Monday, April 24, 2006

Political Potpourri...

 I don't have anything as high in quality as those earlier essays -- about "The Choices We Face" and "Defending the Officer Corps." But there are a bunch of items I've stored up, that I'll offer below.

First, if you are - or know - a libertarian... or a Goldwater Conservative who is finally fed up with today's lost-cause GOP... do drop by and view the effort there, to turn that party into a new hope for practical believers in freedom and markets, rather than a bin for lapel-grabbing "oversimplifiers". (Putting a kind face on it.) They are republishing (after a good recent edit by me) one of my best serialized essays about basic political philosophy. Kind of heady stuff. But I do my patented "take a step back" number, quite a few times.

Let's start the potpourri with the most important article out there, this week.

The Worst President in History? by Prof. Sean Wilentz, in the Rolling Stone (Friday 21 April 2006). This Very well written analysis is a good history lesson to boot. A deeply dignified and scholarly look at the panoply of presidencies, including Polk, Buchanan and Clinton etc, comparing at many levels.

Snipped excerpts (but the whole thing really is essential):

“Now, though, George W. Bush is in serious contention for the title of worst ever. In early 2004, an informal survey of 415 historians conducted by the nonpartisan History News Network found that eighty-one percent considered the Bush administration a "failure." Among those who called Bush a success, many gave the president high marks only for his ability to mobilize public support and get Congress to go along with what one historian called the administration's "pursuit of disastrous policies." In fact, roughly one in ten of those who called Bush a success was being facetious, rating him only as the best president since Bill Clinton - a category in which Bush is the only contestant.

“The lopsided decision of historians should give everyone pause. Contrary to popular stereotypes, historians are generally a cautious bunch. We assess the past from widely divergent points of view and are deeply concerned about being viewed as fair and accurate by our colleagues. When we make historical judgments, we are acting not as voters or even pundits, but as scholars who must evaluate all the evidence, good, bad or indifferent. Separate surveys, conducted by those perceived as conservatives as well as liberals, show remarkable unanimity about who the best and worst presidents have been.”

“And these figures were gathered before the debacles over Hurricane Katrina, Bush's role in the Valerie Plame leak affair and the deterioration of the situation in Iraq. Were the historians polled today, that figure would certainly be higher.”

The rest truly is an interesting and non-venomous, professorial set of fascinating evaluations and comparisons.

The losers weigh in - if only they communicated like this earlier:

* Worth a glance: the movie trailer for Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth'

* A very thought provoking article by John Kerry... or by a really superier writer on his staff? Does it matter? Worth reading just for the ruthless efficiency of the prose.

Recall my appeal to the Officer Corps to save America from a Rovean "Octorber Surprise" contrived to win the November election by stoking fear? Well, Russell Redenbaugh - -- suggests that the “October Surprise” may not be something horrid loony-awful, like a US strike upon Iran, but the direct opposite... “By examining the structure of incentives, it becomes clear that this administration and the Iranian government each have an incentive to reach an agreement prior to the November election.  From the administration’s point of view, the value of any agreement drops substantially after the elections.  From Iran’s point of view, the willingness of our administration to take unpopular action increases after the election.”

At one level, of course, this would be great news. I have been urging rapprochement with Iran for years (though with the Iranian people, bypassing the jibbering loons who currently desperately cling to power there).

On the other hand, even a GOOD "surprise" could be dastardly. This is the sort of positive step that would be treasonous to delay many months for mere political purposes. Alas, it is also the kind that the members of our Intelligence Community might NOT choose to interfere with, as the actual effects (nonpolitical) are beneficial. (Unlike, say, an intemperate and rash bombing of Iran.)

I had not thought of this. That the administration might pull some autumnal surprise that’s sane and good. But as atypical as that would be, given their record, it does fit Rove’s penchant for political jiu jitsu. So, how best to prevent this sort of thing from swinging the election?

Talk it up, I guess. Talk up every good thing that you can imagine the administration doing, between now and November. Make every good thing our suggestion. And make clear that we will all be watching the timing. We will know if a good thing was delayed until October, for political effect.

