Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Old Breed. The New Breed.

Scott Thomas Beauchamp is an aspiring writer, serving in the infantry in Iraq, writing in diary form about observing and participating in cruel behavior during his active service. His pseudonymous work was polished and published by The New Republic, igniting a shit-storm in the right blogosphere, who cast doubt on his story and his very existence. When Beauchamp publicly identified himself, the narrative changed to questioning motivation and attacking him personally. He is now being investigated, his e-mail privileges suspended, his Sargeant labels his stories "fairy tales" and says Beauchamp has underlying issues. Currently favored left wing meme summarized by Digby and right wing meme summarized in these panels of DaybyDay:

Rick Moran thinks that both the right and left are missing the point and asks "Is there a larger truth about the war to be found in the writings of people like Yon, Totten, and even Beauchamp?" - meaning street-level, grunt-level reporting not often attempted by MSM. I think Moran has a point, and it is also useful putting Beauchamp's stories in an historical context. Lets look at one Beauchamp excerpt describing what is arguably the least disturbing of three incidents in Private Beauchamp's most recent effort - Shock Troops:
"We spent a few weeks constructing a combat outpost, and, in the process, we did a lot of digging... We found pieces of hands and fingers. We found skull fragments... One private, infamous as a joker and troublemaker, found the top part of a human skull, which was almost perfectly preserved. It even had chunks of hair, which were stiff and matted down with dirt. He squealed as he placed it on his head like a crown. It was a perfect fit. As he marched around with the skull on his head, people dropped shovels and sandbags, folding in half with laughter. No one thought to tell him to stop. No one was disgusted. Me included."
Cassandra of Villainous Company, writer, blogger, relentless advocate for the Iraq mission and those serving in the military (particularly Marines) raised some thoughtful questions about Private Beauchamp (excerpt below) before joining the lynch mob with her more recent posts.
"Desecration of a mass grave is a serious matter. What was his motivation in writing about it? Certainly this is not behavior sanctioned by the U.S. Army. The right course of action for anyone witnessing such a heinous act would be, if indeed it really happened, to report the perpetrators to the command. Someone who would desecrate the grave of a child, who would place a piece of a child's skull under their helmet and wear it for hours, is someone in need of psychological help. Did Private Beauchamp have no concern for this person's mental health, if not for the welfare of any innocent Iraqis who might be harmed by someone for whom the lines between right and wrong had so clearly been badly blurred? Assuming this account is true, (and considering so far no record of a mass grave has been unearthed in the vicinity of FOB Falcon, this requires a leap of faith) a crime was committed. His obligation was to report it. It is, possibly, understandable that loyalty might have prevented a young man from turning in his comrade, though this doesn't excuse him doing the wrong thing... This whole episode smacks of expediency, of an editor who believed a story because it aligned with what he wanted to believe and of a young man who, for whatever reason, wanted the freedom to say ugly things without the responsibility of backing them up. To this day, he is still ducking that responsibility, as are the editors of The New Republic. But the damage has been done. The grisly images of a soldier dancing insanely with the bits of a child's skull under his helmet, of a Bradley driver swerving to run over helpless dogs, of cruel soldiers mocking a scarred and crying woman, are seared... seared into our national consciousness."
There is much to ponder here. The question of recognizing right and wrong in extreme conditions in a war zone. The question of responsibility for action taken or not taken in the face of such recognition, made more difficult when the offenders are your comrades in arms, or even yourself. The question of a soldiers motivated to write truly what he sees and feels in a war. The question of whether ugly things should be written and published, in a time of war, even if true.

I'll return later to the bigger question and take a stab at the last question, first. Cassandra concludes that Beauchamp's motivations are suspect, that he should not have written what he saw (if true), but should have reported his comrade in arms, and in all cases TNR should not have published what he wrote. She apparently believes that the American public should be sheltered from the "searing images" of macabre and cruel behavior.

As serendipity would have it, I am reading With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E.B. Sledge - a memoir of a WWII marine private, recounting his first hand experience in the Pacific theater. The introduction by Colonel Joseph Alexander, USMC (Ret.) outlines the provenance of the memoir:
"He had maintained a series of surreptitious notes (personal diaries by front-line troops being strictly forbidden) in his New Testament throughout his oversea deployment. Immediately after both battles he collated the notes into a running narrative while the memories were still vivid.... Presidio Press published the first edition in 1981 ... Curiously, "With the Old Breed" did not receive universal acclaim from within Sledge's own extended family, the Marines. Some postwar officers, sensitive to the institution's public image, winced as Sledge recounted blunders, foibles, brutality, hatred and "friendly fire"... As a consequence some senior Marines regarded "With The Old Breed" to be more a liability than an asset when it first appeared. Fortunately, wiser heads have since prevailed... For all the books shocks and horrors, there is hardly a more profound paean to the abiding spirit of the United States Marine Corps than With the Old Breed. Today, in several Military schools, (including those of the U.S. Army) Sledge's book has become required reading for aspiring junior officers."
Two soldiers. Two privates. Two diarists. Two wars. Two generations. Brokaw's Greatest Generation and Malkin's 9/11 Generation (which - whether she likes it or not, includes Private Beauchamp) Today's exercise - compare and contrast. We've seen a gruesome example from Beauchamp, now a few examples from Sledge:
"At first glance the dead gunner appeared about to fire his deadly weapon. He still sat bolt upright in the proper firing position behind the breech of the machine gun... The crown of the gunner's skull had been blasted off, probably by one of our automatic weapons. His riddled steel helmet lay on the deck like a punctured tin can... As we talked, I noticed a fellow mortarman sitting next to me. He held a handful of coral pebbles in his left hand. With his right hand he idly tossed them into the open skull of the Japanese machine gunner. Each time his pitch was true I head a little splash of rainwater in the ghastly receptacle. My buddy tossed the coral chunks as casually as a boy casting pebbles into a puddle on a muddy road back home; there was nothing malicious in his action. The war had so brutalized us that it was beyond belief."

"During this lull the men stripped the packs and pockets of the enemy dead for souvenirs. This was a gruesome business, but Marines executed it in a most methodical manner. Helmet headbands were checked for flags, packs and pockets were emptied, and gold teeth were extracted. Sabers, pistols, and hari-kari knives were highly prized..."

"The men gloated over, compared, and often swapped their prizes. It was a brutal, ghastly ritual the like of which have occurred since ancient times on battlefields where the antagonists have possessed a profound mutual hatred. It was uncivilized, as is all war, and was carried out with that particular savagery that characterized the struggle between the Marines and the Japanese. It wasn't simply souvenir hunting or looting the enemy dead; it was more like Indian warriors taking scalps. While I was removing a bayonet and scabbard from a dead Japanese, I noticed a Marine near me. He wasn't in our mortar section but had happened by and wanted to get in on the spoils. He came up to me dragging what I assumed to be a corpse. But the Japanese wasn't dead. He had been wounded severely in the back and couldn't move his arms; otherwise he would have resisted to his last breath. The Japanese's mouth glowed with huge gold-crowned teeth, and his captor wanted them. He put the point of his kabar on the base of a tooth and hit the handle with the palm of his hand. Because the Japanese was kicking his feet and thrashing about, the knife point glanced off the tooth and and sank deeply into the victims mouth. The Marine cursed him and with a slash cut his cheek open to each ear. He put his foot on the sufferer's lower jaw and tried again. Blood poured out of the soldiers mouth. He made a gurgling noise and thrashed wildly. I shouted, "Put the man out of his misery." All I got for an answer was a cussing out. Another Marine ran up, put a bullet in the enemy soldiers brain and ended his agony. The scavenger grumbled and continued extracting his prizes undisturbed.

