Saturday, November 10, 2007

Norman Mailer, Outspoken Novelist, Dies at 84

The New York Times
November 10, 2007

Norman Mailer, the combative, controversial and often outspoken novelist who loomed over American letters longer and larger than any writer of his generation, died today at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. He was 84.

The cause was renal failure , said J. Michael Lennon, his literary executor. Mr. Mailer burst on the scene in 1948 with “The Naked and the Dead,” a partly autobiographical novel about World War II, and for the next six decades he was rarely far from the center stage. He published more than 30 books, including novels, biographies and works of nonfiction, and twice won the Pulitzer Prize: for “The Armies of the Night” (1968), which also won the National Book Award, and “The Executioner’s Song” (1979).

He also wrote, directed, and acted in several low-budget movies, helped found The Village Voice and for many years was a regular guest on television talk shows, where he could reliably be counted on to make oracular pronouncements and deliver provocative opinions, sometimes coherently and sometimes not.

Mr. Mailer belonged to the old literary school that regarded novel writing as a heroic enterprise undertaken by heroic characters with egos to match. He was the most transparently ambitious writer of his era, seeing himself in competition not just with his contemporaries but with the likes of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.

He was also the least shy and risk-averse of writers. He eagerly sought public attention, and publicity inevitably followed him on the few occasions when he tried to avoid it. His big ears, barrel chest, striking blue eyes and helmet of seemingly electrified hair — jet black at first and ultimately snow white — made him instantly recognizable, a celebrity long before most authors were lured out into the limelight.

At different points in his life Mr. Mailer was a prodigious drinker and drug taker, a womanizer, a devoted family man, a would-be politician who ran for mayor of New York, a hipster existentialist, an antiwar protester, an opponent of women’s liberation and an all-purpose feuder and short-fused brawler, who with the slightest provocation would happily engage in head-butting, arm-wrestling and random punch-throwing. Boxing obsessed him and inspired some of his best writing. Any time he met a critic or a reviewer, even a friendly one, he would put up his fists and drop into a crouch.

Gore Vidal, with whom he frequently wrangled, once wrote: “Mailer is forever shouting at us that he is about to tell us something we must know or has just told us something revelatory and we failed to hear him or that he will, God grant his poor abused brain and body just one more chance, get through to us so that we will know. Each time he speaks he must become more bold, more loud, put on brighter motley and shake more foolish bells. Yet of all my contemporaries I retain the greatest affection for Norman as a force and as an artist. He is a man whose faults, though many, add to rather than subtract from the sum of his natural achievements.”

Mr. Mailer was a tireless worker who at his death was writing a sequel to his 2007 novel, “The Castle in the Forest.” If some of his books, written quickly and under financial pressure, were not as good as he had hoped, none of them were forgettable or without his distinctive stamp. And if he never quite succeeded in bringing off what he called “the big one” — the Great American Novel — it was not for want of trying.

Along the way, he transformed American journalism by introducing to nonfiction writing some of the techniques of the novelist and by placing at the center of his reporting a brilliant, flawed and larger-than-life character who was none other than Norman Mailer himself.

A Pampered Son

Norman Kingsley — or, in Hebrew, Nachem Malek — Mailer was born in Long Branch, N.J., on Jan. 31, 1923. His father, Isaac Barnett, known as Barney, was a South African émigré, a snappy dresser — he sometimes wore spats and carried a walking stick — and a largely ineffectual businessman.

The dominant figure in the family was Mr. Mailer’s mother, Fanny Schneider, who came from a vibrant clan in Long Branch, where her father ran a grocery store and was the town’s unofficial rabbi. Though another child, Barbara, was born in 1927, Norman remained his mother’s favorite; she declared him “perfect” — a judgment from which she never deviated, no matter how her son behaved in later life.

When Norman was 9, the family moved to Crown Heights, in Brooklyn. Pampered and doted on, he excelled at both P.S. 161 and Boys High School, from which he graduated in 1939. The next fall he enrolled as a 16-year-old freshman at Harvard, where he showed up wearing a newly purchased outfit of gold-brown jacket, green-and-blue striped pants, and white saddle shoes. Classmates remembered him as brash and jug-eared and full of big talk about his sexual experience. (In fact he had had very little, a lack he quickly set about rectifying.)

Mr. Mailer intended to major in aeronautical engineering, but by the time he was a sophomore, he had fallen in love with literature. He spent the summer reading and rereading James T. Farrell’s “Studs Lonigan,” John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” and John Dos Passos’s “U.S.A.,” and he began, or so he claimed, to set himself a daily quota of 3,000 words of his own, on the theory that this was the way to get bad writing out of his system. By 1941 he was sufficiently purged to win the Story magazine prize for best short story written by an undergraduate.

Mr. Mailer graduated from Harvard in 1943 determined on a literary career. He began work on a thousand-page novel about a mental hospital (never published) while waiting to be drafted. He was finally called up by the Army in the spring of 1944, after marrying Bea Silverman, in January, and was sent to the Philippines.

Mr. Mailer saw little combat in the war and finished his military career as a cook in occupied Japan. But his wartime experience, and in particular a single patrol he made on the island of Leyte, became the raw material for “The Naked and the Dead,” the book that put him on the map.

Mr. Mailer wrote “The Naked and the Dead,” which is about a 13-man platoon fighting the Japanese on a Pacific atoll, in 15 months or so, and when it was published, in the spring of 1948, it was almost universally praised — the last time this would ever happen to him. Some critics ranked it among the best war novels ever written.

“The Naked and the Dead” sold 200,000 copies in just three months — a huge number in those days — and remains Mr. Mailer’s greatest literary and commercial success, even though it is in part an apprentice work, owing a large and transparent debt to Dos Passos, Tolstoy and James T. Farrell.

Mr. Mailer later said of it: “Part of me thought it was possibly the greatest book written since ‘War and Peace.’ On the other hand I also thought, ‘I don’t know anything about writing. I’m virtually an impostor.’ ”

‘Daring the Unknown’

His second book, “Barbary Shore” (1951), a political novel about, among other things, the struggle between capitalism and socialism, earned what Mr. Mailer called “possibly the worst reviews of any serious novel in recent years.” A third, “The Deer Park” (1955), in part a fictionalized account of Elia Kazan’s troubles with the House Un-American Activities Committee, fared a little better but not much, and for the rest of the decade Mr. Mailer wrote no fiction at all.

For much of the ’50s he drifted, frequently drunk or stoned or both, and affected odd accents: British, Irish, gangster, Texan. In 1955, together with two friends, Daniel Wolf and Edwin Fancher, he founded The Village Voice, and while writing a column for that paper he began to evolve what became his trademark style — bold, poetic, metaphysical, even shamanistic at times — and his personal philosophy of hipsterism. It was a homespun, Greenwich Village version of existentialism, which argued that the truly with-it, blacks and jazz musicians especially, led more authentic lives and enjoyed better orgasms.

