I'll say this: "I don't give a damn about your dreams"


I've got a new Think Again column called "Bible Class," in which I examine last week's Torah portion, Numbers: 13/14 in light of the Bush administration's deliberate scare tactics, here.

The Washington Post editorial page, which was recently damned by the praise of the Wall Street Journal pundit Holman Jenkins as having an "editorial page has become remarkably more sensible in recent years," is complaining this morning that Hillary Clinton is "thinking small."

Their particular problem with her is her "announcement over the weekend that she will oppose the free-trade agreement with South Korea -- and for the narrowest of special-interest reasons. It's hard to imagine an issue where the national and international benefits weigh so clearly and heavily on one side. Yet Ms. Clinton, sounding more auto salesman than statesman, has joined many of her Democratic colleagues in Congress in opting to jettison those benefits."

The piece is an example of the Post's -- and indeed, virtually every pundit in every single major publication save my friend Harold Meyerson -- unthinking commitment to anything called "free trade" regardless of its effect on the lives of the majority of Americans. "Trade is good," period, is the mantra. Labor and environmental concerns caused by the free flow of capital -- which is really what many free-trade agreements are about, since there isn't really all that much "free trade" in them -- are bad. The details are unimportant. I'm not saying trade is not a good thing; it is. But the idea of even discussing it in forums like the Post editorial page is damn near impossible. That Hillary Clinton is speaking for the majority of her own party and, in the last election, the entire country means not a damn thing to these people. They simply cannot think about the pluses and minuses of any given agreement. "Free Trade Good, Fair Trade, Labor, Environment Bad" goes the saying, just like Mr. Orwell's creations in Animal Farm. No wonder the Journal has become so enamored of late with the Post.

The headline of the editorial is objectionable on another ground as well. The very idea of Democrats "thinking small" in this election cycle is pretty much an oxymoron. George W. Bush and company -- of whom the Post has been so enamored and to whom its pundits, particularly "Dean" David Broder, have been so sympathetic -- have screwed up everything about this nation's governance so profoundly that it will take incredible amounts of courage and imagination merely to restore the most basic form of balance to our foreign policy, to our military, to our economy, to our science policies, to our environment, to the protection of our constitutional liberties, to the very meaning of government in our lives.

Hillary Clinton is probably the most conservative of the three leading Democratic candidates. The Center for American Progress, which is the think tank most closely associated with her stance on the spectrum -- and for whom I work -- held an all-day conference with the Century Foundation -- for whom I also work a little bit -- yesterday in Washington. (Coincidentally, Hillary had a big fundraiser down the hall.) The day was characterized by extremely sober and serious discussions of all of the issues that the next president will face. The enormity of the challenge was evident. Again, the leftish wing of the party was not so much in evidence. (John Podesta, Bob Rubin and Alan Blinder did the economics panel: Gordon Adams, Wes Clark, and Larry Korb did the military panel. Zbigniew Brzezinski gave the lunchtime keynote. And Gordon Smith even got to give a solo speech.) I agreed with much of what I heard, disagreed with some of it and learned quite a bit too. I'll try to have more to say about it in the days to come. But my point is, the people who merely face up to reality and do not much identify with the historic goals of American liberalism -- like, say, Robert Rubin and Alan Blinder, who are much more in the mold of the old-fashioned "Wise Men" like James Baker and Lee Hamilton -- are so far distanced from the nonsense that the Bush administration has spouted for the past seven years -- and for which the Post has consistently apologized and frequently supported -- that a little bit of humility really ought to be on the menu. You can read more about the conference here.

And hey, look, former Bush chief speechwriter and political evangelical Michael Gerson insists that the "Two Parties [are] Fleeing the Center," here.

"Hello Mr. Kettle? I have Mr. Pot on line one. He's calling you 'black.' "

Again with the Kleinist "Authenticity on the bitter blogs of the left means a revolt against the centrist, Democratic establishment -- a ritual patricide to establish the ascendancy of the politically hungry and uncompromised...". And this: "On trade and globalization, Clintonism is the enemy. On foreign policy, 'blame America first' has become 'blame America exclusively.' "

No wonder the Wall Street Journal editors are so impressed.

I wrote about the crisis of the military recently, caused by the administration's malign neglect of the fundamentals, and I would like to follow by recommending a consistently updated report on the veterans of the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, here. It notes:

Since 2001, 1.5 million American service members have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As of April 2007, about 26,000 troops were serving in Afghanistan and 154,000 troops were serving in Iraq. The forces currently in Iraq or deploying in the next few months represent half of the Army's combat brigades.

The military now regularly requires troops to serve multiple, extended combat tours. Over 420,000 troops have served more than one combat tour, and many have returned to war with only a few months rest. Active-duty Army combat tours are now 15 months long, with only half the recommended "dwell time" at home between tours. According to an Army survey, "soldiers are 50 percent more likely" to suffer from a mental health problem if they serve multiple tours. To learn more about the mental health effects of war, please see the IAVA report, "Mental Health Problems Among Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans."