Such was the incredible cruelty that decent men could commit when reduced to a brutish existence in their fight for survival amid the violent death, terror, tension, fatigue and filth that was the infantryman's war. Our code of conduct toward the enemy differed dramatically from that prevailing back at the division CP."
More parallel entries in the war diaries before we look for contrast.

Beauchamp (from the statement provided to TNR editors):
" I am Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp, a member of Alpha Company, 1/18 Infantry, Second Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division. My pieces were always intended to provide my discrete view of the war; they were never intended as a reflection of the entire U.S. Military. I wanted Americans to have one soldier's view of events in Iraq. "
Sledge (From the Preface):
"This book is an account of my World War II experience in training and in combat with company K, 3d Battalian, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division during the Peleliu and Okinawa campaigns. It is not history, and it is not my story alone. I have attempted rather to be the spokesman for my comrades , who were swept with me into the abyss of war. "
"It's been maddening, to say the least, to see the plausibility of events that I witnessed questioned by people who have never served in Iraq. I was initially reluctant to take the time out of my already insane schedule fighting an actual war in order to play some role in an ideological battle that I never wanted to join. That being said, my character, my experiences, and those of my comrades in arms have been called into question, and I believe that it is important to stand by my writing under my real name."
"To the noncombatants and those on the periphery of action, the war meant only boredom or occasional excitement; but to those who entered the meat grinder itself, the war was a nether world of horror from which escape seemed less and less likely as casualties mounted and the fighting dragged on and on. Time had no meaning; life had no meaning. The fierce struggle for survival in the abyss of Peleliu eroded the veneer of civilization and made savages of us all. We existed in an environment totally incomprehensible to men behind the lines - service troops and civilians. "
Deep breath. Are these experiences really comparable? Is it right to compare the two? Is this just a long way to go to simply state the obvious about the nature of war and what it does to the rough men who fight those wars in our name? Or is it enough to simply say, as does Megan McArdle at Jane Galt:
"Undoubtedly, American soldiers are doing things that are either immoral, or disgusting, or both, because that's what happens when you give people guns and tanks and power, and the UCMJ can only reel that sort of thing in so far. American soldiers in World War II used to boil Japanese skulls and send them to their girlfiends, and yes, we were still the good guys in that one. War is hell, she said with unabashed clicheness."
There is indeed something more to learn here, but it is not to be found in the similarities between the Beauchamp and Sledge diaries, rather it is found in the differences. Here are a few:
  • As bad as things may seem to Beauchamp in Iraq, it is not even vaguely comparable to what Sledge and his fellow marines experienced at Peleliu and Okinawa - where an average of 3,000 lives a day were lost for the 12 weeks of the campaign.
  • Sledge and Beauchamp write unflinchingly of the horrors they see. But Sledge published his memoir 35 years after the war when it was unusable as propaganda by a defeated enemy. Beauchamp is publishing while he is still engaged in the mission. Perhps due to a different era with different technology, different media, and perhaps due to - different motivation.
  • Sledge is unflinching in describing the horror and the wasted lives, and does not hesitate to expose the bureaucratic and military bungling he experienced first hand, and the terrible cost of that bungling. But he also writes of heroism and triumph and of his pride of service, his pride in the corp, and his bond with his fellow warriors. Reading Beauchamp's three columns, I don't find anything resembling the same pride and esprit de corp in his work, which are unrelentingly cynical. That may be reflection of his attitude, or it may be a reflection of his writing style, or it may be a reflection of his editor and publishers politics. Without more from Beauchamp we cannot know.
There is another difference revealed when Sledge and Beauchamp are confronted with a choice between right and wrong, in a time and place that make it difficult to choose between the two.

"I was thinking of getting some girls together and doing a photo shoot. Maybe for a calendar? IED Babes.' We could have them pose in thongs and bikinis on top of the hoods of their blown-up vehicles." My friend was practically falling out of his chair laughing. The disfigured woman slammed her cup down and ran out of the chow hall, her half-finished tray of food nearly falling to the ground. Am I a monster? I have never thought of myself as a cruel person. Indeed, I have always had compassion for those with disabilities. I once worked at a summer camp for developmentally disabled children, and, in college, I devoted hours every week to helping a student with cerebral palsy perform basic tasks like typing, eating, and going to the bathroom. Even as I was reveling in the laughter my words had provoked, I was simultaneously horrified and ashamed at what I had just said. In a strange way, though, I found the shame comforting. I was relieved to still be shocked by my own cruelty--to still be able to recognize that the things we soldiers found funny were not, in fact, funny."
"I noticed gold teeth glistening brightly between the lips of several of the dead Japanese lying around us. Harvesting gold teeth was one facet of stripping enemy dead that I hadn't practiced so far. But stopping beside a corpse with a particularly tempting number of shining crowns, I took out my kabar and bent over to make the extractions. A hand grabbed me by the shoulder, and I straightened up to see who it was. "What are you gonna do, Sledghammer?" asked Doc Caswell. His expression was a mix of sadness and reproach as he looked intently at me. "Just thought I'd collect some gold teeth," I replied.
"Don't do it."
"Why not, Doc?"
"You don't want to do that sort of thing, what would our folks think if they knew?... the germs Sledghammer! You might get germs from them!" Reflecting on the episode after the war, I realized that Doc Caswell didn't really have germs in mind. He was a good friend, a fine genuine person whose sensitivity hadn't been crushed out by the war. He was merely helping me retain some of mine and not become completely callous and harsh."
Two soldiers under combat stress, trying to understand the distinction between right and wrong. One takes a wrong path, but takes comfort in the fact that he understands it is a wrong path. The other, with the help of a friend, takes the right path, but does not really understand it until years after the war.

Then there is my Uncle Ben. The reason I am reading E.B. Sledges book is because of my uncle. Uncle Ben served in the Navy as an anti-aircraft gunner on a landing craft at Okinawa, during the invasion that E.B Sledge recounts. My sister is an amateur genealogist and family historian. She records family history interviews on tape, transcribes then, then I help her post the stories to a family website. This is from a transcript of Uncle Ben recalling Okinawa:
"You see we dressed like Marines. We didn’t dress like sailors on Okinawa . We had Marine shoes, brown shirt and all that stuff. This guy and me we started together the two of us. We started with two hundred guys and I only wound up with one guy from Illinois. He was from Southern Illinois and he talked like a hillbilly. I said to him “you’re from Illinois”? He said “yeah”. He was from the southern end where they have the oil fields, he worked in the oil fields. I couldn’t get over the way he talked and he was from Illinois. So he says to me one day “What do you say we go look for some souvenirs”? I said “Lets go”.... He looks like the all American kid, blonde hair, blue eyes, he talked funny you know. So he sees this dead Jap and he picks up his rifle and goes like this ( lifting rifle like a hammer) I said “What are you doing”? He says “he’s got some gold teeth I’m gonna get em”. I said “Like hell your gonna get em”. I says ”You go to hit him, I’m gonna shoot you”. “You’d shoot me”? I said “You're god damn right I will. Your gonna take gold teeth from a dead man?!” He says “O.K. I wont do it.” He said to me “Would you have shot me?” I said “ Your god damn right I’d have shot you”! I couldn’t believe he could do a thing like that! For a gold tooth he was going to bust him…would you believe that? I still can't get over it when I think of this guy!"
So there is a lesson to be learned. It is certainly understandable and even expected that soldiers will become coarsened and inured to cruelty and horror in war. But even in the most extreme combat conditions, it does not mean that they must lose their humanity. Sledge did not. Uncle Ben did not. Beauchamp? I'm not sure.