Okay, now something both depressing and hilarious at the same time. I do not agree with absolutely everything at this site. Indeed, I am probably the biggest promoter of the idea of creating a Big Tent to welcome honest and decent conservatives into... as the only way to finally end “culture war.” We will all benefit much more by ending it than by waging it. Still, if you want to see it waged well, visit:

Finally, as you know, I do a lot of public speaking and corporate consulting. If your organization is seeking a top flight out-of-thebox stem-winder for a major event, have em drop by Next eastward trip is to Boston, DC and NYC, end of June.

Thrive in hope.


Woozle said...

Brin's links, in easily-digestable HTML form:

1. Libertarian Reform Caucus
2. The Worst President in History? (Rolling Stone)
3. movie trailer (youtube; plays in browser)
4. The Right to Dissent by John Kerry
5. become republican (shockwave animation; waits for mouse-click before starting)
6. rent-a-Brin

Hope I haven't missed any...

gmknobl said...

Mr. Brin, you may be interested in this news item about the recently fired CIA agent Mary McCarthy. According to this, it's a lot more likely she was let go because her political preferences, not because of any leak she may or may not have sprung.

I know you aren't a fan of a strictly liberal site but this line of reasoning looks a lot more sensible in light of what's been going on in the military - purging. No one who's been paying attention is surprised by this.

Anonymous said...

this kind of October Surprise would be welcomed... but I suggest preemption, with a September surprise by the Democrats... basically, identify it before it happens so the public knows it when it sees it, and is not conned into thinking that Republicants are good leaders all of the sudden...

Bill said...

It's going to get a bit tighter when this news finally hits. The Bible is a proved hoax. This is in case you are the last to hear. Can't help but notice how the calling on the almighty etc is suddenly missing from the white house and even Pat Robertson seems to have his head down.

In a few weeks John McCain is scheduled to give the commencement speach at Jerry Falwell's Bible University, Liberty. He was one of the first to find out the Bible is as bogus Bush's Iraqui WMDs and proved so from the archaeological record, the reading of some old glyphs. has the full story.

Tangent said...

About the "good" surprise... someone I know who works in Intelligence is being deployed over to Iraq. My associate was unable to tell me any details (and I don't want to go into anything I do know for fear that any bit could compromise that person). Still, why would an intelligence officer be sent over to Iraq for the next several months now of all times?

Obviously to be on hand for specific intelligence information gathered, possibly about Iranian involvement in sponsoring the terrorists in Iraq.

Now think of this a moment... if we get specific information stating that Iran is involved in terrorist activities in Iraq, then the U.S. have leverage against Iran that can be utilized in the world theater against Iran. Informing Iran privately of this information could help pressure Iran into backing down over certain things, and thus allow for the Administration to declare victory and garner extra votes in November.

If Iran refuses to budge... then a vengeful Bush Administration may actively attack Iran for thwarting its attempts to remain in power, acting like the rogue state that the Bush Administration at times acts like it is.

Kevin said...

Thank you for making David's interesting post easier to use.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, the folks at (capitalization is essential to avoid an undesirable misinterpretation of the URL) were very friendly with me when I wrote them an e-mail concerning the design of their website, which I thought was ugly enough to scare off potential sympathizers. They responded quickly, took the criticism well, remained civil and friendly even when disagreeing with me, and even incorporated some of my suggestions. These are all signs of reasonable people willing to listen and change when necessary (even if it was as small a thing as removing puke green text highlighting). It speaks well of them, as far as I'm concerned.

Mark Brown said...

Dr. Brin, Can you comment on where you'll be speaking in NYC yet?
I'd love to hear you live, but doubt I'm a member of anyone that would invite (and pay) you.

Any chance you can see if you can get booked at wnyc ( public radio for one of their two morning talk shows?


btw, gmknobl mentioned Mary McCarthy
Some interesting facts came out today besides the fact it was political.
1) she was 10 days from permanent retirement.
2) she did not have access to the specific classified information

Tony Fisk said...

