I met a man who wasn't there ...

I read in the Times, here, that “Mitt Romney called Sunday on Mike Huckabee to apologize to President Bush over criticism of his foreign policy. ... Writing last week in the journal Foreign Affairs, he said, 'American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out.' ... 'That's an insult to the president, and Mike Huckabee should apologize to the president,' Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, said Sunday on the NBC News program 'Meet the Press.' ”

The above story leads to two observations that I would appreciate if everybody kept in mind so that we can begin to have a decent country again soon.

George W. Bush is a Republican president. These guys are running to be a Republican president as well. None of these candidates has come close to repudiating Bush, save Ron Paul, who barely counts. Huckabee's criticism was rather indirect and he ran away from it almost as soon as he was even gingerly challenged. Thing is, given how unpopular Bush is with everyone in the country save a few diehard conservative Christians, neoconservative ideologues, and Fortune 500 CEOs -- in other words, the far-right Republican base -- it's in no one's interest in the party to remind people of this fact. Right-wing Republican leadership = catastrophe for this country. And yet, the right wing of the Republican Party demands more of the same. Hence, Huckabee utters a syllable of slight dissatisfaction and Romney goes off as if he's just sat down on a whoopee cushion.

My point in raising this is the following: The mainstream media cover presidential elections as if they were, literally, beauty contests, though they have a funny idea of beauty. To most of the reporters and producers covering the election, Bush's presidency is already over. They are focused entirely on minutiae of the personalities of those running and the ins and outs of their campaigns. It is up to rest of us, therefore, to remind reporters, and by extension the rest of the country, that these guys are running to replace George W. Bush and are promising more of the same. Bush is not just their past, he is their future unless, like Paul, they explicitly repudiate him. If that simple lesson could be made clear, the Democrats could nominate Paris Hilton and still win the election. But the media aren't going to make it easy ...

Second, and this is just as key: The congressional Democrats and most of the presidential candidates are failing miserably to communicate to the country just what an extreme party the Republicans have become of late. I was able to stomach about a half-hour of the Iowa debate last week, and I noticed a discussion of global warming in which the Republican candidates were all standing firm to make sure that the U.S. did not take the lead on helping to address global warming while other countries took a pass. Of course, back here on earth, it is the U.S. alone, among advanced nations, that is standing in the way of global agreement on taking serious action to address the problem. Iraq is what happens when a bunch of nutty people try to address a problem in their head rather than reality, and it is the same story across the board with these guys. I don't understand why congressional Democrats don't force them to filibuster the popular legislation they oppose and make their nutty arguments plain for everyone to see. Democratic politicians might not be that popular with the country but they look pretty darn sensible compared to the flat-earthers running amok with the Republican Party's once-good name.

The most sensible discussion of Walt and Mearsheimer's Israel Lobby book I've come across so far can be found here on H-Diplo in a symposium of historians Andrew Preston, David Schoenbaum, and Tony Smith, edited by Christopher L. Ball. (Smith is dead wrong about Clinton pandering to blacks on Haiti, by the way, but that's a rather tangential argument to the main point.)


Lucky me, I saw Neil Young at the magnificent United Palace Church up in Washington Heights last week, in the first of his six-night stand. It's the most beautiful place in which I've ever seen a concert and a fraction of the size of the place in which most Neil concerts take place. Neil took advantage of this fact in two ways; he charged a ton of money for the tickets -- top seats were over $200 with Ticketmaster charges -- and he played a long acoustic set in which he did his best to ignore the obnoxious drunks calling out their stupid song requests. (An announcement that the set list was set in stone at the beginning did nothing to influence them.)

The material veered back and forth between early '70s classics and the excellent new album, Chrome Dreams II. (Read all about it; it's a typically interesting and obsessive Neil Young story.) Neil was relaxed and in good humor the entire show, which was delayed an hour by firemen and so went on without Peggy Young's opening set. The band was made up of Neil veterans, from Crazy Horse but also not from Crazy Horse, and each song was announced by an original oil painting put up on an easel on stage. In many ways, I gotta say, except for the drunks, it was a near-perfect concert. Just a handful of musicians have a catalogue as strong as Neil's and fewer still play with power and intensity he does once the band gets going. The newer stuff lends itself to long, measured riffing, and the older stuff -- the highlight being a bulldozer version of “Like a Hurricane” as the final encore -- can reach a kind of transcendence that can make you forget who and where you are without any drugs or sex involved. In case it's been a while since you've reminded yourself why so many people think of Neil as a national treasure, well, the answer, my friend, is playing at the United Palace Church in Washington Heights.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: CNW
Hometown: Philadelphia

I like Pierce, but his 4th Amendment defense to drug testing is wrong. The US Constitution prohibits the government from conducting warrantless and unreasonable searches and seizures, not private enterprises. Accordingly, drug testing as condition of employment is legal and common. The real impediment to drug testing ball players is the MLB players union collective bargaining agreement.