The (endlessly) self-pwning punditocracy


Greetings all in Altercationland, this is Eric Rauchway guest-blogging for you while Eric A. is off in Sundance. It's a delight to take up the keyboard in Eric's swanky new digs.

On the eve of the war, I thought the United States would be unable to effect a benevolent reconstruction of Iraq for historical reasons; I spent the first three years of the war (how do you like that phrase, "the first n years of the war"?) writing a book about the things America is good at and why empire, conventionally understood, isn't one of them. (And why the things we're good at are worth far more to us than these things we're bad at.)

So last week when a bunch of bloggers started asking who was right about the war for the right reasons, I figured I rated a middling grade, because I had us as lousy imperialists for the right reasons, but I did not predict an Iraqi civil war (which, e.g., the apostropher did).

(I swear I wrote an Altercation at about the same time -- March 2003 -- which might have earned a higher mark, but the Internets cannot find it for me. Anyone?)

If you're interested in even glummer self-flagellation, you might also read Dan Drezner's more critical view of his own record.

"Maybe when you grow up"

Has Arnold Schwarzenegger planted the seed of major healthcare reform? He vetoed the single-payer bill the California Assembly put forward last fall, but now has put forward his own proposal, which gives to each and takes from each. (PDF here.)

The devil will be in the details of implementation, but the plan looks like it's going to become the basis for serious discussion, so long as the governor can keep members of his own party involved. Of course, they may not really be members of his party, or he of theirs, anymore: One Republican sounds like he prefers the old Schwarzenegger when he says he can't support "raising taxes to provide health benefits to illegal immigrants."

I suppose it's worth reviewing why it would be excellent not to bungle healthcare reform again (leaving aside concepts like social justice, which as we know don't qualify as hard-headed enough for our public discourse these days). Cutting the tie between job and healthcare would free workers to move more readily from one employer to another, which ought to work better for workers and for the economy as a whole. And assuring Americans they need not cling to their jobs lest they lose access to their doctors will reduce the level of fear in this country, which can only be a good thing for that majority of us who don't rely on it for our livelihood.


Neil the Ethical Werewolf casts a jaundiced eye on the Clinton p.r. juggernaut.


Last night the new Battlestar Galactica started the second half of its third season, and you can still catch a repeat of this demi-premiere on SciFi. If you aren't watching it because, like Scott McLemee, you remember that the original show was "very, very dumb," you should give it a shot, because this is not that show. If you're not watching it because you noticed a lot of fairly insupportable conservatives liked it way too much, you should give it a shot, because their reading of it was about as good as their reading of the Middle East. It finally dawned on a lot of folks, back when the Galactica good guys started suicide-bombing their evangelical monotheistic benevolent imperial occupiers that the show might not quite be on the present administration's side. But it's not a lefty screed, either: It's been a genuinely smart meditation on the world we live in now that avoids crude political parallels -- smarter than, say, classic Star Trek on the Cold War -- and I hope it continues so.

Also, Jacob's recaps of the show on Television Without Pity constitute a whole new and thoroughly awesome genre of writing.

If you expected me to mention grown-up film in this category, well, (1) Eric A. is coming back from Sundance in a few days and will have plenty to say; (2) I have small children. So: The new Charlotte's Web was pretty good. Happy Feet ... I dunno. Is the deal now that blackface is bad, but blackvoice, as it were, is OK?


Outside of work, I'm currently reading my one-time colleague Diarmaid MacCulloch's excellent The Reformation, which Timothy Burke blogged a little about here. I've also recently read Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day, Nicholas Lemann's Redemption and Garrett Epps' Democracy Reborn, and Michael Bérubé's What's Liberal about the Liberal Arts? And if you missed Bérubé's farewell to blogging, here it is.

Is this a worthwhile Canadian initiative?

When a Léger Marketing survey asking Quebecers to self-identify their feelings toward other races, 43 percent of respondents self-identified as "mildly racist," 15 percent said they were "fairly racist" and another 1 percent considered themselves "very racist."

As alarming as those numbers may be, there's something of a silver lining. More so than other Canadians, Quebecers appear to be determined to tackle their racism head on.

That's all I've got, folks. Visit me sometime.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Mary
Hometown: Los Gatos, CA

Charles Pierce is right to note that they slander Shinseki by blaming him for not tying "the president to a chair while he listened to common sense."

Good luck indeed. From this NPR interview in May 2003, about why there wasn't a better plan for Iraq right after the invasion from retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner:

Q: Could this kind of thing have been anticipated, in your view?

GARDINER: Umm, let me be honest. I briefed some people in the administration before the war. One of the officials said to me -- a very high official -- "We've already had an hour with the president on the humanitarian system. We're done talking about that." You see, if we had been prepared to deal with the humanitarian crisis, it would have meant delaying the war, and as I detected, nobody was interested in that.

One hour was all Bush was willing to listen regarding planning for the aftermath of the invasion. Those who fault Shinseki ought to remember who Bush was listening to in those days. After all, what he told the American people was that he was "listening to God."

Name: Gene Tuck
Hometown: Fresno, CA

Dr. A:

Just a note to tell you how much I liked your "Who you callin' 'Pro-Israel' " piece in the Winter 2006 issue of the great "new" revived Old Trout magazine. It was a great summary of views you've expressed at Altercation and elsewhere for some time, and it sold me on a charter subscription. What a crazy soup the Israeli-Palestinian situation has created in the US, not just among Jews. As an example, I just went on my Amazon account and they're pushing the new Jimmy Carter book. The only reader "review" at the bottom is an unsigned, obviously boilerplate condemnation of Carter as some simpleton, total enemy of Israel, basically calling him an anti-Semite, which is completely crazy, from someone who clearly hasn't read the book. Time for people with clear heads (like you) to stick to the task of somehow steering through the current morass of unthinking tendentiousness, in so many public areas. Keep up the good work!

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