The Twinky in My Eye

Driving to NYC yesterday, I saw a truck marked "Wonder Bread" and "Hostess Cakes" — and I realized for the first time in my life (56 years!) that Hostess Cupcakes and Hostess Twinkies are related to the word "hostess."

By gosh.

The Hostess brand is a name I learned so early in life that my brain locked in on it and never unlocked to make the association. I bet other people have words and phrases like that — there's there's probably a word for the phenomenon, too. If you have something to share about it, please write.


U.S. Out Now! (?)

In response to my blog, "Meanwhile, Back in Baghdad," a friend wrote:

“I don't accept the word of 'experts' who say the surge in Iraq is working, and that life there has become stable, and withdrawals is a mistake or now potentially destabilizing. Our troops are the main destabilizers, along with insurgents who want the troops to leave. The experts who say the surge worked tend to be current or past supporters of the invasion, openly or secretly justifying their past errors. If you read Tom Engelhardt's website (tomdispatch@nationinstitute.org) with its many columns by very smart but under-circulated lefty writers, you get the other side of the argument which mainstream press (and the New Yorker) don't carry: Iraq remains in terrible shape, and talk of stability or successful surge is very far from reliable. So please don't take talk of the successful surge as fact, even if Obama or his would-be advisors do.”

Which prompts me to clarify: I don't accept the surge's "success" as fact; I wrote about it as a hypothetical. I don't know the truth about it. What alarms me is that I sometimes find myself wishing the surge to be a failure, wishing for the violence to reignite, wishing for the chaos to continue so the fundamental U.S. strategy of muscling its will onto nations does not prove successful.

I do think anti-war people have to be future-oriented. If a troop withdrawal is likely to reignite slaughter, do we still support it? Is there any sense in our demanding reparations to the Iraqi people, though we know it’ll never happen? Do we support UN intervention, an “internationization” of the conflict? What should we be agitating for? Can we unite around a proposal?


Meanwhile, Back in Baghdad . . .

What if the "surge is working" in Iraq? How should those of us who have opposed this war from the start respond? Jewish Currents is currently working with the Workmen's Circle and the Shalom Center to organize a November 23rd activism conference, "Jews Uniting Against the War and to Heal America," at Central Synagogue in NYC. I'm excited by the organizing effort that's going into this event and by the prospect of helping to make ending the Iraq war a national Jewish priority. But the question — what now? — needs the attention of those of us who hope to constitute a Jewish peace movement.

In this week's New Yorker, for example, George Packer — who consistently supported the invasion way back when and has been somewhat chastened by the chaos that has ensued since — writes about "Obama's Iraq Problem" as follows: Iraq, "despite myriad crises, has begun to stabilize. . . . The improved conditions can be attributed, in increasing order of importance, to President Bush's surge, the change in military strategy under General David Petraeus, the turning of Sunni tribes against Al Qaeda, the Sadr militia's unilateral ceasefire, and the great historical luck that brought them all together at the same moment." Obama's original 16-month withdrawal plan, Packer continues, might "revive the badly wounded Al Qaeda in Iraq, reenergize the Sunni insurgency, embolden Moqtada al-Sadr to recoup his militia's recent losses to the Iraqi Army, and return the central government to a state of collapse." Obama should, therefore — and is likely to, says Packer — pursue a "conditional engagement policy," with troop withdrawal depending on "political progress and on the performance of the Iraqi Army" (which, I might add, is essentially John McCain's position).

A couple of months ago in the Atlantic Monthly, on of their staff writers (I think it was Jonathan Rauch) added another element to the pot: a precipitous withdrawal and the likely chaos that would ensue in Iraq, he said, would be interpreted by the right-wing in America, Rush Limbaugh and company, as a "stab in the back" by liberals. It would hurt the political prospects of liberals and Democrats for decades, he wrote — therefore the withdrawal should be slow and steady and, again, conditional . . .

I think it was Colin Powell who warned about Iraq, If we break it, we own it. And while I disagree vociferously both with George Packer and the Atlantic Monthly writer, I do recognize that there are weighty moral considerations for peace activists to address here. We can no longer simply protest what has gone on in the past (this aggressive, hubristic war, fostered with lies; this terrible waste of lives; this cesspool of corporate graft and unaccounted-for billions; this exacerbation of tension with the entire Muslim world; this justification for torture, for secret wiretapping, for an aggrandized presidency; etc. etc.). We also have to analyze and address the here-and-now, and pose alternative scenarios to an ongoing U.S. military presence in Iraq. Frankly, I find that hard to do in a way that emphasizes Iraq's well-being. But surely there are progressive analysts who could begin to pose such scenarios. As the Workmen's Circle statement about Iraq in the May-June Jewish Currents put it, "Withdrawal from Iraq will, no doubt, be a complicated business, both strategically and morally. The time has surely come, however, to contend with it as an inevitable reality and start making our plans."

