Doublethink doubleplusungood

by John Quiggin on March 3, 2012

The news that Republican members of the Wyoming Legislature wanted the state to investigate buying an aircraft carrier[1] as insurance against a possible collapse of the US seems as good an occasion as any to signify the final descent of the party into irredeemable loopiness. Add to that the revival of birtherism, the inability to deal with Rush Limbaugh, and the absence of any coherent economic policy except tax cuts for the rich and you have a party that has seriously lost touch with reality.

As I observed a couple of years ago during the epistemic closure memetime, reality-denial mechanisms have some major political benefits, particularly in mobilising resistance against policy innovations, and tribal solidarity against outsiders of all kinds. But it seems clear at this point that the costs I mentioned then are now bigger than the benefits for the Repubs.

On any standard political calculus, they ought to be cruising towards a clean sweep in November – the economy is still in poor shape, and enthusiasm for Obama has declined massively as a result of policies in areas like civil liberties[2]. Instead, Republican pundits are already giving up on the Presidential election, and even on the Senate, and are starting to focus on whether they can even retain control of the House.[3]

Why is reality-denial turning out so badly, after working so well for so long. There are at several related factors at work here.

First, the parallel universe created by Fox News, the rightwing thinktanks and so on has turned out to be unstable and uncontrollable. Once released, viruses like birtherism cannot easily be recalled, and can mutate into new forms.

Second, there’s what might be called “cafeteria craziness”.  Although no-one on the Repub side of politics can afford to be openly sane on all issues (even Jon Huntsman vacillated on global warming when he thought he had a chance in NH),  only a minority are consistently crazy, and even they don’t all agree. So, it’s easy to get into trouble by saying something crazy that might, in other circumstances get a free pass, or even become a requirement for orthodoxy. This happened to Michelle Bachmann when she pushed the anti-vaccination button, and to Newt Gingrich with his lunar colony.

Third, there’s the requirement for doublethink, most obvious on issues like evolution. Creationists don’t wnat their kids to be told the Bible is wrong, but most are uninterested in changing university-level science courses and would be horrified if Exxon started using flood geology to locate oil. The problem is that there can’t be any honest communication about which parts of the orthodoxy are occasions for doublethink and which are actually supposed to be true. So, when true believers in the base discover that their representatives are merely mouthing shibboleths, there is potential for all kinds of trouble.

 

 

 

fn1. Presumably, this would have provided a basis for demanding a corridor to the Pacific, along with other territorial demands on neighboring states without the foresight to prepare for war. And to forestall killjoy commenters, please don’t bother pointing out that the aircraft carrier was an amendment added as a joke.

fn2. I know that polls show majority support for Obama’s appalling policies, even amomg Dems. But those who are most appalled are precisely those who provided the most enthusiastic support in 2008.

fn3. Of course, anything could happen. But it’s a bad sign when that’s the most promising aspect of the outlook.

{ 98 comments }

1

Michael E Sullivan 03.03.12 at 12:00 pm

re: fn2, exactly. My wife and I supported Obama enthusiastically, to the point of doing a significant amount of work campaigning, hosting canvas parties, etc. He was the first candidate we’d ever done anything like that for ever. One huge reason that animated us was wanting to get out of Iraq and afghanistan, and turn back from the terrible tyrannical road we started down in response to 9/11. As much as he’s still the lesser of evils by far, it’s impossible to muster the same level of energy for his candidacy that we did in 2008 after what’s happened.

On foreign policy and “security” at least, he seems to be not much different than what we’d have gotten from McCain.

2

Andrew 03.03.12 at 12:36 pm

Is there any real evidence for fn2? Having volunteered in 2008, it was clear Obama’s most enthusiastic supporters were African-Americans, and when I returned this year, I found it was often literally the same people showing up again.

3

Anon. 03.03.12 at 12:50 pm

“On any standard political calculus”, Obama got his 2nd term the moment Osama died.

4

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.03.12 at 1:03 pm

Matt Taibbi says (here) that they are now in the ‘purge of internal enemies’ phase.

I suppose they’re looking for a charismatic and truly sincere leader (Romney won’t do, obviously), and if they manage to find one, we’re all in trouble.

5

Henry 03.03.12 at 1:25 pm

I too am skeptical on footnote 2. Everything we know suggests that exactly the people who care most about the issues are those who are going to come out on the day, because they detest the other side more. Think back to all the speculation about how embittered Hillary supporters were going to refuse to vote because they hated Obama so much. Didn’t happen. Or think today about the nugatory likelihood that conservatives will not vote for Romney, if he gets the nomination, making it more likely that the hated Obama will win re-election. Partisanship is a powerful force, precisely among those who care most about politics. I think that it is depressing but true that the number of people who will not vote or volunteer for Obama because of his rotten civil rights record, is minimal.

6

christian_h 03.03.12 at 3:25 pm

I’m most disturbed by the discovery that the epistemic closure thing was two years ago. Somehow I was convinced it was more like 2 months…

7

Cranky Observer 03.03.12 at 3:38 pm

===
Henry @ 1:25 PM “I too am skeptical on footnote 2. Everything we know suggests that exactly the people who care most about the issues are those who are going to come out on the day, because they detest the other side more.”
===

The Cranky Spouse had two lifelong Republicans on his/her Obama canvassing team. Both Marines, both Korean War vets. Both told me they were utterly disgusted by what Bush and Cheney had done to the Constitution and felt they had to work for something better, even if it was the “librul party”. Somehow I doubt they will be back to pound the pavement for Obama, and probably not to vote for him either.

I’m undecided. I’ll certainly vote for the Dem nominee[1], and I’ve sent his campaign a few bucks to try to counteract Citizens United and the superpacs. Will I raid my children’s college fund to make major contributions as I did in 2008? Will I work the volunteer hours at risk of my employment potential in this red-ish state? I can’t say that Obama’s policies on civil rights have really inclined me to that level of support, and I hear much the same from many of our 2008 team members. How many of us feel that way? I guess we’ll find out in September and October.

Cranky

[1] I doubt I’ll ever vote for another Republican again in my life.

8

CharleyCarp 03.03.12 at 3:56 pm

I’ll be spending my time and money on our Senate race this time around. The President doesn’t need me, he’s got Goldman Sachs. And the moderates/independents he didn’t alienate when he reneged on his promise executive order to close GTMO: let them knock on the damn doors. I know I’m not alone in this, but I doubt it will make any difference in the 4 or 5 states that end up actually in play.

I think it’s way too early to write off Romney: he’ll win every state won by McCain, and, it seems to me, should be more than competitive in Indiana and North Carolina, among others.

