He's now withdrawn the statement that Obama grew up in Kenya and says he meant Indonesia. Here's the original quote:

"One thing that I do know is his having grown up in Kenya, his view of the Brits, for example, very different than the average American … his perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British are a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather."

Well, how do you get a view of the Mau Mau revolution in Indonesia? So I don't buy the mis-spoke explanation. And Obama did not "grow up with" a Kenyan father and grandfather. Seriously, how can you have any understanding of Obama without knowing he yearned for his absent father and was brought up largely by his white mom and white grandparents? He also returned the Churchill bust to the Brits when the unique loan to a single president after 9/11 expired. Lincoln replaced him. The British Embassy stated: ""It was lent for the first term of office of President Bush. When the President was elected for his second and final term, the loan was extended until January 2009."

Then Huck's spokesman denies that Huckabee indulged in birtherism. Via Ben Smith:

“When the Governor mentioned he wanted to know more about the President, he wasn’t talking about the President’s place of birth – the Governor believes the President was born in Hawaii. The Governor would however like to know more about where President Obama’s liberal policies come from and what else the President plans to do to this country – as do most Americans.”

Here's the quote of the exchange:

MALZBERG: Don't you think it's fair also to ask him, I know your stance on this. How come we don't have a health record, we don't have a college record, we don't have a birth cer – why Mr. Obama did you spend millions of dollars in courts all over this country to defend against having to present a birth certificate. It's one thing to say, I've — you've seen it, goodbye. But why go to court and send lawyers to defend against having to show it? Don't you think we deserve to know more about this man?

HUCKABEE: I would love to know more. What I know is troubling enough …

Why not deny this empirically disproven nonsense right there and then? And later on:

MALZBERG: Would you say to him, or at least ask him in a debate, why did you go to court and spend millions of dollars on lawyers to prevent from having to show your birth certificate. If you have one and it's there, why not show it?

HUCKABEE: The only reason I'm not as confident that there's something about the birth certificate, Steve, is because I know the Clintons [inaudible] and believe me, they have lots of investigators out on him, and I'm convinced if there was anything that they could have found on that, they would have found it, and I promise they would have used it. 

My italics. So Huckabee does not believe the State of Hawaii or the birth certificate on record. And he remains a Birther – only a not-so-confident one. And only the fact that the Clintons didn't use this non-issue is salient data for him. As for not knowing what Obama will "do to this country," Huckabee could have followed the last election campaign; or Obama's multiple speeches; or his actions of the last couple years. But nah. There's something we don't yet know about that really motivates him. This is D'Souza-Kurtz loopiness regurgitated. The same D'Souza nonsense that Gingrich immediately endorsed.

And as a Brit, I have to say I find it remarkable to hear Americans of all people deny that the British Empire was, in fact, imperialist. Well, wasn't it? I mean: how else would you describe British rule in Kenya? Enhanced occupation techniques?

Huckabee always seems a pleasant fellow. But then you hear him on gays or on Israel/Palestine or on this kind of issue, and you realize just how extreme this affable man actually is.

[Update: the first version of this got the details about the Churchill bust wrong. It was not moved to the White House residence but to the residence of the British ambassador. Apologies.]

(Photo: Former Arkansas Gov. and possible Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee speaks during a corner stone dedication ceremony for a new Jewish settlement on January 31, 2011 at Beit Orot, between Mount Scopus and Mount of Olives, in East Jerusalem, Israel. According to reports, Huckabee compared attempts at preventing Jewish settlers to building in east Jerusalem to racism and apartheid. By Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

If Only McCain Were President …

In his article yesterday, mentioned here, Niall Ferguson claimed that “the correct strategy” in the Middle East would have been pursued if John McCain had been elected president:

The correct strategy—which, incidentally, John McCain would have actively pursued had he been elected in 2008—was twofold. First, we should have tried to repeat the successes of the pre-1989 period, when we practiced what we preached in Central and Eastern Europe by actively supporting those individuals and movements who aspired to replace the communist puppet regimes with democracies. … The second part of our strategy should have been to exploit the divisions within the Islamist movement.