The most famous, or infamous, version of this philosophy was Mr. Mailer’s controversial 1957 essay “The White Negro,” which seemed to endorse violence as an existential act and declared the murder of a white candy-store owner by two 18-year-old blacks an example of “daring the unknown.”

In November 1960, Mr. Mailer stabbed his second wife, Adele Morales, with a penknife, seriously wounding her. The incident happened at the end of an all-night party announcing Mr. Mailer’s intention to run in the 1961 mayoral campaign, and he, like many of his guests, had been drinking heavily. Mr. Mailer was arrested, but his wife declined to press charges, and he was eventually released after being sent to Bellevue Hospital for observation. The marriage broke up two years later.

All told, Mr. Mailer was married six times, counting a quickie with Carol Stevens, whom he married and divorced within a couple of days in 1980 to grant legitimacy to their daughter, Maggie. His other wives, in addition to Ms. Silverman and Ms. Morales, were Lady Jeanne Campbell, granddaughter of Lord Beaverbrook; Beverly Rentz Bentley; and Norris Church, with whom he was living at his death. Lady Campbell died in June.In the 1970s Mr. Mailer entered into a long feud with feminists and proponents of women’s liberation, and in a famous 1971 debate with Germaine Greer at Town Hall in Manhattan he declared himself an “enemy of birth control.” He meant it. By his various wives, Mr. Mailer had nine children, all of whom survive him: Susan, , by Ms. Silverman; Danielle and Elizabeth Anne, by Ms. Morales; Kate, by Lady Campbell; Michael Burks and Stephen McLeod, by Ms. Bentley; Maggie Alexandra, by Ms. Stevens; and John Buffalo, by Ms. Church. Also surviving are an adopted son, Matthew, by an earlier marriage of Ms. Norris’s, and 10 grandchildren.

For all his hipsterism, Mr. Mailer was an old-fashioned, attentive father. Starting in the 1960s, the financial burden of feeding and clothing his offspring, as well as keeping up with his numerous alimony payments, caused him to churn out a couple of novels, including “An American Dream” (1965), for the sake of a quick payday and also to take on freelance magazine assignments.

A series of articles for Esquire on the 1968 Democratic and Republican conventions were the basis for his book “Miami and the Siege of Chicago,” and some articles for Harper’s and Commentary about the 1967 antiwar march on the Pentagon became the basis for the prizewinning book “The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History.”

‘Servant to a Wild Man’

The beginning of “Armies” is both a good summary of Mr. Mailer’s life to that point and an example of how he had begun to turn himself into a character in which literary style and selfhood were virtually indistinguishable:

“As Mailer had come to recognize over the years, the modest everyday fellow of his daily round was servant to a wild man in himself: The gent did not appear so very often, sometimes so rarely as once a month, sometimes not even twice a year, and he sometimes came when Mailer was frightened and furious at the fear, sometimes he came just to get a breath of fresh air. He was indispensable, however, and Mailer was even fond of him, for the wild man was witty in his own wild way and absolutely fearless. He would have been admirable, except that he was an absolute egomaniac, a Beast —no recognition existed of the existence of anything beyond the range of his reach.”

The critic Richard Gilman said of the book: “In ‘Armies of the Night,’ the rough force of Mailer’s imagination, his brilliant wayward gifts of observation, his ravishing if often calculated honesty and his chutzpah all flourish on the steady ground of a newly coherent subject and theme.” Alfred Kazin praised the book for its “admirable sensibilities, candid intelligence” and “most moving concern for American itself.”

Somehow in this busy decade Mr. Mailer also managed to write “Of a Fire on the Moon,” about the 1969 lunar landing, which began as a series for Life magazine; to make his most famous movie, “Maidstone,” during the filming of which he bit off part of an ear of the actor Rip Torn after Mr. Torn attacked him with a hammer; and to run finally for mayor of New York, this time as a secessionist candidate, campaigning to make New York City the 51st state. He also proposed to ban private automobiles from the city.

The writer Jimmy Breslin, who was also on the ticket, thought the race was a lark until, at a disastrous rally at the Village Gate nightclub, he discovered that Mr. Mailer was serious. Mr. Breslin later recalled, “I found out I was running with Ezra Pound.” (The Mailer team eventually lost in the Democratic primary to Mario Procaccino, who was beaten in the election by John V. Lindsay.)

In an interviewin September 2006, Mr. Mailer said his favorite novel, if not his best, was “Tough Guys Don’t Dance,” a mystery thriller he wrote, under extreme financial pressure, in just two months in 1984. He was in tax trouble, he explained, and needed to crank something out quickly. “I was prepared to write a bad book if necessary,” he said, “but instead the style came out, and that saved it for me.”

His best book, he decided after thinking for a moment, was “Ancient Evenings” (1983), a long novel about ancient Egypt that received what had by then become familiar critical treatment: extravagantly praised in some quarters, disdained in others. About the book that many critics consider his masterpiece, “The Executioner’s Song,” he said he had mixed feelings because it wasn’t entirely his project.

“The Executioner’s Song,” which is about Gary Gilmore, a convicted murderer who, after a stay on death row, asked to be executed by the state of Utah in 1976, was the idea of Lawrence Schiller, a writer and filmmaker who did much of the reporting for the book, taping Mr. Gilmore and his family.

But in “The Executioner’s Song,” Mr. Mailer recast this material in what was for him a new impersonal voice that rendered the thoughts of his characters in a style partly drawn for their own way of talking. He called it a “true-life novel.”

Joan Didion, reviewing the book for The New York Times Book Review, said: “It is ambitious to the point of vertigo. It is a largely unremarked fact about Mailer that he is a great and obsessed stylist, a writer to whom the shape of the sentence is the story. His sentences do not get long or short by accident, or because he is in a hurry. I think no one but Mailer could have dared this book. The authentic Western voice, the voice heard in ‘The Executioner’s Song,’ is one heard often in life but only rarely in literature.”

Mr. Schiller also assisted Mr. Mailer with “Oswald’s Tale: An American Mystery,” his 1995 book about Lee Harvey Oswald, President John F. Kennedy’s assassin. In a review for The Sunday Times of London, Martin Amis called the book a “remarkable feat of imaginative sympathy.” But Mr. Amis but also noted that it recalled Mr. Mailer’s championing of the convict Jack Henry Abbott, which displayed, he said, the author’s “old weakness for any killer who has puzzled his way through a few pages of Marx.”

