Monday, November 05, 2007

Fred's blasphemies, Bush's fantasies

It’s hard to believe that Fred Thompson was once ballyhooed as the ’08 conservative savior who would galvanize the GOP’s Christian conservatives. Those summer days seem like eons ago, because every time this guy opines on an issue near and dear to the religious right, he probably loses another congregation.

A week ago, for instance, Thompson declared that the GOP Congress had no business intruding in the Terri Schiavo case back in 2005 - a stance that is deemed anathema by social and religious conservatives, who believe that President Bush and the reigning Republicans were correct when they endeavored to dictate their view of morality to a grieving Florida family.

Thompson has also refused to endorse a U.S. constitutional amendment banning gat marriage – another staple of the religious right agenda – because he happens to believe (it sounds so quaint) that true conservatism requires respect for state’s rights. That’s the doctrine of federalism. As Thompson explained yesterday on Meet the Press, during his first appearance on the show as a presidential candidate, “(A)t the end of the day, if a state legislator and a governor decide that (gay marriage) is what they want to do, yes, they should have the freedom to do what Fred Thompson thinks is a very bad idea.”

But perhaps the clincher was his lengthy explanation yesterday about why he opposes the official Republican position of abortion.

For more than a generation, the GOP platform has articulated support for a U.S. constitutional amendment – better known as a Human Life Amendment – that would impose a blanket ban on the practice; as the plank puts it, “We say the unborn child had a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.” But when Tim Russert asked yesterday whether Thompson was on board, the candidate twice replied, “No.”

It’s that darn federalism doctrine again. Here’s Fred: “I think people ought to be free at state and local levels to make decisions that even Fred Thompson disagrees with. That’s what freedom is all about. And I think the diversity we have among the states, the system of federalism we have where power is divided between the state and the federal government serves is very, very well.” (Why do these politicians constantly refer to themselves in the third person?)

Well, that kind of answer just won’t do, because the party’s social and religious conservatives don’t endorse that concept of freedom. They believe in Conservatism 2.0, the updated model, whereby the federal government in Washington shall be free to dictate what people at the local level can or cannot do in their private lives. They’re fans of top-down morality, whereas Thompson was talking yesterday about bottom-up morality - allowing the locals to decide on the definitions of right and wrong.

In fact, from the perspective of the average religious conservative, the longer Thompson talked, the more blasphemous he sounded. He’s not even wild about the idea of the states enacting restrictions on abortion – not even to ban the practice for minors:

“People ask me hypothetically, you know, ‘OK, it goes back to the states. Somebody comes up with a bill, and they say we’re going to outlaw this, that or the other.’ And my response was, I do not think it is a wise thing to criminalize young girls and perhaps their parents as aiders and abettors, or perhaps their family physician. And that’s what you’re talking about…You can’t have a law that cuts off an age group or something like that, which potentially would take young, young girls in extreme situations and say, basically, ‘we’re going to put them in jail to do that.’ I just don’t think that that’s the right thing to do. It cannot change the way I feel about it morally, but legally and practically, I’ve got to recognize that fact. It is a dilemma that I’m not totally comfortable with, but that’s the best I can do in resolving it in my own mind.”

Indeed, after hearing Thompson declare yesterday that he didn’t believe in using the power of government to criminalize sinners, Christian Broadcasting Network commentator David Brody wondered, “Is this too much federalism, to the point of alienating social conservatives?”

To which I say...Ya think?

On the other hand, maybe he mollified some of them with his Iraq talk. There is still strong support for the war among social and religious conservatives (although not as much as previously), and Thompson might have pushed their buttons by toeing the company line. Check out these phrases:

“There’ve been a lot of good things happening there…I think that we’re making substantial progress…(The surge) is giving us an opportunity to succeed…things are turning…this is a front in a much larger war…we ought to stay on the course we’re on…”

Does that sound like anybody we know? With the same propensity for quoting military statistics, while saying nothing about the dearth of political reconciliation in Baghdad – which was why the surge was launched in the first place? This is Thompson’s dilemma, one he shares with his rivals: whoever does manage to mollify the religious/social conservative base, and win the nomination, must then compete in the general election. And parroting President Bush on Iraq, as Thompson did yesterday, will be bad salesmanship.


Speaking of Iraq and the death of political reconciliation...

The Orwellian Ministry of Truth – excuse me, the Bush White House - tried to pull off a neat trick last Thursday night, by making it appear that an ABC News journalist had filed a puff piece extolling the war. It was simple, really. The fact-challenged apparatchiks simply scissored all the parts of the report they didn’t like. The result was an ABC dispatch that mirrored their fantasies.

The National Security Council puts out something called “The White House Iraq Update,” and emails it to government officials, congressional staffers, radio and TV talk show types, journalists and various foreign policy mavens. Tapped for inclusion, the other night, was a transcript from Jonathan Karl’s status report on the war. Here’s what made the cut.

CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: "At the Pentagon today, military officials gave one of the most upbeat assessments of the security situation in Iraq that we have heard since the opening months of the war. Jonathan Karl is at the Pentagon tonight. Jon?"

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: "Charlie, nobody over here is anywhere near ready to declare victory. But the military statistics tell an unmistakable story. Violence in Iraq is down. And down considerably. Baghdad's marketplaces are slowly coming back to life, as violent attacks in Iraq have fallen to less than half of what they were a year ago. Until recently, the trends had been deadly and consistent, violence steadily increasing to an all-time high in June. Since then, however, attacks have fallen four straight months -- in every category."

LT. GEN. RAY ODIERNO: "What I'm confident about, is the progress we're making I think is real."

KARL: "Roadside bombs fell in October to an average of 20 a day. Still high, but the lowest level since October 2004. Iraqi civilian deaths have fallen to a third of where they were a year ago. And after the deadliest summer ever for US forces in Iraq, US combat deaths fell to 29 last month, the lowest level in more than 3 years."

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: "The fact that we're seeing a durable trend over half a year time period tells us something real is going on. It doesn't mean, however, that it's guaranteed to last."

But, as Karl himself now points out, the following passages were apparently deemed unfit for White House inclusion.

O'HANLON: “... and it doesn't answer the questions about political progress.”

KARL: “In fact, there's been almost no political progress on the national level, and U.S. officials know military gains won't mean much if the Iraqi government doesn't get its act together, which is one reason the Pentagon doesn't even want to use the word ‘winning.’”

(Question to Defense Secretary Robert Gates): “You're not ready to say we're winning, that the surge is working – "

ROBERT GATES: “I think that those end up being loaded words. I think we have been very successful. We need to continue being successful.”

KARL: “Today, Defense Secretary Gates said that the reduction in violence would not have been possible without the surge of 30,000 additional troops into Iraq, but, Charlie, those troops are going home in the coming months, raising the question of whether the violence will go up when they leave.”

When ABC noticed the White House excisions, it lodged an official complaint. Caught in the act, the White House promised to send out the whole transcript. But the episode speaks volumes. It is sufficiently regrettable when an administration repeatedly defies factual reality and forfeits its credibility. It’s even worse when an administration feels compelled to twist a journalist’s work for the purposes of propaganda.