Larison’s eyes widen:

Only the hopelessly naive (or the desperately opportunistic partisan) would believe that a little more McCain-sponsored Western support for, say, Ayman Nour would have dramatically altered the political landscape in Egypt in just a few years’ time. If “the best organized, most radical, and most ruthless elements” will be able to exploit the situation in Egypt now, they would have been able to do so even if the U.S. had followed all of the democracy promotion advocates’ advice.

There is also a pretty massive difference between Eastern and Central Europe in 1989 and the Arab world today. Much of central Europe had been occupied by the Soviets and their dictatorships were enabled by such a power. The US was that power’s global enemy. And so decades of 439px-Sans-culotte pro-Americanism had prepared the way for the moral credibility of American intervention.

The opposite is the case in the Arab and Muslim Mediterranean and Middle East. For decades, the West – following Kissingerian logic – propped up these monsters and tyrants. When we invaded Iraq, we copied their methods of rule – with mass arrests and torture – before finding a way to construct an Iraqracy that would enable us to save face enough to leave.

In Libya right now, Niall is arguing for armed intervention because of the ghastly fact of possibly thousands of murdered Libyans. I don’t doubt his sincerity or motives. But when the US occupied and was responsible for security in Iraq, over a hundred thousand people were murdered in sectarian warfare. If carnage is your metric, how on earth can the West preach now about humanitarian values? Paul Wolfowitz – yes a man who served in the Defense Department under which so many were slaughtered in the streets of Iraq and so many tortured by US soldiers and CIA agents – worries that America’s “moral credibility” will be shaken by not intervening in Libya. Is he out of his fucking mind?

Whatever moral credibility America has ever had in the Middle East was destroyed by Wolfowitz and his crew. McCain particularly has none, especially after he signed off on the very same torture techniques once used on him. I totally accept the fear that revolutions can result in worse tyrannies than they replaced. I also see the benefit of exploiting intra-Muslim splits when and where we can if necessary. But the danger there is the US becoming involved in a sectarian struggle between Sunni and Shiite. It’s not as if we need to remind the Arab world why the brutal regime of the King of Jordan is scared to death of Iran – as well as bigoted toward Shiites in general. Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs/Persians are already divided. There may be some tactical opportunities to protect our interests, but a strategy? God help us.

Bush, Torture And The Arab 1848


Here's a fascinating take on how George W. Bush might unintentionally have made the Arab world more conscious and supportive of the concept of human rights. Money quote:

A particular event can trigger a rise or decline in rights consciousness in any country or culture in the world- East or West. Egypt_torture21 of personal violation. As they grappled to formulate a response, they often found themselves invoking human rights.

“Abu Ghraib probably brought home the concept of human rights more strongly than anything else. People started debating human rights issues in talking about Abu Ghraib…What is your right to be treated like a human being in dignity?” an Arab activist told me in Amman in 2006. Gauging public sentiment, some Arab leaders joined in. Hosni Mubarak called Abu Ghraib “abhorrent and sickening, and against all human values and human rights confirmed and defended by the international community”.

Denials of fair trials in Guantanamo, CIA black sites, renditions of terrorist suspects to third countries known to torture, and legal formulations paving the way for “enhanced interrogation techniques” all brought discussions of human rights further to the fore of Arab consciousness. Instead of viewing human rights as a Western imposition, increasingly it became a language that Arab populations embraced to challenge America’s post-9/11 policies.

And so America's violation of core human rights de-stigmatized the concept in the Arab mind, and enabled the Arab world to fully own the concept for themselves. One of the key catalysts for the revolts was, after all, the torture regimes in Jordan and Egypt and Libya and Tunisia. Suddenly, this was like America. And therefore more indefensible. Which led to more consciousness of this evil, and more determination to fight back one day against it.

