Two cats in the yard ...

Stop the presses: Tom Edsall breaks the story of the Colbert Gifting Moment That Never Was, here. My appearance with Comrade Colbert is here, and the book, once again, is here, and here is a nice, short review that appeared today in Library Journal:

Why We're Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America

By Donna L. Davey, Margaret Heilbrun

Never mind that liberal has for decades been a perjorative word when used by the Right. The “we” in Alterman's title stands for America rather than merely progressive Democrats. That's Alterman's point: he reminds readers that many Americans define themselves as embracing liberal values and that the country's political future could turn on a renewed understanding of liberalism. Those open to the concept will enjoy this read -- and may wish to recommend it to others who think that liberal is a dirty word.

I keep saying this over and over: You can't run away from the “L-word.” Look at this piece of political tripe in this morning's Wall Street Journal edit page, headlined “Obama and the 'L' Word.” The word is used here as a kind of curse. And with the deeply flawed National Journal survey being accepted by virtually every journalist without any scrutiny of it, the point is Obama needs to take the word and make it his own, as John Kennedy did in 1960. If the does, the rest of the country will come along -- at least the liberal majority will.

I have a moral (and decidedly politically incorrect) problem with bailing out homeowners whose interest rates have risen beyond where they can pay. I know that a lot of innocent people were the victims of predatory lenders -- just as many people with credit card debt are -- and I hope the bad guys are punished and, in the future, regulated. But I pay my credit card on time, and I took out any number of fixed-rate mortgages over the past 20 years, paying a higher rate than I could have had I gotten short-term rates that would later rise if overall rates rose. In other words, I paid tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure that this entirely predictable development would not bankrupt me or my family. These people didn't. They took the easy way out, and now they are being forced to pay for it. Why shouldn't they? Why should this good, responsible citizen with his relatively high mortgage rate be asked to bail them out? Am I responsible for their credit card debt as well?

George Zornick adds:

Taking it up a notch: Additional weight has been placed on the upcoming congressional testimony on the progress in Iraq, by Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. The last time the duo testified, in September, the 16-agency U.S. intelligence community had just released a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq -- the report asserted that “there have been measurable but uneven improvements in Iraq's security situation” and that “Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively.” The report was naturally discussed during the hearings, providing some additional expert evidence and context to Petraeus' testimony.

That NIE on the situation in Iraq has now been updated, once again right before Petraeus and Crocker's testimony -- but this time, Spencer Ackerman reports in the Washington Independent, this NIE won't be made public. Were it actually labeled an NIE, it would be released -- but officials contend it is “not a formal report,” but “more or less an assessment memo.” That is, something the public doesn't need to see: “Generally, the officials looked at it and did not see any type of overwhelming need to put this in the public domain,” one official said.

The administration doesn't often see an “overwhelming need” to put much in the public domain these days (see our recent Think Again on government secrecy), and the public will be left with only the word of Petraeus next week on the progress in Iraq, and not the additional opinion of the nation's intelligence agencies. This makes accurate, contextualized reporting on the testimony all the more important. It also makes one wonder (although not all that hard) about why the administration was underwhelmed by public value of the NIE -- sorry, “assessment memo.” If it painted an optimistic picture, one assumes it would be Exhibit A in Petraeus' testimony next week.

McCain Suck-Up Watch, the immigration myth that won't die: “The Los Angeles Times claimed that Sen. John McCain's 'biography tour' may 'soften conservative discomfort with the maverick senator, who has strayed from Republican orthodoxy on immigration.' In fact, McCain has abandoned his previous support for comprehensive immigration legislation to more closely align himself with the base of the Republican Party.”