Michael Sullivan: I’m as disappointed in the President as anyone, but his policies on Iraq and Afghanistan seem to me to be pretty much as advertised: orderly drawdown in the one, try to win using the military’s best plan in the other. Like people disappointed that the Congress didn’t defund the wars in 2007, or impeach the President, you seem to have been hoping for something that was explicitly not on the menu.

9

Ben Alpers 03.03.12 at 4:23 pm

the economy is still in poor shape, and enthusiasm for Obama has declined massively as a result of policies in areas like civil liberties the economy remaining in poor shape

FTFY

Add me to the list of those skeptical about the claim in fn2. I’m sure we can all think of examples of people who feel less enthusiastic about Obama this time around because of his civil liberties record (though as someone who voted for Obama as the lesser of two evils in 2008 and will do so again in 2012, I’m appalled but not particularly surprised by that record (remember telecomm immunity in the summer of 2008?)…and not at all surprised at his foreign policy record). Some of us might even be able to think of people who voted for him in 2008 but won’t in 2012 because of his civil liberties record (though we’re now beginning to get into mytical voter territory, like Progressives for Paul and PUMAs).

But regardless of whether or not we can individually conjure up single examples of these phenomena, the plural of anecdote is not data. And until I see some evidence that Obama’s civil liberties record might hurt him at the polls, I will continue to regard statements like fn2 as a weirdly pessimistic form of wishful thinking.

10

Ben Alpers 03.03.12 at 4:24 pm

mythical*

11

tib 03.03.12 at 4:40 pm

Yeah, not much evidence for fn2. Obama’s approval correlates with the economy, not with concerns about war, civil liberties or even banksters. The notion that Obama’s core support was civil libertarians is precious, and thoroughly refuted by Andrew @2.

12

Kaveh 03.03.12 at 4:42 pm

Somebody on Pandagon made an interesting argument that the Republicans unintentionally punted the whole primary because their hatred for Obama is so intense and warped by racism that they failed to see how any (white, conservative) Republican could fail to beat him. They underestimated how perfectly acceptable Obama is to most of the electorate.

As for doublethink, I’d describe increasing Republican craziness another way. Republican rhetoric from 1994 on had a kind of insurgent quality. The idea was that by pushing at the boundaries of polite political discourse, one could open up a larger space for discussion. This is what the anti-PC hysteria actually meant to most people I’ve interacted with who bought into it to any degree (not hard-core conservatives). That was bound to play itself out sooner or later, as Republicans couldn’t very well define themselves as an insurgent party in 2006. It didn’t lead to any good ideas such as you’d hope to get from changing the parameters of discussion. If anything, it led to fatigue with hysterical politics, which both facilitated Obama’s election (or colored his campaign–“Change…”) and, I think, has made it that much harder for people to call him out on some of the truly awful things he’s permitting to go on (GTMO still open…).

Politics based that much on doublethink is not going to lead to many good/popular ideas whether they coordinate it well or not. The doublethink and insurgent rhetoric was always a false promise, there weren’t really any good ideas that couldn’t be discussed because of PCness.

@8 Closing GTMO and not expanding powers of the presidency to assassinate without trial most certainly *were* on the menu. What else could the OP have meant by “civil liberties”? Let’s not turn this discussion into an exchange of pro/anti-Obama catchphrases.

13

Cranky Observer 03.03.12 at 5:22 pm

= = =
tib@4:40 pm: “Yeah, not much evidence for fn2. Obama’s approval correlates with the economy, not with concerns about war, civil liberties or even banksters. The notion that Obama’s core support was civil libertarians is precious, and thoroughly refuted by Andrew @2.”
= = =

There’s a huge difference between “will vote for” and “will pound the pavement for”. If the race is anywhere near close the ground game will make a major difference, and the ‘some on the left’ whom Obama has punched most consistently are also those who provided the backbone and bulk hours of the 2008 ground campaign.

Cranky

Also most of the organizing as well, although Plouffe would dispute that.

14

nick s 03.03.12 at 6:08 pm

I’m appalled but not particularly surprised by that record

Neither am I: there was a whiff of Blairish paternalism about Obama in 2008, and that, combined with the institutional resistance to relinquish executive power — and the posturing of Congress on the topic — was never going to deliver anything much on civil liberties.

I’d like to think that the GOP is just going through a super-sized version of the post-1997 Tories’ purity drive, with the additional advantage of the short election cycle that delivered them the anti-incumbent win in 2010, but I think it’s more pernicious than that. The Tories knew, at very least, that Labour would knacker themselves out after a decade, with the ministerial benches occupied by mediocrities who’d never known anything but government. If Romney spends and scrambles his way to the nomination and loses in November, it’s hard to imagine the base will be satisfied with an part-time reality-denier like Jeb Bush or Chris Christie in 2016.

15

Lee A. Arnold 03.03.12 at 6:35 pm

I think that the current situation is a manifestation of the two basic problems of the Republican Party: (1) their economic ideology, Reaganomics, is false and has begun to collide with reality; and (2) their most reliable voters are fundamentalists (religious, social, monetary, libertarian — pick your fundamentalism…) who believe this ideology, and so, the party leaders must keep selling it to them. The party leaders are (or were) the “country-club” Republicans who only want tax cuts and are cynical about almost everything else. This has led to rhetorical contradictions which are insurmountable: for example, the Republicans are “against” the welfare state, but they can’t cut Medicare, because their most reliable voters will not like that.

These two basic problems of the Republicans were programmed 3 decades ago by the ascendancy of Reagan, who said one thing, but actually did something quite different. Since then, the GOP has progressively gotten loonier and loonier and it has resulted in a disregard of science and reason (and an idolatry of Ronnie) that looks like a mild new form of fascism which celebrates a phony individualism as your gateway into the lockstep of the doublethink. We might call it “Individualism Fascism” — which used to be a contradiction in terms.

Romney might win the election, it is going to be a close one, but unless he transforms his party afterward, it’s finished. The Republican Party is going to be eclipsed historically as the Whigs once were. The only question is how many more people it is going to hurt in its long, thrashing, historical demise.

16

evil is evil 03.03.12 at 6:54 pm

Keep your damned eyes on the ball. None of this matters. You are being gulled by the 200 richest people in the US.

The legislatures that have been bought up by the filthy rich are being put through their paces to prove their loyalty.

None of these pieces of ALEC legislation are anything but disastrous for the American people (the 99.999 per cent that are not filthy rich.) A lot of them are just proving how low the bought and paid for legislatures will go.

You can argue anything you want about class war, but this is totally a war on everyone else by the United States super, super rich.

As long as the rich control the majority of the money, all of the “news” media, the Supreme Joke, the US Congress and the President, you are going to find that the rich continue to pay their mindless greedy retainers to attempt to cause:

1. Color against color.
2. Men against women.
3. Religion against religion.
4. Employed vs. Unemployed.
5. Privileged upper class against all lower classes.