And what mattered were videos and images of the torture – just as in Abu Ghraib. Here is one of the YouTubes of gruesome torture by the Egyptian police (extremely disturbing) that helped galvanize the populace. Every single thing you see in this video was also committed by US forces against defenseless prisoners during the presidency of George W Bush. Every single one – except the sodomitic rape – was approved by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld – and then made "legal" with skewed legal logic (according to the Justice Department) by their legal hatchetmen, John Yoo and Jay Bybee. Now you know why the CIA destroyed the tapes of their own torture sessions. Here is a Mubarak-style "stress position" captured, as in Abu Ghraib, by a digital camera (this time with a cell-phone):


Remind you of anything?

That's Shai Mokhtari's argument at least – and it requires more evidence than the piece provides. But it has a ring of truth to it to me, not least because it serves as an almost perfect example of unintended consequences.

It rings true to me in another context as well. When I'm asked who has been the most important catalyst for marriage equality, I think of George W. Bush. Before his endorsement of the Federal Marriage Amendment, there was some lingering debate in the gay community about whether civil marriage should be a key priority (Democratic Party front-groups like the Human Rights Campaign were deeply opposed to making civil marriage an issue throughout the 1990s). But as soon as Bush came out against it, the gay community united in favor of it.

As soon as America used torture, many young Arabs associated their own regimes with the demonized West. And so it became more legit to fight back against them. When you are dealing with populations who have developed a deep suspicion of those in power in America, this can happen.

Home News


The Dish is moving! In April, we’ll be joining The Daily Beast.

For me, it’s a strange mixture of excitement and sadness. Sadness because the Atlantic has been a very special home for me and all the interns and staffers who have worked at the Dish. The more than four years that I’ve worked here have been the most rewarding, exhilarating and challenging of my career. I cherish my colleagues, their support and debate, and will miss them deeply. But be assured, I’ll continue to link, debate and argue with the team here, and remain immensely grateful to editor James Bennet and chairman David Bradley for their never-faltering faith in what we’ve tried to do. The Dish is almost unrecognizable from what it was four years ago – and that experimentation, growth and creativity were all made possible by the Atlantic. I also have a profound attachment to the magazine’s history and legacy and integrity, which makes leaving hard. But I am very proud to have played a part in the Atlantic’s self-reinvention in this period and its first profitable year in memory. To have played any part in perpetuating this legacy in an environment that has been as tough on magazines as any in memory is an honor I will cherish to the end of my days.

But there are some opportunities you just can’t let pass by. The chance to be part of a whole new experiment in online and print journalism, in the Daily Beast and Newsweek adventure, is just too fascinating and exciting a challenge to pass up. And to work with media legends, Barry Diller and Tina Brown, and with the extraordinary businessmen Sidney Harman and Stephen Colvin, is the opportunity of a lifetime. Barry was the person who first introduced me to the Internet in the early 1990s, and we have remained friends ever since. Tina Brown needs no introduction, but to see her in action as we have discussed this new adventure over the past few weeks has been quite a revelation. The Daily Beast, in a mere two years, has made its mark on the web, with 6 million unique visitors last month, and an eight-fold jump in ad revenue over the last year. It will give the Dish a whole new audience and potential for growth and innovation. I’ll also be contributing columns and essays to Newsweek.

We remain committed to the same principles from the very beginning: in no-one’s ideological grip, in search of the truth through data and open, honest debate, in love with the new media’s variety and immediacy, committed to accountability and empiricism and resistant to any single category of subject or form. I have no idea where we’ll end up or what the future will bring. But that’s been true for a decade. What I do know is that the Dish is immensely lucky to have this new home, a new challenge, and these new partners.

I also want to assure you that, as for the past ten years, through, Time and the Atlantic, I will retain total editorial responsibility for what appears in this column. And though we will continue to evolve, there will be no substantive change in content as we move. You don’t even have to change your bookmark, since you’ll be automatically redirected, once April arrives. If you want to make sure you don’t lose track, bookmark us now and you will be automatically redirected when April 4 comes around.

I hope you’ll come with us, and join us, and be your usual informed, querulous, irreverent, ornery and intimate selves, correcting our errors, feeding us material, opening our eyes, chiding us and bucking us up every day at every hour on every continent. You have become the core of the Dish, and without you, we simply couldn’t do it.

Now we will ride a new Beast into a new decade. Here’s hoping it’s as exhilarating as the last one.

