January 29, 2016

Why I quit watching the debate halfway through and woke up the next morning identifying strongly with Cruel Neutrality.

Do you remember Cruel Neutrality? It's an attitude I noticed in myself and embraced and branded in March 2008:
Who am I supporting in the presidential contest? You shouldn't know, because I don't know. In fact, I'm positioning myself in a delicate state of unknowing, a state I hope to maintain until October if not November. In the meantime, I will spread the attacks around and give credit where credit is due. I think if you look back, you'll see I've done this in the past week. Nothing is more boring than a blogger's endorsement, and I'm not interested in reading any blogger's day to day spin in favor one candidate or another. I would rather take a vow not to vote in November and to keep track of my pro and con posts and go out of my way to keep the tallies even than to turn into a blogger like that.

So I'm taking a vow of neutrality, but it won't be dull beige neutrality. I think partisanship is too tedious to read. This is going to be cruel neutrality.
In 2008, my cruel neutrality was monitored and verified and:
I'd say I've displayed impressive neutrality, being far more likely to stay neutral than to go either positive or negative. But when I did go negative, it was much more likely to be against Obama, and when I did go positive, it was more likely to be about McCain.

Does it surprise you then to realize that I'm almost surely going to vote for Obama -- the chances are about 89% -- and that through the entire period of the vow it has been more likely than not that I would vote for Obama? It shouldn't!
I did go on to vote for Obama. I voted for him before I voted against him (in 2012). Or... it's more accurate to say: I voted against McCain before I voted against Obama. I'm just not that enthusiastic about political candidates. We're in the middle of the 4th election I've blogged, and as ever, I'm drawn to the distanced observer position. I'm one of those voters who get categorized as "undecided" right up until the final weeks, annoying the hell out of some people who can't imagine what more needs to happen to make you decide.

But unless you're a donor — and I never am (not since young Russ Feingold personally pestered me by telephone and I was too polite to use another method to make him stop) — you don't have to nail it down until it's time to vote. Normally, what happens to me is that at some point, in spite of myself, I perceive that the selection has taken place, and it's because one of the candidates has lost me. I go back into my archive and study my own mind to see "How Kerry lost me," "How McCain lost me," and "Why haven't I done a 'lost me' post [in 2012]?" It's nice to have an archive of indecision to mine for the decision.

Last night, I walked out of the debate at about exactly halfway. Part of it was that 9 Central Time felt very late. I'd been up since 3:30 a.m. I am able to pinpoint my bailout time because this morning I'm reading my son's live blog of the debate, and I see the time-stamp on what I know propelled me out of the TV room:
9:30 [Eastern Time] — After Bush criticizes Cruz, Wallace finally lets Cruz respond. But Cruz doesn't have a substantive response — instead, he whines about how many of the questions have asked the candidates to attack him. Wallace retorts: "It is a debate, sir!" Cruz coyly threatens to walk off the stage if there are too many negative questions about him — an allusion to Trump's absence. [Added later: After I point out that Cruz was being facetious, Alex Knepper says, "I thought he was being serious! I guess not. Didn't deliver the line very well." My response: "It's safe to say that if as savvy a political observer as you thought he was being serious, his sarcasm wasn't effective enough to work on prime-time TV a few days before Iowa."] [VIDEO.]
I hated the argumentative overtalking. The moderators try to control, and they really have to. That's the idea of a debate, imposing some format. But it's a thing these days to bust through the rules and pose as the tough guy who's just got to get the truth out. It's irritating as hell. Either submit to the rules or don't. In that context, a joke about rejecting the debate (like Trump) doesn't work. Cruz wouldn't actually walk away, so the rules applied to him. Trump showed how to say I'm not going to submit to the control of these media moderators. Out or in.

But I stayed in. In my chair, watching the debate, for a few more questions, until the immigration part of the show began:
9:59 — Megyn Kelly plays a long clip show of Rubio in about 2009 talking about how phrases like a "path to citizenship" are "code" for "amnesty." Then Kelly suggests he then supported amnesty once he later became a Senator....
Yeah, I know this problem, and I know Rubio will need to twist and contort to answer, but I don't need to see exactly how. Not after I've been up for 18+ hours. It will all be there on the DVR in the morning. I was out. 9 Central. I called it a day.

I woke up clear headed. I really don't like any of the candidates too much, and I also don't hate any of them. I don't like the expressions of hate toward anyone. I have a certain longstanding aversion to Hillary, but I'm also able to accept that she's the most likely next President, and I'm a solid citizen of the Real World. In my youth, I suffered through LBJ and Nixon. It felt like a horror show. I'm old now, and nobody on the current scene is reprehensible in the LBJ/Nixon fashion. Maybe that's the perspective of long experience, but I just don't feel the emotion.

I'm balanced and distanced. I'm interested in observing the day-to-day details and writing about it with whatever edge and humor and insight happens. I'm not lying. I cannot tell you who I'll vote for. We'll see how things look next fall. I don't even know who'll I'll vote for in the primary... or which party's primary I'll vote in. There isn't one candidate I've x'ed out. Not Cruz? Not Trump? Not Bernie? No!