The 'happy' October surprise scenario is an interesting one to ponder, but I'm not sure it would be effective. Good news is generally no news: I don't think that a such a thing (especially in a foreign arena) would necessarily translate to pro-Bush votes, especially wrt a foreign event and when so many people are actively peeved.

So, if you were planning one, what would you want an October surprise to deliver?
- kudos, or sympathy for your side
- aversion to the opposition (which is what the 'culture' war seeks to provide)
- something new (another set of terrorist acts would be a bit passe)

Spelling that out to myself, one particularly juicy scenario occurred to me:

The 'discovery' of a planned coup should the Republicans prevail in November.

This has a number of attractions. Apart from providing a reflex sympathy vote, it also villifies anyone associated with such a clear threat to the democratic process (all those ex-army democrat nominees). It would also provide a perfect excuse to put the Great Officer Purge into high gear.

From a recent link provided by David, I suspect this possibility has occurred to others.

Still: 'Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're *not* out to get you!'

Anonymous said...


You missed (I just heard on NPR):

3) Her pension wasn't revoked (or altered).

It looks like a purely symbolic warning to would-be leakers/whistle blowers.


Rob Perkins said...


Your comments are singularly unhelpful.

Anonymous said...

I think Bill is a "drive by" poster pushing his idee fixe, Rob.


Rob Perkins said...

Gah! I hate spam like that.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Bill's a loonie. I looked at his site and it's a bunch of incoherent rambling.

Anyway, let's try a more pleasant threadjacking. This blog needs more kitty!

Anonymous said...

This is kind of interesting, The Euston Manifesto, which claims to be the "the Website of a new democratic progressive alliance". Their Manifesto is a .pdf, but you can cheat and read it via Google.

They have a pretty good list of points, but for a "new democratic progressive alliance", they sure spend a lot of time bashing conservative strawmen versions of "The Left".

Maybe it's just me, but if you're going to say things like "But we reject the double standards by which too many on the Left today treat as the worst violations of human rights those perpetrated by the democracies, while being either silent or more muted about infractions that outstrip these by far." and then spend a decent chunk of your manifesto blasting "elements of The Left" and not even mention why you're opposed to "The Right", it kinda makes me wonder. There's no reason for us to buy into "conservative" strawmen or language like "Islamists" or "the disgraceful alliances lately set up inside the ‘anti-war’movement with illiberal theocrats".

Seriously, "Islamist"? "Islamofacist"? Who comes up with these things?

I guess it's sort of the same reason I've argued with Dr. Brin before, why are we helping the people we're trying to oppose by taking their talking points to heart and attacking a tiny powerless fringe, while their nutcase fringe is steering the world off a cliff?

Anonymous said...

...why are we helping the people we're trying to oppose by taking their talking points to heart and attacking a tiny powerless fringe, while their nutcase fringe is steering the world off a cliff?

Because the overwhelming majority of people don't live on the fringe. You can gain as much cachet distancing yourself from one radical nutjob as you can from another, and the right-left axis we've dubiously based all our political polemics around has plenty of nutjobs at either end. As Jon Stewart once observed, people don't march in the streets shouting "BE REASONABLE!"

In answer to your other question, I believe talk radio windbag Michael Savage likes to take credit for popularizing the term "islamofascist", although its invention seems to predate his usage.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

'As Jon Stewart once observed, people don't march in the streets shouting "BE REASONABLE!"'

Hmmm, maybe they should.

Don Quijote said...

On the other hand, even a GOOD "surprise" could be dastardly.

Here 's you likely October Surprise:

DevilDucky - Let's Bomb Iran

We could start a pool, $10 a head, the winner is the one who picks the Date & Time closest to the start of the Bombing Campaign with out going past said date & time.

Put me down for october 20th, 2006 3 :00 am Teheran Time.

Don Quijote said...

You can gain as much cachet distancing yourself from one radical nutjob as you can from another, and the right-left axis we've dubiously based all our political polemics around has plenty of nutjobs at either end.

