Check Your Analysandum.

July 15, 2007

Check Your Analysandum.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Every Sunday CUIP’s political director Jacqueline Salit and strategist and philosopher Fred Newman watch the political talk shows and discuss them. Here are excerpts from their dialogue on Sunday, July 15, 2007 after watching “The Chris Matthews Show,” “Meet the Press” and “The McLaughlin Group.”

Salit: I want to get into some of the commentary on the presidential candidates and campaigns.

Newman: Okay.

Salit: John McCain’s campaign was a topic, since there was a lot of news this week about changes in his staff. Michael Murphy, a Republican consultant who worked for the McCain campaign in 2000, said that a year and a half ago the choice that the McCain campaign faced was between running an insurgent campaign similar to the one he ran in 2000, which they lost or running “the invincible frontrunner” campaign. They chose “the invincible frontrunner” campaign. And as grave as the situation appears to be today, at the time, according to Murphy, it was a compelling choice to make. So, let me start there and ask you to comment on that framing of the two choices.

Newman: It’s ridiculous to think that those were their only two choices. If those were the only two choices his consultants could think of, he should have hired some new brains. In the current context of what’s going on in this country, if you’re running a presidential campaign and you’ve narrowed yourself down to those two choices, you will lose, because you’ve just painted yourself into a corner. He had lots of other choices.

Salit: Such as?

Newman: How about being responsive to the people of the United States?

Salit: Okay. That’s a category for you.

Newman: But that’s not reflected in McCain’s thinking, and that’s in part why he’s lost so much support, it seems to me.

Salit: When all is said and done, it’s the American people who vote.

Newman: The American people are more players in this presidential race than I ever remember in history. And that’s what’s making it difficult for the pundits. They don’t like to compete with the American people. They like to be the definitive, authoritative source.

Salit: Period.

Newman: And the American people keep saying, ‘Well, that’s not what we’re into, and we are after all, voters.’ I saw Giuliani at a New Hampshire town hall-type meeting the other day on TV. He’s just terrible. Maybe everyone is assuming that they can win the day by being authoritative and/or authoritarian, since those two are so closely connected. But I think the American people are saying “no” to that. That’s not what they’re looking for. And I think that’s a big shift – a big attitudinal shift in American politics.

Salit: So picking up on that, one of the “Meet the Press” consultants, I’m not sure if it was Bob Shrum or Murphy, said that the political equation the McCain campaign was operating under is that if you give expression to what they’re calling “political courage,” i.e. a willingness to support unpopular policies because you believe in them, that you’ll gain popularity. In other words, political courage equals popularity. Political courage, as they define it. So, one of the things that they find perplexing, and one of the problems that McCain has had in executing his “strategy” is that that connection isn’t there.

Newman: One person’s act of courage is another person’s foolhardiness and pig-headedness. These are all fairly subjective terms which, of course, is the human condition, from my point of view. I don’t object to that, and a lot of what’s going on further affirms the postmodern nature of our reality, if you permit me to get philosophical for a second. That said, it’s still the case that what makes things different is the influence of the American public in this whole thing. Hillary and Edwards might be having offstage conversations picked up by open mikes, but the party and the process overall have been pushed to a greater openness. Now some want to turn back.

Salit: So, back to Giuliani. Michael Murphy said the problem with Giuliani is that he doesn’t have a “second story,” meaning his story is 9/11 and only 9/11. Says Murphy, ‘9/11 happened and then Rudy says: I was the hero of 9/11, and that shows I’m going to be tough on terror.’ Murphy concludes, ‘The problem for Giuliani is that he doesn’t have anywhere else to go.’ That’s what he’s calling the lack of a second story. Would you agree?

Newman: I don’t think so. Rudy’s hoping to win the Republican primary with that story. He automatically has a second story when the primaries are over and he’s running against a Democratic Party candidate. That’s his second story. So, I don’t think Murphy’s analysis makes a whole lot of sense, but that’s just my point of view. Right now, Giuliani likes his position. He’s in front.

Salit: He’s in front. Thompson is in second place and he hasn’t announced yet.

Newman: Right.

