PBS Adds Insult to Injury

Eric Alterman: “The far right’s decades-long campaign to falsely brand PBS a leftist conspiracy–one that apparently included giving shows to such commies as William F. Buckley, Louis Rukeyser, Ben Wattenberg and Fortune magazine–has really hit pay dirt this year, first in creating a show around CNN’s conservative talking head Tucker Carlson, and now, far more egregiously, in creating a program for the extremist editorial board of the Wall Street Journal.

Crossfire co-host Tucker Carlson is a nice guy and among the least offensive of contemporary conservative pundits. Unfortunately, that is damn faint praise indeed. In recent weeks, the purposely inflammatory demagogy of PBS’s newest host has included a description of John Edwards as ‘specializing in Jacuzzi cases,’ owing to the lawyer’s successful representation of a small child who saw her intestines sucked out inside a wading pool. Carlson has compared the Democratic Party’s efforts to keep track of its own racial data to those of Gestapo head and SS chief Heinrich Himmler, and he accused John Kerry of demanding that ‘dark skinned foreigners from the Middle East fight our war for us.’ No less odiously, he defended GOP smear tactics against the legless Democratic Vietnam veteran Max Cleland, who was linked with Osama bin Laden in one of the most scurrilous campaigns of the past century.

Still, the insult of throwing up Carlson to quiet the whining of crybaby conservatives pales in comparison to the injury of offering up millions of dollars in taxpayer and viewer-donated resources of our public broadcasting service to the far-right ideologues behind the Journal Editorial Report. Short of turning the broadcast day over to Rush Limbaugh or Richard Mellon Scaife, it’s difficult to imagine a more calculated effort to undermine PBS’s intended mission of providing alternative programming than this subsidy to a wealthy, conservative corporation to produce yet another right-wing cable chat show.” (Common Dreams )

The Nuclear Shadow

“As I wrote in my last column, there is a general conviction among many experts – though, in fairness, not all – that nuclear terrorism has a better-than-even chance of occurring in the next 10 years. Such an attack could kill 500,000 people.

Yet U.S. politicians have utterly failed to face up to the danger.” — Nicholas Kristof (New York Times op-ed)

Kristof suggests four things we should be doing about this:

  • secure fissionable nuclear materials around the world
  • a serious commitment to nonproliferation. With regard to North Korea and Iran, where the danger is greatest and where it mihgt be too late, extreme concessions are necessary to bribe them into giving up their nuclear aspirations
  • vigorous and targeted ‘homeland security’ measures to prevent the smuggling of nuclear weapons or their components into the US
  • “Finally, Mr. Bush needs to display moral clarity about nuclear weapons, making them a focus of international opprobrium. Unfortunately, Mr. Bush is pursuing a new generation of nuclear bunker-buster bombs. That approach helps make nukes thinkable, and even a coveted status symbol, and makes us more vulnerable.”

Hidden Angle

“It seems to us that both the candidates and a complicit campaign press corps are dodging a fairly essential question — what drives the presumed enemy in this ‘war’ that both Bush and Kerry have embraced? As the 9/11 Commission’s report noted: ‘The history, culture, and body of beliefs from which bin Laden has shaped and spread his message are largely unknown to many Americans.'” — Corey Pein (Columbia Journalism via Cursor)Review

Will the Campaign Come Down to a Contest over Sensitivity?

Kerry’s comment that he would wage a “more sensitive” war on terrorism came in for ridicule from Bush’s attack dogs, especially Cheney and his wife. Yet Kerry was prepared with chapter and verse of Bush’s own references to the need for sensitivity in prosecuting the war. (Washington Post) Two of Bush’s comments struck me. First, there is this, from 2001:

“Precisely because America is powerful, we must be sensitive about expressing our power and influence. Our goal is to patiently build the momentum of freedom, not create resentment for America itself.”

Can Bush really think this is what he has been doing since??

And this comment is getting alot of press, as it should:

“Now, in terms of the balance between running down intelligence and bringing people to justice obviously is — we need to be very sensitive on that.”

Don’t tell me I’m taking it out of context; there is no context that could make this comment sound coherent! Behind such disordered syntax is surely a mind that cannot get from point A to point B in a orderly and logical manner. Here we are in another Bush campaign, and I am starting to get worked up again about the fact that the American public don’t see, or are not alarmed by, Bush’s cognitive limitations. I thought I resolved that for myself during the 2000 campaign — Bush’s muddled thinking and inarticulateness appealed to American voters’ anti-intellectualism and intimidation by the complexities of most issues.

