October 2003, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
Some Of The Future Soldiers in the war on terror may be cockroaches. Scientists at Sandia are studying the idea of using cockroaches to detect chemical weapons.
"Cockroaches are robust -- they can go into environments that humans can't withstand," [Jeff] Brinker said. "You could attach a sensing device onto the back of a cockroach and send it into a place where you suspect they're making chemical weapons.Presumably no one other than PETA would worry about cockroach casualties in such operations.
(The yeast-based sensors could be used for many other things, including detecting diseases.)
- 6:44 AM, 31 October 2003 [link]
Democrats Have An Obvious Strategy On Taxes, but some of their candidates aren't using it. The strategy, which worked for Clinton in 1992, is to promise tax increases for the rich, and tax cuts for the middle class and working class. This is popular with much of the public, where the feeling is common that the rich do not pay their fair share. It is even more popular with Democratic voters, so it would seem to be an obvious winner in the primaries. Despite this, two of the leading candidates, Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt, are promising to repeal all the Bush tax cuts, which will increase taxes for everyone who pays income taxes. They even want to repeal the new 10 percent bracket, which benefits some people with very low incomes, and the increase in exemptions for children. This Boston Globe piece, using data from two liberal organizations, shows just how many people got significant tax cuts and would face large increases if Dean or Gephardt got their way.
Fully 31.5 percent of joint filers (married couples) got a tax break of between $2,001 and $5,000, with an average tax cut $3,096. Another 18 percent of joint filers saw their tax burden fall by between $1,201 and $2,000, with an average reduction of $1,622. In all, 54 percent of joint filers got a tax break of between $1,001 and $5,000.Why are Dean and Gephardt promising large tax increases for the working class and middle class? With Gephardt, I'm not sure. With Dean, I am inclined to think that anger at Bush is the principal motivation. If Bush did it, Dean seems to have decided, it must be wrong.
Their tax increase proposals are not quite suicidal, since they still have a year to modify their positions, but they will delight any Republican strategist. Republicans may not be saying much about this now on the sound theory that you should not interfere while your opponent is destroying himself.
- 6:19 AM, 31 October 2003 [link]
Happy Halloween! And for some thoughts on the very different ways that other nations celebrate this holiday, see this thoughtful Anne Applebaum column.
- 5:00 AM, 31 October 2003 [link]
News Not Fit To Print: It is not unusual for an American senator to be at odds with his party. It is unusual for a senator to endorse the opposition party's candidate for president. I can't remember any cross party endorsements by senators since at least 1980. So, when Democratic Senator Zell Miller of Georgia endorsed President Bush a few days ago, as he did in interviews with the Washington Times and the Weekly Standard, you would think that would be news. A search showed that the New York Times did not consider it fit to print, nor did the Washington Post, the Seattle PI, or the Seattle Times. In Britain, the Guardian, which has extensive coverage of American politics, ignored the story. As far as I can determine from a glance at the Media Research site, none of the major networks thought it was news either.
Here's what Zell Miller said in his interview with the Washington Times:
"I've thought about this a lot. I think the next five years are going to be crucial in deciding what kind of world my grandchildren and great-grandchildren live in. And I cannot support any of these. I can't leave that crucial decision to any of these Democrats who are running," he said.I don't think it is bias in the usual sense that made all the news organizations miss this story. Instead, I think they are simply out of touch with large sections of the American public.
- 4:25 AM, 31 October 2003 [link]
Reuters, a "news organization" that has trouble distinguishing terrorists from freedom fighters, now uses the honorary term "dissident" to describe Noam Chomsky, without their usual scare quotes. You are supposed to think that Chomsky is being persecuted like Russian or Cuban dissidents. In fact, this disgraceful man is a wealthy, tenured professor, whose supporters have their very own NPR radio program, which I discuss here from time to time.