Mr. Abbott was serving a long sentence in a Utah prison for forgery and for killing a fellow inmate when, in 1977, he began writing to Mr. Mailer. Mr. Mailer saw literary talent in Mr. Abbott’s letters and helped him publish them in an acclaimed volume called “In the Belly of the Beast.” He also lobbied to get Mr. Abbott paroled. A few weeks after being released, in June 1981, Mr. Abbott, now a darling in leftist literary circles, stabbed to death a waiter in a Lower East Side restaurant, and his champion became a target of national outrage.

Black-Tie Benefits

The episode was the last great controversy of Mr. Mailer’s career. Chastened perhaps, and stabilized by what would prove to be a marriage with Ms. Church, a former model whom he wed in November 1980, Mr. Mailer mellowed and even turned sedate. The former hostess-baiter and scourge of parties became a regular guest at black-tie benefits and dinners given by the likes of William S. Paley, Gloria Vanderbilt and Oscar de la Renta. His editor, Jason Epstein, said of this period, “There are two sides to Norman Mailer, and the good side has won.”

In 1984 Mr. Mailer was elected president of PEN American Center, the writers’ organization, and was the main force in bringing together writers from all over the world for a much publicized literary conference called “The Writer’s Imagination and the Imagination of the State.” For a change, Mr. Mailer even found himself attacked from the left as many of the attendees protested about his inviting George P. Schultz, then secretary of state, to address the opening session. Mr. Mailer dismissed them as “puritanical leftists.”

In the ’90s Mr. Mailer’s health began to fail. He had arthritis and angina and was fitted with two hearing aids. But his productivity was undiminished, especially after he embarked on what he called a “monastic regime” in 1995, swearing off drinking when he was working.

“Bellow and myself and a couple of others were very much smaller than Faulkner and Hemingway,” he conceded early in the decade, but he never backed off from the claim that among his contemporaries he was the heavyweight champion.

In 1991 he published “Harlot’s Ghost,” a 1,310-page novel about the Central Intelligence Agency, in which he conceived of it as a kind of cold-war church, the keeper of the nation’s secrets and the bearer of its values. A poorly received biography of Picasso came out in 1995, followed in 1997 by “The Gospel According to the Son,” a first-person novel about Jesus. It gave some critics the opportunity they had been waiting for. Norman Mailer thinks he’s God, they said.

Mr. Mailer’s next novel, “The Castle in the Forest,” which came out a decade later, was about Hitler, but the narrator was a devil, a persona he admitted he found particularly congenial. “It’s as close as a writer gets to unrequited joy,” he said. “We are devils when all is said and done.”

Interviewed at his house in Provincetown, Mass., shortly before that book’s publication, Mr. Mailer, frail but cheerful, said he hoped his failing eyesight would hold out long enough for him to complete a sequel. His knees were shot, he added, holding up the two canes he walked with, and he had begun doing daily crossword puzzles to refresh his word hoard.

On the other hand, he said, writing was now easier for him in at least one respect. “The waste is less,” he said. “The elements of mania and depression are diminished. Writing is a serious and sober activity for me now compared to when I was younger. The question of how good are you is one that really good novelists obsess about more than poor ones. Good novelists are always terribly affected by the fear that they’re not as good as they thought and why are they doing it, what are they up to?

“It’s such an odd notion, particularly in this technological society, of whether your life is justified by being a novelist. And the nice thing about getting older is that I no longer worry about that. I’ve come to the simple recognition that would have saved me much woe 30 or 40 or 50 years ago — that one’s eventual reputation has very little to do with one’s talent. History determines it, not the order of your words.”

Shaking his head, he added: “In two years I will have been a published novelist for 60 years. That’s not true for very many of us.” And he recalled something he had said at the National Book Award ceremony in 2005, when he was given a lifetime achievement award: that he felt like an old coachmaker who looks with horror at the turn of the 20th century, watching automobiles roar by with their fumes.

“I think the novel is on the way out,” he said. “I also believe, because it’s natural to take one’s own occupation more seriously than others, that the world may be the less for that.”

Norman Mailer (January 31, 1923 – November 10, 2007)



Friday, November 09, 2007

Scratchpad: Fri. 9 Nov. 2007

Since the USA went off the Gold Standard what holds up the $US?

Confidence in the Government of the United States!

(So much for reactionaries like Ron Paul who want to “go back” to gold which is tantamount to going back in time to the good old bad old stupid old days. But I’m sure according to his John Birch Society, StormFront and ignorant libertarian homunculi devotees, he’s got something there.)

One good thing about “weak dollar policy” of the twice-illegitimately installed Bush Regime (which if the Dems and Republicans of conscience had the guts they’d impeach, remove and jail!) is: it makes exports cheaper, thus Bush’s fellow criminal corporate crapitalist cronies are happy.

At the same time, the fascistic privileged Powers That Be can get their jollies by watching workers, senior citizens, veterans, the ranks of the military, poor people etc. scramble for the few remaining crumbs of social wealth most of which is caught in a perpetual flowing stream of accelerating redistribution upward into the coffers of the You Know Who.

Furthermore, it makes emigration extremely difficult to next to impossible for most Americans who drank the Kool Aid and ate the cole slaw, buying into the petit bourgeois nightmare of everything that slaughters the human soul.

“See! Nobody wants to leave AmeriKKKa. The stupid little oinkers out there in Television Land would much rather stay in this ‘Our Gray-ut Lay-und’ laboring beneath the hellish heel of the Prostitute Ethic and the Spirit of Exploitation and Wage-and-Debt Slavery!”

In the longer term everybody suffers as a weak dollar leads to spiraling inflation and recession. “You remember the days of $200 loaves of bread, don’t you…Mein Herr…?”

The Dollar and the Country and the Future ain’t what they used to be.

Thank ya, George Dumbya…! “You think I‘m dumb, America? Eh-heh eh-heh eh-heh…” (Smart enough to play it dumb…as he always has…since suckling at the Evil Anti-Mother’s moldy old shriveled old teat.)

[Thx in part to NPR.]



Waterboarding Drew Critics During U.S.-Philippine War

The “water cure,” as it was then known, was widely used in the 12-year war in the Philippines that began in 1898, says historian William Loren Katz. William Howard Taft, then the U.S. governor of the islands, made the technique front-page news when he told Congress it had been used to extract information in the conflict. Meanwhile, a soldier’s letter boasting of giving 160 people the “water cure,” of whom only 26 survived, was made public. [ More ]


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

90th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution

* Special Note: To I.M. Small.

The Blogger server is glitchy again and after several tries I could not post your message (poem). It’s not the first time I’ve been confronted with this problem around here. So if you’re of a mind, please submit your message again for publication later today or tomorrow and I’ll give it another try. That’s all I can do at this time.





Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The presidency is now a criminal conspiracy

Olbermann: Bush may not observe the rules, but the country abides by them


By Keith Olbermann
Anchor, 'Countdown'
updated 9:42 p.m. ET, Mon., Nov. 5, 2007

It is a fact startling in its cynical simplicity and it requires cynical and simple words to be properly expressed: The presidency of George W. Bush has now devolved into a criminal conspiracy to cover the ass of George W. Bush.

All the petulancy, all the childish threats, all the blank-stare stupidity; all the invocations of World War III, all the sophistic questions about which terrorist attacks we wanted him not to stop, all the phony secrets; all the claims of executive privilege, all the stumbling tap-dancing of his nominees, all the verbal flatulence of his apologists...

All of it is now, after one revelation last week, transparently clear for what it is: the pathetic and desperate manipulation of the government, the refocusing of our entire nation, toward keeping this mock president and this unstable vice president and this departed wildly self-overrating attorney general, and the others, from potential prosecution for having approved or ordered the illegal torture of prisoners being held in the name of this country.

"Waterboarding is torture," Daniel Levin was to write. Daniel Levin was no theorist and no protester. He was no troublemaking politician. He was no table-pounding commentator. Daniel Levin was an astonishingly patriotic American and a brave man.

Brave not just with words or with stances, even in a dark time when that kind of bravery can usually be scared or bought off.

Charged, as you heard in the story from ABC News last Friday, with assessing the relative legality of the various nightmares in the Pandora's box that is the Orwell-worthy euphemism "Enhanced Interrogation," Mr. Levin decided that the simplest, and the most honest, way to evaluate them ... was to have them enacted upon himself.

Daniel Levin took himself to a military base and let himself be waterboarded.

Mr. Bush, ever done anything that personally courageous?

Perhaps when you've gone to Walter Reed and teared up over the maimed servicemen? And then gone back to the White House and determined that there would be more maimed servicemen?

Has it been that kind of personal courage, Mr. Bush, when you've spoken of American victims and the triumph of freedom and the sacrifice of your own popularity for the sake of our safety? And then permitted others to fire or discredit or destroy anybody who disagreed with you, whether they were your own generals, or Max Cleland, or Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, or Daniel Levin?

Daniel Levin should have a statue in his honor in Washington right now.

Instead, he was forced out as acting assistant attorney general nearly three years ago because he had the guts to do what George Bush couldn't do in a million years: actually put himself at risk for the sake of his country, for the sake of what is right.

And they waterboarded him. And he wrote that even though he knew those doing it meant him no harm, and he knew they would rescue him at the instant of the slightest distress, and he knew he would not die — still, with all that reassurance, he could not stop the terror screaming from inside of him, could not quell the horror, could not convince that which is at the core of each of us, the entity who exists behind all the embellishments we strap to ourselves, like purpose and name and family and love, he could not convince his being that he wasn't drowning.

Waterboarding, he said, is torture. Legally, it is torture! Practically, it is torture! Ethically, it is torture! And he wrote it down.

Wrote it down somewhere, where it could be contrasted with the words of this country's 43rd president: "The United States of America ... does not torture."

Made you into a liar, Mr. Bush.

Made you into, if anybody had the guts to pursue it, a criminal, Mr. Bush.

Waterboarding had already been used on Khalid Sheik Mohammed and a couple of other men none of us really care about except for the one detail you'd forgotten — that there are rules. And even if we just make up these rules, this country observes them anyway, because we're Americans and we're better than that.

We're better than you.

And the man your Justice Department selected to decide whether or not waterboarding was torture had decided, and not in some phony academic fashion, nor while wearing the Walter Mitty poseur attire of flight suit and helmet.

He had put his money, Mr. Bush, where your mouth was.

So, your sleazy sycophantic henchman Mr. Gonzales had him append an asterisk suggesting his black-and-white answer wasn't black-and-white, that there might have been a quasi-legal way of torturing people, maybe with an absolute time limit and a physician entitled to stop it, maybe, if your administration had ever bothered to set any rules or any guidelines.

And then when your people realized that even that was too dangerous, Daniel Levin was branded "too independent" and "someone who could (not) be counted on."

In other words, Mr. Bush, somebody you couldn't count on to lie for you.

So, Levin was fired.

Because if it ever got out what he'd concluded, and the lengths to which he went to validate that conclusion, anybody who had sanctioned waterboarding and who-knows-what-else on anybody, you yourself, you would have been screwed.

And screwed you are.

It can't be coincidence that the story of Daniel Levin should emerge from the black hole of this secret society of a presidency just at the conclusion of the unhappy saga of the newest attorney general nominee.

Another patriot somewhere listened as Judge Mukasey mumbled like he'd never heard of waterboarding and refused to answer in words … that which Daniel Levin answered on a waterboard somewhere in Maryland or Virginia three years ago.

And this someone also heard George Bush say, "The United States of America does not torture," and realized either he was lying or this wasn't the United States of America anymore, and either way, he needed to do something about it.

Not in the way Levin needed to do something about it, but in a brave way nonetheless.

We have U.S. senators who need to do something about it, too.

Chairman Leahy of the Judiciary Committee has seen this for what it is and said "enough."

Sen. Schumer has seen it, reportedly, as some kind of puzzle piece in the New York political patronage system, and he has failed.

What Sen. Feinstein has seen, to justify joining Schumer in rubber-stamping Mukasey, I cannot guess.

It is obvious that both those senators should look to the meaning of the story of Daniel Levin and recant their support for Mukasey's confirmation.

And they should look into their own committee's history and recall that in 1973, their predecessors were able to wring even from Richard Nixon a guarantee of a special prosecutor (ultimately a special prosecutor of Richard Nixon!), in exchange for their approval of his new attorney general, Elliott Richardson.

If they could get that out of Nixon, before you confirm the president's latest human echo on Tuesday, you had better be able to get a "yes" or a "no" out of Michael Mukasey.

Ideally you should lock this government down financially until a special prosecutor is appointed, or 50 of them, but I'm not holding my breath. The "yes" or the "no" on waterboarding will have to suffice.

Because, remember, if you can't get it, or you won't with the time between tonight and the next presidential election likely to be the longest year of our lives, you are leaving this country, and all of us, to the waterboards, symbolic and otherwise, of George W. Bush.

Ultimately, Mr. Bush, the real question isn't who approved the waterboarding of this fiend Khalid Sheik Mohammed and two others.

It is: Why were they waterboarded?

Study after study for generation after generation has confirmed that torture gets people to talk, torture gets people to plead, torture gets people to break, but torture does not get them to tell the truth.

Of course, Mr. Bush, this isn't a problem if you don't care if the terrorist plots they tell you about are the truth or just something to stop the tormentors from drowning them.