Equipment shortages are also a serious issue, contributing to the plummeting readiness ratings of Army and Marine units. As of September 2006, "roughly one-half of all Army units (deployed and non-deployed, active and reserves) receive the lowest readiness rating any fully formed unit can receive." The overuse of the Guard and Reserve are threatening our ability to cope with domestic emergencies. About four-fifths of Army Guard and Reserve units not mobilized received the lowest possible readiness rating. State officials have expressed grave concerns about the damage done to our national security. As Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius said after her state was devastated by tornados:

Fifty percent of our trucks are gone. Our front loaders are gone. We are missing Humvees that move people. We can't borrow them from other states because their equipment is gone.

From TomDispatch:

From "mission accomplished" through those endless "turning points" and "tipping points" up to the "brink" of "the abyss" and "the precipice," and back again, American officials, military and civilian, in Baghdad and Washington, have never spared the images or the analogies. Reality be damned, they've had a remarkable way, over the last four years, of turning phrases and pretzeling language to suit their needs, and the needs of a war that existed largely in their imaginations rather than on the ground. In recent months, backs against the verbal wall, these spinmeisters have begun spinning ever more wildly -- mixing metaphors, grasping at rhetorical straws, and stretching credulity at every turn, if not turning point.

In an effort to analyze this latest surge of sophistry -- a war of words always fought with the "home front" in mind -- Nick Turse and Tom Engelhardt have come up with a quiz that places genuine quotes from actual military commanders and Washington officials alongside quotes we've spun from our own questionable brains. We challenge your readers to pick the real ones. Did an American general in Iraq liken the situation there to a pogo stick, a teeter-totter, a slinky, or a jungle gym? It's your choice. Did George Tenet's "slam dunk" line inspire current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates into using basketball analogies when speaking of "security" in the Middle East, or did he flee to the football field of life? You'll find out!

Is "progress" in Iraq, according to a spokesman for the American military command, Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner, comparable to flipping a light switch, starting a balky Jeep, turning on a faucet, or launching a cruise missile? There are 11 of our questions, with at least one answer always the real McCoy.

It's great fun, as well as a snapshot of the grim (if wacky) reality of the Iraqi war of words in Washington and Baghdad.

From our sponsors:

For seven hours, MSNBC hosted only conservatives and reporters to discuss immigration

During the seven hours of the June 11 edition of MSNBC Live, 15 segments aired about immigration or the Senate immigration bill, none of which featured a Democratic or progressive commentator. Indeed, in nine of the 15 segments, the anchor interviewed a conservative anti-immigration activist who had opposed the bill -- including six separate solo interviews with MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.

Ignoring Libby's early obstruction, Broder attacked Fitzgerald for "relentlessly" pursuing Libby

Calling the prosecution of former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby a "sideshow" in his June 10 column, The Washington Post's David Broder accused special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald of getting "caught up in the excitement of the case and pursu[ing] Libby relentlessly." But contrary to Broder's suggestion, the crimes for which Libby was ultimately convicted did not all occur in the course of Fitzgerald's "relentless" pursuit of him. Libby took one of the actions for which he was convicted even before Fitzgerald took over the case, during the Department of Justice's initial investigation.

How hard is it to figure out if Al Gore's new book has footnotes? On Sunday, The Washington Post published a dismissive column by conservative Andrew Ferguson who complained Gore's national bestseller had no footnotes. In fact, if Ferguson had simply bothered to look, every one of the nearly 300 quotes found in The Assault on Reason is accompanied by an endnote. The endnotes consume 20 pages of the book. Such is life for Al Gore when dealing with the Beltway press, where his vociferous critics cannot be bothered with the simplest fact-checking task, while oblivious media outlets such as The Washington Post print up the errors.

Read more here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Viktor
Hometown: Falls Church, VA

George F. Will's "Democrats' Prosperity Problem" column that you cite omitted a few relevant statistics:

1. After falling in the 1990s, the Poverty Rate has increased since 2000 (here).

2. After rising in the 1990s, Median (Real) Household Income has been flat since 1999 (here).

But I don't need simple demographic statistics to tell me that the Median Joe isn't so well off in the Bush, Jr. Era. If the economy is so good, why am I hearing so much about The Immigration Problem and Evil Immigrants?

Name: austin mayor
Hometown: Chicagoblogosphere

Mark Evanier noted another episode of Gore-bashing -- and the subsequent failure to fully own up to it -- in the WP:

Last Sunday, the Washington Post ran a scathing review of Al Gore's new book. The review was written by Andrew Ferguson. Here's a link to the whole review and here's the first paragraph of it:

"You can't really blame Al Gore for not using footnotes in his new book, "The Assault on Reason." It's a sprawling, untidy blast of indignation, and annotating it with footnotes would be like trying to slip rubber bands around a puddle of quicksilver. Still, I'd love to know where he found the scary quote from Abraham Lincoln that he uses on page 88."

