Sunday, March 14, 2010
I am going into a private clinic tomorrow to have cataract procedure on my right eye -- which I am NOT looking forward to. But it has to be done. So I have no idea how much I will be able to post over the next few days. But, like General MacArthur, I shall return.
Karl Rove update
Darby, his wife of 23 years, just divorced him in December. The marriage came under intolerable strain with the press laying siege to the house, when Rove was accused of outing Valerie Plame as a CIA agent to journalists, after her husband alleged that the White House had made false pre-war claims that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from Niger. “They were all camped out there on deathwatch,” he says, pointing out of the window. He takes delight in showing me how he would use a remote control to make the garage door go up so all the camera crews would rush forward, then close it again. “I felt badly about it after a while, but I enjoyed it at the time,” he says.
Currently being turned into a film starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts, the Plame saga ruined Scooter Libby, the vice-president’s aide, but ultimately Rove was not charged. He remains extremely bitter about what he describes as a “three-year ordeal”, and says: “It put enormous pressure on my family. Imagine what it was like when the mother of one of my son’s closest high-school classmates said, ‘I’m really looking forward to Karl Rove going to jail.’ My wife is a really sweet and strong person, but it was so tough on her that in the summer of 2005 she literally had to flee. She said, ‘I’m taking Andrew to Florida and will be back when school starts.’”
Even after he eventually left the White House in 2007, the hate campaign continued. “Once, walking through the airport in Atlanta, my son, who’s 6ft 2in, was in front and I jokingly said to Darby, ‘Isn’t that funny, Andrew’s like my security detail sheltering me from the crowd?’ She said, ‘Don’t you understand he’s afraid for you?’”
Rove and George W Bush became friends and hunting partners. Rove, a keen chef, would cook the wild dove and quail they had shot. Texas had traditionally been a Democratic state, but in 1994 Rove orchestrated a stunning upset to get Bush elected governor by targeting swing voters in rural areas and prying away Hispanics and black voters. It was Rove who suggested that Bush run for president in 2000. He cites in his book the advice that “the candidate’s authority should be limited”. Bush was happy to take a back seat and described Rove as “the man with the plan”.
In Rove’s view a campaign must be centred on a big idea and be driven by historical data on election patterns. I have never met anyone with such a mastery of detail: places and figures trip off his tongue and I get the sense that I could name any district in the country and he would tell me how they voted in 1964. He is fiercely loyal to Bush, who he insists is much underestimated. “Abraham Lincoln’s law partner once said, ‘Mr Lincoln’s great ability is to get to the nub of the thing,’ and Bush has that same ability.”
Of all the politicians Rove has met, one of those he admires most is Tony Blair. “He had his eyes wide open about what Iraq could do to his political career, but for him personal consequences were far less important than consequences of right action for the world.” He insists it was right to invade Iraq despite the death toll and the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction that were the rationale for the war. “We now know that in 1945 the Japanese were over-extended and could not maintain a long war and could have been isolated on the mainland. So did we need to drop two atomic weapons?” he asks. “In governing you have to act on the information you have, particularly in questions of life and death, war and peace. And all the information we had in the aftermath of 9/11 pointed to Saddam Hussein as a threat. Imagine the world today if we hadn’t taken him on. Sanctions were failing. This guy had thumbed his nose at the UN for the best part of a decade and was sitting atop a third of the world’s oil reserves. He didn’t have WMD but he had dual-use [nuclear] facilities and infrastructure to reconstitute these programmes quickly.”
In Rove’s view the biggest mistake of the Bush White House was the failure to respond to the charge that the president had lied to go to war. “We let this become a corrosive agent, which drained away the credibility of the administration on a wide variety of fronts.” Like Blair he believes history will look more kindly on Iraq. “The other day a guy came up to me and said, ‘You’re Karl Rove. I never voted for Bush, I voted Obama. But you tell Bush I appreciate what he did. It’s a lot harder than it looks and I appreciate him keeping us safe.’ If opponents of Bush can bring themselves to say that, then I think the vast majority of American people will eventually come round.”
By contrast he believes they are already seeing through Obama, whose popularity has nose-dived faster than any president’s in recent history. “The American people want the president to deal in the here-and-now. You never heard Bush say, ‘Well, it’s all Clinton’s fault, and I’m having to clean up the mess.’ Most Americans say, ‘You know what? I’ll listen to that for a while, but you’re the guy in charge.’ Obama has spent seven, eight, nine months working on health care when the vast majority of the American people have coverage and are content with it. And he’s sitting there saying, ‘I’m going to upend everything you’ve got in order to solve a problem I haven’t fully explained, with a method that you reject almost from the get-go. If Washington is broken, that’s President Obama’s fault. He’s been a lacklustre leader.”