Ajami vs Wieseltier

The professor’s grasp of the profundity of what has happened these past two months boils down to one core point, one that seems bizarrely beyond some of the more, shall we say, parochial responses:

There is no overstating the importance of the fact that these Arab revolutions are the works of the Arabs themselves. No foreign gunboats were coming to the rescue, the cause of their emancipation would stand or fall on its own. Intuitively, these protesters understood that the rulers had been sly, that they had convinced the Western democracies that it was either the tyrants’ writ or the prospect of mayhem and chaos.

So now, emancipated from the prison, they will make their own world and commit their own errors.

What will it take for Washington’s elite to understand that this is not about America? Mercifully, perhaps because of his unique background, Obama grasps this. Those trapped in old paradigms – like Wieseltier and Wolfowitz – are doubtless genuine and admirable in their concern about wanton killings by the Libyan dictator. But they do not seem yet to grasp – even after Iraq – that freedom is only freedom when you have won it on your own.

And a confession. For years, like many conservatives, I had become convinced that culture truly does matter and that culture would prevent the Arab world from ever developing the kind of democracy that exists in the West. The Persians and Jews and Turks and Kurds were different, I thought. The Arabs? Too tribal; too divided; too religious. Ajami reminds us that this narrative was favored by the Arab tyrants themselves and protected their interest. It was also favored by Israel, as a buttress to its case for open-ended colonialism in its own backyard.

What I failed to grasp is that culture changes, that the younger generation, as in Iran, were increasingly aware, thanks to the new media revolution, of how backward their own societies had become. Culture still matters, mind you; and I am not optimistic about what might end up in power in Libya, and remain wary of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. But this is a process – and it may be happening faster now than before. We have surely learned to be humbler in our generalizations.

What took place, after all, in the cradle of democracy, Britain, before it became what it has become? (Sorry, America, but parliamentary democracy, and its core rationale, was born elsewhere). Huge religious conflict, a bloody civil war ending in the execution of the monarch, a fundamentalist dictatorship under Cromwell, another revolution in 1688, followed by three centuries of development and adjustment and war. And this was with the benefit of being on an island, with no standing domestic army and a weak royalty and strong aristocracy going back to the thirteenth century. I remain steeped in this history – and, while acknowledging its share of crimes and atrocities – proud of it. Because it was mine; because I fully identified with its national origins.

We in the West, in other words, are proud of and attached to our liberties because we and our forefathers grasped them for themselves. This mix of patriotism and liberty is vital and necessary. To have freedom imposed is to create chaos and resentment. To have the people grasp it for themselves is to expand the horizons of a stable democracy. There will be failures and successes. But Ajami is right. We should do all we can to assist if asked. But this is their moment, not ours, their countries, not ours, and it is time to let go of the neurotic need to control the entire world and to force it into our own ideological templates. It is time to watch and listen and engage and support. It is not time to intervene.

Bush’s Vindication?


Glenn Reynolds:

ANDREW SULLIVAN THINKS IT’S ODD that many on the right don’t share his enthusiasm for the revolutions in the mideast, but rather worry that they will turn out like Iran in 1979. Well, as I’ve said before, I think the United States squandered its momentum in 2005, and that now we look like the weak horse, and the Islamists look stronger. Of course, we can hope that the forces of bourgeois moderation win out, and I do, but is that how to bet?

Here's what he means by losing momentum in 2005:

Had we pushed the overthrow of tyrannical Arab regimes post-Iraq (as some unsuccessfully urged) there might have been a wave of truly democratic revolutions, with Iraq explicitly the model, leading to Egypt as the “prize.” We are now seeing, at least potentially, such a wave, but the U.S. has been propping up Mubarak — thanks, Joe! — the Saudis, and other despots since we lost our pro-democracy mojo in 2005 after the Cedar Revolution, for reasons that are still not entirely clear. That means the risk that power will coalesce around the only organized groups on the ground — the Islamists — is much greater now than it would have been then, and we are likely to be less favorably perceived. It’s possible, of course, that things will still go well — don’t write off people’s enthusiasm for freedom — but circumstances aren’t as congenial as they might have been.

