Friday, January 12

Curs of the Pundit Class

the big idea

Dogs and Democrats
Why Congress won't stop Bush's surge.

By Jacob Weisberg
Posted Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007, at 3:32 PM ET


Several decades ago, psychologist Martin Seligman developed his theory of " learned helplessness ." Subjected to repeated punishment, animals and humans often come to believe they have no control over what happens to them, whether they actually do or not. In Seligman's original experiment, dogs subjected to repeated electrical shocks would prostrate themselves and whine, even when escaping the abuse lay within their power.

As with canines, so with congressmen. In theory, Democrats now control a co-equal branch of government. In practice, they seem so traumatized by their years of mistreatment at the hands of a contemptuous executive that they continue to cower and simper whenever master waves a stick in their direction.

The first response one is tempted to make is that if there were no such thing as a self-professed Democrat and political pundit named Jacob Weisberg who supported for nine months the Iraqi war he now suggests Democrats should end, unilaterally, within days of taking power perhaps Democrats might be a tad less twitchy. Weisberg is still a charter member of the The War Was A Great Idea, It's Just Too Bad The Bush Administration Mismanaged It club; as such he might be expected to grant some leeway to Democrats (or wavering Republicans) who agreed with him then and still feel the war is worth one more push. But as we know, that's not how punditry operates.

Our second quick response is a two-parter: that's what you get when you ignore the requirements of Article I, Section 8, in the interests of so-called efficiency and a nostalgic wish for daddy to make those big decisions for everybody; and in a similar minor but controversial conflict in Indochina some years back it took a proposed escalation into another country before a rebellious Congress ever moved to cut off funds, and that was a good six years into complete debaclehood. Expecting the Democrats to do so now in a matter of days is absurd. Blame the voters in 2006 if you'd like; I'll save some for the staff of Slate circa 2003.

But our real answer is that in a less than perfect world (make that far from) it is the right move for Democrats to avoid using the purse at this point. It's wrong on the merits, it's wrong militarily, and it's wrong by all standards of decent behavior, but it's necessary that George Bush be saddled with the complete failure of his handling of the war and the Presidency (and by extension, that John McCain be toasted over the fire of a 120,000-troop "surge", but that's just a tangent). Everybody knows this is a last-gasp CYA and nothing more; not even the Bush administration believes what it's peddling. And the desperate final act is gonna blow up by next autumn, and by then maybe even Jacob Weisberg will have it figured out, provided Ken Pollack explains some of the finer points to him.*

*In that now-famous Slate Liberal Hawks' Mea Culpa coffee klatsch Weisberg said that so long as Pollack was fooled about WMDs then he, Weisberg, felt pretty good about having done likewise. It's a remark which, among other things, demonstrates the almost total lack of interest in fact which was required to have believed the Bush administration in the first place. It's an interesting re-read, since you get to see what sort of self-delusion had, by January of 2004, replaced the original self-delusion.

4 comments:

Christopher said...

Back before the war, my dad and I each made a short prediction about how it would turn out.

Dad's prediction: That we would find neither weapons of mass destruction nor the facilities to create them.

My prediction: No matter how right my dad and those on his side were, they'd never ever get any credit.

I now know a bit more about what Cassandra must have felt like.

Jay B. said...

Christ these people suck. And let's remember they are always, always wrong.

The Democrats are actually going after the administration* (*certain douchebags from CT notwithstanding) AND they are going after the Idiot's Iraq policy. Every paper -- every single one -- had a headline along the lines of "Parties come out swinging on Bush's new Iraq policy" or something like that.

That right now they aren't committing to defund the entire enterprise doesn't mean they aren't finally going after the policy.

The learned helplessness angle, one we bloggers had hit like Paris Hilton at an Oakland Raiders minicamp, was a big, huge problem -- in 2002, 2003 and 2004. After that, well, the donkeys started finding their voice, once it became clear that the jingos didn't fully rule the peoples' hearts.

Weisberg can't be that obtuse. Well, he can and, actually, he is.

But this does give liberals and their fellow travelers a good sense of what's coming next. Imagine what putative 'liberals' like Weisberg, Klein and the rest of those humps will start saying about Democrats after they've controlled Congress for two weeks.

Cynthia said...

It's a CYA move at the expense of how many soldiers and how many Iraqi lives? That expense can be counted not only in lives lost, but quality of life for those remaining. Expense costs may also include any effectiveness in the WOT we might have enjoyed had those 20K been deployed to Afghanistan rather than Iran. But you're right, Doghouse. In order for reason to triumph over gut feelings and wishful thinking, Bush must experience total and utter failure. If only he didn't have to drag the us all down with him.

Scott C. said...

The most interesting part of this whole "hang the albatross around Bush's neck until it molts" is the way it mirrors the neocon cheerleaders' prescription for a passive Iraq. The problem, according to the Spirit Fingered types at the PNAC, is that we didn't follow the Total War precedent of WWII. The Germans and the Japanese were bombed, strafed, and even nuked into submission, and each and every one of them knew -- as they cowered in the charred and/or irradiated ruins of their home -- that they'd been beaten like a tom-tom at a Robert Bly retreat.

But the Iraq invasion lasted just slightly longer than the average Spring Break junket to Lauderdale, leaving the populace no time to internalize their profound ass-kicking. And THAT'S why the Mesopotanian countryside is currently awash with dead-ender Nazi Werewolves.

The Democrats seem to be following the same playbook, and while I doubt it would have worked in Iraq, I do think it's a worthwhile template for dealing with the war-hobbyist Right. Bush needs to get pantsed, and have lovingly-arranged RISK board ground into his face like a cardboard tray of Junior High Cafeteria Spaghetti-Os. Not that it would awaken him to reality, anymore than Hitler in his bunker could have been jarred back to planet Earth by an Aqua-Velva-style slap in the face; but the right wing's dead-ender 30% needs to see Il Duce metaphorically hung by his heels like a Christmas goose before they finally admit that the glorious house on the hill has collapsed into a basement full of kindling.