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Clinton cleavage captures attention of 25,000th visitor

SiteMeter informs us that we hosted our 25,000th visitor yesterday. Almost missed it - but we were able to track down the visitor before he/she disappeared over the 100 visitor horizon we are limited to with the free sitemeter:

Our 25,000th visitor found us by way of Jon Swift's fine post Hillary Clinton's Cleavage Emboldens Our Enemies. I posted a comment linking back to my not unrelated essay - Sizing, Dividing, & Balancing Government - An Illustrated Primer. This being one of the illustrations from that post:

So what do we know about our 25,00oth visitor? He/she has a Firefox browser on a Windows XP computer with a high resolution screen, subscribes to Comcast cable, is interested in politics, enjoys satire, is attracted to women's breasts, and according to the sitemeter latitude/longitude, is standing in this field next to a pond near Round Lake, Illinois.

Maybe he was fishing for catfish while browsing for breasts. I don't know what he was doing. I do know that 25,000 visitors in 16 months is a very small fish in a big blogospheric lake, but nevertheless noteworthy. We last took note of a milestone with our 10,000th visitor in January after nine months of operation. Seven months later we are up to 25,000. Maybe we can get to 50,000 by the end of the year. Maybe not. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: 07/27/2007
BREAKING: We have not yet received a letter from the Clinton campaign demanding an immediate retraction of this blog post. However, given the objections to the Washington Post fashion article expressed in Clinton campagin advisor Ann Lewis' fund raising letter, we expect to be hearing from them soon. It is probably just lost in the mail. We will inform the DWSUWF readers immediately upon receipt.

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Live Blogging the Live Bloggers - Democratic Party "YouTube" Debate

UPDATED: 07-25-07
I missed the last two talkfests, but with the Democratic presidential candidates taking the stage again tonight for a debate hosted by CNN/YouTube and moderated by Anderson Cooper - we are on the case. I'll start with the question I have asked before:
"There are plenty of bloggers covering the debate live tonight, but is anyone covering the live bloggers? DWSUWF rushes in where other, more sensible bloggers, fear to tread. "
As before, we'll include Daily Kos, Heading Right, Wonkette, for a "left", "right" and "whatever" perspective and will add the Reason Hit and Run Blog for a libertarian point of view. I'll also add a moderate blog if I can find one blogging live between now and 7:00 PM EDT. If any are not live blogging, we'll be scrambling for a substitute.

It'll take a few minutes to ramp up, but the beer has been poured and here we go - keep refreshing your browser for latest updates ...
Wonkette: "Do you have CNN-YouTube fever? Neither do we. Also, it’s 4 p.m. in the West Coast office and we are, sadly, totally sober. We are opening a bottle right now."
Daily Kos: "The CNN pre-debate panel: a Republican strategist (Ed Rollins), a conservative columnist from the NY Daily News (Michael Goodwin), and a Hillary strategist. And Lou Dobbs. Ugh."
Andrew Sullivan: "I'm watching. I can't say I see anything that interesting thus far. Except Clinton's disavowal of the word "liberal" and Gravel's loopy aggression. Stay tuned for more reax. But I can't be the only one feeling debate fatigue."
Reason - David Weigel: "I've got my Coke, my sushi and my viking helmet. Let's go. You know what pre-canned YouTubes can't do? Ask follow-up questions. I'm pessimistic."
2008Central: "Introductory Youtube remarks from some guy with a soul patch who looks like he’s in an emo band in his spare time starts the debate off. Cooper introduces the debate and talks up the quality of the questions. … And they promptly start with a laugh track of silly ones. Way to build credibility."
DWSUWF: No action at Heading Right, substituting The Conservative Soul- Andrew Sullivan.


Wonkette: "Everybody loves Chuck Hagel. Maybe he should be a president?"
Daily Kos Commenters: King One Eye, dougymi & ptmfbcs: "Chuck Hagel! As Biden's VP? And Edwards?(Who I've been leaning toward) That's disgraceful!" "hagel? well, forget biden for sure. Edwards has some questions to answer on that one too. hagel is a wingnut who's against the war.", "I still liked it...if only because it just killed Hagel among Republicans. Well, if he wasn't already dead to them?"
Reason - David Weigel: "Chuck Hagel shoots his TV."
2008Central: "What Republican would you choose for a running mate? Biden says Hagel, the perfect and only choice really. Biden also touts his crime bill. Edwards quickly says Hagel, and talks about instituting “real change” with someone who has been there."
DWSUWF: Now that is interesting- Democrats are afraid of Hagel, Republicans won't nominate him. Sad.

Wonkette: " No, you lesbians can’t have marriage... Unless Dennis the Kucinich is president!... Welcome to America, lesbians!... Chris Dodd’s daughters … are they lesbians?
... John Edwards still creeped out by the gays, while his wife is still a fag hag."
Daily Kos Commenters: Rjones 2818 & Escapee: "Gay Marriage. Kucinich: Yes - If the Constitution means what it says than Gays, etc. have the right to marry. Goodbye, Dodd - Marriage or nothin'"
Andrew Sullivan: "They still won't actually answer the simple question: Why do you oppose equal marriage rights? ... They still smell of fear. As long as candidates are too afraid to stand up for what they believe, why should anyone support them? We're not electing a focus-group or a consultant. We're supposed to be electing a president."
Reason - David Weigel: "Kucinich and Dodd would let gays marry. They'll also legalize unicorns. Neither of them will win, everybody. - Richardson for everything but the word "marriage."
2008Central: "Edwards is asked about religious justifications for slavery, discrimination, and against gay marriage. Explains that he personally does not believe in gay marriage, but does believe in full rights, and would not use religious beliefs to directly determine policy, contrasting his position with that of his wife. The Rev. who asked the question stands up in the audience and says Edwards did not broaden the question as he intended (no, he actually just answered the question… :roll eyes:) Edwards speaks again and goes over the same ground."

