You'll never fail like common people


Greetings all in Altercationland; Eric Rauchway sitting in for Eric A., while he sups on the fat of the Italian countryside.

Karl Rove deserves to be remembered as the man who thought Americans should have enough education to understand his fables but not enough to doubt them. Here's Rove, according to Nicholas Lemann in 2001 (The New Yorker doesn't seem to have it online):

Our education plan allows us to make further gains in the suburbs. It will also allow us to make gains with Hispanics and African-Americans. ... As people do better, they start voting like Republicans -- unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing.

There's no more suitable summary for his career as adviser to President Bush; he is a man who thinks that if you knew a little more about what was going on, you'd vote against his candidate. So he doesn't want you to know.

People in my line of work have more reason to worry about Rove's stepping down than anyone except perhaps his erstwhile employers; now he has time to indulge his professed interest in U.S. history, and particularly U.S. history of the early 20th century. Back in 2000, he went around telling everyone "It's 1896," and explaining that the Republicans back then established a 30-year majority that ended only with the Great Depression. It's a dubious contention on the face of it -- the Democrats held the presidency, House, and Senate for much of the 1910s. And of course, Rove doesn't appear to have engineered anything like such a majority now. Joshua Green writes about it in The Atlantic.

With the would-be McKinleyesque Rove/Bush presidency waning, all the presidential hopefuls are vying to be Theodore Roosevelt -- you get T.R. from Obama, Clinton, Giuliani, Romney, and of course John McCain: " 'I quote him as often as I can,' McCain acknowledged." According to -- well, several people but including me, actually -- they aren't doing such a great job of imitating Roosevelt. Roosevelt did let the war in the Philippines peter out to an inconclusive halt, but generally, for such a belligerent-sounding guy, he ran a much more peaceable presidency than any of his latter-day admirers are likely to do.

Everyone's writing about Rove now as if he were riding off into the sunset, working up pieces on his legacy and suchlike; it would be shocking if Rove himself didn't turn up in one or another GOP candidate's campaign roster before many months go by. Unless, of course, you think Patrick Leahy and the rest of the congressional Democrats are sincere about pursuing the White House's abuses of power.

Alex Tabarrok apparently got Lou Dobbs to call him a "complete idiot" on the subject of immigration. I didn't see it; I wonder if they talked about the feasibility of a fence.

In non-political news, my daughter and I went to see the Matisse exhibits at SFMOMA. The 4-year-old set (nonscientific sample) gives it a thumbs-up.

Eric A. chimes in from Italy:

A few things:

1) I see Ezra and also Atrios are all over George Packer's New York Times taxonomy of liberal hawks from way back when. In the days when we used to be friendly, Packer came over to my house and interviewed me pretty extensively for the piece but I did not make it in -- for reasons about which I won't speculate. I will note, however, that he was extremely concerned during the course of the conversation that there might be some occasions in which force would be necessary, and liberals might blanch from using it. I said I thought the world had bigger problems about which to worry than not enough warmaking by powerless liberals. I see from an email from another Packer ex-friend that he is still stoking the same "If only the war had been conducted the way I would have preferred it would have been conducted" argument, here, that has made Mr. Ignatieff so famous for inspiring what is perhaps the second-greatest blog post of all time. (By the way, on that score, I'm still rather proud of this, truncated as it was at the time.)

Additionally, this famous Packer piece suffers from two fatal flaws. One regards its honesty. I was not present at the famous meeting where Kanan Makiya pleaded for his "5 percent" solution to Iraq's troubles, but others who were reliably inform me that Packer misreported it. The war opponents were not, as he reported, "startled, and their reasonable arguments suddenly lay deflated on the table before them, stunned into silence." (Packer is, I believe aware of this, though he misreported it again in his book, just as he misreported the views of [yet another] former friend of Packer's, and his informal mentor, Paul Berman, as Berman explained, I believe on Altercation, though I can't find it.)

And second, even if Packer had reported the incident properly, what in the world could he have been thinking in terms of its presentation as evidence. I understand why Mr. Makiya would want a great power to free his nation from an evil dictator on the basis of a mere 5 percent of possibility of success, since he (mistakenly) believed his country had everything to gain and little to lose, but what kind of moral and intellectual irresponsibility would lead a level-headed analyst of risks and rewards to want to commit the blood and treasure of a great power to so costly an adventure with so niggardly a possibility of success? Five percent? Any president who sends American to kill and die in a war of choice with a 5 percent chance of success ought to be impeached yesterday. Anyway, the piece is here if you care to look back.

2) David Brooks is actually a talented and thoughtful writer, when you take his politics out of it. Same is true of Nick Kristof, actually. Shame that the Times has given each one exactly the wrong job.

3) My hood, here.

4) What the world needs now is civic-minded philanthropists like the great Mrs. Astor. Let's hear it for the girl ...

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Steve Hicken
Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida

Dr. A --

I share your reaction at the style of Mike Huckabee's response to the question on creationism: "Why do you care what I believe about creationism? What's that got to do with being president?"

On the substance, however, I think you miss an important point. Gov. Huckabee's belief in creationism shows his attitude towards science, observation, and empiricism. Part of the reason for the nightmare of the last nearly seven years is that the current President shares this view and acts on it.

"God" may tell Gov. Huckabee better things than He tells Mr. Bush, and Gov. Huckabee may be a more caring, compassionate individual than the President, but can we really afford this attitude towards reality in the Oval Office for four or eight more years?