17

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.03.12 at 7:01 pm

Surely some revelation is at hand.

18

js. 03.03.12 at 7:16 pm

Re fn. 2, I think Cranky’s point is right, but—based admittedly on anec-data—I think Andrew @2 is even more right.

19

MattF 03.03.12 at 8:16 pm

No one has anything to say about the Wyoming Navy? A thousand miles and one or two mountain ranges away from any ocean?

20

Ben Alpers 03.03.12 at 9:34 pm

Lee Arnold @ 15: Rumors of the Republican Party’s demise are greatly exaggerated. The GOP today is very definitely not the Whigs in the 1850s . That party was torn apart by internal divisions over the single most salient issue of the day. Today’s Republicans are nothing if not united on the issues. The fact that they’ve loudly embraced minority positions on a whole host of issues will make it difficult for them to win national elections. But the national minority that holds their positions is a very substantial minority… and in a number of states it’s a majority, often a sizable one.

21

straightwood 03.03.12 at 11:46 pm

If one thinks of the Republican party as a creaky winch whose purpose is to pull the point of “compromise” steadily to the right, it is succeeding splendidly. Losing the Presidential election to Obama will be a trivial setback. The Republican primary circus is a ridiculous distraction from the real action, the plutocratic plundering of our people. It is no accident that Obama has betrayed those who elected him and rewarded those who financed him. This is how our nation is run: one dollar = one vote.

22

Omega Centauri 03.04.12 at 2:32 am

Matt @19: No mountain ranges if they redirect their gaze toward the Gulf of Mexico. Besides Hugo Chavez’s little country has the oil.

I have to agree with straightwood. What effect is the attention to the primary clownshow having on the Overton window? Maybe they have adopted strategy from General Giap, win the war by losing ALL the battles.

23

Ed 03.04.12 at 3:21 am

I have to disagree on this passage:

“Instead, Republican pundits are already giving up on the Presidential election, and even on the Senate, and are starting to focus on whether they can even retain control of the House.”

There is three links to the evidence cited. One seems to be some sort of argument made by George Will, so has to be thrown out automatically. The second is a (fairly good) forecast article in the politics-as-sports genre that says that the Republicans gaining a majority in the Senate should be easy, given that the Democrats are defending 23 seats to their 8, but this isn’t proving to be the case and now its 50-50. But it doesn’t say that the Republicans have conceded the Senate. The third article is about the Republicans hoping someone jumps into the presidential race at the last minute, which is decent evidence for the presidential part of the claim, but says nothing about the House.

About Congress, the Republicans have run into the same problem they had that kept them from taking the Senate in 2010, difficulty in finding sane and appealing candidates and getting them through the primary process, but with twenty-three targets and only a couple of vulnerability, the odds are still in their favor. Everything has to break right for the Democrats. With the House, their problems with finding a presidential candidate (and Romney’s record at Bain Capital is toxic) probably will hurt them given that Congress is not exactly popular right now.

We seem to be in the opposite of the situation in the 1980s. In the 1980s voters really liked incumbents and kept re-electing them regardless of party, meaning for example that Reagan’s victory in 1984 barely made a dent in the Democrats control of the House. Now incumbents in both parties are really unpopular, but the systemic parts of the system that favor incumbents have strengthened, and the Republicans are throwing away their advantage in the presidential race. So who knows? Right now I expect a Democratic House, a Republican Senate, and I really have no idea about the presidential race.

24

dr ngo 03.04.12 at 4:56 am

If an acknowledged genius like Shakespeare can write about the seacoast of Bohemia, and Switzerland can win the America’s Cup in yachting, I see no reason Wyoming shouldn’t have as many carriers as it can afford.

25

bt 03.04.12 at 5:20 am

“On foreign policy and “security” at least, he seems to be not much different than what we’d have gotten from McCain.”

Quoted from post #1.

This kind of statement always depresses me. It’s like people who voted for Ralph Nader and ended up electing George Bush, based on the idea that Democrats are as bad as Republicans. This is just black and white WRONG.

Democrats are wimpy and spineless, yes, a huge problem. And, yes, the ‘blue dog people’ are disgusting, and are the real problem for Democrats in my opinion.

But just giving up is such a bad idea – the republicans at this time are so much worse and so wrong on almost everything. Ask anyone in Florida who voted for Ralph Nader – if any are willing to do so.

Seriously, equating John McCain to Obama. Do you recall who he picked for VP? Please come to your senses and keep going.

26

John Quiggin 03.04.12 at 7:28 am

@Ed – it’s a bit of a cheat to say that I have to produce a credible Repub to say that they are going to lose – why not ask for something easier like a talking unicorn? But there are plenty of Repubs as credible as Will saying the same thing

27

John Quiggin 03.04.12 at 7:49 am

As regards the Overton window, there comes a point when your credibility is shot to the point that pushing extreme ideas confirms the preconception that you are crazy and doesn’t shift the window at all. The Wyoming Navy and birtherism fit into this category, and it looks as if Rush Limbaugh may finally be going the same way.

28

tib 03.04.12 at 9:44 am

Cranky @13: The race will be close and the ground game will make the difference in the handful of close states. You’re underestimating the Democratic rank and file, speeches like Osawatomie, SOTU and his UAW speech make me weepy, even after all the punches. And I worked against the guy in the primaries. Most Democrats are suckers for that stuff, and they’re the ones who will pound the pavement for Obama.

People were saying Democratic discontent would doom Obama’s small dollar donor efforts not too long ago, but he’s beating his 2008 records. My organizer friends are seeing the same enthusiasm on the ground (and speaking of backbone I don’t know of many organizers taking a pass on the re-elect).

29

ponce 03.04.12 at 10:39 am

“As regards the Overton window, there comes a point when your credibility is shot to the point that pushing extreme ideas confirms the preconception that you are crazy and doesn’t shift the window at all.”

I think the failure of the House Republicans to cut the federal budget undermines their credibility far more than their obvious nutcases do. This election, they have nobody to point fingers at but themselves…

30

Marc 03.04.12 at 2:00 pm

Here in Ohio the Obama campaign is already in gear and there is a large and enthusiastic cadre of volunteers. The concerns that loom large in online progressive circles simply don’t play out the same way on the ground.

However, I think it’s more profitable to address the main point than the side point about Obama. Quite simply, the Republican ideology has driven them off a cliff. There is a beautiful example in the Midwest: the auto industry rescue. It’s extremely popular here among the general public, and leading to a jobs revival. But for the Republicans, even in Michigan, it’s anathema. Crushing unions and anti-government rhetoric is more important to them than having the factories running.