I went to first night of the Paul Simon residency at the BAM Harvey Theater last night. What a show! It was dedicated to The Capeman and the music that inspired it. As one of the few people who saw the Broadway show, I always felt it was a shame that the terrific music inside it -- it is one of Simon's best albums -- but it never had a book that could remotely carry its weight. I know people who tried to tell Simon this before he lost $12 million trying to prove them wrong, but it didn't work. In any case, the music was presented in a magnificent production featuring a panoply of doo-wop and salsa singers and players, the likes of which I've never seen before. (The show began with Little Anthony and the Imperials.) I'm not really qualified to say much about these singers and musicians, except that they demonstrated the depth and versatility of Simon's songs for The Capeman as has never been done before. Set in this tiny, intimate theater, it was a completely thrilling evening -- the first of many, thanks to BAM. You can read about this performances, and the rest of the month here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Thomas Beck
Hometown: East Windsor, NJ


I'm sorry, but there is no possible justification for the kind of hatred Hamas is teaching, not just of Israelis, but of Jews in general. This hatred preceded the current conditions in Gaza, so the context you call for is irrelevant. There is no equivalency between what Israel is doing, however unjustifiable, and the sheer viciousness of Hamas's hatred. It's one thing to try to be even-handed; it's quite another to bend over backward so far as to be seeing things upside-down. Why not study the “context” of what Hamas's hatred does to Israel? Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip. Did Hamas seize the opportunity to build a model state, thus proving that Palestinians can live in peace next to Israel? No, they have never ceased calling for Israel's destruction, launching attacks on Israeli civilians, and teaching their children the filthiest anti-Semitic lies and slurs they possibly can. Perhaps that “context” explains what Israel is doing? I mean, it's just as likely as the “context” you are demanding.

Name: Martin Cobern
Hometown: Cheshire, CT


I'm sure you will get many replies to your unbalanced assessment, but here is one more. In Gaza (which could have been a Palestinian state at any time between 1948 and 1967, and many times since had the Gazans and their Arab sponsors wished it so), Israel pulled out unilaterally, gave financial and military support to the Palestinian government, and generally encouraged the establishment of a state.

What was the result? “Mr. Democracy” pushed for early elections; Fatah's decades of corruption came home to roost; Hamas took over; and they and Hezbollah began firing rockets into Israeli homes. The closure of the checkpoints was, to my mind, a more balanced response than sending 700 rockets back in reply. But you choose to regard this as a worse offense.

Are you serious?

Name: Josh Scheier
Hometown: Brooklyn, YO


No amount of “context” could possibly explain or justify the poisonous hate speech and incitement to violence Hamas spews out daily. However ill conceived, even illegal, the settlements might be, they are an obstacle to peace that can be overcome through negotiations. The dedication to the extermination of the State of Israel, the equation of Jews with dogs and pigs, the glorification of martyrdom and the slaughter of innocents make peace impossible. The fact that these exhortations are not confined to Hamas but are consistent with propaganda regularly disseminated by Hezbollah and much of the state-controlled Arab media (neither of which are directly affected by settlements or checkpoints designed to deter the suicide bombings that are the logical conclusion of these incitements) renders absurd your claim that Israel's actions should be included as “context” for the story. While it is fair to criticize Israel's actions and commitment to peace, sometimes no context is necessary.

Eric replies: Well, one gets attacked every time one writes about the Middle East no matter what one says, and in my case, I frequently find myself attacked for things I didn't say, since I try to say things pretty carefully. If one wants to argue that Gazans hate Jews for no reason at all, well then, fine, but I'd think you were being purposefully stupid. But you want to deal with reality, which is the fact that Israel treats Gaza rather badly and that this feeds the hatred of the inhabitants there, then, well, perhaps there is something to discuss. Of course, if you see what I wrote, you'll note that I never even remotely justified anything that has been said by these hatemongers, and my correspondents are attacking a straw man of their own imagination. Nor did I speak of “equivalency” ; I merely argued for context. The idea that people think that context alone is dangerous demonstrates to me how, psychologically at least, they understand their position that only one side is to blame for the misery and killing in the Middle East. (How can anyone oppose an inclusion of additional relevant information anywhere?) This kind of reaction also strikes me, at least in some cases, as an unhealthy but all-too-common attachment to Jewish victimhood. And these, people, were the relatively polite ones.