Salit: McCain is slipping and Romney is doing well in Iowa and New Hampshire, but he doesn’t have a lot of national strength and that can cut both ways. But your point is that Rudy likes his position.

Newman: He’s first. What’s wrong with that position?

Salit: Alright. It was noted that Bill Clinton was out on the campaign trail this week with Hillary, playing a pretty active role.

Newman: You mean, Bill Clinton, the ex-president?

Salit: The very one, Fred. So they highlight remarks that Bill made in Iowa: ‘People say we’re old. We’re yesterday’s news. Well, I thought yesterday’s news was pretty good.’ He’s trying to invoke the “economic boom” of the 1990s, wealth creation, job creation and so forth, and suggest that if you put a Clinton in the White House, the country’s going to go back to that. Now the commentators say ‘Well, that’s a risky strategy. This is a “change” election and Americans are looking to go forward.’ Shrum says ‘The Clintons are trying to redefine “change” to nostalgia.’ Others put it in different terms, but there seemed to be general agreement that that’s a tricky road for the Clintons. That’s what the Clinton-Obama clash is about. Obama’s about turning the page, going forward, a new direction, a new position.

Newman: This is a very good example of why I try not to use the word “change.”

Salit: Okay.

Newman: Instead I use the word “development,” in my theoretical writings, in my political writings, in my talks for the following reason: Change is change. Everything’s going to change.

Salit: And development?

Newman: Development means you have to take into account where something is going. So, if you take into account what came of the Clintonian “good times,” you have to say – Oh, what came of it was Bush, eight years of Bush. That’s what became of Clintonism. And judging by their own account, you should be very concerned and somewhat frightened. And that’s an important way of understanding methodologically how to look at this.

Salit: Say more.

Newman: The question is not, were the Clinton years good in themselves? George Washington had eight good years. Why not go back to where George Washington was? You have to take into account how things develop off of what came before. The analysis, therefore, has to tie together in some appropriate way, not just the last four years or eight years, but the last 16 years. And when you analyze it that way, it’s a somewhat scary picture. And it’s not just semantics, it’s not just Was it good times or bad times? The unit to be analyzed here – the analysandum is the Latin word for it – is critical, otherwise you’re not looking at the right thing.

Salit: Okay.

Newman: If you look at the right thing, then Obama and whoever else wants to critique it would correctly point out that it hasn’t been as good as you’d like to think it’s been. It’s been something of a slippery slope for the country. But they don’t want to say that because they’re all Democrats. So they’re forced into “Oh those wonderful eight years with Clinton.” However, those wonderful eight years of Clinton can’t be separated from the last six to eight years of Bush.

Salit: I want to try to understand what you’re saying about the unit of analysis here.

Newman: The unit to be analyzed is more accurate.

Salit: Unit to be analyzed, okay. I take it you’re saying something other than that any two term presidencies create the next presidency.

Newman: I’m saying this two-term presidency created this next two-term president.

Salit: What are the features of the Clinton presidency that created Bush?

Newman: Clinton was a no-holds barred pro-corporate president. That’s the most general characterization. He opened the door to a whole new level of pro-corporate policy. And I think part of the underlying reasoning of the voters in the 2000 election was, if we’re going to go pro-corporate, why not go all the way with pro-corporate.

Salit: Meaning to a Republican, a “compassionate conservative” one, but a Republican.

Newman: Exactly. There’s no doubt in my mind that Bush comes directly out of Clinton and Clintonian policies. Now, you could argue for pro-corporate policies, as I’m sometimes inclined to do. But the pro-corporate policies, from an independent progressive point of view, always have to be balanced with very substantial pro-middle class, pro-working class policies. That didn’t happen under Clinton. And that certainly didn’t happen under Bush, the continuation of Clintonism. So now the American middle class, the American people, the American working class, whatever terms you want to use here, are in a bad way and don’t like it.

Salit: But they voted for it.

Newman: Yes, they did. But, as you know, everybody makes mistakes. I think the connection between Clinton and Bush on this question is shockingly clear. And Hillary is nothing more than a Clinton. In every sense of the word.

Salit: So your point is, if Bill gave us Bush, imagine what Hillary will give us.