So the Republicans are running high-profile campaigns in Ohio and Michigan where they’re competing to be as loudly unpopular as possible on a high-profile issue. A sane party would downplay their error or focus on some side-issue that could have been handled better. But their party isn’t sane. They’ll be lucky to get within 15 points in Michigan, and I seriously doubt that they can win Ohio either. The Obama campaign is using internal contradictions in Republican ideology (we need to cut our deficits and taxes on the rich!) to deadly effect.

Your thesis is strengthened by looking at the state governments – where ideology led them to pick a series of fights that they didn’t need to, again making the Republican party look to be extremist. It’s typical for parties to back off in the face of massive public backlash – except that it’s apparent that the party simply doesn’t believe empirical evidence about the popularity, or lack thereof, of its policies.

31

Omega Centauri 03.04.12 at 3:52 pm

JQ @27. I hope you are right. But, I remember several times during the past several years thinking “Yippie, now they’ve really jumped the shark, banishment to the wilderness is imminent”, and yet they not only survived, but got more tea-partiers into government. I do hope, its different this time.

32

JMH 03.04.12 at 4:34 pm

Hey,

It’s worth noting that a little bit of thinking about how to break up the eurozone smoothly, or how to leave the eurozone smoothly, would’ve served Greece, for example, rather well by this point.

Not that the option was necessarily a good idea, or one that should’ve been followed, but simply knowing what would’ve been involved. And certainly, the decision to be a nation-state rather than one of a group of states making up a nation is a perfectly valid possible position.

Note that I’m European, so the conceptual logic behind the United States is a pretty terrifying one to me.

Yours,

JMH

33

Sufferin' Succotash 03.04.12 at 5:35 pm

Before passing House Bill 85 by a voice vote on second reading, lawmakers struck out language directing the task force to study Wyoming instituting its own military draft, raising a standing army, and acquiring strike aircraft and an aircraft carrier.

And there are still some fools who insist there’s no such thing as progress.

34

geo 03.04.12 at 7:03 pm

As someone mentioned above, only 4 or 5 states will be in play. (Which is a clinching argument for proportional representation and the abolition of the Electoral College, but that’s for another time.) This means that in those states, there is no lesser evil problem. You are free to vote for a decent candidate without fear of being reproached by thoughtless people like bt @25 for having elected the worse of the two indecent ones. So if you live in one of the 45 states whose electoral outcome is predetermined, consider voting for Jill Stein of the Green Party. Or if you prefer, writing in Dennis Kucinich or Bernie Sanders.

Also: what evil said @16.

35

geo 03.04.12 at 7:06 pm

Sorry, “This means that in those states” should be “This means that in the other states.”

36

Sus. 03.04.12 at 7:30 pm

@geo (34,35) – this is all well and good in theory, but the Georgia primary ballot that I’ll face on Tuesday sure feels like a lesser of many evils slate of candidates (even if the outcome of both party primaries are pre-determined). My frustration doesn’t stem from any fear of reproach, but from the glaring absence of a candidate of any party that I can be enthusiastic about supporting. It’s a sorry state of affairs in US politics these days.

37

Dan Nexon 03.04.12 at 9:26 pm

I can think of a ton of things to complain about viz. Obama’s civil liberties record, but, seriously, Guantamo Bay? They got *killed* on the issue. Is there some kind of green-lantern theory of Presidential power that I’m missing here?

Also, what’s been said above. You know all the foreign-policy voices urging a military strike on Iran, calling for the US to pick a fight with Moscow over any number of issues, screaming about how we need to spend more on defense so that we can go medieval on China, opposing New START, and attacking Obama for being insufficiently deferential to Israel? They would have been *running* policy in a McCain administration.

38

Martin Bento 03.04.12 at 11:08 pm

The proper way to measure the impact of the civil liberties vote is not by how many people will base their vote on this, but on, of those people, which way it will swing. With the economy being like it is, and most Americans, despite some rhetoric, fundamentally trusting their government enough to believe their own liberties will not be violated, this is not a salient issue for 95% of the electorate. However, the election could be close, and it is difficult to see what voters and volunteers Obama added with his civil liberties actions: the people who strongly support those will not vote for Obama anyway. Put another way, any national security types he couldn’t get by killing OBL, we won’t get by not closing GTMO. So it has to be a loss, not a huge one in absolute terms, but one that may matter if the election is very close (which I am not convinced it will be).

39

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.04.12 at 11:36 pm

@37, They would have been running policy in a McCain administration.

Not necessarily. Only Nixon can go to China, as they say. It’s a well known paradox: it’s easier for those perceived as bloodthirsty to make peace, while those perceived as ‘weak’ are compelled to compensate and often overcompensate.

40

Dan Nexon 03.05.12 at 1:01 am

@39. Genuflecting in the direction of a shopworn Nixon adage (that, in fact, had nothing to do with his record on matters of “peace”) does not a serious argument make.

41

JW Mason 03.05.12 at 1:15 am

Suppose we were to ofer the hypothesis: craziness in the Republican Party (and in American politics generally) is greater than at some prior time. Then the null is that the Republicans, and American politics in general, were this crazy in the pat as well. How confident are we in rejecting the null?

Rush Limbaugh has had a mass audience for 20-25 years now, and I don’t think his tone has changed. (The shows I remember hearing in the 1990s weren’t noticeably different from today’s.) Bill Clinton was widely accused of having aides and associates assassinated, and of running a drug importation operation through the Mena airfield in Arkansas. It’s not obvious to me that the birther stuff is wilder than that; if anything, it seems tame by comparison. Ronald Reagan publicly suggested that Nicaragua could be used as a staging ground for a Soviet invasion of the southwest US, and the idea that the US faced a real possibility of conquest by Russia was a conservative staple. (Wolverines!) Apocalyptic Christianity is a perennial: Left Behind was a bestseller in 1995, The late Great Planet Earth was a bestseller in 1970. Nixon thought that Jewish employees at BLS were manipulating unemployment figures in the service of a Jewish conspiracy against him. And that’s not even getting back to McCarthy.

We are always tempted to think that our own moment is special. But I think the claim that right-wing craziness is a larger part of the political landscape today than it was 10, 20, 30 or 50 years ago, is not so easy to establish.

42

JW Mason 03.05.12 at 1:28 am

I also think that people are underweighting the fact that the R. nominee will in fact be Romney. A Republican party that nominates the patrician former Governor of Massachusetts, whose biggest accomplishment in office was a major expansion of public health care, and who has no association — personal or political – with cultural conservatism, is not a party dominated by its Tea Party base. It just isn’t.

43

bt 03.05.12 at 4:23 am

@34, “reproached by thoughtless people like bt @25 “

Wow. Show me those Nader voters in Florida who are happy with the tidal wave of destruction that throwing their votes away caused.

Leaving aside the electoral college and the notion that if your state is not in play – Our electoral system is based on a winner take all system, I’m sure you are are aware. And that tends to ultimately produce 2 evenly balanced teams who will fight and balance until one or the other gets to 51%.

