Tuesday, June 24, 2008

New Republic Syndrome

A brilliant post by Glenn Greenwald for those of us wondering why on earth the democrats would cave on the FISA bill. He coins it New Republic Syndrome:
The number one problem facing the Democratic Party is that, as events of the last week demonstrate, it continues to be plagued by The New Republic Syndrome, one of the most fatal political afflictions that exist. In 2002 and 2003, The New Republic was one of the leading crusaders for an attack on Iraq, railing against what it called "the intellectual incoherence of the liberal war critics." In a February 2003 Editorial, they decreed that "the United States must disarm Iraq by force" and declared war opponents guilty of "abject pacifism."

In 2004, TNR expressed regret because "the central assumption underlying this magazine's strategic rationale for war now appears to have been wrong," but they still insisted that "if our strategic rationale for war has collapsed, our moral one has not." But by December 2006 -- hundreds of thousands of dead bodies later -- that very partial acknowledgment of wrongdoing turned into this: "The New Republic deeply regrets its early support for this war."

Also in 2004, The New Republic endorsed Joe Lieberman for the Democratic nomination for President, using its endorsement to attack Howard Dean and his liberal supporters as suffering from "an old Democratic affliction: an excessive faith in multilateralism and an insufficient faith in the moral potential of U.S. power" and said that Dean supporters were "dangerously out of touch with a country that feels threatened by terrorism, not Donald Rumsfeld."

Despite those forced mea culpas and reversals, TNR never actually learns. Today -- in a post bearing the very sensible and Serious title: "Keeping FISA in Perspective" -- TNR is here, via Josh Patashnik, to tell you that there's nothing truly disturbing about the FISA bill that is about to pass. What's more, those who think there is, and those who want to oppose Democrats who support the bill, are -- just like war opponents of 2003 and Lieberman opponents of 2006 -- nothing more than shrill, hysterical radicals who are irresponsible and even insane:

There's no question the FISA compromise is very disappointing in a few respects, most notably because it means there will (apparently) be no judicial pronouncement on the legality of Bush's wiretapping program. I'm torn as to how I would have voted on the bill, were I a member of Congress. But it is most certainly not a threat to constitutional government in America, and to suggest that it's of such extraordinary, overriding importance as to merit primary challenges from the left against Democrats in center-right districts is, quite simply, nuts.
It's not "nuts" to give the President vast new warrantless eavesdropping powers, permanently conceal Bush's lawbreaking, or give amnesty to lawbreaking telecoms. It's "nuts" to oppose those corrupt measures and try to defeat politicians who support them.
So that's why the new republic sucks, but we knew that. The larger point is what's truly devastating:

The reason these posts are worth noting is because they so perfectly capture the mindset that needs to be undermined more than any other. It's this mentality that has destroyed the concept of checks and limits in our political system; it's why we have no real opposition party; and it's why the history of the Democrats over the last seven years has been to ignore and then endorse one extremist Bush policy after the next. It's because even as The New Republic Syndrome has been proven to be false and destructive over and over -- even its practitioners have been forced to recognize that -- it continues to be the guiding operating principle of the party's leadership.

The defining beliefs of this Syndrome are depressingly familiar, and incomparably destructive: Anything other than tiny, marginal opposition to the Right's agenda is un-Serious and radical. Objections to the demolition of core constitutional protections is shrill and hysterical. Protests against lawbreaking by our high government officials and corporations are disrespectful and disruptive. Challenging the Right's national security premises is too scary and politically costly. Those campaigning against Democratic politicians who endorse and enable the worst aspects of Bush extremism are "nuts," "need to have their heads examined," and are "exactly the sorts of fanatics who tore the party apart in the late 1960s and early 1970s." Those who oppose totally unprovoked and illegal wars are guilty of "abject pacifism."

It's exactly that mentality that has brought us to where we are as a country and a political system today. It's not at all surprising -- and wouldn't have surprised the Founders in the least -- that a radical and corrupt political faction (the Bush-led Right) has been able to take over parts of the Government and sought to consolidate political power. The expectation was that this would happen, and the solution was to devise a litany of checks -- the Congress, the media, opposition parties -- that would stand up to and vigorously oppose that faction and prevent it from running rampant.

It's primarily the failure of those institutions, rather than the emergence of a corrupt and lawless faction, that has made the Bush era so unique and distinctively destructive. Those institutions have failed because they have been, and continue to be, defined by the meek, amorphous, principle-free New Republic Syndrome, which thinks that its restrained tolerance and complicit embrace of patent Bush extremism is some sort of mark of political sophistication and Seriousness.

And this is why it's a big deal. Greenwald links to a blog called Unfogged which I hadn't read before, but it's writer offers two depressing predictions:
1. This pattern of behavior is so deeply ingrained in the Democrats that they will continue to quake in fear of a wildly unpopular party that just imploded under its own stupidity and hubris.
2. Despite a far weaker electoral position than the Democrats ever had to deal with, the GOP will have no problem behaving like an effective opposition party.
I agree 1000% with #2, and the jury is still out on #1, but it sure hasn't looked hopeful recently.