You're suppose to bash the other side's radical nut-jobs, not your own, cause if you do to much of that, you might discover that those whack-jobs aren't going to give you any cash, aren't going to do any organizing for you, aren't going to vote for you and then you'll end up with another George Bush in the white house.

You just don't learn, do you?

Had Clinton & Gore actually paid attention to their base instead of selling them down the river every chance they got, you'd probably be enjoying the sixth of the Gore Presidency right now, the WTC would syill be gracing the NY skyline, the federal budget would probably be in the black, Iraq would be some odd country most people would have a hard time finding on a map, and we would not be discussing the finer points of nuking Iran.

Eight delightful years of President McCain with a republican House & Senate sounds like a worthy goal to me.

Anonymous said...

You just don't learn, do you?

Oh, I did forget, of the two faux-Southern Ivy-educated business-friendly centrist political scions, I was supposed to pick the one with the striped tie, wasn't I?

Lest we forget, Al Gore wasn't all sweetness and light and entirely without controversy.

Super Team! said...

I saw a posting on the Huffington Post today that reminded me a lot of your gerrymandering proposal. At least someone else is talking about it.

Don Quijote said...

Oh, I did forget, of the two faux-Southern Ivy-educated business-friendly centrist political scions, I was supposed to pick the one with the striped tie, wasn't I?

You were supposed to pick the one who's IQ was above room temperature.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I did forget, of the two faux-Southern Ivy-educated business-friendly centrist political scions, I was supposed to pick the one with the striped tie, wasn't I?

You were supposed to vote Gridlock. It's quite simple - if both the candidates are bad, make sure the president is working against rather than with congress.

David Brin said...

No time. But since I already mentioned Mark Warner, here is a bit about him from renowned business newsletter publisher Mark Anderson:

Hillary Clinton is unelectable, for one simple reason: you cannot elect
someone who the general population of voters don't find personally
likeable. Period.

But meanwhile, she has raised millions for the race (she is leading in
money), is the horse to beat, and has the apparent support of Bill
Clinton, the all-time best fundraiser on earth (now THAT's payback).

Bill owes her, but America doesn't. She is the preferred presidential
candidate, at 57% - Among Republicans! Get it? They don't think she
can win either. I imagine they are sending her money as fast as the

Senator McCain has suddenly gone far right to what comic Jon Stewart
calls "Crazy Base Land" - he is actively courting the nutty radical right
base, helping Jerry Falwell's university, and doing other unnatural
radical acts in an embarrassing attempt to pre-empt anyone else from
entering the race.

Which leaves Senators Joe Biden and Russ Feingold. Biden, forget.
Feingold has all the right ideas, but he's a Senator, and history is
against Senators and in favor of southern governors, if you're thinking

Right now, according to polls, 60% of the U.S. is thinking Democrat.

Where does that leave us?

With Governor Mark Warner. Here's why:

1. He was co-founder of Nextel Wireless: he gets technology.

2. He became a venture capitalist: he understands the role of
entrepreneurism in the U.S. economy.

3. He won the governor's race in a deeply Red (2:1 GOP) state.

4. He inherited a $6B deficit, and left with a $500MM+ surplus, in the
process re-vamping the tax system in a way that gave over 60% better
tax results. He cares about balancing budgets, and knows how to do it.

5. He left with an 80% approval rating, and his state was judged the
best-managed out of 50 states. He was so popular that his Lt. Governor,
also a Democrat, is now governor.

Summary: Mark combines the fiscal conservatism and modern technology
knowledge and management skills that the U.S. needs. He's smart, he's
realistic, and, in a shocking comparison to today's administration, he is

I am still reserving judgement. But The "senator thing" is spot on. Nominating one is pure suicide. In any event, we need a uniter, not a divider. And so, despite the fact that I do respect Sen. Clinton and feel she is vastly better than her national rep, I am hoping and looking elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

The last Senator elected President was JFK... and he almost lost. Since then, the road to the Presidency has lead either through a Governorship (Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush II) or the Vice Presidency (LBJ, Nixon, Bush I).