If we had proportional representation, then go ahead write in Bernie Sanders, who is one of my favorites. But we don’t. So in the meantime, you choose to vote for Obama, or you vote for Romney/Santorum, or you go the protest route. In the context of the electoral system, not voting for Obama is more or less voting for Romeny/Santorum, sorry to say.

44

js. 03.05.12 at 5:16 am

JWM:

I think what you say at 41 is exactly right, but I’d take some exception to what I think you’re saying in the next comment—and I realize that the first is supposed to imply the second (yes?). I guess my basic question would be how much we should read into the (eventual) nomination of Romney? He’s very clearly (severely?) disliked by very large parts of the base, and just e.g., if Santorum had racked up more significant endorsements from party leaders, say, he’d probably be genuinely competitive.

So on the one hand, I think you’re right about The Crazy being around for a long time, but on the other, this moment might also represent a genuinely new stage in The Rule of The Lunatics.

(On a totally different note, could we please get over scapegoating Nader and Nader voters for 2000. Seriously, it’s way past the sell-by date. (And I say this as someone who voted for Gore; hell, I changed my registration so as to vote for Gore in a “swing state”.)

45

JW Mason 03.05.12 at 6:40 am

You’re right, I should have stopped at 41. Bringing Romney in just muddies the waters.

46

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.05.12 at 7:47 am

Well, there has to be a new increase in insanity due to the Citizens United: super PACs, crazy billionaires having pet-candidates. That’s a new factor.

47

MikeN 03.05.12 at 9:11 am

Maybe the Wyoming legislature just really believes in global warming.
“The Laramidian Alliance, spearheaded by the mighty Wyoming Navy, rules the Niobraran Sea, and no dog of an Appalachian may as much as dabble their toes in it without our leave.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Interior_Seaway

48

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.05.12 at 10:21 am

@40 …not a serious argument make

True, but neither is the one based on the red meat rhetoric.

49

Marc 03.05.12 at 1:53 pm

The “no more than four or five states in play” argument is a bit odd, given that Obama won Indiana, Virginia, and North Carolina – in addition to the more traditional genuinely contested places (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada). Add in Arizona this go around. He also came close in Georgia and the Upper Midwest. Competent republicans have been able to compete in many more states. The frozen electoral map was an artifact of the Bush era.

It is true that there is a large fraction of the country whose votes are predetermined, but the number of true swing states is at least 12, and there will probably be of order 20 with a serious campaign in them.

50

Ben Alpers 03.05.12 at 2:09 pm

js. @41:

If we had proportional representation, then go ahead write in Bernie Sanders, who is one of my favorites. But we don’t. So in the meantime, you choose to vote for Obama, or you vote for Romney/Santorum, or you go the protest route. In the context of the electoral system, not voting for Obama is more or less voting for Romeny/Santorum, sorry to say.

I’m all in favor of hardheaded assessments of what our votes mean, but this is nonsense. Most states’ electoral votes are, in effect, already decided…even with a generous understanding of which states are in play. Whether or not your vote makes any difference in the outcome of this election varies enormously from stye to state. And voters in deep blue and deep red states who choose to vote for minor party candidates aren’t costing any major party candidate anything.

51

Ben Alpers 03.05.12 at 2:10 pm

”state to state”

52

JanieM 03.05.12 at 2:42 pm

Ben — “If we had proportional representation…” is from bt, not js. — to give credit (or discredit) where it’s due.

53

Ben Alpers 03.05.12 at 2:50 pm

Thanks for the correction, JanieM…apologies to js. and/or bt!

54

Uncle Kvetch 03.05.12 at 2:56 pm

In the wake of Citizens United, all this talk about ground games, volunteers, door-knocking and phone-banking sounds positively quaint.

55

Lee A. Arnold 03.05.12 at 3:48 pm

Ben Alpers @20 — I don’t think the demise is imminent. As I wrote, the next election may be very close. However, it appears to me that the Republican Party is in a long passage into something else. A party might not need to end through internal divisions. It might slowly discover that its unified position is in contradiction to reality. (The Democrats have no such problem, because currently they will stand for anything.) John Quiggin’s question was “Why is reality-denial turning out so badly, after working so well for so long.” My answers are: because (1) you cannot deny reality forever, and (2) there is a split in the Republican Party between the loyal purists who believe the falsehoods, and the leaders who must continue to spoon it to them. (John Boehner is an example: a person who would probably prefer to be a steward of the welfare state, out golfing every day, and must waste his time wrangling the House.) After their candidate is chosen, the Republicans will appear to be unified again. Another reason the nuttiness is so apparent now is because they really don’t want Romney, he has obvious liabilities for the general campaign (independents think he is personally cold; he opens up examinations of private equity and healthcare reform; biblical literalists may balk at a Mormon bishop in the Oval Office, etc.)

56

More Dogs, Less Crime 03.05.12 at 5:41 pm

The economy is supposed to be improving, that is why Obama will be re-elected.

57

geo 03.05.12 at 7:44 pm

Really, aren’t even you lesser-evilists tempted to throw prudence to the winds when our disgusting president says disgusting things like this: http://www.salon.com/writer/glenn_greenwald/.

58

John Quiggin 03.05.12 at 7:58 pm

@JWM As Lee says @54, the hypothesis isn’t that the Repubs were sane and are now crazy, it’s that craziness was (for them) functional and is now dysfunctional.

59

chris 03.05.12 at 8:51 pm

@57: No. Consider the audience — he certainly was — and in any case, I’m not convinced that Greenwald’s interpretation is correct.

It’s common in politics to say that you absolutely won’t tolerate X while at the same time tacitly accepting that you may not be able to prevent it, or the alternative may be worse. I’m not sure why Obama pretends to believe that a nuclear Iran would be any more dangerous than a nuclear Russia or China or Israel or India etc. (or for that matter a nuclear U.S., which is after all the only nation to have ever *used* nuclear weapons on civilian targets, albeit in wartime; I often wonder if the rest of the world doesn’t find our nonproliferation posturing rather ridiculous), but surely someone in his administration knows that war isn’t going to help anything, no matter what noises he needs to make in front of an Israeli lobbyist audience.

Of course, if McCain had been elected, we would already be in the second or third year of war with Iran — the man sang songs about it, ffs.

60

Ed 03.05.12 at 9:05 pm

“The “no more than four or five states in play” argument is a bit odd”

I caught that one too. I was going to respond, then decided that what the commentator meant is something on the lines of “where the majority of the voters of most states will wind up is predictable when the election is close, and if the election isn’t close, then it isn’t close. Most people live in states that will give their votes to a Republican presidential candidate unless there is a national Democratic landslide, or give their votes to a Democratic candidate unless there is a national Democratic landslide.”