If, say, a president simply needed a constant supply of terrorist threats to keep a country scared.

If, say, he needed phony plots to play hero during, and to boast about interrupting, and to use to distract people from the threat he didn't interrupt.

If, say, he realized that even terrorized people still need good ghost stories before they will let a president pillage the Constitution,

Well, Mr. Bush, who better to dream them up for you than an actual terrorist?

He'll tell you everything he ever fantasized doing in his most horrific of daydreams, his equivalent of the day you "flew" onto the deck of the Lincoln to explain you'd won in Iraq.

Now if that's what this is all about, you tortured not because you're so stupid you think torture produces confession but you tortured because you're smart enough to know it produces really authentic-sounding fiction — well, then, you're going to need all the lawyers you can find … because that crime wouldn't just mean impeachment, would it?

That crime would mean George W. Bush is going to prison.

Thus the master tumblers turn, and the lock yields, and the hidden explanations can all be perceived, in their exact proportions, in their exact progressions.

Daniel Levin's eminently practical, eminently logical, eminently patriotic way of testing the legality of waterboarding has to vanish, and him with it.

Thus Alberto Gonzales has to use that brain that sounds like an old car trying to start on a freezing morning to undo eight centuries of the forward march of law and government.

Thus Dick Cheney has to ridiculously assert that confirming we do or do not use any particular interrogation technique would somehow help the terrorists.

Thus Michael Mukasey, on the eve of the vote that will make him the high priest of the law of this land, cannot and must not answer a question, nor even hint that he has thought about a question, which merely concerns the theoretical definition of waterboarding as torture.

Because, Mr. Bush, in the seven years of your nightmare presidency, this whole string of events has been transformed.

From its beginning as the most neglectful protection ever of the lives and safety of the American people ... into the most efficient and cynical exploitation of tragedy for political gain in this country's history ... and, then, to the giddying prospect that you could do what the military fanatics did in Japan in the 1930s and remake a nation into a fascist state so efficient and so self-sustaining that the fascism would be nearly invisible.

But at last this frightful plan is ending with an unexpected crash, the shocking reality that no matter how thoroughly you might try to extinguish them, Mr. Bush, how thoroughly you tried to brand disagreement as disloyalty, Mr. Bush, there are still people like Daniel Levin who believe in the United States of America as true freedom, where we are better, not because of schemes and wars, but because of dreams and morals.

And ultimately these men, these patriots, will defeat you and they will return this country to its righteous standards, and to its rightful owners, the people.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Wobbled by Wealth?

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
November 5, 2007

At just about every stop I’ve made so far on my book tour, what I’ve come to think of as The Question comes up. I talk about the origins of the long right-wing dominance of American politics, and the reasons I believe that dominance is coming to an end. Then someone asks, “How can you be optimistic about the prospects for progressive change, when big money has so much influence on politics?”

It’s a good question.

The public wants change. “If Americans have ever been angrier with the state of the country,” begins a new strategy memo from the polling organization Democracy Corps, “we have not witnessed it.”

Nor is the demand for change solely about Iraq: there has been a strong revival of economic populism. Democracy Corps asked those who believe America is on the wrong track to choose phrases that best described their views of what’s gone wrong. The most commonly chosen were “Big businesses get whatever they want in Washington” and “Leaders have forgotten the middle class.”

So much, by the way, for pundits who claim that Americans don’t care about economic inequality.

Longer-term studies of public opinion suggest a substantial leftward shift. James Stimson, a political scientist who uses data from many polls to construct an index of the overall liberalism or conservatism of the electorate, finds that America is now more liberal than it has been since the early 1960s. And the tactics the right has historically used to distract voters from economic issues, above all the exploitation of racial tensions, have been losing their effectiveness.

But the Democracy Corps memo warns that “Democrats have not yet found their voice as agents of change.” Indeed. What the memo doesn’t say, but is all too obvious, is that one big reason the Democrats are having trouble finding their voice is the influence of big money.

The most conspicuous example of this influence right now is the way Senate Democrats are dithering over whether to close the hedge fund tax loophole — which allows executives at private equity firms and hedge funds to pay a tax rate of only 15 percent on most of their income.

Only a handful of very wealthy people benefit from this loophole, while closing the loophole would yield billions of dollars each year in revenue. Retrieving this revenue is a key ingredient in legislation approved by the House Ways and Means Committee to reform the alternative minimum tax, something that must be done to avoid a de facto tax increase for millions of middle-class Americans.

A handful of superwealthy hedge fund managers versus millions of middle-class Americans — it sounds like a no-brainer.

But as The Financial Times reports, “Key votes have been delayed and time bought after the investment industry hired some of Washington’s most prominent lobbyists to influence lawmakers and spread largesse through campaign donations.” It goes on to describe how Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, was “toasted by industry lobbyists” (and serenaded by Barry Manilow) at a money-raising party for his special fund to help Democrats get elected next year.

Is this the shape of things to come? My questioners fear that it is.

Fears of betrayal are often focused on Hillary Clinton. Some people who raise The Question cite an article in The Nation from last summer, which suggested that Hillary Clinton’s commitment to change is suspect. “Not only is Hillary more reliant on large donations and corporate money than her Democratic rivals,” warned the article, “but advisers in her inner circle are closely affiliated with unionbusters, G.O.P. operatives, conservative media and other Democratic Party antagonists.”

O.K., some perspective. I sometimes hear people say that there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans; that’s foolish. Look at the fight over children’s health insurance, and you can see how different the parties’ philosophies and priorities really are. All of the leading Democratic candidates are offering strongly progressive policy proposals; the Republicans are, if anything, running to the right of the Bush administration.

Also, even history’s greatest progressives had to make compromises to win their victories. F.D.R.’s New Deal depended on the support of Southern segregationists. Compared with that, Senator Clinton’s acceptance of lots of corporate donations doesn’t look so bad — though I’d be reassured if she made her views on tax reform clearer, and matched John Edwards’s focus on corporate reform.

Still, I am worried.

One of the saddest stories I tell in my book is that of Al Smith, the great reformist governor of New York, who gradually turned into a narrow-minded economic conservative and bitter critic of F.D.R. H. L. Mencken explained it thusly: “His association with the rich has apparently wobbled him and changed him. He has become a golf player.”

So, how wobbled are today’s Democrats? I guess we’ll find out.

From the ‘How Big Media Should Question the Candidates’ files

Part I: Fred Thompson

Moderator: Mr. "Hollywood" Freddy Thompson is our guest.

Thompson: Nice to be here.

Moderator: That’s what you think.