Rove believes the Republicans are poised to make a comeback in the midterm elections in November, and is travelling around the country making rallying speeches. He admits he misses the White House, and I wonder if he has spotted any potential candidates for 2012 whose campaigns he would be tempted to mastermind. “I’m not paying attention,” he claims, “2010 is for them to go and prove themselves. Who on earth in 2006 would have said, ‘Oh yeah, Barack Obama, he’s the guy’? But he used 2006 wisely to make himself a better player on the national scene.”
The press no longer loves Obama?
Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, was 50 minutes late for his briefing, apparently a record for tardiness, but few reporters in the White House press room bothered to feign outrage; they didn't seem all that eager to ask him questions anyway. When his boss flew to Missouri to give another of his "high octane" (The New York Times), "impassioned" (The Washington Post) health-care speeches, no cable channel covered the event. If you are president, the only thing worse than criticism is not being covered. And the truth is, we in the press are bored with Barack.
The "mainstream media" are losing patience with, and even interest in, their erstwhile hero. President Barack Obama never had a chance with the Ailes-Murdoch crowd, of course, and it didn't take the president long to offend the fierce left wing of the blogosphere. But now, finally, the MSM, which views itself as ideologically neutral, has found ideologically neutral reasons to lose patience with him: that he may be ineffectual; that he doesn't know how to play the game; that he can't get anything done. Exhibit A: the health-care bill. The Times's Frank Rich, the astute dean of the commentariat, wrote recently that Obama has failed to "communicate a compelling narrative" in office and, as a result, "could be toast if he doesn't make good on a year's worth of false starts."
And yet this collective falling out of love is great news for Obama. Calling it quits with the MSM is just what he needs. A breakup might even save his presidency.
For one thing, almost no one likes or trusts the media. The latest Gallup survey of respected institutions puts us down with the worst of the riffraff: banks, labor unions, HMOs, and Congress. If we attack you, it only proves you must have some redeeming qualities. That jujitsu even worked in an odd and unexpected way for Bill Clinton. At the height of the Monica Lewinsky crisis in 1998, polls showed voters were not only appalled by Clinton's behavior, they were appalled by the media's obsession with it.
Obama needs to stop caring what we all write and say, a process he can start by abandoning the comfortable but incapacitating illusion that reporters are his friends. He can't and shouldn't rely on us to translate for him. We'll get it wrong. And we're the foulest of fair-weather friends. We read the polls, too, and when they plummet, we run. Yet until now, Obama has justifiably regarded the MSM as part of his base, as one of his constituencies. In fact, he thinks of himself as one of us: a member of the chattering class; a bestselling author; op-ed page habitué; student of the craft of writing, reporting, and analyzing. I asked the White House for the president's daily reading material. Here is the list I got back: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, NEWSWEEK (a man of taste, this president), Time, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, "blogs," Foreign Affairs, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN.com. "Bottom line is that he reads a ton," I was told. Sure, we need the readers, but maybe that's a few pounds too many.
The president's problem is not that he is "professorial." It's worse: He's journalistic. His conceptual and even operational home base doesn't seem to be the South Side of Chicago; it's the op-ed page of the Times, where he's spent lots of time wooing the likes of conservative columnists David Brooks and Ross Douthat. But grass-roots conservatives do not trust those guys (how could they? They write for the Times). And most voters don't read those pages in any case. Certainly most voters don't care as much about the "why" as they do the clear, plain-spoken "what" and "how." They want know, say, what the federal government is going to do about the health-care mess, and how we're supposed to cover 30 million more people and save money at the same time.
The Washington press corps, meanwhile, is concerned with other things. There is a predictable, metronomic pace to the media coverage of any presidency, and the sooner Obama embraces the Zen of dealing with it, the better off he'll be. We are at the staff-feud phase now (Is Rahm doomed? Has Axelrod overplayed his hand?), which will be followed by house-cleaning, mid-term clock--cleaning, soul-searching, spouse--consulting (Michelle will sparkle in the role), and, if all goes well, revival meeting.
To his credit, Obama is beginning to get it. The speech he gave in Missouri was the best explanation he has yet given on his health-care-reform plan. Reporters weren't paying much attention, but, if Obama is lucky, at least some voters—a.k.a. his real -constituents—were.
Not that hungry for change
According to the all-but-unchallenged conventional wisdom, the American people feel angry at the status quo and demand dramatic change. Why, then, do recent polls show public sentiment tilting toward the GOP — the very party that's stubbornly resisting change? And why should so many voters express increasing distrust, and even resentment, of the ruling Democrats who've tried to deliver just the sort of sweeping transformations they thought the people craved? Hope and change, it seems, morphed quickly into fear and retrenchment.