A good way to gauge your state’s lean is to find out when it last was carried by the losing candidate from each party. In the case of my state, Kerry won it, but the last losing Republican candidate to win here was Dewey. I’m pretty confident that the 2012 presidential election doesn’t hinge on my vote.

For individual votes, the attititude that I see sometimes of “oh no, the election might be tied, and my vote could have been decisive between the top two candidates but I threw it away on a minor party candidate” is quite innumerate and generally pretty strange. We are talking winning the lottery type odds of something like this happening when the electorage gets larger than 10,000 or so voters. Now if you are advocating that people vote for a minor party candidate on sites like Crooked Timber, that is a bit different, but then you should ask yourself some hard questions about the real value of your public endorsement.

There is sort of a Kantian argument that when you should vote, you should vote as if lots of other people vote the same way, but then if you are voting for a minor party candidate, the Kantian approach means that you should consider what would happen if everyone voted for that candidate and he or she got elected! Again its strange just to reserve it to the effect only if a few of your friends also voted the same way.

Incidentally, one thing generally not brought up in these arguments is that in the U.S., voting for a minor party candidate is functionally equivalent to not voting, the main difference being that you called a spoiler in one situation after the election, and lazy in the other.

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Marc 03.05.12 at 9:55 pm

@57: I don’t trust Greenwald to accurately describe anything that Obama does. Here on Planet Earth his administration is trying to beat back the neocons who are trying to start a war with Iran. This turns into Obama wanting a war with Iran when translated by someone who has a pathological hatred of Obama (Greenwald).

If Obama actually wanted war with Iran he’d be acting differently, following a well-worn script (see Iraq and George Bush.) It may be that Greenwald is too stupid to notice the difference between how Bush acted and how Obama is acting. However, I think that it’s more likely that he thinks of Obama as a super-villain. Thus his apparent reluctance to beat the war drums is actually a fiendish plot!

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geo 03.05.12 at 10:11 pm

Re Marc @61: consistently accurate, fully documented, and richly deserved criticism of the world’s most powerful man, who has broken one after another of the promises with which he secured progressive support for his candidacy, is “pathological hatred.” This is Obama-worship at its most pathetic.

If Obama actually didn’t want war with Iran — or better, if he had the elementary honesty and courage to acknowledge that an attack on Iran would be criminal aggression, the gravest of international crimes — he would say so. He hasn’t, from the most transparent motives of electoral truckling. It’s “pathological hatred” to point this out?

63

js. 03.05.12 at 10:21 pm

geo:

Really, aren’t even you lesser-evilists tempted to throw prudence to the winds when our disgusting president says disgusting things like this:

Tempted? Sure. But ultimately I don’t see the point. My policy is to vote for the lesser evil but to devote what time and money I can to people and organizations that are actually good, not merely less evil. (Actually, I don’t like the “lesser evil” framing, but that’s going to be even more off-topic.)

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Greg 03.05.12 at 10:22 pm

@61, Greenwald explicitly states that he doesn’t believe Obama wants war with Iran. You need to revise your criticism.

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Kaveh 03.05.12 at 10:30 pm

This is Obama-worship at its most pathetic.

Thought it sounded more like hippy-punching…

66

Greg 03.05.12 at 11:05 pm

My hypothesis for why the crazy stopped working is basically that the Obama administration has been very competent at being implacably sane.

Traditionally, poking a Democrat with the crazy stick has always worked. Dems can’t help but engage and get themselves dragged into a shitfight – a shitfight to which they usually only remember to bring a fart. The idea is to draw the Dems out and make them take a position to defend their right flank, hopefully out in traditional Republican territory, where they are vulnerable.

The dynamic has changed these days – team D doesn’t respond to the bait, so team R are left having to commit to the extreme territory they’ve staked out, doubling down on the rhetoric and desperately trying to make it all sound coherent when this was never supposed to be the idea.

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Marc 03.06.12 at 12:03 am

@62: Anyone who uncritically parrots Greenwald has no grounds to complain about hero-worship from anyone else.

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Daniel Nexon 03.06.12 at 12:55 am

#48 well, one person’s “read meat rhetoric” is another person’s professional observations, I suppose.

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Daniel Nexon 03.06.12 at 1:09 am

#62 go watch the former DASD Middle East (Colin Kahl) debating with someone who wants to strike Iran right now (Matt Kroenig) and you’ll instantly understand that there’s an enormous difference between the Obama Administration position (“all options on table”) and the neocon drumbeat for war.

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geo 03.06.12 at 2:19 am

Greg @64: Of course Obama would prefer Iranian surrender to war. So would Israel, for that matter. So would any aggressor prefer capitulation to conflict. But neither the US nor Israel is willing to renounce criminal aggression: ie, the use of military force except in self-defense against attack or certain and imminent attack. That’s the only position that deserves to be called “not wanting war.” The fact that the Obama administration seems slightly (though only slightly) less eager than the neocons to renounce international norms against aggression (though ultimately quite willing to do so rather than endanger electoral support from the Israel lobby or risk vulnerability in an election year to charges of being “soft on terrorism”) is something neither Greenwald nor I have ever disputed.

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chris 03.06.12 at 3:24 am

or better, if he had the elementary honesty and courage to acknowledge that an attack on Iran would be criminal aggression, the gravest of international crimes— he would say so.

Oh, come on. If he said to an AIPAC conference that for Israel to unilaterally attack Iran would be criminal aggression and the gravest of international crimes they’d be writing his political obituary before he left the stage. Surely you know how powerful the Israel lobby is in U.S. politics and that suggesting that any action Israel might ever take would be wrong is complete political suicide.

When it comes to Israel, renouncing international norms against aggression is mandatory for both Israeli and U.S. politicians.

72

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.06.12 at 9:04 am

Well, some politicians 230 years ago fought the English king, and won. How come it’s unthinkable for the supposedly most powerful man on earth to go against some foreign lobby?

73

Katherine 03.06.12 at 10:19 am

From the other side of the pond, it seems politically suicidal for prominent Republicans to be going after contraception.

It’s pretty stupid to alienate c.50% of all voters. While it was just about “those women over there who aren’t me”, a big chunk of female Republican voters could pretend it wasn’t about them. When the vast majority of American women (ie user of contraception) are being called sluts by Rush Limbaugh, and a credible Republican presidential candidate is not far behind, there’s no way to pretend any more.

74

Phil 03.06.12 at 11:44 am

I thought Rachel Maddow’s takedown of Limbaugh was pretty impressive. I’m not so sure how badly affected Romney is going to be – the “personhood” argument seems to fit much more comfortably into a sustainable pattern of doublethink. (Yeah, sure I believe the Earth is flat. I don’t mean the Earth is flat, obviously. But sure, I believe the Earth is flat – doesn’t everyone? And repeat.) But Limbaugh has effectively just come out against taking the pill on a regular basis – otherwise known as “taking the pill” – as well as demonstrating that (as Maddow put it) he doesn’t know how babies are made. The march of crazy continues.