I consider Gov. Huckabee's views on creationism disqualifying.

Name: Schmuely Abramovitz
Hometown: Postville, Iowa


If a candidate for president believes in creationism it is relevant, at least to me. Whether or not a candidate believes in the tooth fairy, Santa Claus and/or the existence of Martians may not enter into any decisions he/she makes about the presidency but I still would like to know if their system of beliefs include logical elements. It might have a bearing on other decisions. You may not think so from the last couple administrations but one should at least be sane when commanding the free world. Then again, I might be wrong.

Name: Kurt Helf
Hometown: Bowling Green, KY


Imagine my shock after reading you liked Mike Huckabee's answer to the question "Why do you believe in creationism?" Listen bub, EVERY American should care that a candidate for president could ignore and/or have such disdain for scientific evidence for evolution by natural selection. What does that say for his potential scientific policies if elected? You want 4-8 more years of ignoring scientific evidence do you?

Name: Brian P. Evans
Hometown: San Diego, CA

What does believing in creationism have to do with being president? Because good policy requires listening to evidence. Given the state of the current administration's attitude toward science, the bullying, the redacting, the outright lies being put forward by the Bush Administration with regard to science, how can it not be important to have a president who understands that you cannot develop good policy if you're going to ignore the science that affects it?

As Dobzhansky said, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." Have we forgotten the issue of the man with multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis? The reason that there is even such a thing as multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis is because of evolution. The concern that we have regarding H5N1 influenze (aka "bird flu")? It's over whether or not it will *evolve* the ability to be transmitted from human to human via airborne particles. How can we possibly discuss the ramifications of genetically modified food if we don't consider the evolutionary impact that will occur with the introduction of these new species into the wild?

The point behind the question, "Do you believe in creationism?" is really this: Will you ignore the global community of scientists who have spent their entire lives researching a particular issue simply because you don't like the political implications of their unanimous results?

Name: rick gerbick
Hometown: kennett square

You said:

"I also like Huckabee's answer to the "Why do you believe in creationism?" question, which was something like, "Why do you care what I believe about creationism? What's that got to do with being president?" Leaving aside that I obviously disagree regarding creationism, I wish more candidates would answer questions that have nothing to do with being president that way.)"

Are you insane as Huckabee? It has everything to do with being elected president. Belief in creationism shows you believe in magic, fairy tales and utter nonsense and have turned your back on reality, reason and the facts which most people consider to be the basis for making wise, sound decisions. This belief in and fealty to fairy tales in our politicians and society at large is one of the reasons this country has been sliding down the crapper. If Huckabee insisted that Santa Claus was real as well would that matter? How about that Saddam had WMDs but shipped them to Syria?

Eric replies: "Am I as insane as Huckabee?" I guess that's not for me to say. Look people, including Mr. "Call Me Insane Because You Disagree With Me," 90 percent of Americans continue to tell pollsters that they consider themselves to be believers of one sort or another. About 80 percent identify with some Christian faith, 79 percent believe in the Virgin Birth, 78 percent say Jesus physically rose from the dead, 48 percent claim to have had a "born again." What's more, as Barack Obama points out, "Substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution." So go ahead and call all of those people "insane" and see how many elections you win ...

Name: Wolf Finkbeiner
Hometown: Fayetteville, Ark.

I agree with you. Huckabee isn't bad. He was a pretty good governor for Arkansas and for all you'd know he could have been a southern Democrat. He put thru ARKids First, a healthcare plan for Arkansas and dealt with school consolidation about as good as could have been hoped for. He's certainly better than slimey Romney and the rest of the Republican crowd. If you read Huckabee's book "From Hope to Higher Ground" you'll look in vain for chapters on Right wing nut causes such as global warming hoax, or creationism for that matter too. Instead he comes across as an honest conservative who believes good ideas can come from both the left and the right. I wish more Republicans were like him.

Name: Steven
Hometown: Fresno, CA

You know, I too have been watching Huckabee and wondering when he'd catch on with those people. As an elementary school teacher, he actually has given me some hope for a return of the arts to the classroom. Since the insane emphasis on testing reached fever pitch with NCLB, I've been almost unable to do anything involving art, drama, or music with my students. Huckabee is on the record as saying that the arts aren't outside the curriculum, they are an essential component. Now, I'm sure I'd disagree with him on any number of other policy issues, but it is very refreshing to hear that from someone who is potentially in a position of influence.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric --

Thanks for linking to Greenwald's expose of the hucksterism behind O'Hanlon and Pollack's "scholarly" assessment of the "progress" in Iraq. Funny, I recall reading many criticisms of Michael Moore's "Sicko" because the treatment he managed to obtain for 9-11 recovery workers in Cuba was said to have been staged for the camera. There's been no corroboration of that criticism, but wouldn't that be beside the point, anyway? Moore is a filmmaker of enertainment documentaries. The information in his films aren't findings, they're provocations. You might not like his message, but it's absurd to criticize him for not upholding scholarly standards.

On the other hand, why is no one except Greenwald pointing out that it's a problem when scholars apply the standards of propagandists? All of what they've reported as findings is seriously in doubt. When will the military and the administration realize that none of this really helps except in the short run? Like with the Tillman fiasco, the damage to credibility over the long haul is far more serious.

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