Thompson: Uh-oh…

Moderator: You’ve had a very close long-term friendship with a convicted drug dealer and bookie who‘s been flying you around the country on his private jet.

Thompson: [interrupting] Now wait a minute…!

Moderator: You also got yourself a beautiful young trophy wife.

Thompson: It’s true love, I tell ya! It’s true love! Old fashioned values love, the kind that’ll see ya through, the kinda love that my Mammy and Daddy knew…!

Moderator: How did you do it, Mr. Thompson? How did you do it? By packing her nose full of blow? Answer the question!

Thompson: You’re just picking on me because I’m a White Confederate male politically dependent on a backward bumpkin constituency of inbred sheep-humping sheet-heads; and owe my acting career to Hollywooded New Yorker commie Jew mother-hugging writer’s union picket-line-walking godless degenerates who keep a show like Law and Order on the air long after it should have died a natural death !

Moderator: We appreciate the candor, Mr. Thompson, but you still haven’t answered the question.

Thompson: What question…?

Moderator: How did an old coot like yourself manage to get someone as attractive as Mrs. Thompson to marry them? Muff diving? Yes or No, Mr. Thompson…Yes or No?!


* Note:

Maybe Hillary just should have answered: “I don’t know” on the licenses-to-illegals question. “I don’t know but I’d like to listen to intelligent opinions on the subject before coming to any conclusions.”

She might’ve gotten beaten up on it at first but most of the others--except maybe Richardson--were looking to pounce on her anyway…to satisfy the voyeuristic bloodlust of Chris Matthews, Tim Russert, et al. But after the smoke cleared Hillary would’ve been seen as thoughtful, deliberative, wise, statesperson-like and presidential.

Is that too gooey an assessment…?


America's Armageddonites Push for More War

By Jon Basil Utley
Foreign Policy in Focus
Posted on October 22, 2007

Utopian fantasies have long transfixed the human race. Yet today a much rarer fantasy has become popular in the United States. Millions of Americans, the richest people in history, have a death wish. They are the new "Armageddonites," fundamentalist evangelicals who have moved from forecasting Armageddon to actually trying to bring it about.

Most journalists find it difficult to take seriously that tens of millions of Americans, filled with fantasies of revenge and empowerment, long to leave a world they despise. These Armageddonites believe that they alone will get a quick, free pass when they are "raptured" to paradise, no good deeds necessary, not even a day of judgment. Ironically, they share this utopian fantasy with a group that they often castigate, namely fundamentalist Muslims who believe that dying in battle also means direct access to Heaven. For the Armageddonites, however, there are no waiting virgins, but they do agree with Muslims that there will be "no booze, no bars," in the words of a popular Gaither Singers song.

These end-timers have great influence over the U.S. government's foreign policy. They are thick with the Republican leadership. At a recent conference in Washington, congressional leader Roy Blunt, for example, has said that their work is "part of God's plan." At the same meeting, where speakers promoted attacking Iran, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay glorified "end times." Indeed the Bush administration often consults with them on Mideast policies. The organizer of the conference, Rev. John Hagee, is often welcomed at the White House, although his ratings are among the lowest on integrity and transparency by Ministry Watch, which rates religious broadcasters. He raises millions of dollars from his campaign supporting Israeli settlements on the West Bank, including much for himself. Erstwhile presidential candidate Gary Bauer is on his Board of Directors. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson also both expressed strong end-times beliefs.

American fundamentalists strongly supported the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. They consistently support Israel's hard-line policies. And they are beating the drums for war against Iran. Thanks to these end-timers, American foreign policy has turned much of the world against us, including most Muslims, nearly a quarter of the human race.

The Beginning of End Times

The evangelical movement originally was not so "end times" focused. Rather, it was concerned with the "moral" decline inside America. The Armageddon theory started with the writings of a Scottish preacher, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). His ideas then spread to America with publication in 1917 of the Scofield Reference Bible, foretelling that the return of the Jews to Palestine would bring about the end times. The best-selling book of the 1970s, The Late, Great Planet Earth, further spread this message. The movement did not make a conscious effort to affect foreign policy until Jerry Falwell went to Jerusalem and the Left Behind books became best sellers.

Conservative Christian writer Gary North estimates the number of Armageddonites at about 20 million. Many of them have an ecstatic belief in the cleansing power of apocalyptic violence. They are among the more than 30% of Americans who believe that the world is soon coming to an end. Armageddonites may be a minority of the evangelicals, but they have vocal leaders and control 2,000 mostly fundamentalist religious radio stations.

Although little focused on in America, Armageddonites attract the attention of Muslims abroad. In 2004, for instance, I attended Qatar's Fifth Conference on Democracy with Muslim leaders from all over the Arabian Gulf. There, the uncle of Jordan's king devoted his whole speech to warning of the Armageddonites' power over American foreign policy.

Armageddonite Foreign Policy

The beliefs of the Armageddon Lobby, also known as Dispensationalists, come from the Book of Revelations, which Martin Luther relegated it to an appendix when he translated the Bible because its image of Christ was so contrary to the rest of the Bible. The Armageddonites worship a vengeful, killer-torturer Christ. They also frequently quote a biblical passage that God favors those who favor the Jews. But they only praise Jews who make war, not those who are peacemakers. For example, they vigorously opposed Israel's murdered premier Yitzhak Rabin, who promoted the Oslo Peace Accords.

Based on this Biblical interpretation, the Armageddonites vehemently argue that America must protect Israel and encourage its settlements on the West Bank in order to help God fulfill His plans. The return of Jews to Palestine is central to the prophetic vision of the Armageddonites, who see it as a critical step toward the final battle, Armageddon, and the victory of the righteous over Satan's minions. There are a couple internal inconsistencies with this prophecy, such as the presence of Christians already living in the Holy Land and the role of Jews in the final dispensation. In the first case, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and other Religious Right leaders tried to pretend that Christians already in the Holy Land simply didn't exist. As for Jews, they needed to become "born again" Christians to avoid God's wrath (or, according to some Armageddonites, a separate Jewish covenant with God will gain them a separate Paradise).

Everyone else -- Buddhists, Muslims (of course), Hindus, atheists, and so on -- are then slated to die in the Tribulation that comes with Armageddon. As described in the bestselling Left Behind series, this time of human misery ends with Christ then ruling a paradise on earth for a thousand years.

Armageddonites know little about the outside world, which they think of as threatening and awash with Satanic temptations. They are big supporters of Bush's "go it alone" foreign policies. For example, they love John Bolton. They were prime supporters for attacking Iraq. And, with very few exceptions, they were noticeably quiet about, if not supportive, of torturing prisoners of war (only with a new leadership did the National Association of Evangelicals finally condemn torture in May, 2007). Their support of the Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani shows that they consider aggressively prosecuting Mideast war (to help speed up the apocalypse) more important than the domestic programs of these socially liberal politicians.