Now that I've stated the obvious...
Mark Warner sounds like a good choice.
(I'm looking for two bumper stickers...
1. Cthulu in '08. Why vote for the lesser of two evils?
2. Alfred E. Nueman for President. You could do worse. You always have.)

Tony Fisk said...

Off topic:
I can't comment on domestic politics over there, but a nice little gem of ancient wisdom from 'bibi Z' at Baghdad Burning. It seems fitting:
“History repeats itself… Politicians are opportunists… But they don’t worry me- they were bad, but Iraqis were better.” She continued to explain that through all of the drama and change that combine to form the colorful mosaic of the Iraqi political scene during the previous century, one thing remained constant- Iraqi loyalty and solicitude towards one another.

Meanwhile, Ethan Zuckerman discusses the inaugural lecture by Jonathan Zittrain (the first holder of the chair in Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford)

The Future of the Internet... and How to Stop It

A lot of interesting insights and proposals. I think Bibi Z would approve.

reason said...

Warner-Gore in whichever order sounds pretty good, but will the democrats have the guts to go for it.

Gore-Clinton would be interesting from a historical point of view.

Anonymous said...

Nah, forget about Gore, he's old news.

Warner-Clark or Clark-Warner would be a hell of a ticket. A governor and a general, neither a career politician, both moderate, competent, practical, clean, and appealing in all the ways that the current administration ISN'T. Unlike the 2004 comebacks, Clark stepped into the race too late to get thoroughly beat up, and made a decent showing... he'll still seem fresh in '08. While both have limited political experience, Clark has given himself enough of a "crash course" in the last few years, between his television work, WesPAC, and his own campaign to make up for that, and Warner has about as much experience as Bush did as of '00, so neither seems like too much of a liability (and having too much of a political resume can be more of a liability than an asset).

Anonymous said...

When it comes to national politics, especially the campaign strategy of Democrats (or lack thereof), I'm always reminded of a line in Dogbert's Top Secret Management Handbook: "You can't be wrong unless you take a position. Don't fall into that trap."

David Brin said...

Some of the left would balk at Warner-Clark. Would Warner be smart enough (unlike Kerry) to see that this is a GOOD thing?

The left's "return to our base" rhetoric is tantamount to screeching "do it to us, hard!" while bending over. The workers and minorities they are counting on HATE lefty symbolism. And those people are supposed to be the "base." Idiots.

Sensible people would stop caring about symbolism and support DECENT progressive people who can actually win. Let Clark wear his uniform and let Warner eat hotdogs with NASCAR fans. Let them schmooze with the BETTER half of the aristocracy, the techno-half that earned their wealth by delibering goods and services. Does any of that matter as much as the fact that they would:

- appoint an environmentalist to the EPA, a labor person to labor, a politically-neutral top intelligence guy to the CIA, an adult to defense, and judges who live on this side of the year 1900?

- actually care about diplomacy and alliances and what the world thinks of us.

- re-establish independent scientific advisory boards.

- reverse the teachery of secrecy, restore accountability and unleash investigators upon the grea Klepto Raid upon America... an event that has killed more Americans and harmed the nation vastly more than 9/11?

- Show prudence and mature care (though NOT total reticence) in the application of Pax Americana power to do good in the world.

If they did NOTHING else... if not one piece of liberal legislation passed under their term - Warner-Clark would be saviors just by doing those things. And there is no doubt whatsoever that they would.

As for Al Gore and Hillary and Bill... they will be put to work. Depends on what their dignity would allow.

Anonymous said...

Hillary stays in the senate.
Bill becomes 'Special Ambassador for the President'... the man is good at the 'talk to people and convince them he cares and is listening' thing. He makes a good middleman. Sec. of State would be good, but I'm not sure he can take the job (it's in line for the Presidency).
Al Gore for EPA head.
Clarke, if not on the top or bottom of the ticket, for SecDef.
Just my opinion.

Anonymous said...