Wonkette: "Democrats won in November, yet they’ve curiously done nothing about Iraq. Why such pussies? (Note: That was the only coherent/worthwhile question so far.) ... Biden’s “YouTube-style video” is just a crappy teevee commercial. He should’ve done one with the Mentos and Pepsi. - Okay, I just texted for peace. Do we have peace yet? Also, is Kucinich making money off this scam?"
Daily Kos Commenters: Lisa & MoronMike: ""Surpising -I find myself impressed by Biden." "He never fails to impress me when he gets on a roll. The man has knowledge and passion." "Iraq is Biden's high fastball""
Andrew Sullivan: "For the record: the lamest phrases yet are Obama's "diplomatic surge" and Dodd's "aggressive diplomacy." Only Biden seems like a grown-up. The rest are soundbiting."
Reason - David Weigel: "Richardson gives the only coherent answer on Iraq. The Murtha position, basically: We can pull troops out and not worry about inflaming a civil war because troop presence is metastizing the fighting. No one noticed, but he's been creeping up in the polls -- ahead of Edwards in one -Biden and Clinton call the rest of the Democrats liars."
2008Central: "Dodd says he would advocate a safe withdrawal if nothing happened before then. Dodd cites his family members who have served. Richardson says there is a civil war, and the time to get out is immediately. Biden says the truth is that troops need protection and civilians there need protection. Biden says 70% of deaths in Iraq are from IEDs and can be prevented with mine resistant vehicles and he is proud to have voted for them."
DWSUWF: Biden is my top ranked Dem for a reason.


Wonkette: "Ha ha, “Mitt Romney Money” is a sorta funny insult. — Oh shit, Biden’s got less money than I do. Does that include his house? Surely he owns a couple of houses."
Daily Kos Commenters: Albatros, Rjones & KimD: "Richardson - bipartisan fix; major prevention focus for diabetes, no raids or privatization of SS, safety net of the country no politicization of the issues - Universal pension, early health issues, etc. - Richardson getting better (more relaxed) Richardson says anything Most of the time it has nothing to do with the question he's asked."
Andrew Sullivan: "Raise Taxes or Cut Benefits? A simple, vital question. No one answers. A polity that cannot address its own fiscal viability is a polity that needs to be rebooted."
Reason - David Weigel: "More and bigger entitlements! Maybe if we keep increasing the minimum wage we can take larger deductions from those checks and pay for all of this. 8:45: One of Howard Stern's sidekicks asks if his taxes will go up. "No," says Dennis Kucinich. "We will destroy the economy. "
2008Central: "Richardson says that bipartisan solutions are key, and that he’d do things like instituting a national 401K. Biden says tax cuts on the top 1% are un-needed. Will Democrats raise taxes? Kucinich says no, that he would end war and NAFTA and get better return on their taxes."
DWSUWF: Either/Or question gets Neither/Whatever answer.


Wonkette: "Hillary Care! It’s back! It’s better! But Hillary cares. — What you learned, Hillary, is that it doesn’t matter what you want and what every other developed country has, because this country is owned by the health insurance & pharmaceutical corporations." - "Finally, a candidate puts down the stupid YouTube morons! The video cretin is caressing his machine gun and calling it “my baby,” and Biden responds by calling him a mental case. Outstanding! And then says the guy shouldn’t have a gun at all, and is a dangerous lunatic. Ha ha."
Daily Kos Commenters: LithiumCola: "Universal Coverage - Edwards: Obama doesn't cover everyone. I do. You have to mandate coverage to cover everyone. I went on a 3 day poverty tour. Last day I was in Appalachia. Met a guy who couldn't talk for 50 years because of a cleft palate. In the richest country on Earth. Clinton: The fact that this is happening in a country is a disgrace. Yes, I did try in 93, and I have the scars to prove it. Care is a universal value. Decency and respect. (Didn't answer the question). Not everyone has answered yet but they move on to another question. Dodd rightly gets outraged that they switched questions on him. I hope they revolt soon en masse. Dodd in favor of Stem Cell research. Programs for obesity reduction. Richardson: covers undocumented workers."
Daily Kos Commenters: Pmob & WMTrialLawyer: "what a fucking nut. - the guy with the automatic gun, I mean." "Oh. My. God. - Clio, Michigan. Couldn't get a better stereotype for the Michigan Militia and assault weapons than that guy right there. I grew up in Mid-Michigan. I know of where I speak. I moved for a good reason, I tell ya."
Andrew Sullivan: "Hillary Wins Again - She's so much better a debater and performer than she used to be. You know how much I hate to say this: but she destroyed the opposition tonight: out-classing it, out-debating it, and avoiding the usual pitfalls. I wish it weren't so, but it's what I saw. If she keeps this up, it's hers."
Reason - David Weigel: " Edwards met a guy who got his cleft palate fixed when he was 50. Lucky for him he could kick! And jump. Aaaaand kick!" - "Bill Richardson and Joe Biden make a bold stand against crazy people. I'm the guy who originally wrote the assault weapons ban," Biden says." - "People with guns are crazy! Who knew?"
2008Central: "Gun question about gun control. Richardson says instant background checks are the key. Also talks about poverty in the ghetto to prevent gun violence. Biden says “he needs help” if someone believes having an assault weapon is crucial."
DWSUWF: You know - somebody at CNN had to pick that guy to represent gun owners. Sometimes I am sympathetic to the view of Right about Maintream Media. I hope they pick some tree-spiking, tire slashing, Eco-Terrorist to ask the Republicans a question about Global Warming.



Wonkette: "Please Kill Us: YouTubers Are Idiots" - "Wonkette likes Anderson Cooper’s shoes. Ha ha, Wonkette likes nothing. Good night!"
Daily Kos - KOS his own self: "I actually thought the debate was pretty cool. Drudge had a derisive headline earlier today that said something like, "Is this a way to choose a president?" For my part, I give an emphatic "yes"! Anything that makes politics fun is a good thing. And, for example, the Gore question from Tennessee and the Snowman and his snowchild were fun. This was a positive, and I hope to see more of it become culturally acceptable in the presidential process."
Andrew Sullivan: "I'd say it was a big success as a concept, although I wouldn't be as excitable as JPod. If you're sick of people like me on television, or worse, then the direct questions from regular voters and non-voters must have been a breath of extremely fresh air (there's another asthmatic metaphor). I was fearing it would be lame. It wasn't. Anderson was calm and appropriately tough (and, yes, I'm a friend but I'd say if he sucked as well). His affect was particularly well-suited to the new YouTube format"
Reason - David Weigel: "The YouTube thing... worked. It was cloying and the campaign videos should have been cut, but it mostly worked. No moderator would have tossed out an athiesm question, although in the future it'd be nice to have a non-blowhard ask that question."
2008Central: "Hilarious ending."
DWSUWF: DWSUWF regrets not making his own YouTube video. We've got till September. Initial reaction is that Biden was best and Richardson redeemed himself from earlier shitty performances. As is the custom - I'll sleep on it and update this with final reactions during the morning hangover. I really really need to plan this better next time to make sure I have full spectrum of live bloggers.


UPDATE: 07-23
I just retrofit's live blog as a replacement for MIA Moderate Voice.

UPDATE: 07-25 - better late than never.