- 9:31 AM, 30 October 2003
More: Infuriatingly, the Reuters story mentions real dissidents, Cubans who have been jailed and tortured by Fidel Castro, as if their fate was similar to Chomsky's. Chomsky says that jailing these men was a "mistake". Since he is a professor of linguistics we can be certain that he used the word deliberately; for Chomsky, Castro's jailing and torture of human rights activists is a tactical error, not something morally wrong. And not something all that terrible, since as we all know, "mistakes happen". (Here's an AP story showing that it is possible to cover Chomsky without being an apologist for his evil ideas. Reuters should study it.)
- 5:12 AM, 31 October 2003 [link]
Ten Terror Suspects Detained Indefinitely: By President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft, under the Patriot Act? No, by Tony Blair and David Blunkett, of the Labour government in Great Britain. Like our Guantanamo detainees, these are foreign nationals that the British government considers illegal combatants, or the equivalent. Like us, they have found no better alternative, among several bad ones, than to detain the men indefinitely, without a trial. You will not see many protests over these men in other European nations, since Bush and Ashcroft are not involved.
- 9:20 AM, 30 October 2003 [link]
Oops! In their last session, the Washington state legislature passed a bill that gives illegal immigrants in-state tuition rates at our public colleges and universities. Or, at least that's what the legislature intended to do. So far, the law has mostly benefited foreign students with visas.
Told that the law is mainly benefiting visa-holding students, at least at the university level, state Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez-Kenney, the prime sponsor of the legislation, was momentarily speechless.The prime sponsor, perhaps. In other words, the backers tried to help those who had broken the law, or whose parents had broken the law, but ended up helping those who were following the law. And they are greatly embarrassed by that. Neither the writer of the article nor the sponsor seems to find that strange. (I am not sure whether Washington now has tougher rules for those from other states than for those from other countries, but it may.)
- 7:32 AM, 30 October 2003
Update: The reporter who wrote the article, John Iwasaki, tells me that he does not prefer law-breakers to law-abiders. And, he was not surprised that state Democratic representative Gutierrez-Kenney, given her ideology, does prefer law-breakers to law-abiders. (At least if they are illegal immigrants.) That shocked me, but now that I think about it, I think Iwasaki has a point. I should not have been surprised. Disgusted perhaps, but not surprised.
And I should have added in the original post that I admire reporters like Iwasaki, who do the hard work of finding out the effects of laws. This is a fine piece of reporting.
- 2:57 PM, 30 October 2003 [link]
If You See A Democratic Candidate today, be kind to them. According to the preliminary estimate, the economy grew at a "scorching" 7.2 percent rate in the third quarter. If the economy continues to grow as fast as it has in the last two quarters, then George Bush will be re-elected next November.
- 7:02 AM, 30 October 2003 [link]
Why Did The Seattle PI Slime George Nethercutt? As recounted by Stefan Sharkansky here, and in other posts (scroll up), The Seattle PI distorted what Congressman George Nethercutt said, and then refused to apologize. The PI used a trick that would get a failing grade in any decent journalism class, cutting off a Nethercutt quotation without letting the readers know with the usual ellipses. The trickery was so bad that even Seattle Time columnist Joni Balter, by no means a conservative or moderate, noted the dishonest editing in this column, though she goes on to attack Nethercutt.
Why did the PI do this? Because Congressman Nethercutt is running against Senator Patty Murray, and she is vulnerable. Senator Murray has won the "not a rocket scientist" award for being one of the dumbest senators multiple times. She's a pleasant person, but is simply not up to being a senator, as I explained in this January post. Since the PI cannot honestly claim that Murray is competent, they must attack her opponent. They may dishonestly claim that she is up to the job, as they did in the last election, but it is not clear that they can sell her to the voters one more time.
Their attack on Nethercutt may backfire. The Seattle PI is widely disliked outside of Seattle. Nethercutt is likely to do well in the rural areas and this attack should help him in the suburbs. Some think that the Los Angeles Times attacks on Arnold Schwarzenegger actually helped him with the voters, so widely is that newspaper distrusted. These PI attacks may have the same effect in Washington. (I seem to recall—though I could be wrong about this—that the current PI publisher came to the newspaper from the Los Angeles Times. Perhaps he brought some of their arrogance with him.)