It's hard to know what "for reasons that are still not entirely clear" and "pushed the overthrow of tyrannical Arab regimes" mean. Reynolds cites Saudi Arabia as a place where we could have pushed regime change in a way that would least likely create an Islamist "strong horse". Ooookaaay. And – call me crazy – but maybe the momentum for democracy was stalled by a total sectarian meltdown and civil war in Iraq, the model for democracy in Bush's dreams? Nonetheless, here's Condi Rice in Cairo calling for democracy in Egypt in 2005. Doing what Rice did in 2005 was pretty ballsy, especially given the cautionary tale of Iraq at the time. Maybe we should have cut off aid to Egypt long, long ago. On that, I agree with Reynolds. But that deal is inextricably wrapped with aid to Israel, since the 1979 peace agreement. And we know how untouchable that is. Complicated, isn't it?

But check out Bush's pivotal speech in Whitehall in November 2003 and think of the last few weeks Money quote:

The United States and Great Britain share a mission in the world beyond the balance of power or the simple pursuit of interest. We seek the advance of freedom and the peace that freedom brings…

By advancing freedom in the greater Middle East, we help end a cycle of dictatorship and radicalism that brings millions of people to misery and brings danger to our own people.

The stakes in that region could not be higher. If the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation and anger and violence for export. And as we saw in the ruins of two towers, no distance on the map will protect our lives and way of life. If the greater Middle East joins the democratic revolution that has reached much of the world, the lives of millions in that region will be bettered, and a trend of conflict and fear will be ended at its source…

We must shake off decades of failed policy in the Middle East. Your nation and mine, in the past, have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. Longstanding ties often led us to overlook the faults of local elites. Yet this bargain did not bring stability or make us safe. It merely bought time, while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold.

I still think that basic analysis is correct. Could it possibly be that it depends on which party holds the White House that determines Reynolds' position on any particular issue? Surely not.

But, look, I am not in any way sanguine about the future of Arab world in the wake of what appears to be its 1848. Anything can happen. But we know that the tyrannical stability we long pursued came back to haunt us. As I put it in my paywalled column this Sunday:

With the benefit of hindsight, the Bush administration's response [to 9/11] was 80 percent right and 100 percent wrong.

They were right when they immediately grasped that al Qaeda and its copycats were a product in part of repressive, secular Arab regimes who forbade legitimate outlets for dissent, and thereby made a huge young generation more susceptible to the extremes.

Democratization was the only ultimate answer – where politicians actually had an incentive to respond to real complaints (about public services, police, infrastructure, and the rest), rather than rant about Allah or the evil of the Jews and Americans. Give the Muslim world that air to breathe, Bush argued most famously in his London speech, and change would come. But tragically, he decided he couldn't wait and tried to impose democracy by force of American arms and with almost no planning in Iraq and Afghanistan. You know the rest of the story. Rousseau was wrong. You cannot force people to be free.

And so the last remarkable month has been, in some ways, a vindication of neoconservatism's core insight about the Arab world's yearning for democracy; and a refutation of neoconservatism's hubristic notion that another country, especially the US, could impose it.

Which is really a vindication for Obama, whose own speech in Cairo echoed many of Rice's themes. Iraq? Notice how the experience in Iraq was used by the Arab world's tyrants – by Seif Qaddafi as recently as last night – as an example of what happens when Western democracy is installed: chaos, mass murder, and civil war. Tunisia and Egypt managed to cancel out Iraq.

(Photo: Tim Pennington/Getty.)

More Scoop On Palin: Her Reliable Media Mouthpieces

Frank Bailey's co-authored manuscript, "Blind Allegiance To Sarah Palin," which leaked out via his agent's emails to potential publishers, is dynamite. Why? Because Bailey was as close to the Palins as anyone from Palin's first race for governor to the bitter end, is a rock-ribbed Fox News Republican, has vast amounts of firsthand data (the emails he has published alone reveal a lot), has contempt for Trig skeptics like yours truly, and comes to a simple conclusion in retrospect: Palin is a dangerous, vindictive, incompetent, congenital liar who has no business in any public office. Any publisher interested in the truth about Palin (Harper Collins therefore need not apply) should fight to publish it.