Concluding Thoughts

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

Monday Miscellany

Democratic Debate
First up. DWSUWF will once again attempt to Live Blog the Live Bloggers for the CNN/ YouTube Democratic Debate at 4:00 PDT today. Check back and see if I can get my act together between now and then. CNN has been asking people to submit YouTube questions for the debate. A random question (#999) submitted by one of your fellow citizens:

While you are waiting, you may want to check out these recent fine collections of high quality blogging punditry:
The next edition will be the Carnival of Divided Government Quîntus Decimus - Special Dog Days of Summer Edition, to be posted August 1st, 2007. Blog articles may be submitted for the carnival of divided government using the carnival submission form.

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Fixing Fairness - A modest technology solution.

“It’s time to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine - I have this old-fashioned attitude that when Americans hear both sides of the story, they’re in a better position to make a decision.”
- Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) - The Hill

It is just fair. A simple concept. It is hard to believe that anyone would oppose simple fairness. Yet they do. There are politicians against fairness, like Senator Norm Coleman (R-Minn) who sponsored anti-fairness legislation saying:
"We live in an age of satellite radio, of broadband, of blogs, of Internet, of cable TV, of broadcast TV. There is no limitation on the ability of anyone from any political persuasion to get their ideas set forth," Mr. Coleman argued in support of the Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2007. "The public in the end will choose what to listen to."
This was fortunately stopped by fair-minded Democrats, much to the chagrin of bloggers against fairness, like Ed Morrissey of Captain's Quarters:
"Instead of going through that burdensome and expensive accounting, broadcasters will dump political talk for sports, or perhaps the inane "community" talk that almost always turns covertly political. The AM band will fade -- again -- and the broadcast industry will contract -- again. And all because the Democrats believe that Americans are so stupid that they can't find competing information on their own."
There are even meddling foreign mainstream media outlets like The Economist who oppose fairness in America:
"Nobody thinks that readers of the Nation should be forced to read the National Review as well. Whatever its problems, America does not suffer from a shortage of opinion or debate. The magazine racks of bookstores groan with political magazines. The radio waves buzz with comment from the left-wing Pacifica Radio to the far-right nutcases. Every man and his dog has a blog. The idea that the government should be hauled in to regulate a fraction of this exploding universe is absurd."
Obviously, we can summarily dismiss the views of anyone opposed to old-fashioned American values like fairness. I bring this to your attention, because, as obviously wrong headed as this anti-fairness coalition may be, they do make a point that we - the common sense Americans who believe in fairness - should carefully consider. Certainly there is a fairness problem with broadcasters, but if we look at this problem objectively, we see it cannot be solved by dealing with the broadcasters alone. The bigger problem resides in the listeners, watchers, and readers, who are so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of opinion and debate available in all kinds of media, that they fail to ingest a fair and balanced diet of divergent opinion. No worries. Information technology created this problem, information technology can solve it. DWSUWF presents the right technology solution for all fair-minded Americans.

Yes - exciting news - DWSUWF is branching out! We are announcing right here and right now the development of three new products that will (just like the wildly successful V-chip) soon be integrated into your life. And it will happen just as soon as our many bipartisan campaign contribution checks clear the bank. Without further ado:

From the DWSUWF Semiconductor division - announcing the FairChip
Under pending legislation, the FairChip will be required to be installed in every new radio, satellite receiver, television, cablebox, DVR, and VCR sold in America. As part of the same legislation, the FCC will be replaced by the Department of Fairness, which will rate every cable, broadcast, and satellite show on a patriotic red and blue partisan scale from 0-10. There will be no restrictions and no limitations on what you as a free American can watch or listen. But, as a fair American, your FairChip installed device will help you maintain the fair viewing and listening habits we all want. The FairMeter on the front of each device displays the red/blue balance of broadcasts viewed on that device. If your viewing habits create unbalanced viewing, for example by watching or listening to too much Red/Republican programming, the FairChip will only permit comparably rated Blue/Democratic programming to play on the device until your viewing is once again in balance. As fair as fair can be. Look for our ads and tag line: "Watch whatever you want, but watch Fairly!" That is what fair Americans do.
From the DWSUWF Software division - announcing FairBuy software
The problem of unfairly balanced consumption goes beyond broadcast media. Don't forget, there are a lot of partisan books and magazines out there. With the FairBuy software module installed in every internet retailer checkout page and every bookstore cash register in America, the problem is solved. How does it work? If you have ever bought a book on Amazon, you know. You've seen Amazon software suggest other books to buy, often offering a better price if you buy two. DWSUWF Software engineers have reverse engineered that software to require the purchase of of an equal and opposite partisan book or magazine with every purchase. The FairBuysoftware also offers free shipping and bigger discounts with each purchase, so Americans can save money while staying in partisan balance.
As exciting as these products are, we have even better things in store for the future:

From the DWSUWF BioTech division a pre-release announcement of FairThink ocular/cochlear integrated implants.
FairThink implants solve the thorny problem of mis-matched media imbalance. What if there is no right wing director with the movie making skills of a Michael Moore? Or no left wing radio personalities with the aural persuasive power of Rush Limbaugh? With FairThink implants it will be no problem! Watch a great Michael Moore movie, and stay in balance listening to two scintillating hours of Rush Limbaugh! Your FairThink implants will track your personally balanced viewing habits, regardless of the device or media.

Pictured here is a test of FairThink technology using an early prototype of the product (Full Discolsure: These images resulted from a product placement deal DWSUWF cut with Stanley Kubrick in the film A Clockwork Orange). In the top picture on this post, a left wing beta tester was watching Michael Moore's Sicko, and in the bottom picture he is watching back to back episodes of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. Nanotechnology and computing advances have improved the technology since the prototype appeared in the movie. The new FairThink implants will be discreetly installed subcutaneously with minimal, almost unnoticeable scarring.

What a convenience! No need to worry about keeping each individual device in balance, your FairThink implants track and balance it all. The FairThink implants communicate with all FairChip enabled devices through the FairTooth proprietary network. All part of the FairLife balanced life you know you want to live, because that is what fair Americans do.

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Curing libertarian political impotence - a prescription for Electile Dysfunction

Brink Lindsey (not pictured above) of the Cato Institute kicked off this month's Cato Unbound series with an essay seeking to locate and describe The Libertarian Center in the American political landscape. He weaves two themes into the essay, the first positing the existence of this libertarian political center, while making the case that it is growing as a natural outcome of American economic abundance:
"American society has become more libertarian because, more than any other country on the planet, it has successfully adapted to the novel conditions of economic abundance. And because of the way this adaptation took place, a broadly defined libertarianism now occupies the center of the American political spectrum."
This theme is explored more broadly in Lindsey's recent book The Age of Abundance (a book I have yet to read, but have queued up for my next Amazon order) and inspired the masthead and headline for the monthly Cato Unbound theme. Others around the blogosphere are debating the merits of his basic thesis, including Atlantician Matthew Yglesias , Michael van der Galiën and Angry Blogger Brian Moore. I am more interested in exploring a secondary theme in Lindsey's essay, libertarian political impotence and what to do about it.