- 6:45 AM, 30 October 2003 [link]
The Green River Killer And The Search For Saddam's WMDs: Two decades ago, a serial killer began killing young women, many of them prostitutes. Detectives called him the "Green River killer" after the location of his first known victims, in the Green River, south of Seattle. In just a few years, he is thought to have killed about 50 women, although there is still some uncertainty in many of the deaths and disappearances. Prostitutes often disappear; this does not always or even usually mean that they have been killed.
Two years ago, new DNA techniques allowed a match of evidence found on four of the victims to a man who had long been a suspect, truck painter Gary Ridgeway. (That he was a truck painter is relevant, since some eyewitnesses saw a pickup truck, but were inconsistent about its color. And Ridgeway did repaint his truck more than once during this time.) He has been arrested and is, according to accounts like this one, cooperating with authorities to help locate the remains of some of his victims. Already the authorities have located remains from at least four women they had no trace of before Ridgeway's arrest. As you may have guessed, his motive for helping find the victims is said to be a desire to avoid the death penalty.
Now, the connection of this sad story to the search for WMDs. This area is much smaller than Iraq, and Ridgeway had far fewer resources for hiding the bodies than Saddam did for hiding his chemical and biological weapons. Those who searched for bodies of victims did not have to worry about being attacked, and nearly all citizens, even some who do not usually cooperate with the police, were willing to help. Despite all this, some of the victims were not found until, apparently, we had the help of the killer. The failure of these searches two decades ago shows why we should be patient about the search for hidden weapons in Iraq. And why, unfortunately, success may depend on the cooperation of those who hid them, if that is what happened.
It would have been even harder to find the victims if Ridgeway had been able to move the bodies to an entirely different country, and that's what one official thinks happened in Iraq, just before the war.
The official, James R. Clapper Jr., a retired lieutenant general, said satellite imagery showing a heavy flow of traffic from Iraq into Syria, just before the American invasion in March, led him to believe that illicit weapons material "unquestionably" had been moved out of Iraq.There is a precedent for this; during the first Gulf War, Saddam sent much of his air force into Iran, hoping to get it back later.
(If you want to know more about the the Green River killer's grisly career, here's a long article from Court TV.)
- 2:13 PM, 29 October 2003 [link]
Bathtub Toy Dinosaurs may be more accurate than you think. Researchers have concluded that giant sauropods like Brachiosaurus had air sacs along their spines that allowed them to float in water. This discovery provides a possible explanation for some strange sets of dinosaur tracks, that include only prints from the front feet of these quadrapeds.
- 9:46 AM, 29 October 2003 [link]
Update On Rall's Cartoon And The PI: Yesterday I received a reply from the PI editorial page editor, Mark Trahant, about my post yesterday on the Ted Rall cartoon. I'll have a detailed commentary on his email in a few days, but want to mention this news from it immediately:
Thank you for the note. For the record, folks have noticed. I had a morning meeting last week with a variety of pro-Israel and Jewish community groups specifically to talk about the cartoon because they saw it as offensive.(Even editors need editors at times, but I think his meaning is clear.) I hope that Christian groups will join in these protests, and even moderate Muslims, if there are any on this subject.
- 8:23 AM, 29 October 2003 [link]
And From World War II: This is as good a place as any to quote Rick Atkinson's summary of the losses in World War II.
September 1, 1939, was the first day of a war that would last for 2,174 days, and it brought the first dead in a war that would claim an average of 27,600 lives every day, or 1,150 an hour, or 19 a minute, or one death every 3 seconds. Within four weeks of the blitzkrieg attack on Poland by sixty German divisions, the lightning war had killed more than 100,000 Polish soldiers, and 25,000 civilians had perished in bombing attacks. Another 10,000 civilians—mostly middle-class professionals—had been rounded up and murdered, and 22 million Poles now belonged to the Third Reich. "Take a good look around Warsaw," Adolph Hitler told journalists during a visit to the shattered Polish capital. "That is how I can deal with any European city." (p. 5, An Army at Dawn)One of the reasons I write this blog is because I hope that we can avoid ever seeing losses like those again. Our enemies in the war on terror are very bit as evil as Hitler was. Though they lack Hitler's war machine, technology has made it possible for them to kill large numbers in terror attacks. Only force can stop them.