There's a useful summary of its contents at the Anchorage Daily News, and some notes from the paper's gossip column with this tart truth:

In the end, what makes Bailey's manuscript worth more than other Sarah books is his liberal use of contemporaneous records — long quotes from e-mails written at the time by the actual participants. If you want to understand who Sarah really is, you can't beat her own words.

There's also just, well, nutritious nuggets like the following. Bailey describes Palin's eventual media strategy: avoid any MSM interviews and get talking points out through surrogates. Who were they? Bailey names names: Bill Kristol, Mary Matalin, former Bush aides Jason Recher and Steve Biegun, GOP officials Nick Ayers and Michael Steele, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Glenn Beck, Greta Van Susteren, Sean Hannity, and Bill O‘Reilly. Then this sentence

We could normally expect them to repeat any coordinated message we sent.

My italics. First among equals as a propagandist posing as a journalist:

Of all the fawning—mostly middle-aged white men—nobody had infatuated eyes more than Bill Kristol…

He'd gone to Alaska on a cruise in June, 2007 and sat across the table from the sexy future of the Republican Party. Much as President Bush, when looking into Vlad Putin‘s eyes, saw his soul, Kristol understood that deliverance for his beloved GOP lived inside this stunning, five foot five inch Aphrodite from Wasilla. Due Diligence was conducted over moose stew, red wine, and winky charm. He did not need to ask about foreign policy or current event expertise. He saw a winner. Kristol began bongo-drumming her out-Mavericking John McCain virtues in every venue at his disposal… In public and to his contacts within the McCain camp, he made it known that she was not only legitimate, but the only intelligent choice if McCain hoped to have any chance in the upcoming election.

Obama To The Next Generation: Screw You, Suckers


The logic behind president Obama's budget has one extremely sensible feature: it distinguishes between spending that simply adds to consumption, and spending that really does mean investment. His analogy over the weekend – that a family cutting a budget would rather not cut money for the kids' education – is a sound one. We do need more infrastructure, roads and broadband, non-carbon energy and basic science research, and some of that is something only government can do. In that sense, discretionary spending could be among the most important things government could do to help Americans create wealth themselves. And yet this is the only spending Obama wants to cut.

But the core challenge of this time is not the cost of discretionary spending. Obama knows this; everyone knows this. The crisis is the cost of future entitlements and defense, about which Obama proposes nothing. Yes, there's some blather. But Obama will not risk in any way any vulnerability on taxes to his right or entitlement spending to his left. He convened a deficit commission in order to throw it in the trash. If I were Alan Simpson or Erskine Bowles, I'd feel duped. And they were duped. All of us who took Obama's pitch as fiscally responsible were duped.

The cynical political calculation is obvious and it is well put by Yglesias and Sprung. If Obama backs Bowles-Simpson, the GOP will savage him for the tax hikes, while also scaring the wits out of the elderly on Medicare. The Democratic left – just look at HuffPo today – will have a cow. Indeed, if Obama backs anything, the GOP will automatically oppose him. He has to wait for a bipartisan agreement which he can then gently push ahead. But that's exactly why we are in this situation today. Because no president has had the balls to deal with it, and George W. Bush made it all insanely worse. Sprung says the proposal on corporate taxes is a trial balloon. He argues that:

Corporate income taxes account for about 12% of the Federal government's revenue.  Obama's core premise for reforming them is structurally similar to the Bowles-Simpson commission's approach to personal tax reform: reduce targeted tax breaks while lowering the overall rate, currently at 35%.

And that's fine if you think we have plenty of time. But in a mere nine years, entitlements will account for 64 percent of all federal spending. And Obama just punted on his promise to cut Medicare payments to doctors, as pledged under Obamacare as a core part of the case that health insurance reform would cut the deficit. So congrats, Megan. We can chalk that up as a cynical diversion (even though Obama pledges to find savings elsewhere in the Medicare budget to make up for this lie – a promise we now have no reason to trust or believe).