On other foreign policy issues, they are violently against the pending Law of the Seas Treaty, indeed any treaty which possibly circumscribes U.S. power to go it alone. They want illegal immigrants expelled and oppose more immigration. They fear China's growth. They despise Europeans for not being more warlike. The UN figures prominently in their fears, and the Left Behind books present its Secretary General as the Antichrist. Domestically, they strongly support the USA PATRIOT Act and all of President Bush's actions, legal or illegal.

Armageddonites and Fascism

Author and former New York Times reporter Christopher Hedges argues that worldview and reasoning of the Armageddonites tend toward fascism. In his book American Fascists, Hedges focuses on their obedience to leadership, their feelings of humiliation and victimhood, alienation, their support for authoritarian government, and their disinterestedness in constitutional limits on government power. Theirs was originally a defensive movement against the liberal democratic society, particularly abortion, school desegregation, and now globalization, which they saw as undermining their communities and families, their values, and livelihood. Their fundamentalism is very fulfilling and, Hedges writes, "they are terrified of losing this new, mystical world of signs, wonders and moral certitude, of returning to the old world of despair."

Hedges, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, also shows that fundamentalists are quite selective. They don't take the Bible literally when it comes to justifying slavery or that children who curse a parent are to be executed. The movement is also very masculine, giving poor men a path to re-establish their authority in what they perceive as an overly feminized culture.

Images of Jesus often show Him with thick muscles, clutching a sword. Christian men are portrayed as powerful warriors.

The overwhelming power and warmongering of the Armageddonites has inspired some resistance from other fundamentalists, but they are a minority. Theologian Richard Fenn writes, "Silent complicity (by mainline churches) with apocalyptic rhetoric soon becomes collusion with plans for religiously inspired genocide." Their death-wishing "religion" is actually anti-Christian and should be challenged openly by traditional Christians.

The next election will likely loosen their grip on the White House. However, their growing ties to the military industrial complex will remain. Exposure of their war wanting as a major threat to America and the world may well become as destructive for them as was the famous Scopes trial in the 1920s. But that will only happen if Americans become as concerned as foreign observers about the influence of the Armageddonites.

Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of The American Conservative. He is a writer and advisor for, a chairman of, and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

In Defense of Hillary

First, let me state from the outset, I’m for Dennis Kucinich, like I was in 2004. Second, I was for Jerry Brown over Bill Clinton in 1992. I don’t have to agree with or even like Hillary (or the Clintons) in order to defend her (or him) and point out inconsistencies and idiocies of Media. I recall certain commentators who should’ve known better (e.g. Mark Shields) declaring the Clinton Presidency over after the Zoë Baird nomination failed. Apparently, the utter lunacy, the butt-kissing and the sports analogies are still with us.

Although he obviously had a right to pose it, Russert’s question was a loaded one, related to an issue that doesn’t afford an easy lazy simplistic-for-simpletons yes or no answer. Hillary’s response was characteristic, but honest. Honestly imperfect, perhaps. That’s something the stooges of the Corporate Broadcast and Cable and significant segments of Print Media do not understand.

Is the “piling on” and exaggeration of the event in the aftermath of the debates responsible journalism? Are the suspect motivations of commercial news media in such cases to be ignored?

If it was Hillary Bush pre-Iraq Quagmire instead of Hillary Clinton I wonder how many free passes would be handed out. It’s not liberal media bias at the NYT so much as pro-Howell Raines bias. Let’s mangle the message in remembrance and homage to “our exiled leader”! I love the NYT. But it is not always right or true or just.

And where are the assessments of the deeply corrupt American electoral system and Corporate Media’s complicity in that corruption? Skillfully navigating that rigged system as best one can is a sin if caught outright in the commission of relatively minor gaffs. This Sunday morning on ABC‘s weekly political roundtable hosted by George Stephanopoulis, George Will croaked that while Bush could be accused of merely making slips of tongue Hillary was irrevocably excoriated for being overall slippery. And what would lying about War to Congress and the American People be, Mr. Will? And what would you call denying children healthcare (whether they be poor or from families in the increasingly economically distressed so-called middleclass) while this President, his Vice President, his collaborators courtiers concubines and divines and the congressional Republicans (being stingy with other people’s money collected largely from the People’s Republic of the North-Northeast and the Left Coast) receive Government (read: “socialist”) provided healthcare. For chrissakes…

BTW -- You think Hillary was hedging and equivocating and triangulating? If you want to see the master of hedging and equivocating and triangulating check out FDR during his run for the Presidency in 1932. That was a guy who managed to seduce the support of rightwingers, centrists and leftists. And, of course, by or before 1936 with the advent of the New Deal many of FDR’s former supporters such as Father Coughlin, William Randolph Hearst, Al Smith, Huey Long, etc. were amongst his harshest and most vociferous critics.

For the Political Lessons Files: In this life all too many people are envious and untrustworthy. If not about your wealth or health or looks, then about something. Loyalty is a rare commodity. Therefore, prize it, respect it; cultivate and reward it if and when you can find it, or it finds you.

Last things: FDR loved the Press. He took them in. He gave them drinks. He played them for the information-hungry suckers they were. News flash! They still are. So unless your skulls are extra-thick or egg-shell thin or you’re nurturing old grudges, if your calling is politics you’d do well to emulate success, rather than let isolation, out-of-touchness and paranoia bring you down with a resounding crash like it brought down Richard M. Nixon and like it‘s bringing down the Bush-Cheney camarilla and everyone in it.


Noun + Verb + 9/11 + Iran = Democrats’ Defeat?

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
November 4, 2007

WHEN President Bush started making noises about World War III, he only confirmed what has been a Democratic article of faith all year: Between now and Election Day he and Dick Cheney, cheered on by the mob of neocon dead-enders, are going to bomb Iran.

But what happens if President Bush does not bomb Iran? That is good news for the world, but potentially terrible news for the Democrats. If we do go to war in Iran, the election will indeed be a referendum on the results, which the Republican Party will own no matter whom it nominates for president. But if we don’t, the Democratic standard-bearer will have to take a clear stand on the defining issue of the race. As we saw once again at Tuesday night’s debate, the front-runner, Hillary Clinton, does not have one.

The reason so many Democrats believe war with Iran is inevitable, of course, is that the administration is so flagrantly rerunning the sales campaign that gave us Iraq. The same old scare tactic — a Middle East Hitler plotting a nuclear holocaust — has been recycled with a fresh arsenal of hyped, loosey-goosey intelligence and outright falsehoods that are sometimes regurgitated without corroboration by the press.