(Though September 1, 1939 is the usual day given for the start of World War II, the Chinese would probably say that it started with the Japanese attack in 1937, and Ethiopians might think it began with Mussolini's conquest of Ethiopia in 1935.
I should mention that Atkinson's book is a vivid treatment of the North African campaign, well worth reading, and evidence that not all Pulitzer prizes go to the wrong people. I'll have more to say about the book in the future.)
- 8:01 AM, 29 October 2003 [link]
More Perspective From Peleliu: In July, I wrote this post about the cost of the World War II campaign to capture the small island of Peleliu. In the months long campaign to capture the island, almost 2000 Americans were killed. The Japanese lost roughly 10,000 soldiers in the same campaign, all for an island about five miles long. Now, from a far left think tank, the Center for Defense Alternatives, we have an estimate of the total Iraqi deaths in the war, somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000, about the same as the Japanese losses in the Peleliu campaign. (I would not be surprised, given their ideology, that the Center's estimates are too high, though I must admit I have not studied their report. And I am certain that some of the "civilian" casualties were leaders in the brutal Baathist regime, as legitimate targets as Hitler and his gang were in World War II.)
- 7:26 AM, 29 October 2003 [link]
Last Week's Picture was taken in the Page Museum on the site of Rancho La Brea. The tar pits there, one of the most important fossil locations in the entire world, are in the city of Los Angeles, just seven miles west of the civic center. If you go there at the right time, you'll be able to see scientists excavating a tar pit and watch the preparators doing the tedious work of cleaning the bones.
There are two curious facts about the sabre toothed Smilodon, shown attacking a giant sloth. It belongs to one of four extinct mammal lines that had sabre teeth. There was an earlier line of placental cats, a line of marsupials in South American, and a line of creodonts with similar weaponry. Despite this, according to The Velvet Claw: A Natural History of the Carnivores, scientists are not sure just how Smilodon or the other predators used their sabres.
I'll leave this week's picture up at least until this Sunday. As usual, most browsers will show you a hint if you move your mouse pointer over the picture.
- 2:12 PM, 28 October 2003 [link]
Water-Skiing In Baghdad: Just one daredevil so far, but it may be the start of a trend. (Given the pollution Saddam left behind, you will want to be sure all your shots are up to date before trying this yourself.)
- 10:24 AM, 28 October 2003 [link]
BBC Head Admits Bias: Roger Mosey admits the BBC was wrong in the past about immigration, and about Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Now, however, he claims that they do not have the same problem of bias. Or does he? This odd paragraph contains a quotation awfully close to a confession:
Does a similar world-view corrupt the BBC's coverage today? "I don't think this is true of the BBC, but I think it's true somewhere that people automatically assume that George Bush is wrong about everything. That is an example of a perspective that can set in if you are not careful."Note that he does not worry about the opposite idea, that Bush is right about everything, setting in. I'll have to go through a set of BBC stories on Bush to see if I can find one that does not "assume that George Bush is wrong about everything". I can't recall seeing one, but I haven't made an extensive search.
And I should mention that Mosey thinks it is quite mean for people to complain about bias now, even though, by his own admission, they were right in the past.
- 10:12 AM, 28 October 2003 [link]
The Seattle PI Should Drop Ted Rall: A few weeks ago, the Seattle PI ran this Ted Rall cartoon. (You can also find the cartoon at the New York Times site, which carries Rall as part of its collection of cartoonists.) The cartoon shows a fantasy Israeli plan to kill all the Arabs. Or perhaps just all Palestinians. Rall switches terms in between panels.) In short, Rall accuses the Israelis of favoring genocide. This is a monstrous lie, a lie that would fit right in on a neo-Nazi hate site. It is, if anything, worse than what Hitler and Goebbels said, though not necessarily worse than cartoons that can be found on many Arab sites in the Middle East.
