Guantanamo Bay, the imprisonment of conscientious objector soldiers, and the coercive interrogation policies now in place.
A comment from “Kay” at the Atlantic here:
It’s not really surprising that the United States would be subject to scrutiny by AI, given the controversial nature of these practices domestically. (Although there’s a pretty strong argument to be made against COs in a volunteer military, unless that person enlisted before the United States was at war.) AI’s report is a reminder of how the Bush administration’s policies on war and torture damage the credibility of the United States when decrying other countries for humanitarian abuses. What the Bush administration has essentially done is used the second-tier excuse of human-rights abuses to invade Iraq, then piled on to the laundry list of human rights violations in the world with his own policies on torture and indefinite detention. The record on human rights had damaged the credibility of legitimate work Americans want to conduct on human rights abuses in the future, even given a new administration that is presumably less comfortable with torture.
Other practices by the United States in the report included were failure by the government to properly address sexual violence against Native American women, the criminal justice system that includes a death penalty, and victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita who (still) lack access to housing.
There seems to be a lot of work to do. But McCain opposes torture as official policy, except when practiced by the CIA (not the military), and except when it’s necessary as that nobody who claims he’s a nobody may just know something. Obama doesn’t allow for exceptions. There’s another choice.
But why think about that? It’s not news – that’s speculation. On a slow news day you want news. And on CNN’s financial site, Money, they run the big AP news item of the day:
Dunkin’ Donuts has pulled an online advertisement featuring Rachael Ray after complaints that a fringed black-and-white scarf that the celebrity chef wore in the ad offers symbolic support for Muslim extremism and terrorism.
The coffee and baked goods chain said the ad that began appearing online May 7 was pulled over the past weekend because “the possibility of misperception detracted from its original intention to promote our iced coffee.”
In the spot, Ray holds an iced coffee while standing in front of trees with pink blossoms.
Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin complained that the scarf wrapped around her looked like a kaffiyeh, the traditional Arab headdress. “The kaffiyeh, for the clueless, is the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad,” Malkin wrote in her syndicated column.
Here’s her point – “Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant (and not-so-ignorant) fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons.”
Dunkin’ Donuts folded. They pulled the ad – “Absolutely no symbolism was intended.”
From the AP:
Amahl Bishara, an anthropology lecturer at the University of Chicago who specializes in media matters relating to the Middle East, said complaints about the scarf’s use in the ad demonstrate misunderstandings of Arab culture and the multiple meanings that symbols can take on depending on someone’s perspective.
“I think that a right-wing blogger making an association between a kaffiyeh and terrorism is just an example of how so much of the complexity of Arab culture has been reduced to a very narrow vision of the Arab world on the part of some people in the U.S.,” Bishara said in a phone interview. “Kaffiyehs are worn every day on the street by Palestinians and other people in the Middle East – by people going to work, going to school, taking care of their families, and just trying to keep warm.”
While some extremists and terrorists may wear kaffiyehs, “To reduce their meaning to support for terrorism has a tacit racist tone to it,” Bishara said.
It didn’t matter. Malkin wins. You remember her book, In Defense of Internment – we should put all Muslims in remote concentration camps, just as we did with the Japanese Americans in WWII.
See Mike Nizza in his New York Times blog, with Doughnuts: The Third Rail of American Politics? His point – “Alas, the two sides in this debate seemed unlikely to find common ground. The right is outraged, the left is dumbfounded.”
And Olbermann just went off:
They pulled the ad? Because of the possibility of misperception? By the right-wing equivalents of jihadists – the people in this country who most closely share the mentalities of the terrorists. Who act the most like Middle Eastern nutjobs. Who rail against diversity, try to murder dissent, and care more about flags than about people. You know, the Michelle Malkins of the world…
How about the rest of us boycott Dunkin’ Donuts, for giving in to fascists like Michelle Malkin? And for giving weight to perhaps the most absurd idea the lunatic fringers have ever belched forth: that there are terrorist scarves! Terrorist scarves!
See Donald Douglas at American Power with Keith Olbermann: Off the Deep End of Moral Relativism – Malkin was right!
We do need some real news. People have too much time on their hands.