Newman: Yes. Look, you can’t measure things half way through. You don’t measure the success or failure of a parachute jump halfway down. It might seem to be a delight midway through.

Salit: Right.

Newman: But if your chute doesn’t open, when you do a developmental appraisal of that activity, it turns out to be a disaster. But the Clintons are trying to pull off a cheap political trick.

Salit: The “Happy Days Are Here Again” trick.

Newman: “Happy Days Are Here Again” is not what the American people need and I don’t think it’s what the American people are going to go for, although given the constraints of who’s going to be left standing after this presidential process is over, it’s almost a certainty that they’re going to elect either a Democrat or a Republican.

Salit: So if Hillary is the nominee, then the Clintons are likely back in the White House.

Newman: Likely. Although I don’t rule out either Obama or Thompson. I think they’re going to be interesting wild cards in the picture. But the question is not wild cards, per se, but what wild cards do.

Salit: I thought there was an undercurrent in all of the shows today of the political professionals acknowledging the strength of the Obama campaign.

Newman: I think what they weren’t addressing was the potential weakness of the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Salit: Which is the Clinton record from the 1990s.

Newman: Which is what I’m speaking to right now. Bill’s a popular guy, but I don’t know that the American public wants to go back to Clinton and DLC politics when they start to think about it more deeply. I would hope at some point, the American people will say, Well, wait a second. What is it that that produced?

Salit: And if Obama, for example, could take advantage of that, and be the “top tier” candidate to point it out…

Newman: You could see more of a race than is the case right now.

Salit: Alright, using your distinction between change and development, there was, as always, a discussion about the war and what’s happening on the ground in Iraq, the success of the surge (or not) and the expectation of what General Petraeus’ report is going to be in September. There is an interim report that observed that Al Qaeda had gained strength since 2001. So, on the one hand, we have a policy that is failing. On the other hand, even in the context of a failed policy, you can produce incremental gains on the ground, you can create a better, more controlled environment in Baghdad, you can drive the insurgency out of Baghdad and stabilize the situation further, etc. The best case scenario is that you can weaken the insurgency, establish American control on the ground, and then use the time that buys you to strengthen and train the Iraqi military.

Newman: Well, they did accomplish that. The original military intervention did buy time for what they identify as an almost completely effective election. And they elected a government which everyone now recognizes is completely incapable of carrying anything forward. So, the question that nobody considers sufficiently is, if we win, what will we have won? The picture the White House paints is that if we don’t keep fighting, terrible things will happen.

Salit: Right.

Newman: So that’s a loss analysis, not a gain analysis.

Salit: Right.

Newman: They might be right, who knows? The situation is so unstable in the entire region that anything might happen. The significance of the U.S. being there relative to what might happen in the region, is actually rather low. I don’t think the U.S. being there assures a bright future. They want to paint the picture of ‘Well, we’re bringing democracy to Iraq, and that in turn is going to be a model for democracies for the Arab world.’ But, they’re not bringing democracy to Iraq.

Salit: They’re not really asserting that anymore. They’re asserting that they’re bringing moderation to Iraq and moderation to the Middle East.

Newman: They’re not bringing moderation to Iraq. They’re not doing anything like that.

Salit: The Maliki government was supposed to be a pro-American bulwark against Iran. But it’s ineffectual.

Newman: Well, that’s an improper analysis of the entire region. There’s a new book that Tom Segev has written about the 1967 war. He points out that this didn’t bring a more moderate situation to the area. It actually brought about a more polarized situation for the whole Middle East. And I don’t see any reason to believe that Iraq is any different. I don’t think it aids us in the war against terrorism. I think that it actually deters us in the war against terrorism.

Salit: McLaughlin said we need a new government in Iraq. But that’s a tall order. Where do you go to buy it? K-Mart? I know he’s making a statement about the impotency of the Maliki government. But, it’s not clear where you go to get something other than that, under the current circumstances.

Newman: Well, “objectively,” whatever the hell that means, a new government is a government that will sit down and negotiate with its neighbors, and that’s something that Washington insists that the Maliki government not do.

Salit: Right, even though they do behind the scenes anyway, because they have to, because that’s the reality on the ground. But they’re not allowed to give expression to it as a formal policy. Thanks, Fred.