While making the case for the libertarian center, Lindsey does a credible contortionist impression, bending over backwards to make absolutely certain no one would mistake his thesis for the belief that libertarians have or are about to exercise any meaningful political power. It starts with his very first paragraph...
"There is no organized libertarian movement of any significance in American politics. To be sure, libertarian academics and intellectuals occupy some prominent positions and exert real influence on the public debate. But they do not speak on behalf of any politically mobilized mass constituency. Only about 2 percent of Americans describe themselves as libertarian, according to a 2000 Rasmussen poll. And the Libertarian Party is a fringe operation that, at best, occasionally plays the spoiler...."
...continues in the middle, with a twisting, gravity defying move where he pulls his own legs out from under his own argument...
"There are some obvious objections to the idea of a libertarian center. First, as I stated at the outset, there is no libertarian political movement to speak of. Accordingly, there is no organized libertarian-leaning constituency that could ally with either conservatives or liberals to alter the balance of power. Rather, at best libertarianism exists as a diffuse, inchoate set of impulses that operate, not as an independent force, but as tendencies within the left and right and a check on how far each can stray in illiberal directions."
... and finishes with this definitive rubber-spine capitulation:
"I hope that nothing in this essay has conveyed even a hint of libertarian triumphalism. That would be just plain silly, as even the rosiest of tinted glasses cannot hide Leviathan’s many and egregious blunders and injustices. And in all too many cases, the foreseeable prospects for remedying those blunders and injustices are dim to nonexistent."
I'll come back to what we can do now to begin cutting Leviathan down to size. But first I have a quibble about his notion of a Libertarian center:
" ...conflict is still with us today, in the form of the polarized politics of Red America vs. Blue America. The good news, though, is that this polarization mostly concerns minorities of true believers and their media talking heads rather the bulk of ordinary Americans. Most Americans, it turns out, have moved on since the ’60s toward a common ground whose coloration is not recognizably red or blue – call it a purplish, libertarianish centrism."
Fine and good, but the problem occurs when we try to quantify these purplish, libertarianish centrishts as a predictable voting block. Shortly before the mid-terms, the Cato Institute published a prescient policy analysis by David Boaz and Divid Kirby that documents the existence of a libertarian swing vote, predicted the outcome of the midterms based on trends in that block, and (as long as we are little fuzzy about the definition of these "libertarianish voters") quantifies the potential size of the libertarianish block as 9-13% of the vote.

Ignoring the actual size of the libertarianish center, lets just stipulate Lindsey's whole argument and agree that it exists. A number of questions are left begging: If there is a vibrant growing "libertarian center", why does it not translate into a recognizable, self-aware political constituency? Why do libertarian ideas "exert real influence on the public debate" but remain "a diffuse, inchoate set of impulses" with "no libertarian political movement to speak of"?

Lets get back to basics. Libertarian ideas have intellectual power. But simply sharing common ideas and values (good or bad) while a necessary condition, is not sufficient for a constituency to wield political power. Political power is never granted to a constituency just because they have good ideas. Political power is earned when a constituency can be shown to vote in a predictable way.

Predictable voting blocks can organize themselves around a party, a personality, or a specific issue. The operative word is organize. As Lindsey points out, the Libertarian Party has failed as a vehicle to organize the libertarian center into a meaningful voting block and is, as a result, relegated to a "fringe operation." Constituencies can also organize around personalities (Wallace, Perot, Nader and these "cults of personality" can indeed secure some political clout, even if it is temporally limited until such time a major party sufficiently panders and co-opts their base. The best that libertarians have been able to muster as an organizing "cult of personality" is Ron Paul, which um... seems a bit self limiting. Constituencies that have organized around single issues (abortion, gay rights, war) have wielded real voting power. Problem being, that to a large degree these issues are already "owned" by one major party or the other. Rationalizing drug policy qualifies as a single issue championed primarily by libertarians, but does not, as yet, seem to be a sufficiently important issue to the electorate to attract and organize real political power. If it does, it will certainly be subsumed by one party or the other, and lost as an organizing principle for libertarians and the libertarian leaning. So what and where is the organizing principle for a libertarian voting block?

Ryan Sager's (author of The Elephant in the Room) relevant observations about this very question a year ago helped shape my answer. These quotes from "Hot-Tub Libertarians" and "Out of the Hot Tub, Into the Frying Pan":
"As the Republican Party abandons its commitment to small government, how politically impotent are libertarians? one ever said that libertarians were organized -- or that, when it comes to politics, they have much in the way of brains... But what if they did? How powerful a voting bloc could they be? It's a tough question, and one libertarians have spent far too little time effort researching, but there's a quick and dirty answer: somewhere between 9 percent and 20 percent of the electorate.

"Libertarians need to get serious. And getting serious means organizing. And organizing means within one of the two major parties. I believe that can only be done within the GOP, that there is still a natural logic to fusionism. But I'm happy to hear arguments otherwise."
DWSUWF responded to Ryan's invitation for counter-argument, prompting this reply. Net-net, while I agreed with Sager that libertarians need to get organized and that it should be within the context of the two major parties, I disagreed that meant working exclusively within the GOP:
"Libertarian organization is going to have to look different than traditional politics, after all, it is something we will have to be able to accomplish while sitting in the hot-tub. What is needed, is an organizing principle. Ideally, a principle that is so obvious, so logical, and so clear-cut, that no leadership is needed, no parties are needed, no candidates are needed, and no infrastructure is needed. Ideally it is this easy: You think about the principle, and you know how to vote. That organizing principle exists. It is Divided Government. It is absolutely clear-cut and easy to understand. Divided Government is documented by Niskanen to work in a practical real-world manner to restrain the growth of the state. As a voting strategy it can be implemented immediately. More importantly, it can collectively be implemented individually as we sit in our hot tubs and ponder the sorry state of the world. Whatever the percentage of the electorate that libertarians represent, whether it is 9% or 20%, if they vote as a block for divided government, they immediately become the brokers of an evenly split partisan electorate. They arguably become the single most most potent voting block in the country, specifically because they are willing to vote either Democratic or Republican as a block. Specifically because they are not fused to one party or the other.
When I wrote that, I was advocating a straight Democratic ticket vote on the federal level to break single party Republican control in the 2006 mid-terms. This blog was one of many "libertarian leaning" voices to call for that divided government vote, including, Jacob Sullum, Jon Henke, Stephen Slivinski, Ron Bailey, Nick Gillespie, Doug Bandow, Warren Meyer, Alex Knapp, Bruce McQuain, Bruce Bartlett, Jane Galt and, of course, the godfather of Divided Government politics - William Niskanen. I could go on, there were plenty more. That drumbeat beget mainstream media attention, like here, here, here and here. And... It worked. Even better, our shiny new divided government is delivering on exactly the libertarian objectives that we hoped it would. Unlike Brink Lindsey, I'm practically giddy with optimism. If it worked once, it can work twice. As clear as it was in 2006 that the only way to secure divided government was voting Democratic, it is just as clear that the only way to maintain divided government in 2009 is to elect a Republican president in 2008. So that is the plan. We just need libertarians to get back on the bandwagon and start beating the divided government drum again.