Rall's lie reverses the actual situation in the Palestinian conflict. Arab terrorist organizations such as Hamas openly call for the destruction of Israel, while Israel has sought peace for decades. Public opinion shows the same split; Israeli citizens overwhelmingly favor a peace agreement with the Palestinians (and their other Arab neighbors), but the Palestinians are unwilling to give up terrorism. Many Arabs openly advocate the killing of all Israelis (or even all Jews); almost no Israelis want the same fate for the Palestinians.
If Rall had drawn this same cartoon about an individual, that person could sue Rall for slander. Our laws do not give the same protection to other nations that they do to individuals, particularly private individuals. Rall slandered Israel by every ordinary meaning of that term, but Israel has no legal recourse, at least as I understand the law.
I support freedom of political speech even in extreme cases like this one. No government should censor Ted Rall. Even individuals should do no more than show their disgust at his evil cartoon. But a newspaper like the Seattle PI has, or should have, enough responsibility not to publish slander and neo-Nazi propaganda. If you would like to join me in making that argument, here are the email addresses of the editorial page editor, Mark Trahant (firstname.lastname@example.org), and the other members of the PI's editorial board (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com). (A word of advice: Trahant is, in my experience, a decent and civilized person. An appeal to him will work best if it is intelligently argued and civilly written.)
(If you would like to know more about Ted Rall, you can see his own site here, which has many other cartoons, some almost equally disgusting, or this recent column, which is a fair sample of his thinking. Question for Mark Trahant: Is a man who thinks that President Bush is a "fascist" sane enough to appear on your editorial page?)
- 9:02 AM, 28 October 2003 [link]
No Front-Runner Yet: Yesterday, I said that there may not be a true front-runner in the Democratic race. The most recent Gallup poll supports that assessment. Howard Dean and Wesley Clark are essentially tied at 16 and 15 percent. Three other candidates, Gephardt (12 percent), Lieberman (12 percent), and Kerry (10 percent) are close behind. In fact, given the margin of error in this poll, 6 percent, any of the five might be the real leader. (The margin of error is so large because there were only 374 Democrats in their national sample of adults.) A full 18 percent still have no preference for any candidate.
- 6:50 AM, 28 October 2003 [link]
Alaska Airlines Is Running A TV Ad with an amusing detail. The ad shows the horrible experiences of a passenger at another airline, who first confronts a robotic counter clerk, and then is jammed into a seat with all those passengers that most of us would rather not have near us. At the very end, there's the final insult. The ad shows a newspaper that a passenger in the row behind the victim is reading—it's the French newspaper, Le Figaro. If you fly this other airline, Alaska is warning us, you will have to travel with the French, or at least people who read French newspapers. (Personally I would have preferred Le Monde, but it might not work as well visually.)
- 6:28 AM, 28 October 2003 [link]
Welfare Reform Encourages Healthy Behavior: That's what political scientist Robert Kaestner found in a study of 30,000 poor, young women.
Kaestner and graduate student Elizabeth Tarlov found that the drop in the number of people on welfare was "associated with a 27 percent increase in the probability of engaging in regular and sustained physical activity" among the entire sample and a whopping 30 percent decline in binge drinking, which they defined as having five or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting at least once a month.Mickey Kaus notes that part of the change may just be that the women learned what replies were expected. But even that is not an entirely bad thing.
- 10:33 AM, 27 October 2003 [link]
Front-Runners Usually Win, at least recently. Since 1980, as political scientist William Mayer points out
. . . in all but one presidential race between 1980 and 2000 the candidate leading in the last Gallup poll taken before the Iowa caucuses eventually won his party's nomination. The exception: Democratic Sen. Gary Hart in 1988. Hart, who suspended his campaign in May 1987 after a pair of Miami Herald reporters caught him keeping extramarital company with model Donna Rice, later returned to the race and even held a shaky lead in the national polls heading into Iowa.Even Hart might have survived if his wife had not made her displeasure so evident. Even earlier polls are still decent predictors.
