Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Reading

If You Can’t Be Good, Be Loud — George Packer of The New Yorker on the right-wing noise machine.

In 2008, right after the April 4th memorial mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for William F. Buckley, Jr., I had lunch with David Frum. As hard-core readers of this blog know, Frum and I go way back, have always been political opponents, and have not always written kindly about each other. Various things brought our friendship back from the dead, among them the decline and fall of the conservative movement. I was interested in writing about it, and Frum was interested in talking to someone who had lived through liberalism’s earlier version of the same (the subject of my book “Blood of the Liberals”).

At lunch, Frum said, “The thing I worry about most is if the Republicans lose this election—and if you’re a betting man you have to believe they will—there will be a fundamentalist reaction. Not religious—but the beaten party believes it just has to say it louder. Like the Democrats after 1968. A lot of the problems in the Republican Party will not be fixed.”

Maybe because I spent a fair amount of time talking to thoughtful conservatives like Frum, I thought things wouldn’t be so apocalyptic. I thought a pretty strong reformist strain would come to the surface in the Republican Party and fight it out with the purists who just wanted to say it louder. I also thought that this internal strife would last a long time, and, meanwhile, conservative politics would be as weak a player on the national stage as liberal politics in the nineteen-eighties.

Wrong on both counts. Conservatism is still alive—self-lobotomized, but kicking and shouting and mesmerizing the media and frightening liberals, just like always. Frum knew his friends on the right better than I did. Look at the Conservative Political Action Conference going on right now in Washington. It used to be a far-right tent show. Now it reflects mainstream opinion among Republican activists. To some Tea Partiers, it’s the establishment and thus a thing to be wary of.

In Virginia last month, I interviewed a Republican official who’s running for Congress. He has a long record of reasonable service on the local school board and county board, and he told me that he is going to run on a record of solid achievement in government office, which probably means that his candidacy is doomed. At one point, he said almost casually that he believed President Obama is deliberately running the economy into the ground in order to have a pretext to refashion it along socialist lines. This kind of thing now reflects ordinary, unremarkable Republican thinking.

Also in Virginia, conservatives gathered earlier this week near Mt. Vernon to issue a statement of principles, along the lines of the Young Americans for Freedom back in 1960. Frum is on the case: read his withering critiques on FrumForum. At this point, he’s a very lonely voice.

More below the fold.

Soft on Terror — Will Bunch notes that Ronald Reagan would have been called weak on dealing with terrorists by today’s GOP.

It’s important not to nominate Reagan for sainthood in the arena of human rights. His “Reagan Doctrine” in Central America, leaving the fight to anti-Communist thugs and death squads that the then-president called “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers,” is arguably the gravest moral failing of his tenure. That said, back on U.S. soil, Reagan was far to the left of the 2010 Republican Party on issues such as torture. The convention that he signed in 1988 holds that there is no circumstance of any kind that permits torture, which certainly would include the 9/11 aftermath and related anti-terror efforts today.

But it goes even deeper than that. As I noted in an early 2010 blog post: “Reagan would not have approved of drone-fired missile attacks aimed at killing terrorists; as president, he several times rejected anti-terrorism operations for the sole reason that civilians would have been killed by collateral damage. In 1985, he surprised aides such as Pat Buchanan by ruling out a military response to a Beirut hijacking for fear of civilian casualties; Lou Cannon reported then in the Washington Post that Reagan called retaliation in which innocent civilians are killed “itself a terrorist act.” And the idea of trying terrorists in military tribunals as opposed to a civilian court of law? The Reagan administration was completely against that. Paul Bremer (yes, that Paul Bremer) said in 1987, “a major element of our strategy has been to delegitimize terrorists, to get society to see them for what they are — criminals — and to use democracy’s most potent tool, the rule of law, against them.”

It’s almost tragic—when you go back to the very recent history of the 1980s—when you realize how seriously an American consensus on human rights and the power of our criminal-justice justice system has been trashed by the modern conservative movement. It’s going to take a long time to get that back—although the words that Reagan and his aides left behind could help America get past this.

The Three Curling Amigos

From the house on 13th Street where John Shuster grew up, along one edge of Chisholm, Minn., it was only a few blocks to where Jason Smith lived. And if you headed out of town a ways, out toward Biwabik, you would find the house of Jeff Isaacson.

Just like that, you would have most of what became the 2010 United States men’s Olympic curling team. There may be no team at the Vancouver Games any closer — quite literally.

For most of the past year, the three longtime friends and core members lived together in a two-bedroom Duluth apartment — with Shuster’s remarkably accommodating fiancée — in northern Minnesota.

“Jeff and I have bunk beds,” Smith said. And because you were going to ask, Smith sleeps on top.

If knowing your teammates well is a recipe for success, the Americans should be the best in the world. All five members of the team — four on the ice and one as an alternate — are from Minnesota. But the core is from one sliver north of Duluth. They were born within nine months of one another in 1982 and 1983.

“It would be pretty miserable to have to go curl with someone you didn’t like or you didn’t know very well,” Isaacson said.

That is no problem for this team. Shuster, Smith and Isaacson live together, curl together, travel together, sleep together. They spend about, oh, “97 percent” of their time together, Smith said.

“Sometimes, some person will go to the club a little earlier, somebody will follow behind a little after,” Smith said, referring to the local curling club. “That’s a little break, I guess.”

Doonesbury — This little piggie….