Lets be clear. We are not proposing some grand socio-economic political theory for analyzing libertarian attitudes and constituencies while laying out a strategy to infuse those ideas into body politic. I'll leave that to the big brains at Cato. This is an outline for a very simple (as it must be) tactical voting heuristic that, if promoted and executed, will effectively slap both major parties upside the head and say "pay attention!" With that attention, we can expect pandering. With pandering, comes policy. With policy, comes change. Leviathan will not be brought down with this single small step. But it can and will be slowed down with by this voting strategy. The tactic also offers a promise of investing libertarian principles with real political clout. With that clout, Lindsey's "recrafting" of Republican and Democratic messages and programs ...
"The idea of a libertarian center is about the core of American political culture, not the margins of political change. What I’m saying is that partisans on both sides need to recraft their messages and programs to better reflect the entrepreneurial, tolerant spirit of contemporary America."
...will happen sooner rather than later.

Shaping an election outcome one time can be dismissed as a rogue political wave. Shaping two consecutive federal elections is a sea change that cannot be ignored. If the libertarian "divided government vote" is shown to swing the 2008 presidential election as it did the Congressional outcome in 2006, then libertarians will no longer be inchoate, their message no longer diffused, and their political clout no longer flaccid. As long as the bulk of the electorate remain polarized and balanced, even a small percentage libertarian swing vote organized around divided government will be enough for libertarians to display the biggest swinging political "hammer" in town.

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The pussification of the presidency.

For libertarians, liberals, and limited government conservatives, the most alarming aspect of the Bush 43 administration has been the drive to expand the power of the executive at the expense of the judicial and legislative branches. The recent Washington Post series “Angler” confirms the fears of many - This administration, while paying lip service to the constitutional notion of three co-equal branches, has consciously and forcefully promoted an agenda to institutionalize the Presidency as “more equal” than the other two branches. This is not new. The administration has been quite explicit about their intent to expand the power of the presidency. What is new, is the degree to which the series reveals that while the President may be the driver of the administration bus, the Vice-President is the navigator setting the political destination and steering the administration course, is the engine powering this ideological vehicle grinding opposition under the wheels, and is pumping the high octane political fuel for this reckless joy ride. What is interesting, is that despite, and perhaps even because of this single minded driving obsession, the office of the Presidency will arrive at a completely different destination.

Not surprisingly, political opposition continues to focus on the car wreck that the libertarian Cato Institute called a “Power Surge” in their May, 2006 analysis of the administration’s constitutional record. Two recent examples illustrating this perspective:

  1. The publication of “Unchecked and Unbalanced - Presidential Power in a Time of Terror” - From the International Herald Times review:
    “In their chilling and timely book Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr., senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, and Aziz Z. Huq, who directs the Liberty and National Security Project at the Brennan Center, argue that the Bush administration's "monarchist claims of executive power" are "unprecedented on this side of the North Atlantic," and that its "executive unilateralism not only undermines the delicate balance of our Constitution, but also lessens our human liberties and hurts vital counterterrorism campaigns" by undermining America's moral authority and standing in the world.”
  2. The well attended Curbing The Imperial Presidency” panel discussion at the liberal “Take Back America” conference a few weeks ago. The conference was covered by David Weigel at Reason who highlighted this nugget:
    “… the most interesting exchange came near the very end, after Podesta had heard a week's worth of griping about presidential power crammed into one hour. "Keep in mind," he said, "we could go too far in hobbling the president. The next president will repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell. Congress won't support it. We want to restore some balance, but you don't want to give all of this power to Congress."

Aye, John - there's the rub. With all due respect to the International Herald Tribune, the time for the Fredrick Schwarz book has come and gone. In May 2006, when the Cato article was published, it was timely. But it is no longer May 2006. It is July 2007. There have been Supreme Court decisions and there has been a congressional election. We now have a Democratic majority in congress, divided government, a lame duck executive without popular support and the pendulum is swinging back with a vengeance. While many in the blogosphere and MSM have focus on the WAPO exposure of the worrisome but ultimately historical aspects of Cheney's role in this administration, few seemed to note the more relevant and timely message of the article:

"The way he did it -- adhering steadfastly to principle, freezing out dissent and discounting the risks of blow-back -- turned tactical victory into strategic defeat. By late last year, the Supreme Court had dealt three consecutive rebuffs to his claim of nearly unchecked authority for the commander in chief, setting precedents that will bind Bush's successors."

"The irony with the Cheney crowd pushing the envelope on presidential power is that the president has now ended up with lesser powers than he would have had if they had made less extravagant, monarchical claims," said Bruce Fein, an associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan."

One blogger who did take notice is Sean Aqui at Midtopia in his post "Cheney's destruction of executive power":

"One of the main themes of the series is that Cheney, while harshly rebuked, has in practice been far less leashed than most people think, thanks largely to his willingness to build and exploit legal loopholes and questionable claims to get around adverse rulings. But the fact remains that he has weakened the White House for future occupants, especially ones with more respect for legal precedent, logic and intent."

The genius of our constitution pitting "separate and equal" partisan branches with "ambition countering ambition" and holding each other in "check and balance" is that the swings of power behave like a pendulum, rising and falling in any given branch. And like any pendulum, the further it it is pushed out, the further it swings back. If you push it really hard and fast in one direction with the hope it will stay there, then you better hope to break the constitutional framework that holds the cable, or when that pendulum swings back it will knock you well behind where you started.

The ultimate irony: The historical legacy of Dick Cheney and this administration will be a permanently weaker executive branch, constrained by shackles applied by the judiciary and the legislature, precipitated specifically by and in reaction to the overreach of Dick Cheney.

Let me be clear. The danger to our constitution and freedom represented by Cheney's view and advocacy of the unitary executive was real and frightening. There was a real possibility that he would succeed and this administration would break the constitutional framework that restrains the executive branch. That risk is over. He failed. The risk facing us now is that the pendulum will swing too far the other way. Democrats and Congress should heed John Podesta's warning.

It is worth citing a few examples of where we were before this administration, how Cheney and company tried to push the presidential power envelope, and where we are likely to be when the power pendulum finishes its arc back in time for the next president.

Making War.

If there is one sentence that should send shivers up the spine of any American concerned about the expansion federal government power, it is the highlighted sentence in a sidebar to the Washington Post series exploring the historical roots of the Cheney doctrine:

Cheney left the [Ford] White House at what he later called "the low point" of presidential authority. Congress is "all too often swayed by the public opinion of the moment" and is incapable of making the swift decisions required in "a dangerous and hostile world," Cheney said at an American Enterprise Institute conference on Dec. 6, 1983, according to the transcript... Simply by creating a defense establishment, Cheney said, Congress had "already given prior approval" for any presidential decision on where and how to make war. "We have appropriated the funds and raised the army and purchased the equipment and built the missiles and the bombers, and the president has the authority to make decisions about how to use those things."

Based on that, it should be no surprise that Cheney took the position that no war resolution was needed for action in Iraq. A position he is certainly continuing to promote in the context of military action in Iran. The premise was never tested, as it was not needed. Congress accommodated the administration with a resolution authorizing the use of military action in Iraq that was a blank check for the President. The war resolution was loosely worded, did not specify a mission, benchmarks, timeframes, exit strategies, or any real constraint on the use of the military. Congress today continues to wrestle with the consequences of that resolution. In the face of the incompetent prosecution of the war, the President moving the goal line with multiple, ambiguous, and expanding military missions and continuous assertions from the Cheney Doctrine of Unlimited Executive Wartime Power for the executive, one thing is absolutely certain: For at least a generation, until such time that the debacle of Iraq has faded from memory, outside of a declaration of total war, no President will again be granted an open ended military authorization resolution as this President received. Congress will be much more circumspect and legalistic, more along the lines of the authorization that President Clinton was granted for military action in Bosnia (which included requirements for progress reports, a funding time limit, and, of course, an exit strategy). As far as this Congress is concerned - Never Again - and a weaker, more constrained presidency is the result.

