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January 16, 2006
Op-Ed Day

Some days I'm less interested in the news than in what the pundits and experts are saying about the news.

Ariana Huffington says the match to ignite civil war in Iraq might have just been lit...so why isn't everyone in the USofA reading about it in the paper or hearing about it on the nightly news? I have to admit...I'm puzzled. If the NYTimes thought the situation was important enough to write a "powerful editorial" on, then why was the story itself relegated to the bottom of page A-10?

Paul Craig Roberts argues that Bush has "crossed the Rubicon" in an interesting article that traces the roots of the "imperial presidency" movement back to Lincoln and Roosevelt's New Deal. I don't know that I agree, but then I'm no Constitutional scholar so I'm on very, very shaky ground. It was interesting, though. He argues that the public arguments over abortion and homosexual rights are a smoke-screen to distract us from what the Rightwing is trying to do, which sounds very likely. And in some ways, he's quite right. Without accusing the Rightwing of being (or wanting to be) Nazis, there are some scary parallels between the power the Bush Administration wants for itself and the powers that Hitler's regime assumed. To test the truth of this, you only have to imagine how the Right would react if a Democratic Administration routinely announced that it would interpret the laws and the Constitution as it saw fit and that it didn't hold itself bound by either them or the intent behind new legislation.

Robert Dreyfuss decides that the upcoming 11/06 elections are likely to take place amid another "manufactured" crisis from the Bush Administration, a possibility that surprises me not at all. In fact, he's not the first to suggest this and I should make myself a note to start tracking the roots of it next August or September.

Apparently Judith Miller and David Brooks are surprised to learn that the Bush Administration is conducting an "assault" on the freedom of the press in this country, specifically around leaks of classified information. At the same time Daniel Ellsberg is saying that whistleblowers need to "Publish or Perish" (or maybe "Publish, even if you Perish) and that more leaks are all that will save lives. Considering the Bush Administration's tendency to make everything from illegal spying to the amount of toilet paper used monthly in the White House a "classified" matter, I think he's right.

Kalinga Seneviratne wonders why the tsunami was huge news to the Western media but Falluja was not. (Answer? Because the Western media wasn't allowed to take pictures of Falluja.)

Dick Morris says the USofA is "shifting leftward."

I was rolling my eyes on him claiming that the majority of us will 'always' be 'Right' on certain issues, including terrorism. It was a stupid remark. I'd be willing to guess that many more of us are 'Left' on terrorism than 'Right' and that more and more will be shifting 'Left' as the 'Right' continues to slaughter civilians, defend and commit torture, decimate cities, and spy on USofA civilians for the "terrorist" crime of disagreeing with the government.

Even as people finally come to accept that the Democratic Party is no longer what it used to be, or what they thought it was, they need to accept that the Republican Party is anything but the small government, lower taxes, celebration of rugged individuality, and "firm-but-fair 'strong national defense' Party that it used to be...or at least pretended to be.

The Republican Party is in the hands of warmongering extremists who favor corporate power over individuals, no matter how rugged, who don't want lower taxes overall as much as they want the taxes gathered to be spent solely on defending corporate rights, prison, and building up a huge military, and whose idea of "defense" means that the world should follow in our footsteps or at least do what we say (not what we do), especially in the arena of opening their markets to our products and giving us first dibs on any oil or other natural resources the planet might possess or accept the consequences of us raining down bombs on your heads.

Anyhow. He also says that we're leaning Left because the Bush Administration has done such a good job of implementing its agenda, leading me to wonder just what flavor of kool-aid he's been drinking.

Reading the whole thing made me really cranky, so let's end on a lighter note.

Caitlin Moran argues, quite entertainingly, that the U.K. should view a crowded train as an opportunity for personal growth, enrichment, or even good sex.

Posted by AnneZook at 12:31 PM


Anne -
As I wrote earlier, I have always found it very interesting to watch how history is (mis)used in policy debates. Iraq is Vietnam; Iraq is not Vietnam (but it will be if the United States pulls out too soon). This struggle is like WWII, or the Cold War. The Iraqi leaders are the founding fathers, and 2005 is their 1783 (the President made that analogy). Saddam was Hitler; no, Bush is Hitler. Or Ceasar. America is Athens or Rome.

Are we incapable of analysis without recourse to intellectually sloppy analogies? People like Roberts use history to dumb-down arguments, to explain complex policy positions and decisions to the simple-minded. Who would argue that the United States should "stay the course" if Iraq is Vietnam or if the country is 1933 Nazi Germany?

Beware of historical analogy - when you hear or read one, chances are that someone thinks you are an idiot that can be swayed by unexplained, underexamined comparisons.

Posted by: Col Steve at January 17, 2006 11:57 AM

With all due respect to the Col., as an historian and purveyor of historical analogies myself, I have to protest. Yes, there are bad historical analogies and many times they are a kind of shorthand for what the writer thinks the reader thinks about the historical source being cited ("Nazis = bad powerful psychopaths"; "Vietnam = dumb war" etc.).

But there are good historical analogies as well, ones that use the history carefully, that explain up front what they mean to draw from the history, that admit to differences or slippages and that illuminate the issues.

And, to be honest, the cautionary value of these analogies is worth considering. As you say, Who would argue that the United States should "stay the course" if Iraq is Vietnam or if the country is 1933 Nazi Germany?. I've been wondering the same thing myself. No, I don't think we're Germany 1933, but I don't ignore the troubling similarities between Republican/rightwing politics and tactics and those of early 20th century fascists. I don't think Vietnam and Iraq are perfect analogies to each other, but the degree to which the administration and military have failed to implement what seem like the obvious lessons of Vietnam are of great concern.

History is, among its other virtues, a moral discipline. We don't like to talk about it much, but one of the great values of studying history properly is the chance to recognize when one might be going down a really bad path.

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at January 18, 2006 03:09 PM

Jonathan - I don't think our positions are so different. You write:

"But there are good historical analogies as well, ones that use the history carefully, that explain up front what they mean to draw from the history, that admit to differences or slippages and that illuminate the issues. "

Exactly what I meant by "unexplained, underexamined comparisons."

Where we may differ to a degree.

Echevarria writes, "The distinguished historian Sir Michael Howard once admitted that the past, which he aptly referred to as an “inexhaustible storehouse of events,” could be used to “prove anything or its contrary.”"

I don't disagree with your last statement, but using history in such a manner requires, quoting Echevarria again, "learning to be critical of the history that historians write, by building a habit of rigorously scrutinizing facts and sources, and of detecting biases and specious arguments, and by developing an eye for penetrating the myths that surround the past." The 30 second spot or 500 word column "shorthand" uses of history in policy debates rarely try to do more than appeal to a (hopefully) superficial understanding of the analogy by the audience.

Posted by: Col Steve at January 20, 2006 02:37 AM