In seven of the last 10 contested nomination races, the eventual nominee was leading in the national polls for at least a year before the Iowa caucuses,The "at least recently" is a key qualifier since, without much effort, I can think of many exceptions before 1980. Has the system changed, or have we just had a run? Some of each, I think. And, despite the talk, it is not obvious to me that we have a true front-runner in the Democratic race as yet.
- 10:18 AM, 27 October 2003 [link]
Jennifer Anniston, Brad Pitt, and Danny DeVito might not be your choice for a team that could bring peace to the Middle East. But they are Hollywood's choice, or at least the choice of many in Hollywood. Later this year the stars are going to the Middle East on a private peace mission. They believe that people in the region want a negotiated settlement and that they can help bring it about. Israelis want a negotiated settlemen, and the Turks, but no other group there does. I don't know whether to laugh or cry at this reminder that "well-meaning" is not a compliment.
(And if you are wondering why so many stars have such silly ideas, see this Elizabeth Nickson column on Barbra Streisand for an explanation.)
- 10:03 AM, 27 October 2003 [link]
Bush's Democratic Opponents, especially Howard Dean, tell us that he has gotten us into a terrible mess in Iraq, and that, if elected, they will continue his policies.
But Mr. Dean, who maintains that the war resolution was "a mistake," says he would keep U.S. forces in Iraq. "Now that we're there, we can't just pull out," he has said in the candidate debates.Which is pretty much what President Bush is doing now. A couple of the fringe candidates, for example, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, differ, but not any candidate with significant public support. "Elect me, I'll do the same thing as the awful incumbent" is, to say the least, an odd argument to make to the voters. The Democratic activists seem to like it, which makes me worry even more about the party.
- 8:01 AM, 27 October 2003 [link]
Persistently Dishonest: That's how I would describe the news coverage of "peace" demonstrations against the Iraq war. The coverage was dishonest before the war and it continues to be. Here are some typical examples describing the demonstrations last Saturday from the New York Times and the BBC. I listened to the NPR stories this weekend, and they were even worse. They did not mention the extreme views of the organizers or many of the participants; instead they gave us a silly song from the "Raging Grannies", almost empty of political content. Nor did they mention the many supporters of war against Israel and the United States that attended these latest demonstrations.
For what actually happened at the demonstrations, see these first person accounts from Andrew Sullivan in Washington, D. C., the "Belligerent Bunny", also in Washington, D. C., and Greg Yardley in San Francisco.
Both the signs and the participants at the latest demonstrations were similar to those I saw at the anti-Bush demonstration last August. All of them drew Democratic activists, who showed no embarrassment at being in the company of the extreme left and advocates of violence.
- 7:41 AM, 27 October 2003 [link]
If You Had Problems trying to access this site earlier today, here's the explanation Seanet sent me about 11 this morning:
Sometime between 5:27am and 6:53am there appears to have been a problem with the webserver that provides services for personal web sites. At this time, our web administrator is in the process of restoring from a backup and while that is in progress, all ftp access has been locked to prevent file corruption.So, not only was the site knocked out, but I couldn't even restore it manually. The webserver seems to be operating normally now.
- 4:48 PM, 26 October 2003 [link]
When George Bush Attacked the Japanese radio towers at Chichi Jima, he was shot down. His two crew members died, but after parachuting into the sea, he was rescued by an American submarine, the Finback. Other planes were shot down in the same attack and their crewmen captured. I was not surprised to hear that they were tortured and finally killed by their Japanese captors, since the Japanese were so brutal during World War II. (And our soldiers were sometimes brutal toward them, though never to the same extent or on the same scale.) But I had not known that, at least in this instance, that Japanese soldiers were cannibals and ate parts of their American captives after killing them.
There have been more recent examples of cannibalism in war. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, some Syrian soldiers ate parts of the Israeli soldiers they had surprised, or at least drank some of their blood. And cannibalism has become a deliberate weapon in the Congo civil war, valued for the fear it spreads, according to this New York Times article. Cultural relativists may not agree, but I have no trouble saying that societies that do not commit cannibalism are better than those that do.
