Jim Webb and the Third Way Dream

Jim WebbAs you have probably heard, Jim Webb has dropped out of the Democratic presidential race. I was planning to write an Onion style article, “Jim Webb: Running for President Harder Than Killing Gooks.” But I thought better of it. The truth is, I admire people like Webb who are willing to put themselves out in the public. That takes a hell of a lot more courage than trying to stay alive in a war. And the fact that he came off as a serial killer when he wasn’t complaining about no one calling on him was more a function of his relative inexperience than of any dysfunction on his part.

Of course, there has been buzz that Webb is considering an independent run for the presidency. And at the press conference this morning, he didn’t rule it out. If he does that, then I might go ahead with an Onion kind of article. Of course, the big reason he’s dropping out is not his curious debate performance; it is his lack of funds. So maybe the Third Way folks will flock to him. After all, that’s what they do. They know that the Republicans are terrible. And they posit that the Democrats are the same. So someone more conservative than Hillary Clinton and less conservative than Ted Cruz is just right.

Last night on All In With Chris Hayes, Third Way’s Senior Vice-President for Public Affairs Matt Bennett was on to talk about how America would never vote for someone who calls himself a socialist. He actually made that blanket statement. It was not that Americans would not vote for Bernie Sanders unless he was running against Donald Trump or Ben Carson. It wasn’t that he would lose unless he was running against a fascist (which the Republicans may well nominate). It was just that he couldn’t win.

That’s the point of Third Way: to guard against the Democratic Party’s left flank. They don’t seem much interested in doing the same for the Republican Party’s right flank. In fact, other than setting up the Republicans as the equal and opposite of the Democrats, they don’t seem much interested in the Republican Party at all. Right now, the Third Way gang seems fairly happy with Hillary Clinton. But that’s just because of Bernie Sanders. If he hadn’t run, I’m sure that Jim Webb would be just what they wanted — not because of anything about him, but because he just seems to the right of what the Democratic Party wants.

But the main thing that I hate about Third Way — and actually a whole lot more people than that — is how they claim to speak for the American people. In the All In segment, they quoted from a poll that showed that only 47% of Americans would vote for a socialist. I’ve seen it before. And I think it means absolutely nothing. Back in June, an Iowa poll found that only 34% of Republicans would even consider voting for Donald Trump. The Real Clear Politics average now has Trump at over 22% in Iowa — 5 points ahead of his nearest rival. It just is no longer true that only 34% of Iowa Republicans would never vote for him. The same is true of their support for “socialist” — which means a lot less given it is an out of context word and not a person.

The truth is that Third Way and others like it are not telling the truth. It is not that Bernie Sanders could never be elected. It is that they are terrified that he could get elected. Sanders has caused the Overton window to open a bit. And Third Way hates that. They want to limit the world of political discourse to Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. And if they could just get rid of Bernie Sanders, they could narrow the debate even more: to Jeb Bush and Jim Webb.

Bush Didn’t Keep Us Safe Before or After 9/11

Bush Sad ClownThis last week, there has been lots of chatter about George W Bush and the claim by his brother that he “kept us safe.” Paul Campos wrote a good overview of the issue, Let Us Now Blame George Bush: Trump and Jeb Force a Long Overdue Debate About 9/11. But I have a slightly different take on the matter. I think it is quite reasonable for people to have not held Bush accountable for the attack at the time.

Having said that, since that time, it has become clear that at least some blame ought to be leveled against him. Most of what I know came from Richard Clarke’s book, Against All Enemies. And the thing I remember from that was Bush’s total lack of interest in terrorism. The Clinton people stressed how important terrorism was. But they were part of reality-based community. Bush and company made their own reality, and it was that the big threat to the United States was Russia and Iraq.

There was also the revelation that after being given the presidential daily briefing titled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US,” Bush told the briefer, “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.” It shows how important it is to have serious, competent people run the country. Bush has always reminded me of the end of Primary Colors, where Jack Stanton says, “You know as well as I do, that plenty of people playing this game, they don’t think that way. They’re willing to sell their souls, crawl through sewers, lie to people, divide them, play on their worst fears for nothing! Just for the prize.” That’s Bush: dad was president, so he needed to be. He wasn’t much interested in doing the job.