75

chris 03.06.12 at 12:54 pm

On one level, it’s obvious why Limbaugh doesn’t know how you take the pill, but doesn’t he have even one woman (or even an unusually informed man) on his staff who could have told him that his assumption that the more sex you have, the more pills you need to take is dead wrong, before he made a fool of himself in the national media? Or are his staff too afraid to tell him when he’s doing something wrong, or secretly want to see him make a fool of himself?

P.S. @Henri: because nobody of any prominence can publicly criticize Israel without immediately being lumped in with the most vile and violent anti-Semites, usually with the help of a usefully vague phrase like “enemies of Israel”. Equivocating between “X has some disagreements with Israel as a political entity” and “X wants to kill every Jew in the world” is of course dishonest, but extremely effective (zero-nuance worldviews strike again: if they’re not for Israel they must be against it), and politicians are (quite reasonably) terrified of it.

76

Katherine 03.06.12 at 1:11 pm

I can’t see that it’s obvious why Limbaugh doesn’t know how you take a pill. Any man who has ever been in a relationship with a woman taking the pill would know. Or anyone’s who has watched any TV at all, ever, or read a newspaper. After all, I know the ins and outs of Viagra and I’ve never taken it, nor been with a man who has taken it. The knowledge is just, y’know, out there.

It doesn’t take an unusually informed man to know basic details about the pill. It takes an unusually uninformed man not to. Or someone who wilfully ignores all those “women’s things” that go on. Either way, he has outed himself as a woman-hating ignoramus.

On the other hand, his stance is almost identical to that of Catholicism, and the Catholic women who use contraception (ie most of them) still manage to be Catholics despite the cognitive dissonance involved, so perhaps I’m too optimistic.

77

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.06.12 at 5:30 pm

Chris, you don’t have to explain it to me, I just find it curios that being a liar and a coward is considered the only possible pattern of behavior for a politician, while at the same they can’t stop talking about their ‘leadership’. What a fucking comedy; funnier than Wyoming’s aircraft carrier.

78

Marc 03.06.12 at 6:03 pm

@76: What’s happening here is that people are aggressive adopting the most unfavorable interpretation of someone’s language, then treating it as true, then attacking anyone who would dare to agree with such a snake.

To diagram this, suppose a politician said “Nothing is more important than the health of our children”. And this was followed by a critique of how this was obviously discriminatory – why is the health of adults less important? Clearly that person hates the elderly! Then tie together some other statements into a sweeping attack on killing the elderly to save money – and get outraged that anyone at all would dare to support or defend such a monster.

Sometimes the best way to defuse a dangerous situation is to use soothing words to get people not to act rashly. This works for us in our day-to-day lives; why would it not be reasonable to do so in politics? There seems to be a culture on the internet that demands a literal interpretation of everything and that accepts nothing short of full verbal confrontation on issues. It isn’t enough that Obama is trying to avoid war with Iran; he must fiercely contest even the idea of a military action. He can’t mouth platitudes about how important Israel is; he must denounce Israel. I think that these things would backfire, and I suspect that Obama does as well. This makes him, well, a good politician, not a liar and coward.

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Barry 03.06.12 at 6:19 pm

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.06.12 at 9:04 am

” Well, some politicians 230 years ago fought the English king, and won. How come it’s unthinkable for the supposedly most powerful man on earth to go against some foreign lobby?”

Are you dumb?

80

Barry 03.06.12 at 6:25 pm

Katherine: “It’s pretty stupid to alienate c.50% of all voters. While it was just about “those women over there who aren’t me”, a big chunk of female Republican voters could pretend it wasn’t about them. When the vast majority of American women (ie user of contraception) are being called sluts by Rush Limbaugh, and a credible Republican presidential candidate is not far behind, there’s no way to pretend any more.”

Remember that the GOP has been based on such things for quite a while, using other methods to keep people voting for them.

In this case, it might make a major difference, although the right is really good at getting away with it.

81

Salem 03.06.12 at 6:59 pm

“It’s pretty stupid to alienate c.50% of all voters. While it was just about “those women over there who aren’t me”, a big chunk of female Republican voters could pretend it wasn’t about them. When the vast majority of American women (ie user of contraception) are being called sluts by Rush Limbaugh, and a credible Republican presidential candidate is not far behind, there’s no way to pretend any more.”

But opinion polling suggests there is almost no difference between men and women’s views on contraception and other matters patronisingly discussed in the media as “women’s issues.” If anything, women are slightly more conservative than men in this regard. What is your evidence that this will cause the Republicans to alienate more female voters than they would otherwise?

The gap between men and women’s political views is in attitudes to the welfare state.

82

Watson Ladd 03.06.12 at 7:11 pm

geo, chris, Henri: Iran funds Hamas and Hezbollah. We don’t even need to think about the finer points of the Caroline doctrine to realize that this is the classic causus belli, ever since Esarhaddon put the smackdown on Urartu for harboring the assassins of his father, and Elam got some of that just for financing a rebellion of Babylon. Just because Israel hasn’t gone to war with Iran before over this doesn’t mean they can’t any time they feel like it.

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JW Mason 03.06.12 at 7:13 pm

The hypothesis isn’t that the Repubs were sane and are now crazy, it’s that craziness was (for them) functional and is now dysfunctional.

OK, I missed that somehow. I agree that if Obama wins this year — and especially if the Dems make big gains in lower offices — that will support this view. Incumbents should not be getting reelected with unemployment at 8%.

84

geo 03.06.12 at 7:19 pm

Marc@77:

Today Greenwald quotes Time Magazine on Israeli reaction to Obama’s speech:

“Those disappointed by Obama’s speech yesterday, and it turns out there are such people, claim that he didn’t make a clear commitment to a military strike,” wrote Ben-Dror Yemini in the daily Ma’ariv. ”Come on, really. He couldn’t be clearer.”

Yemini, a plain-spoken conservative regarded as the voice of the workaday Israeli, heard in Obama’s warnings to Iran’s ayatollahs the bass rumble of Israel’s right-wing political establishment. ”He didn’t say he would vote for the Likud. But aside from that, one should pay attention, he sounded almost like the Likud leader,” Yemini said. . . .

The analysts were no less enthusiastic in Yedioth Ahronoth, the largest paid daily. ”Yesterday Obama gave Israel’s citizens a good reason to be friends of his,” wrote Sima Kadmon, under the headline: “Shalom, Friend.” “His speech was aimed directly at our nerve center, at our strongest existential fears. Obama promised us that the United States would not accept nuclear weapons; it simply would not permit their existence….It was a good speech for us, even an excellent one. We heard in it everything we wanted to hear—and heard that we have someone to rely upon.”