Mr. Bush has gone so far as to accuse Iran of shipping arms to its Sunni antagonists in the Taliban, a stretch Newsweek finally slapped down last week. Back in the reality-based community, it is Mr. Bush who has most conspicuously enabled the Taliban’s resurgence by dropping the ball as it regrouped in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Administration policy also opened the door to Iran’s lethal involvement in Iraq. The Iraqi “unity government” that our troops are dying to prop up has more allies in its Shiite counterpart in Tehran than it does in Washington.

Yet 2002 history may not literally repeat itself. Mr. Cheney doesn’t necessarily rule in the post-Rumsfeld second Bush term. There are saner military minds afoot now: the defense secretary Robert Gates, the Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Mullen, the Central Command chief William Fallon. They know that a clean, surgical military strike at Iran could precipitate even more blowback than our “cakewalk” in Iraq. The Economist tallied up the risks of a potential Shock and Awe II this summer: “Iran could fire hundreds of missiles at Israel, attack American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, organize terrorist attacks in the West or choke off tanker traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s oil windpipe.”

Then there’s the really bad news. Much as Iraq distracted America from the war against Al Qaeda, so a strike on Iran could ignite Pakistan, Al Qaeda’s thriving base and the actual central front of the war on terror. As Joe Biden said Tuesday night, if we attack Iran to stop it from obtaining a few kilograms of highly enriched uranium, we risk facilitating the fall of the teetering Musharraf government and the unleashing of Pakistan’s already good-to-go nuclear arsenal on Israel and India.

A full-scale regional war, chaos in the oil market, an overstretched American military pushed past the brink — all to take down a little thug like Ahmadinejad (who isn’t even Iran’s primary leader) and a state, however truculent, whose defense budget is less than 1 percent of America’s? Call me a Pollyanna, but I don’t think even the Bush administration can be this crazy.

Yet there is nonetheless a method to all the mad threats of war coming out of the White House. While the saber- rattling is reckless as foreign policy, it’s a proven winner as election-year Republican campaign strategy. The real point may be less to intimidate Iranians than to frighten Americans. Fear, the only remaining card this administration still knows how to play, may once more give a seemingly spent G.O.P. a crack at the White House in 2008.

Whatever happens in or to Iran, the American public will be carpet-bombed by apocalyptic propaganda for the 12 months to come. Mr. Bush has nothing to lose by once again using the specter of war to pillory the Democrats as soft on national security. The question for the Democrats is whether they’ll walk once more into this trap.

You’d think the same tired tactics wouldn’t work again after Iraq, a debacle now soundly rejected by a lopsided majority of voters. But even a lame-duck president can effectively wield the power of the bully pulpit. From Mr. Bush’s surge speech in January to Gen. David Petraeus’s Congressional testimony in September, the pivot toward Iran has been relentless.
Reinforcements are arriving daily. Dan Senor, the former flack for L. Paul Bremer in Baghdad, fronted a recent Fox News special, “Iran: The Ticking Bomb,” a perfect accompaniment to the Rudy Giuliani campaign that is ubiquitous on that Murdoch channel. The former Bush flack Ari Fleischer is a founder of Freedom’s Watch, a neocon fat-cat fund that has been spending $15 million for ads supporting the surge and is poised to up the ante for Iran war fever.

There are signs that the steady invocation of new mushroom clouds is already having an impact as it did in 2002 and 2003. A Zogby poll last month found that a majority of Americans (52 percent) now supports a pre-emptive strike on Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In 2002 Senators Clinton, Biden, John Kerry, John Edwards and Chris Dodd all looked over their shoulders at such polls. They and the party’s Congressional leaders, Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt, voted for the Iraq war resolution out of the cynical calculation that it would inoculate them against charges of wussiness. Sure, they had their caveats at the time. They talked about wanting “to give diplomacy the best possible opportunity” (as Mr. Gephardt put it then). In her Oct. 10, 2002, speech of support for the Iraq resolution on the Senate floor, Mrs. Clinton hedged by saying, “A vote for it is not a vote to rush to war.”

We know how smart this strategic positioning turned out to be. Weeks later the Democrats lost the Senate.

This time around, with the exception of Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic candidates seem to be saying what they really believe rather than trying to play both sides against the middle. Only Mrs. Clinton voted for this fall’s nonbinding Kyl-Lieberman Senate resolution, designed by its hawk authors to validate Mr. Bush’s Iran policy. The House isn’t even going to bring up this malevolent bill because, as Nancy Pelosi has said, there has “never been a declaration by a Congress before in our history” that “declared a piece of a country’s army to be a terrorist organization.”

In 2002, the Iraq war resolution passed by 77 to 23. In 2007, Kyl-Lieberman passed by 76 to 22. No sooner did Mrs. Clinton cast her vote than she started taking heat in Iowa. Her response was to blur her stand. She abruptly signed on as the sole co- sponsor of a six-month-old (and languishing) bill introduced by the Virginia Democrat Jim Webb forbidding money for military operations in Iran without Congressional approval.

In Tuesday’s debate Mrs. Clinton tried to play down her vote for Kyl-Lieberman again by incessantly repeating her belief in “vigorous diplomacy” as well as the same sound bite she used after her Iraq vote five years ago. “I am not in favor of this rush for war,” she said, “but I’m also not in favor of doing nothing.”

Much like her now notorious effort to fudge her stand on Eliot Spitzer’s driver’s license program for illegal immigrants, this is a profile in vacillation. And this time Mrs. Clinton’s straddling stood out as it didn’t in 2002. That’s not because she was the only woman on stage but because she is the only Democratic candidate who has not said a firm no to Bush policy.

That leaves her in a no man’s — or woman’s — land. If Mr. Bush actually does make a strike against Iran, Mrs. Clinton will be the only leading Democrat to have played a cameo role in enabling it. If he doesn’t, she can no longer be arguing in the campaign crunch of fall 2008 that she is against rushing to war, because it would no longer be a rush. Her hand would be forced.
Mr. Biden got a well-deserved laugh Tuesday night when he said there are only three things in a Giuliani sentence: “a noun and a verb and 9/11.” But a year from now, after the public has been worn down by so many months more of effective White House propaganda, “America’s mayor” (or any of his similarly bellicose Republican rivals) will be offering voters the clearest possible choice, however perilous, about America’s future in the world.

Potentially facing that Republican may be a Democrat who is not in favor of rushing to war in Iran but, now as in 2002, may well be in favor of walking to war. In any event, she will not have been a leader in making the strenuous case for an alternative policy that defuses rather than escalates tensions with Tehran.

Noun + verb + 9/11 — also Mr. Bush’s strategy in 2004, lest we forget — would once again square off against a Democratic opponent who was for a pre-emptive war before being against it.

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