One essential element for long-time critics of this war, I believe, is to state clearly that a stabilized Iraq, even if that were to come to pass, does not justify Bush's policy of preemptive military violence or justify the neoconservative strategy of forcibly "transforming" the Middle East. The ultimate "success" of this war would not make it acceptable. We do not accept America's "right" to refashion world politics through military violence; we do not accept the costs to our country of maintaining that level of capacity for military violence; we do not think war as an easy-resort tool of policy is acceptable; we insist on diplomacy, negotiations, deal-making, compromise as the better path to a stable world . . . But is there a way to weave all of this together in an idealistic package that will appeal to American sensibilities?

Way back in May, 2003, when public support was high, I noted in an editorial titled, "Challenging Bush, Challenging Ourselves," that "it is misguided patriotism as much as misinformation that has led a large majority to support this war. As long as Bush has missionary rhetoric, the support of most corporate media outlets, and military firepower to offer in response to wickedness in the world, while peace forces seem limited to demonstrating and protesting, American idealism will be Bush's to exploit. The left, including this magazine, must now deepen the conversation."


Public Opinion Is On His Side

I appreciate the comments to yesterday's blog. (To read them, click on "comments" at the bottom of the entry.)

I'm not suggesting, mind you, that Obama needn't reach out to the red states. He needs to go easy on socially charged issues, and he needs to show that he has a grasp of military and foreign affairs. Politics in America means cobbling together coalitions; that's what democracy demands. I just want him to remember the following stats:

65% of Americans currently think the U.S. should "decrease" or "remove" troops from Iraq (pollster.com).

69% of Americans "think it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure that all Americans have health care coverage" (Gallup).

72% of Americans describe the economy as "only fair" or "poor" (Gallup). Yet 49% believe that environmental protection should be given priority, "even at the risk of curbing economic growth," compared to 44% who favor economic growth over environmental protection (CNN).

Even in 2005, 69 percent of Americans thought “investing in education and training would be a more effective way to grow the country’s economy than cutting taxes" (Feldman Group poll).

The American public supports federal government assistance to homeowners “caught between rising mortgage payments and falling home values” by 60 percent to 25 percent (Center for American Progress). 63 percent agree that "lack of regulation is partly responsible for the current financial and housing crisis."

The point is that there is a broad base of dissatisfaction with rightwing economic and foreign policy. Obama should be tapping into that dissatisfaction with some visionary proposals, not spending his time responding to McCain or tinkering with conservative policies. Obama needs to attack the failures of modern conservatism: the incredible polarization of wealth and poverty, the lack of economic progress for the middle class, the unchecked costs of college education, the 48 million uninsured (and the rest of us battling with a bureaucratic "marketplace" system that even our doctors despise), the collapse of U.S. infrastructure, the unmonitored, graft-ridden spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, the beefing up of presidential power, and so forth and so on. He needs to press his primary campaign onto the larger stage, not rewrite his script.

Here's what Paul Krugman has to say in The Conscience of a Liberal: "To be a progressive. . . means being a partisan — at least for now. The only way a progressive agenda can be enacted . . . [is by making] opponents of the progressive agenda pay a political price for their obstructionism . . .”


July 3rd

Baruch Obama came from nowhere to win the nomination — and he seems to be headed back to nowhere, fast.

Where’s the vibrant speech on universal health insurance as the bedrock of a new New Deal? Last year, eighty percent of Americans said they thought it was more important to provide universal access to health insurance than to extend the Bush tax cuts, and sixty percent — including 62 percent of independents and 46 percent of Republicans — said they’d personally be willing to pay higher taxes to achieve universal health insurance coverage in the U.S. (New York Times). So why is Baruch spending his time talking about faith-based instead of government-based services, and Kansas cornfields instead of Kansas City hospitals?

And where’s his exposé of those Bush’s tax cuts? Letting them expire would restore about $140 billion per year to the federal treasury, according to Paul Krugman’s wonderful book, The Conscience of a Liberal. That’s enough to pay the toll on universal health care. Why isn’t Nancy Pelosi making speeches every day, all summer, on this subject?

Am I being impatient here? Forgive me, but I don’t want to move to Canada. While I stand fully prepared to be disappointed by an Obama administration and to be reminded of the fact that the Democrats are no friends of working people, what I can’t tolerate is to see him defeated through underestimation of the enthusiasm of the American people for an effective government, and through a misbegotten strategy of pandering to the right/center.

Baruch, have you read Krugman’s book? Are you not convinced that the rightwingers who utterly control the Republican party have nothing to say, as Krugman puts it, but to “compete over who sounds the most like Ronald Reagan, and who is most enthusiastic about torture”? “To the extent that the Democratic Party represents the progressive movement,” writes Krugman, “the Democrats have become the party of ideas.”

Nu, let’s hear the ideas! Wear the flag pin, go ahead, but let's hear the ideas!

Tomorrow is July 4th. Can we see some fireworks, please?