Greenwald — a “pathological Obama-hater,” according to Marc, and incapable of being fair to the poor, beleaguered Leader of the Free World — then takes a view closer to Marc’s:

I’m not sure that’s true — as I indicated, part of what Obama was doing was denying Netanyahu’s demands that the American “red line” be moved to where the Israeli “red line” is

After which he makes the point that Marc, Barry, Daniel Nexon, and the rest of Obama’s defenders keep ignoring:

but it is true that the U.S. categorically vowed to use its own military to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. — which would, as I’ve pointed out above, constitute criminal aggression by the US — Watch for Democratic operatives, pundits, cable news outlets and think tanks to herald all of this — Israelis celebrate that Obama sounded like the Likud leader and gave them everything they “wanted to hear” – as though it’s a good thing.

85

geo 03.06.12 at 7:27 pm

Watson @81: To suggest that funding armed opposition to a recognized government constitutes “armed attack” within the meaning of international law is … how shall I put it … completely nuts. If the Nicaraguan or Cuban government had retaliated militarily — say, by bombing New York — for US funding of the contras and right-wing Cuban terrorists, the official American view — before we obliterated those countries — would not be that their retaliation was perfectly justified.

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Dan Nexon 03.06.12 at 8:50 pm

#83 it would be criminally negligent to categorically rule out the use of force when not just the US, but the international community, is engaged in coercive diplomacy viz. Iran’s nuclear program. But holding out the threat is not the same thing as attacking, not does it mean that the administration has any intention of attacking. I urge you to watch the video I posted. Kahl was a major player on these issues before returning to GU.

87

Marc 03.06.12 at 8:52 pm

And the New York Times on Obama’s speech:

http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/06/obama-challenges-republicans-on-iran/?hp

“Mr. Obama hit back hard. “There’s no doubt that those who are suggesting, or proposing, or beating the drums of war, should explain clearly to the American people what the costs and benefits would be,” he said, reflecting a belief within the administration and the Obama campaign that Americans, after a decade of war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, are fed up with conflict if it can be avoided through diplomacy and economic pressure.”

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geo 03.06.12 at 9:08 pm

Dan: “Criminally negligent”? On the contrary, threatening violence is illegal under international law, just as it is under domestic law.

Marc: I’m sure that seems hard-hitting to the NY Times. It seems pusillanimous to a great many other people, including me.

89

Dan Nexon 03.06.12 at 9:44 pm

It is not at all illegal for states to threaten violence under domestic law. It’s kind of the ultimate basis of, well, domestic law.

The relationship between international law and the threat of violence is complicated, but it is false to say that it is categorically illegal to make deterrence and compellence threats. Whether or not it is, that’s pretty much how international politics operates and will continue to operate for the foreseeable future. One doesn’t have to be a Realist to recognize that.

90

Dan Nexon 03.06.12 at 9:46 pm

I would also note that we are talking about a case where Iran would be in clear violation of the NPT if it developed nuclear weapons.

91

J. Otto Pohl 03.06.12 at 9:51 pm

I thought discussions of the Middle East, particularly those involving Israel were permanently banned on CT?

92

geo 03.06.12 at 10:07 pm

Dan, you’ve gotten tangled up in syntax. I didn’t say that it was illegal under domestic law for states to use violence in the course of enforcing domestic law. Why would anyone say such a silly thing? I said it’s illegal under international law for states to threaten violence against other states, just as it’s illegal under domestic law for individuals to threaten violence against other individuals. It’s not complicated at all. Yes, that is indeed how international politics operates — like a jungle or a schoolyard. It’s up to honorable and intelligent people to try to do something about that — starting with compelling their own state to obey the law.

Also, the US has no right to enforce the NPT unilaterally, without an explicit request from the Security Council.

93

Matt 03.06.12 at 10:18 pm

Under the NPT, Iran is free to maintain a domestic enrichment program. If Iran so desires, it can enrich unlimited quantities of uranium to any level of enrichment, provided the enriched material has proper safeguards and inspectors can inspect. Warnings to Iran not to enrich beyond a certain level, or not to enrich uranium at all, are free-standing threats unconnected to the NPT that Iran actually signed.

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Dan Nexon 03.06.12 at 10:32 pm

Geo: thanks for clarifying what you meant about domestic law. I think we are going to have to agree to disagree about which course of advocacy is the responsible thing.

Matt: yes, yes. Not only does Iran have the right to enrich (subject to IAEA safeguards) but they have valid reasons to do so other than to get the bomb. What they’re doing, however, really only makes sense in the context of developing the capability to go move forward with a weapons program if they decide to do do.

And, I should point out, that’s yet another difference between the Obama administration’s position and that of the “bomb Iran” crowd. The administration does not believe that what Iran has done justifies a military option. Regardless, I don’t think anyone has made a case that there isn’t a significant difference between this administration and the far more bellicose views eminating from the ‘shadow government’ foreign-policy crowd. It is one thing to say that Obama isn’t softline enough for your tastes, another to say that there’s not a domes worth of difference.

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Dan Nexon 03.06.12 at 10:33 pm

Apologies for weird syntax. Long posts exceed my level of iPhone-fu.

96

Dan Nexon 03.06.12 at 10:40 pm

Geo: I’m not saying that the US does have the international-legal right to enforce the NPT. But I’m not sure that Chinese and Russian policy objectives render UNSC action feasible.

To be clear, I don’t lose sleep over the Iranian nuclear program and it would take a lot more than “they’re moving forward with development” to get me to support a strike. As Kahl points out, we are not talking about some sort of surgical solution, but a likely major conflict that would kill a lot of people and destabilize the region. I think, for example, that the Clinton administration was right not to use force against North Korea in 1994.

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Greg 03.07.12 at 1:11 am

Well, I’m glad we got all that sorted out.

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Katherine 03.08.12 at 1:01 pm

Salem @comment #81,

I think it depends on what you mean by “views on contraception” and what you mean by “women”. Like I said, when debates about contraception were said to be about those poor/working class/black/young/unmarried women over there, the conservative woman was able to pretend it wasn’t about hating women, ie her. And thus her views and voting could safely assume no negative effect for her, personally, on this subject.

Now all pretence is out of the window. Limbaugh basically called all women who use contraception sluts. And the Republican party is going after contraception generally, as well as, of course, focusing most of their ire on the aforementioned subcatgeories of subhumans (in their eyes).

It’s simply no longer possible to pretend it’s not just about hating and controlling women. All women, near enough. The only women escaping are nuns and members of the Quiverful Movement, pretty much. And they are a damn small part of the voting population.

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