The Post has now added a "slight" correction to the online version of the review. And I'll put it in smaller type because they did...

"Andrew Ferguson's June 10 Outlook article, "What Al Wishes Abe Said," said that former vice president Al Gore's book "The Assault on Reason" does not contain footnotes. The book contains 20 pages of endnotes."

The correction is not only insufficient because it's in a smaller font but also because it didn't mention that those endnotes include the source of the Lincoln quote.

In other words: The reviewer started right off by attacking Gore's book for not including footnotes that told us things like where he got a certain quote from Abraham Lincoln...but the book does include twenty pages of endnotes that tell us things like where he got that certain quote from Abraham Lincoln.

Name: Jerry
Hometown: Grand Forks, ND

Careful Eric, or some liberal pundit is going to accuse you of making populist appeals to class warfare. The next thing you know they'll have you shipped off to the Micheal Moore ghetto where you can be dismissed with a comment on your personal grooming habits or lack of couture. You know, issues of substance.

Keep up the good fight.

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY

Dear Eric,

Basketball great Bill Walton is now known as a loquacious (perhaps overly so) broadcaster, but for half of his life he had a severe problem with stuttering. In his book "Nothing But Net" he writes, "It wasn't until I was twenty-eight that I really learned how to speak...The ability to learn how to talk is easily the greatest thing I've ever done." That's quite a comment, coming from a Hall of Fame player who won two NCAA championships and two NBA championships.

In response to Dawn's question -- I fear that there is so much ignorance about stuttering that many people believe that stutterers are stupid, when in fact intelligence has nothing to do with it. My own limited experience with stutterers is that patience helps. Give them all the time they need to express their thoughts. It may not help with the stuttering, but it should help to reduce the stutterer's frustration and self-consciousness.

Name: Harley
Hometown: Ontario CA

I had this affliction as a child, and fortunately we had access to a speech therapist with the school district. By the time I was in 6th grade, I was 'cured'. What I have found to be unusual is that many stutterers have good singing abilities. Jim Nabors comes to mind.

Name: Dawn
Hometown: Rockford, IL


What you describe with your friend sounds very familiar. I rarely discuss my stuttering with anyone. I am fine talking about it if someone else brings it up, but hardly ever do myself. If I can offer suggestions it would be to be very patient with children who stutter, and let them know it is OK. Lots of times it is just a temporary thing, but making them nervous and dreadful about it will make it a lot worse. I'm 49 and though my parents were very supportive, it was a different era of parenting. I was one of 7, and if you weren't bleeding or getting arrested they figured you were OK. I think an occasional hug and 'it will be ok - don't worry about it' would have gone a long way.

I hope you don't get a lot of email for calling it a disability. I go back and forth on that one but really don't consider myself disabled. More severe stutterers may feel that way though, so I guess it is an individual thing.

I used to hate all the songs with stuttering in them, but I got over that. Took a while though. And unlike a lot of stutterers, I love 'A Fish Called Wanda'. Hey, funny is funny.

Name: Brian

Any suggested Rorty reading list?

Philosophically speaking, the breakthrough work was "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature" (1979). I'd also recommend "Consequences of Pragmatism" (1982), and "Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity" (1989). For straightforward politics, Achieving Our Country (1998).

Name: David F.
Hometown: Peotone, IL


Yesterday, you said, "I remain fascinated about the disconnect between great thoughts, such as they are, inside the academy and the paucity of imagination in our public conversation."

That reminded me of this saying, which I have tacked up in my office:

Great minds discuss ideas,
Average minds discuss events,
Small minds discuss people.

Considering the vast swaths of airtime devoted to a certain hotel heiress named after the capital of France (I can't bring myself to write her name), I would just like to say, "THANK YOU" for continually discussing ideas here on your blog (and the occasional event). I too, wish our public conversation included more ideas, but alas, we have a long way to go.

Keep up the good work.

Name: Douglas Sterling
Hometown: Independence, KY

I was at the nuclear freeze rally, too, being half way through my college career myself. I participated in the march in the morning which ended at the park with a bunch of friends. We were situated along one of those low wooden police barricades set up to allow a path through the crowd (we were pretty far back from the stage). At some point during the day we could here a low moan coming from the crowd to the left of us, slowly growing in volume and then coalescing into loud boos. Before I knew it, Ed Koch walked by with entourage, waving at the boos with a big grin. Thanks for reminding me of that, can't believe 25 years! And I do remember Bruce being announced too. Was a great moment. There were so many movement moments like that, then. What happened?

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.