Name: Mark
Hometown: West Windsor, NJ

Dear Eric,

I have this idea for news outlets to include a section for each news item that indicates the reporter's opinion on that item. Or an editor's opinion. Or heck, any informed opinion regarding a particular news item. I find it more than a little irritating that I read a news item in the NY Times that says “Bush said this” and then have to wait a day later and go searching in the opinion pages to see what the editors really think. I like Dan Froomkin in the Washington Post because he takes a lot of the news and opinions and puts them together. I think it would really put a damper on the ability of an administration to put out propaganda, since a news story would say “Bush said this” and right afterwards the reporter or editor says “well, he said this but it's BS.”

Name: Jeff
Hometown: Alexandria, VA

thing 1) Aaron from Dallas (Oregon, not TX) raised the Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton pattern as new, but I think even HRC addressed it in a debate, saying something along the lines of “it took a Clinton to clean up after a Bush the first time and it will again...” or something similar.

thing 2) have to admit, was relieved to see that you “get” Colbert and had fun with your (too brief) appearance on the show. your at-ease style disarmed him, making you both fun to watch. Thanks for years of a good daily fix.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric --

Nice appearance on Colbert. You held your own on both substance and humor. My only regret was your shrug to his question about Ted Kennedy. That was a softball. Yes, he's a liberal, and he's also the most effective senator in US history. And contrary to the right-wing caricature of liberals as rigid ideologues, the liberal Kennedy has the most impressive record of legislative bipartisanship (in the best sense of the word).

Name: Paul Goode
Hometown: Redmond, WA

I don't know about your town, but in mine you can see either Bruce Springsteen or Eric Alterman on Friday and the Charles Lloyd Quartet on Monday.

That Dick Cheney's “So?” remark touched off no more than a one-day flurry of coverage calls into question the media's perception of exactly what is happening in this country. A democracy that fights a war against the wishes of 70% of its people has lost its way. That should be apparent to anyone regardless of political persuasion. And yet Cheney's manifestation of this sorry reality winds up with less attention than the fulminations of a minister.

The media seems to see itself as players in a fiction -- a screenplay that in their minds they write, direct, and even act in. With few exceptions -- such as the great Helen Thomas -- they inflate Reverend Wright and downplay Dick Cheney because that's their perception of where the ratings are. The quality and importance of the story to a vibrant, functioning democracy doesn't enter into the equation at all: This is television and the good guys will win in the end anyway. That other forces, forces whose only interest is the accumulation and exercise of power, might be the writers and directors doesn't occur to them.

Well, guys, this is serious business. I guarantee you that Dick Cheney thinks so, and that he wasn't kidding when he said he didn't care about ratings. Heck, *that* ought to shake you up ...

Eric replies: Actually, it was a Saturday ...

Name: Chuck
Hometown: Kansas City

Regarding Fred from SF bay area's question yesterday, I've run into a similar situation myself, and don't know if there is a good answer.

When the Rev. Wright controversy became “news” a few weeks ago, my boss, who is a lifelong Dem in his sixties and a Hillary supporter, legitimately thought Obama should drop out of the race for the “good of the party.” I think the Hillary folks really believe she is the only one that can defeat McCain, based on her “experience.” Because of that I believe they will use any excuse, such as Rev. Wright's comments, to disqualify Obama.

I do hope in the months between the end of the primaries and November that many of them will reevaluate their decision, which may be somewhat emotional, and realize Obama is the better candidate and not support McCain. Some may not, what motivates that is unclear. It may be racism. They may actually prefer Hillary's DLC “moderate” positions, and therefore support the more “moderate” McCain. In the months to come there will be a chance to debunk McCain's so-called moderate credentials, which may be what's necessary to show the true contrast between McCain and Obama, which isn't race.