As near as I can determine from a reading of the Constitutional amendments, Bill C. wouldn't be eligible to succeed the next President. I can't figure whether or not he could serve as a Secretary of State who is ineligible to succeed.

News on the succession:

"H.R. 1943, S. 920

"These bills were introduced in the 109th Congress. Their provisions include adding the following positions to the end of the current line-of-succession:

"Secretary of Homeland Security,
"Ambassador to the United Nations,
"Ambassador to Great Britain,
"Ambassador to Russia,
"Ambassador to China, and
"Ambassador to France.

"Note that Ambassadorial posts, like Cabinet posts, require confirmation by the Senate.

"Great Britain, Russia, China, and France were the first countries to acquire nuclear weapons after the United States. So would Israel would be next on the list?"

And Pakistan... and Iran.... ???

Source of quoted material:

Anonymous said...

You left out India.
And then there are the countries smart enough to not tell anyone they have nukes... like maybe Ukraine and Belarus.

But Bill C. would make a good special ambassador... or maybe U.N.... if we can't put him on the cabinet for Constitutional reasons.

Of course, I'm just speculating... it's not like future Democratic Presidents actually listen to me.

Anonymous said...

Does it make anyone uncomfortable that so many people/positions are being added to the line of succession? Is it just good sense to have extra options in an era of weapons of MASS destruction? Or is something really bad expected?

Order of succession:

1. Vice President of the United States
2. Speaker of the House
3. President Pro Tempore of the Senate
4. Secretary of State
5. Secretary of the Treasury
6. Secretary of Defense
7. Attorney General
8. Secretary of the Interior
9. Secretary of Agriculture
10. Secretary of Commerce
11. Secretary of Labor
12. Secretary of Health & Human Services
13. Secretary of Housing & Urban Development
14. Secretary of Transportation
15. Secretary of Energy
16. Secretary of Education
17. Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs
18. Secretary of Homeland Security

(Some lists put Homeland Security after Attorney General.)

Plus proposed additions noted in a previous comment: Ambassador to Great Britain, Ambassador to Russia, Ambassador to China, and Ambassador to France.

And perhaps ambassadors to the rest of the nuclear club....

Anonymous said...

Okay, Dr. Brin, let me try paraphrasing you, to make sure I understand your argument. Because I don't think I do.

It seems to me your argument is that liberals should shut up and take abuse from the Republicans and their "allies", because workers and minorities allegedly hate "lefty symbolism". We should just smile and vote for Democrats who Aren't Quite As Crazy as the Republicans.

In the short term, you have a point, especially with the current group of klepotmaniac crazies. But your argument seems pretty weak, otherwise. You claim people "hate lefty symbolism." Maybe, but I suspect a lot of that is due to the way it's been attacked by Republicans and opportunist Democrats trying to look "moderate". Imagine the train of thought this helps cause. "If even the Democrats are attacking "lefties" as crazy, well then the Republicans must have a point, so why don't we just vote for them?" And ALL other liberals get tarred with the same brush, crazies and sane alike. It might work as a short term strategy to get elected, but long term, it's suicide. It's helping the Republican's propaganda, it's alienating people who would vote for you. And when the "liberal" Democrats are attacking liberal ideas, they're attacking themselves. And the Republicans are laughing all the way to the bank.

Am I demanding that politicans and pundits cater to my every whim? No. And I'm sure I'm going to vote and volunteer and donate to try and defeat the crazy Republicans, as little good as it may do in my state.

But why should I, if I have to spend as much time justifying myself to my supposed allies, and fending off attacks from those same people. The Republican propaganda machine is good enough on its own, it doesn't need help from the Democrats, though I'm sure they're glad to get it, since it gives them a lot more credibility.

Not every Republican is going to be as incompetent as George W. Bush. (Well, I hope) So what happens when the opponent isn't a monster, just someone you disagree with? How are Democrats supposed to convince the liberals they've been alienating to vote for them then?

Even John "Integrity and Maverick" McCain's sold himself out to the Religious Right for his presidential hopes. And the problem is liberals who're tired of their supposed allies attacking them?