If the title of this piece is not pushing far enough out on the politically incorrect thin branches, this next observation should do it. I find it interesting that the only Democratic Presidential candidate that seems to have a real appreciation of the dangers inherent in the "pussification of the presidency" is the front runner Senator Hillary Clinton. This is from her speech on the Senate floor as she cast her vote in October 2002 for the resolution authorizing the use of armed forces in Iraq:

"... perhaps my decision is influenced by my eight years of experience on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue in the White House watching my husband deal with serious challenges to our nation. I want this President, or any future President, to be in the strongest possible position to lead our country in the United Nations or in war... So it is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our nation. A vote for it is not a vote to rush to war; it is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our President and we say to him - use these powers wisely and as a last resort."
Hillary is probably the Democrats best hope of restoring the testosterone level in the White House.

Detainees, Enemy Combatants, and Torture.

In 2006 the Cato Institute warned that "In its official legal briefs and public actions, the Bush administration has advanced a view of federal power that is astonishingly broad, a view that includes:
  • a president who cannot be restrained, through validly enacted statutes, from pursuing any tactic he believes to be effective in the war on terror
  • a president who has the inherent constitutional authority to designate American citizens suspected of terrorist activity as "enemy combatants," strip them of any constitutional protection, and lock them up without charges for the duration of the war on terror— in other words, perhaps forever..."
Cheney was the architect of that view, the framework erected early in the administration as reported in WAPO:
Just past the Oval Office, in the private dining room overlooking the South Lawn, Vice President Cheney joined President Bush at a round parquet table they shared once a week. Cheney brought a four-page text, written in strict secrecy by his lawyer. He carried it back out with him after lunch... Cheney's proposal had become a military order from the commander in chief. Foreign terrorism suspects held by the United States were stripped of access to any court -- civilian or military, domestic or foreign. They could be confined indefinitely without charges and would be tried, if at all, in closed "military commissions... CNN announced the order that evening, Nov. 13, 2001"

Since then, the Supreme Court has explicitly rejected the Cheney Doctrine, and any ambiguity and flexibility that Presidents may have had before in handling suspects has now been curtailed by the judiciary for all time:
"On June 28, 2004, the Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 in the Hamdi case that detainees must have a lawyer and an opportunity to challenge their status as enemy combatants before a "neutral decision maker." The Rasul decision, the same day, held 6 to 3 that Guantanamo Bay is not beyond the reach of federal law... Over the next 12 months, Congress and the Supreme Court imposed many of the restrictions that Cheney had squelched. "... On June 29, 2006, the Supreme Court struck its sharpest blow to the house that Cheney built, ruling 5 to 3 that the president had no lawful power to try alleged terrorists in military commissions [Read the opinion]. The tribunal order that Cheney brought to Bush's private dining room, and the game plan Cheney's lawyer wrote to defend it, fetched condemnation on disparate legal grounds. Not only did the court leave the president beholden to Congress for the authority to charge and punish terrorists, but it rejected a claim of implicit legislative consent that Bush was using elsewhere to justify electronic surveillance without a warrant. And not only did it find that Geneva's Common Article 3 protects "unlawful enemy combatants," but it also said that those protections -- including humane treatment and the right to a trial by "a regularly constituted court" -- were enforceable by federal judges in the United States."
Much more on the issues raised by torture, interrogation, detention, war powers, Executive authority and more in Jack Balkin's excellent list here.

Eavesdropping, The Great Writ and Congress Finds its Mojo.

The judiciary has not been the only branch to bring the executive back in line. The new Democratic majority had an immediate impact on the Cheney doctrine, and has begun the process of reclaiming powers that had been usurped during the six years of single party rule. The immeidate and so far biggest impact was indirect, with the administration voluntarily shifting positions and ceding authority as soon as the new Congress took over in January - as reported by Peter Baker in "Bush Retreats on Use of Executive Power"
"President Bush's decision to submit his warrantless-surveillance program to the jurisdiction of a special intelligence court represents the latest step back from the expansive interpretation of executive power he has asserted since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Under pressure from Congress and the courts, Bush in the past six months has closed secret overseas CIA prisons, transferred previously unidentified detainees to regular military custody, negotiated congressional approval for tribunals to try foreign terrorism suspects and accepted at least some regulation of how harshly such prisoners could be interrogated."
It is not all indirect and voluntary backpedaling by the administration. Although partisan bickering remains the rule in Congress, the clearest indication that new Congress was in no mood to cede any additional power to the President occured in March of this year as reported in the Boston Globe:
"The president's press conference was held hours after the Senate delivered a bipartisan slap at Bush, voting 94 to 2 to strip Gonzales's authority to appoint interim US attorneys without Senate confirmation -- authority granted to him in a revision of the USA Patriot Act.
In the grand scheme of the Cheney doctrine, this was small potatos, but nevertheless a clear foreshadowing of things to come over the remaining 18 months of the Bush administration. The Gonzales incompetence and duplicity in his role as Attorney General further undermines his utility as an accomplice in the executive power grab. Ignoring the abuse of National Security letters by the F.B.I. opens the door for further restrictions on the process and greater oversight by Congress. A door that Congress will surely walk through.

Not all of the damage from the Cheney doctrine has been undone. The gutting of the Great Writ of Habeas Corpus is the most notable outstanding assault on civil liberties. Senators Leahy and Spector have just introduced legislation to restore the right without ambiguity and DWSUWF recommends signing the petition to support their efforts. Backstopping Congress, the Supreme Court has decided to hear a Guantanamo detainee case centering on The Great Writ. This topic is deserving of a post of its own, which we'll get to as the debate heats up. but it is worth pointing out here, that Americans in the past were happy leave a little ambiguous wiggle room in the Writ, should a President need it in a time of national emergency. Abraham Lincoln used that wiggle room suspending the writ in wartime. It is likely that wiggle room will disappear, and a weaker presidency will result.

We'll conclude with another quote from Angler:
"David Gergen, who worked with Cheney during the Ford years, said the vice president's "zealous reassertion of the power of the presidency" during this administration is completely consistent with the views he expressed long ago. He felt that what had become known as the imperial presidency during Nixon had become the imperiled presidency," Gergen said. "Where a number of us people part company with him is that a number of us believe that through Reagan, those powers had been substantially restored."
The power of the presidency may very well have been restored during the Reagan years. But thanks to the arrogance of the Vice President, his failure to trust in the Constitution, respect the rights of the American people, and the general incompetence of the administration, the next President will take the oath of office with less power than inherited by George Bush at his inauguration. The legacy of Dick Cheney's term as vice president will be a weaker executive branch, leaving it to the next President to once again restore the power of the office.

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.