But when I think about it, I’m not at all sure that 9/11 would have been foiled if we lived in a democracy and Al Gore had been president. So I have a hard time blaming Bush for that specific event. But where the whole thing went on tilt was when Bush and company — including the whole the Republican Party — came up with the meme that he “kept us safe.” As Campos noted, ” Jeb is merely repeating many years of GOP dogma.” I’m not sure that it was the same words, but I remember in the 2004 election, a big deal was made of the fact that Bush would keep us safe whereas Kerry would not.

The whole thing goes back — as so much does — to Kissinger on Revolutionary Power. No normal political party would make that claim after it had overseen the murder of 3,000 citizens. And the media reaction to this claim is just what Kissinger indicated: stunned silence — an inability to do anything because what was being done was so outside the bounds of normal behavior. But that is exactly why we need to talk about it. As long as Bush didn’t try to make political gain out of it, sure: let’s not hammer on him because it is hard to see his direct fault. (Again: for that one act, because he was totally incompetent and disengaged in a general sense.)

In addition to this, Bush and the Republicans can’t have it both ways. Either he gets credit for both what happened before and after 9/11, or he gets credit for neither. I don’t see the president as that powerful, so I would give him credit for neither. But it isn’t even true that he kept us safe after. It is only true that there wasn’t another 9/11. And that seems to be the case only because there wasn’t another 9/11 attempted. There were lots of other terrorist attacks of varying degrees of success. There is a tautology here: George Bush kept us safe because George Bush kept us safe. It is like William Lane Craig’s defense of God against the attack that he is evil: whatever God does is by definition good. And so with Bush: whatever Bush did was by definition keeping us safe.

I’m not inclined to hammer on Bush. But if Republicans are going to keep claiming that Bush “kept us safe,” we need to push back. He didn’t keep us safe before 9/11. He didn’t keep us safe afterwards. That’s just partisan nonsense.

Morning Music: For All My Little Friends

For All My Little FriendsIn 1969, Tiny Tim put out his third album, For All My Little Friends. As it’s title suggests, it was a children’s album. And it is delightful. But it is perhaps a specialized taste. Mark Deming at AllMusic described it in a way that probably has wider resonance, “Ultimately, this album suffers from a severe case of the cutes.” He says that like it’s a bad thing.

What’s interesting about this album is that Jonathan Richman spent several years trying to make this album, and generally failed (although it led to better later albums). There is a natural fit for Tiny Tim in this material. But I don’t even know where most of these songs come from. There is “On the Good Ship Lollipop.” And there are a couple of Bing Crosby songs from the 1940s. But the rest are not well know. A number are like public service announces: “Two Times a Day” (brushing your teeth); “They Always Pick on Me” (bullying); and “Remember Your Name and Address” (just what it says).

Most of the songs, however, are about animals. I’ve picked “Mickey the Monkey,” mostly because I really like the production on it. But other favorites are: “Chickery Chick” and “I’m A Lonesome Little Raindrop” and “Bill The Buffalo.” You can listen to the whole album with a YouTube playlist. It’s a pleasant way to spend a half hour.

Anniversary: Calico Jack

Calico JackOn this day in 1720, Calico Jack was captured. He was a notorious pirate of the Caribbean, whose real name was John Rackham. His is an interesting story. In general, pirate ships were democracies. He was quartermaster on Charles Vane’s ship. When Vane ran from a fight, Rackham called a vote and had Vane deposed. Rackham then took over as captain of the ship.

Rackham is also noted for having two crew members who were women. The first was Mary Read — who was pretty much forced into a life of piracy. The second was the much younger Anne Bonny — who was also Rackham’s lover. It’s interesting when you learn the unvarnished histories of long ago, you see a whole lot of sex. And you don’t see women as the gentle creatures that we’ve been taught about. That seems to have been largely a creation of the Victoria period (although certainly women had never had much power before the law).

In 1720, the Bahamas’ governor named Rackham a pirate, and so Jonathan Barnet went off to capture him. He seems to have succeeded thanks mostly to a large fraction of the crew — Rackham very much included — being too drunk to fight. So the attack was led by Mary Read and Anne Bonny. In fact, legend has it that Bonny’s last words to Rackham in jail were, “Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hanged like a dog.” Rackham was indeed hanged soon after.

Both Read and Bonny claimed to be pregnant. By British law, they would be allowed to live until giving birth. Read apparently died in prison from a fever brought on by her pregnancy. Bonny, on the other hand, just disappeared from history. There is no record of her release or execution. According to Wikipedia, the primary theory is that her father (she was illegitimate, but her father was well connected) bought her freedom and married her off in Virginia. By this theory, she went on to have eight children and live into her eighties. I want to believe that.