In an interesting piece in last month’s Atlantic, James Fallows analyzed the speaking styles of Bush and Kerry to give us a sense of what to expect in the Presidential debates. Fallows watched tapes of old campaign debates for each. Surprisingly, he felt the contrasts between Bush’s early presentation and his recent performances as Presidential candidate and since prove that Bush has deliberately remade himself into an “Aw, shucks”, befuddled, plainspeaking man in order to appeal more broadly, and that there is artifice and cunning in this strategy that the Kerry team had better be alert to. While it would explain alot, I just can’t see anyone crafting a sentence like the above by artifice.

Bush probably remade himself as a Texas rancher because — no offense meant to Texas — it was far easier for a dimwit who had never read a book in his life and spent his time at Harvard Business School smirking and blowing bubbles in the last row of the lecture hall not to feel outclassed on a Crawford ranch or among good ol’ boy oilmen than it was among his original Ivy League circles in New England. It seems more likely to me that the cunning was on the part of his handlers, not him, in elevating a stuporous man, who would not impede their own agenda, to the Presidency. One overriding example — the evidence is abundantly clear that the PNAC neo-conservatives had Iraq on their minds for a long time, as the lynchpin in their grandiose geopolitical agenda, and were easily able to hijack the post-9/11 War on Terror to their aims. For Bush’s part, the irresistable draw of Iraq served other purposes, largely unconscious, by the force of which he could be enlisted into the neo-con agenda. As well as the pitifully simplistic credo of enhancing democracy and freedom, there have been persistent suggestions that toppling Saddam Hussein largely addressed Bush’s Oedipal needs relating to his lifelong sense of inadequacy vis a vis his father. When unrecognized by an unsophisticated intellect (well known for his dismissal of “psychobabble” whenever asked to scrutinize his own motives), such unconscious dramas are often the major influences at work in someone’s behavior. As an aside, the other issue in which Dubya’s unconscious Oedipal urges to best his father will be put to use by his advisors to further their own aims is, of course, winning a second term, which Bush the Father could not do. As this seems less and less attainable, we will see — perhaps we already are, in the accumulating evidence that Bush is ‘losing it’ in public — the sort of pitiful psychodramatic desperation that is evident when the unconscious stakes are so high.

The contrast between his seeming mastery of the limited scope of Texas gubernatorial issues and his befuddlement at the range of Presidential issues is a matter of the Peter Principle, of his having been promoted far beyond his level of cognitive incompetency. (Fallows does suggest ways in which his dogged reduction of any campaign question in Texas to one of three canned responses could work there, while not on the Presidential stage.) Of course, one also needs to take into account the cognitive damage done by a lifetime of partying with cocaine and alcohol by a rich spoiled kid who never grew up.

When I have asked more discerning observers, some with much closer familiarity with Bush, whether they think he is intellectually dull, I have gotten two kinds of responses. Some people are evasive, feeling it is a matter of protocol not to disparage the Leader of the Free World in this manner. (This constraint has dominated journalistic considerations of Bush.) Others demur, pointing to evidence of what a cunning politician he is, as if this refutes my concerns. But being a politician is usually a matter of reductionistic simplification of complexities and manipulation of your interlocutors, rather than one of grasp of issues and sophisticated exchanges in conversations.

In anticipating the debates, my prediction is that you will see alot more of this incontrovertible incoherence, which is something altogether different from plainspeaking. Whether it will be recognized for the alarming evidence of an utter inability to function in a Presidential role is another matter. Wake up, America, you have to be able to think to run the country!

[Now, I know I seem to be at my best when I’m finding fault with others. I usually come off more like a shark excited by blood in the water than a bloodhound methodically tracking a scent, I suppose. Hey, sounds like a politician; except I’m working on it…]

American Caught With Taliban Seeks Review of 20-Year Term

“Lawyers for John Walker Lindh, the young American captured in Afghanistan after joining the Taliban and now serving a 20-year prison sentence, called on the Justice Department on Friday to review his case in light of the department’s announcement this week that it might soon free another American captured with the Taliban.

‘We hope that the government gives Mr. Lindh the same reconsideration they have extended to Mr. Hamdi,’ the lawyers said in a statement, referring to Yaser Esam Hamdi, an American-born Saudi who is expected to be released soon to return to his family in Saudi Arabia.” (New York Times)

Don’t expect the sort of leniency Lindh seeks from the Bush Justice Dept. before the election.