This anomalous shift has less to do with the fickleness of public attitudes, or some sudden and unprecedented ideological awakening, than it does with chronic misinterpretation of popular dissatisfaction during periods of discomfort and depression. The fact that citizens feel worried about the future of the nation doesn't mean they've lost confidence in themselves. By 3 to 1, Americans believe that the nation is headed in the wrong direction, but similarly big majorities express satisfaction with their personal situations and optimism over their prospects.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which has surveyed 1,000 adults almost every day for more than two years, shows that even in the midst of high unemployment and bitter political turmoil, people are pleased with their private progress. From 2008 through 2009, participants' "life evaluations" of their current situation and future expectations rose by more than 5 percentage points. Without exception, every racial group, income level and age cohort showed brightening attitudes, with particularly big improvements among blacks, young adults (18-29) and people of modest means ($24,000 to $48,000 in annual income).
In other words, the endlessly discussed desire for "change" always applied to Washington, or Wall Street, or other far-away forces, but rarely to the daily lives and intimate arrangements of ordinary Americans. We seek change for institutions or for others, but not necessarily for ourselves. We remain overwhelmingly pleased with our jobs, families and neighborhoods, and we expect the best for our children. Big majorities — more than 60% — predict that today's young people will enjoy even better lives than their parents.
This contradiction in public attitudes — with private satisfaction persistently co-existing with grim assumptions about the nation at large — produced the core miscalculation by the White House. President Obama might have pleased the public by transforming some of the big-picture problems so frequently decried in the news media, such as the bitter polarization in Washington, or America's tarnished image in the international community. But he has made little visible progress in altering these distant realities while frightening much of the public about potential change of a far more intimate sort: involving the health care arrangements or tax-and-debt burdens on every American.
The biggest obstacle to public acceptance of the Democrats' plans to uproot and restructure the health care system involved the fact that most people felt pleased with their own medical care and insurance plans. As many as 85% of insured Americans say they like and value their current policies. As long as "ObamaCare" amounted to altering reality for someone else — providing for the uninsured, for instance — it drew strong support. When, however, the public came to suspect that the promised reform would change their own insurance situation, likely raising costs and limiting available treatment, opinion turned decisively against the plan.
Republicans may be the immediate beneficiaries of the Democrats' clumsy misinterpretation of the supposed mandate for change, but they run a very real risk of making similar mistakes. Polls show disillusionment and distrust regarding the Obama agenda, but that hardly signals an impassioned appetite for a conservative counterrevolution. If the GOP pledges massive, wrenching, systemic change — cutting back, for instance, on cherished, widely popular government programs on which millions of Americans depend — it will meet the same resistance and skepticism that confronts Obama and his liberal colleagues.
In other words, the people would welcome a concerted effort to "clean up the mess in Washington," but they don't want Washington cleaning up the mess in their private lives because they don't consider their personal status a mess.
Yes, the Democrats miscalculated by underestimating the deeply conservative nature of the American people, but the Republicans may yet miscalculate themselves by interpreting that conservatism as ideological rather than temperamental. The public wants pragmatic, commonsense, problem-solving leadership more than purist dogmatism of the right or the left. Voters don't yearn for stirring 10-point programs, or radical readjustments of governmental institutions, or definitive demonization and defeat of opponents.
We're conservative in a deeper sense —liking the lives we've built for ourselves and wanting to conserve them from unwelcome interference by overreaching change agents or ideologues. The party that connects with these wholesome, optimistic, emphatically practical instincts most effectively (and respectfully) will not only make big gains in November, but also may soon begin to build the durable governing majority that has been missing in our politics for nearly 30 years.
Apollo astronauts dismay at axing of Nasa mission to return mankind to the Moon
Former Apollo astronauts have expressed dismay at President Barack Obama's decision to cancel the Nasa programme that was intended to return mankind to the Moon. Eugene Cernan, the last man to set foot on the Moon, and Jim Lovell, commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission said they were disappointed by the decision to cancel Nasa's Constellation Moon programme. Mr Lovell warned the decision would have "catastrophic consequences" for US space exploration.
The pair spoke to the BBC at a private event held at the Royal Soceity in London on Friday evening. They were joined by the first man on the moon Neil Armstrong. Mr Lovell said: "Personally I think it will have catastrophic consequences in our ability to explore space and the spin-offs we get from space technology. "They haven't thought through the consequences."
Mr Cernan, who was the last astronaut to return to the Apollo 17 lunar module in 1972 making him the last man to set foot on the Moon, added:"I'm quite disappointed that I'm still the last man on the Moon. "I thought we'd have gone back long before now." "I think America has a responsibility to maintain its leadership in technology and its moral leadership... to seek knowledge. Curiosity's the essence of human existence."
Mr Obama cancelled Nasa's Constellation programme, which was intended to build new rockets and a lander to put astronauts back on the lunar surface by 2020, after stating it was costing too much and was behind schedule. The programme had been approved by former President George W Bush and was expected to provide a stepping stone towards sending humans to Mars for the first time.
Constellation has come under intense criticism as a drain on Nasa's resources and attempts to design a new rocket system that would replace the aging Space Shuttle have been beset with problems. Nasa insists it still intends to send humans back to the Moon but the cancellation of the programme will set back a lunar mission by decades.
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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)