There is some hope, as David Brooks has noted. Those who want to save the useful things that government alone can do, while pulling back from the fiscal brink, have to

get behind an effort now being hatched by a group of courageous senators: Saxby Chambliss, Mark Warner, Tom Coburn, Dick Durbin, Mike Crapo and Kent Conrad. These public heroes have been leading an effort to write up the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission report as legislation to serve as the beginning for a serious effort to get our house in order. They’ve been meeting with 20 to 40 of their colleagues to push this along.

They have to lead, because this president is too weak, too cautious, too beholden to politics over policy to lead. In this budget, in his refusal to do anything concrete to tackle the looming entitlement debt, in his failure to address the generational injustice, in his blithe indifference to the increasing danger of default, he has betrayed those of us who took him to be a serious president prepared to put the good of the country before his short term political interests. Like his State of the Union, this budget is good short term politics but such a massive pile of fiscal bullshit it makes it perfectly clear that Obama is kicking this vital issue down the road.

To all those under 30 who worked so hard to get this man elected, know this: he just screwed you over. He thinks you're fools. Either the US will go into default because of Obama's cowardice, or you will be paying far far more for far far less because this president has no courage when it counts. He let you down. On the critical issue of America's fiscal crisis, he represents no hope and no change. Just the same old Washington politics he once promised to end.

(Photo: US President Barack Obama talks to 8th grade students in the school cafateria after a tour of a science class during a visit to Parkville Middle School and Center of Technology on Feburary 14, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. By Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty.)

Palin’s Test

The leader of the GOP base has told us a lot today. She has told us two things. She can see absolutely nothing awry in the inflammatory and violent rhetoric she and others have deployed so aggressively in the past two years. Nothing. The attempted assassination of a congresswoman after relentless demonization of her, after her opponent brandished an M-16 at a campaign rally, after a brick was thrown through her campaign window, after she personally complained about Palin’s own metaphorical cross-hairs on her … this is an utterly, totally, completely irrelevant set of events:

Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them.

Really? So why was it in any way relevant that Barack Obama was “palling around with terrorists”? If the acts of the radical left began and ended with them alone, why was Palin so insistent in the campaign on linking Obama to the Weather Underground – even though he’d met them decades after their crimes?

Then there is the usual shocking and inflammatory language. At a time when nerves are truly frayed, when blood lies on the ground, Palin offers us this:

Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn.

Notice the paranoid and conspiratorial word: “manufacture.” Now recall what actually happened, which is that a congresswoman was shot through the head after being subjected to extraordinary levels of hatred and demonization and threats. Because that very congresswoman had herself complained at the time of the “consequences” of Palin’s metaphorical use of cross-hairs, reporters, bloggers and regular human beings on Facebook made that obvious connection.

There was nothing “manufactured” about this. It was the most obvious set of observations to be made in the immediate aftermath. To call this understandable concern about the impact of violent rhetoric and imagery on disturbed minds a manufactured “blood libel” – equating critics of extreme rhetoric of being the equivalent of Nazis or medieval anti-Semites – is to up the ante at a time when leaders really need to calm emotions. We know this much right now: Palin does not possess the self-awareness, responsibility or composure to respond to crises like this with grace. This message – even at a time of national crisis – was a base-rousing rallying cry, perpetuating her own victimhood and alleged bloodthirstiness of her opponents.

One would have thought that Palin, like any responsible person in her shoes right now, could have mustered some sort of regret about the unfortunate coincidence of what she had done in the campaign and what happened afterwards. Wouldn’t you? If you had publicly defended a map with cross-hairs on a congresswoman’s district, and that congresswoman had subsequently been shot, would you not be able to express even some measure of regret at what has taken place, even while denying, rightly, any actual guilt? Could you not even acknowledge the possibility that your critics have and had a point, including the chief Palin-critic on this, who happens to be struggling for her life in hospital, Gabrielle Giffords.