- 10:55 AM, 26 October 2003 [link]
Black Belt In A Wheelchair: Jeremy Gregory was born with spinal bifida, but just won his black belt in karate, honestly, it would seem, judging by this inspiring story. He owes much to his feisty grandmother, who raised him by herself, after his mother gave him up. And there are two nice touches to the story, one that you can see and one that you can not. Gregory was inspired by Jackie Chan, as the story mentions. Since the on-line story does not have the pictures the print version did, you can not see him being hugged by the owner of the karate club, Jeanne Carter—who just happens to be a young African-American woman. I like the fact that the reporter made no mention of race. We are making some progress, however slowly.
- 3:20 PM, 25 October 2003 [link]
McCarthyism And McDermottism: A half century ago, a talented demagogue, Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy, stirred up the United States with charges that Communists had infiltrated the government. He directed his attacks first at the Truman and then, after the 1952 election, at the Eisenhower administration. He was right about his general claim; Communists had infiltrated the government (and labor unions, the Democratic party, and top secret defense installation, including Los Alamos). Both the Truman administration and the Eisenhower administration made efforts to detect and discharge those whose loyalty was to Stalin rather than America. One can argue that they did not do enough, a quarrel I will skip for now. McCarthy took advantage of the public's entirely justified fear of Communism by wild charges, not caring whether his targets were actually Communists or not. Like all demagogues, he was indifferent to procedural fairness and even laws. He encouraged people to bring him documents, illegally, as fodder for his hearings.
The Republican party, including men as honorable as Senator Robert Taft, at first indulged him, pleased by the trouble that he caused the Truman administration and the Democratic party. In time, they came to see that he was not an asset, that his recklessness damaged the nation and the fight against Communism. In time, he became such a negative that intelligent, informed people, especially in other nations, sometimes saw McCarthyism as just as destructive as Stalinism. This is absurd, of course. McCarthy may have caused a few hundred people to lose government jobs, while Stalin killed tens of millions, but it does show how damaging he was to the cause of anti-Communism.
Seattle Congressman Jim McDermott may not have McCarthy's talent for demagoguery, or McCarthy's luck at finding an issue that resonates with the public, but he is just as much a demagogue. Like McCarthy, he continually makes reckless charges about the current administration and imputes bad faith to every Bush action. Like McCarthy, McDermott is indifferent to legalities; he illegally accepted a tape recording of New Gingrich's conversation with other Republican leaders, and then leaked it to the New York Times. (Many believe he had done something similar when he was a Washington state legislator.) Like McCarthy, McDermott prefers the attention grabbing stunt to the hard work of real investigation and legislating. McDermott's latest, proposing to add asterisks to Bush's State of the Union speech, is exactly the kind of stunt that McCarthy loved. Like McCarthy, McDermott gets far too close to enemies of the United States, SS troops in McCarthy's case and a variety of Communist and fascist dictators in McDermott's case. McDermott may not have had the success that McCarthy did, but that's not for lack of trying.
Does McDermott believe his own charges? It's hard to say. Many think that McCarthy did not care whether what he said was true or not, and it is hard not to think that, at least for some of his charges, the same is true for McDermott.
Like McCarthy, McDermott gets support from those in his party who know what he says is not true, but think him useful for rallying the party's activists. Like McCarthy, McDermott gets support from ideological sympathizers in the press, particularly the Seattle newspapers. They may know—as some of McCarthy's supporters in the press knew—that the man does not belong in Congress and that he has a reckless disregard for the truth, but they like the way he lays into their ideological enemies. It's for a good cause, supporters of both men would tell you.
Both groups are mistaken. McCarthy hurt his own party in the long run, and McDermott is hurting his party now. It took years for most supporters of McCarthy to realize that; so far I see no signs that any of McDermott's supporters grasp the damage he is doing to their party. Certainly none have said anything publicly.
McCarthy was brought down by exposure on national television, and by the attacks of many in the press, particularly cartoonists, who delighted in drawing him with a bucket of mud, labeled "McCarthyism". The bucket of mud is a good metaphor for the tactics of demagogues like McCarthy and McDermott; I hope some cartoonist recycles it for Seattle's congressman soon.
- 2:50 PM, 25 October 2003 [link]