One of the original things I liked about Obama was his willingness to break with conventional wisdom in how to approach certain topics. His willingness to speak out on Iraq, the speech on race, his original talk about Palestine (until he completely obliterated that earlier this month) and his academic background on the US Constitution were places where I really thought he might change the debate. This worries me not because I didn't expect to be disappointed by Obama, but because the disappointments are coming in areas I didn't expect.

It's just that it doesn't add up in my book for a former constitutional law professor to endorse something that undermines the principles of the constitution... but I guess I'm old fashioned in that way.

It seems like this bill/fight would have been the definitive moment for Obama politics. It takes down the old dems weak on security frame replacing it with new dem leader defending the constitution frame... a fight that really should be 'post-partisan' and could easily be framed that way. I just don't get it.

New Republic syndrome is alive and well within the democratic party, and that's far more dangerous than any names the republicans will call us in the fall.

And when you hear the self congratulatory press releases from the rest of the dems over the next couple of days, keep this quote in mind from none other than Russ Feingold:
"That’s a farce and it’s political cover, anybody who claims this is an okay bill, I really question if they’ve even read it."


  1. this was a pretty amazing post, very thorough and it speaks largely to the conversation we had over the weekend as to trying to figure out why the democrats continued to act this way.

    as for Obama, my only theory is that his advisers are wary of pushing the envelope too much for the simple reason that he is the first Black man with a legitimate shot to win this thing... ever. it may sound a little crass, but I really think they are only concerned with electability and for all his idealistic talk early on, he may be more centrist than we would hope. however, he cannot be as "republican-in-democrat's-clothing" as Clinton would have been.

  2. Although he may be moving to the center... there is no question AT ALL that we are in a better position than we would be with Ms. Triangulation herself as the nominee. Not a debate whatsoever, even if you took off the table the fact that unlike her, Obama will actually win in November.

    I think that race can explain the shift on a couple of issues, but not the shift in general. It is responsible for the major hawkish shift on Israel-Palestine for sure, and definitely for the recent kicking out the women with head scarves incident. And I feel like that might play a role in how far they can push on other issues, such as economic justice, the much critized silence on jena 6, all as efforts to not be pegged as "the black candidate".

    However on the whole, I think the problem is that Obama has let the conventional wisdom of the democratic party seep into some of his campaign decisions, a brand of "strategy" that is hell bent on creating losers of all colors. If you run as a democrat, the vast majority of democratic consultants will tell you that you need to do certain things things in order to win elections, which funnily enough, most of them don't have experience doing. And as greenwald, myself and countless others would argue they have lost precisely because of those "move to the center" "act like republicans" strategies.

    If doing these things would guarantee an Obama win, you'd have a moral dilemma, but at least I would understand the selling out.

    The problem I have with this is that it's a sellout AND losing politics all wrapped into one. Steny Hoyer was quoted saying that he "took the issue off the table for the election" and he might be right. But is that even a good thing?

    To Hoyer, it's a good thing to bury the issue because it could have been used to call the democrats pussies.

    In the world that the rest of us live in, the democrats will be called pussies by the republicans regardless, and the fact that the republican president created a program to wiretap on ordinary Americans without warrants is something we should talk about... as well as a DAMN good campaign issue.

    Until that mindset is broken democrats will continue to make idiotic decisions like that one, and I'm just sorry to see Obama get caught up in it, when it seemed like there was hope of him being someone who could break it.

  3. see it makes a lot more sense when you explain it. its clear to me that the day can't come soon enough for you guys to launch your political careers and lead this country in a smart, new direction.

    furthermore, the icon = brilliance!!!!

  4. Thanks for the kind words man, and I can safely say I put far too much work into that icon. It's surprising how hard it is to find a picture of the back of one of his Nigerian Jerseys. Oh well, this proves there's nothing a little photoshop and wasting 2 hours can't fix!

  5. I got into a long argument with Rebecca last night (with her playing devil's advocate for Obama's decision) about whether the country would take the time to understand this issue, or whether they'd just see it as something to do with "National Security." Her point being: Obama's doing well in the polls but it is damn early and he's still a vulnerable candidate. Making his biggest stand so far on a national security issue, the only issue where McCain really polls well, is handing McCain a ton of free media coverage and basically letting him frame Obama as weak on terrorism. Yet another case of the democrat winning the argument handily and losing the election because of what the argument was about.

    She may be right. But christ, what a crappy move, both politically and for the country as a whole. If not this, then what? Too much more driving to the right, and he'll lose the the people who are putting the democrats so far above the republicans in terms of party pride.

  6. @ Nick:
    You're exactly right about the stakes. The question here is "where is the line?" I'll write more about this soon, cause if it isn't the US fucking constitution, then we have a problem.

    You have to admit though, the amount of stupid stuff he's packed into the last couple of days is downright impressive. It's as if he decided to have an unannounced "Let's shit on everyone who got me the nomination" week.

  7. I simply could not go away your [url=http://www.www.saclongchamppascher-fr.eu/sac-longchamp-pliage-fraise-c-15.html]Sac Longchamp Pliage Fraise[/url] site prior to suggesting that I extremely loved the standard info a person supply for your visitors? Trousse De Toilette Sac Longcham [url=http://www.www.saclongchamppascher-fr.eu/porte-monnai-sac-longchamp-c-2.html]Porte Monnai Sac Longchamp[/url] ,Is going to be back ceaselessly in order to check out new posts