But no. That would require acknowledging misjudgment. Palin cannot acknowledge misjudgment, as she cannot admit error. It would require rising to an occasion, rather than sinking to it. And to moderate that tone, to acknowledge that one can make an error, to defend oneself from unfair accusations while acknowledging the need for a calmer discourse in future – this is beyond her.

It is, of course, also her strategy. She can only win in a hugely polarized country. She has as little support outside the Republican base as she has a cult following within it. And she has decided that this occasion for introspection is actually an opportunity to double down.

There is something menacing about that.

The “Politicized Mind” Of Gabrielle Giffords

David Brooks is astonished, sickened, appalled that an attempted assassination of a sitting congresswoman should be immediately regarded as something possibly … wait for it … political. In fact, Loughner must be seen in a context in which politics does not exist:

The evidence before us suggests that Loughner was locked in a world far removed from politics as we normally understand it.

So why, one has to ask, does this person with mental illness, carefully select for assassination an already targeted and demonized congresswoman, rather than, say, a supermarket, or a workplace, or a school? We don’t know precisely yet – but it sure is relevant to ask that question. Why not shoot up the animal shelter he was fired from? Or the classroom he was banished from? In fact, it is a kind of bizarre suppression to avoid the obviously political fact of the target Loughner selected. Among those affected by an allegedly “politicized mind” was Giffords’s father who made the plainest connection himself:

Her father Spencer Giffords, 75, was rushing to the hospital when asked if his 40-year-old daughter had any enemies. “Yeah,” he told The New York Post. “The whole tea party.”

The other person with such a polluted brain and soul was Giffords herself who at the time of Palin’s provocation complained about an atmosphere of barely suppressed violence, and pointed to “consequences” when put within figurative cross-hairs by a former vice-presidential candidate:

“They really need to realize that the rhetoric and firing people up, and, you know, even things for example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gunsight over our district. When people do that, you gotta realize there’s consequences to that action.”

This Brooks simply doesn’t mention. It would muddy the case for what Peggy Noonan would call “walking quickly past” unfortunate events that reveal a sickness on the right. Note this by David, as if it were somehow damning:

Mainstream news organizations linked the attack to an offensive target map issued by Sarah Palin’s political action committee.

But how could they not when Giffords herself had noted the map at the time and worried about what it might portend? The MSM would have been blatantly irresponsible not to make the connection – if only to note the irony and tragedy, if not to assert an empirical, causal link. David is right to call out those who flatly and crudely drew a direct link without any substantive information. But to raise the question and explore it? How could we not? To inquire into such a hideously violent culture, where you are put in cross-hairs, endure countless threats, have an opponent posing with an M-16, and a brick thrown through your campaign office window … and then end up shot at close range? Well, it’s a no-brainer. Brooks’ own paper today has an enlightening story about the particularly fetid and violent atmosphere in Giffords’ district. It’s good journalism. But according to Brooks, it is an offensive irrelevance. It should not have run. You can go back and look at the Dish’s live coverage, which seems to me to be trying to assimilate information as fairly as possible. Among the first things I wrote was that David’s dichotomy was impossible:

This is so awful that political grandstanding seems both inappropriate right now, and yet also very appropriate. An attempted political assassination is a political act and deserves a political response.

And as the information came in, the Dish concluded that this was both obviously a function of mental illness and a netherworld of condoned violence and extreme rhetoric. In fact, my assessment of the dude’s outlook began with:

Peter Pan, Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto. Not exactly a Tea Party purist.

and continued with:

It seems to me so far that he appears a disturbed and dangerous individual able to absorb shards of political conspiracy theories and turn them into evil.

And so on. By 5.47 pm, we have aired a possible diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. I know David isn’t accusing me of jumping to some flat Tea Party conclusion; but I find this notion that in real time we should not even be discussing or airing or debating the political and rhetorical climate that preceded this to be a dangerous piety. Airing the question of how public culture affects the disturbed mind is not just legitimate in this case, but vital, in ways that Brooks of all people should understand. David is a very shrewd analyst of culture, of why it matters, of how we are all connected – and yet, suddenly, this one young man exists in a total vacuum, where politics and culture do not exist.

Such a place does not exist – however much some would now like it to.