Going back to old "cruel neutrality" posts, I was struck by one commenter's "armchair analysis... of the character AA plays on her blog" — back in September 2008. Blake said:
I think MM is close to right [that Althouse is a Democrat and wants the Democratic Party to succeed], but I don't think that, even as a Democrat, AA identifies all that strongly with her party.

We can see that with her frequent mention of the sacrifice of feminism at the, uh, hands of Bill Clinton.

I think we see there that her identification as a feminist (as she defines it) is far stronger than party affiliation. Minimally, we see a level of integrity and respect for logic that prevents her from lauding Democrats when they do the things they've attacked Republicans for.

Still, she believes in things she associates with the Democrats like social justice (witness the fracas with the Libertarians [link]). She believes, perhaps hesitantly, that race has a non-zero weight in making her decision.

And we might guess that there's a certain, almost sarcastic identification with the person of her youth, that hippie art student who wouldn't bother with A Man For All Seasons or listen to square music, man. This character is obviously a Democrat, even if her future incarnation is surely too sophisticated to boil down politics into "Democrat Good. Republican Evil."

In that context, "cruel neutrality" wasn't ever about being 50-50, something the more strident here have missed. It simply meant that this character was going to go about her business as she always has, and not close her mind to the possibility of voting one way or the other.

Democrat has always been her starting point; but just as Kerry proved unworthy of her 2004 vote, Obama could prove unworthy of her 2008 vote.

The cruelty part comes in playing Devil's Advocate with her own comfort zone. As MM says, she's inclined to vote for Obama, but she won't give him a free pass. She's not the hippie true-believer any more.

This drives the hyper-partisans nuts, of course, since they need every observation to be balanced by a tu quoque.

As for the performance art/traffic angle, my take is slightly different:

If any of you are familiar with Loudon Wainwright III, you know that he writes all these songs about, essentially, himself. Ultimately, however, and by his own confession, the self that sings about isn't really him, but a more dramatic and interesting version of him.

That's sort-of how I see Althouse. There's certainly a motivation to drive traffic, but only within the parameters of what amuses the real Althouse.

5 cents please.
Ha ha. I'll leave it to you to think about how much of that really feels true to me now... other than to say the phrase that jumped out was "there's a certain, almost sarcastic identification with the person of her youth, that hippie art student...." And I haven't followed Loudon Wainwright III since those days, when — some of you will know what I'm talking about — I went to see him at The Ark.

68 comments:

David Begley said...

But wouldn't a President Hillary Clinton be way worse than the horror show that was Johnson and Nixon?

Admittedly we are not at the same level of war as in Vietnam, but ISIS ain't quitting anytime soon. Iran is resurgent. Death to America! And Hillary's legal problems are just startIng.

Things could get way worse with Hillary as POTUS.

Karen of Texas said...

I count myself as undecided at this point except for one exception. Hillary! is an absolute no.

What I do know at this point is I am beyond irritated with the "my candidate, or political party, is perfect" mentality. I'm sick of people being incapable of seeing the hypocrisy in themselves and the weaknesses in their chosen candidate when they defend their chosen savior.

Perhaps I've been sucked in to the Dark Side? Oh, well - at least they have cookies.

Ann Althouse said...

"Admittedly we are not at the same level of war as in Vietnam, but ISIS ain't quitting anytime soon..."

Do you even know the name Operation Inherent Resolve? That's the war on ISIS. There has been approximately 1 U.S. combat death in that war. There were 47,424 combat deaths in Vietnam. 66% of the men who fought in Vietnam were drafted. Young men in America were continually facing the threat of being drafted, and it was to fight in a war that most of them believed was a big mistake.

What would it take for Operation Inherent Resolve to reach that level? Multiply the deaths by 47,424. Institute a draft. And make it war that we aren't going to win and we know that and that people don't believe serves any purpose. That's a hell of a long way to go, and you know damned well nothing close to that is going to happen.

For one thing, we see why ISIS is worth fighting. We know we can win if we want to use our real strength. And there's not going to be a draft.

The comparison of these 2 wars is absolutely absurd.

MadisonMan said...

I stand by my armchair analysis from 8 (!!) years ago. Back when I apparently wasn't so cynical.

And I agree with Karen -- I'm pretty much undecided. There are people I dislike more than others (Cruz for example seems spite-y to me, and I don't react well to that), but I haven't ruled him out (for example, I dislike him less than I dislike Hillary).

Michael K said...

"nobody on the current scene is reprehensible in the LBJ/Nixon fashion. "

I see a Hillary voter emerging.

Hillary is the most corrupt person to get this close to the presidency since Aaron Burr. She cares nothing about national security since she exposed all of our national secrets to avoid Freedom of Information suits for her personal paranoia.

If she is not indicted, I think there will be a revolt by the FBI and the national intelligence apparatus.

And you don't think she is as "reprehensible;e" as Nixon ? Nixon was taken down in a coup d'etat by the angry man he passed over to be head of the FBI, Mark Felt. Nixon was a patriot, badly flawed, but a patriot.

Hillary has violated the Espionage Act.

Before you talk about ISIS, I suggest you read "Black Flags" to see where it came from.

We are going to see a nuclear war in the middle east very possibly. Why ? Hillary contributed.

David Begley said...

Ann

It can turn on a dime with ISIS. And Radical Islam will NEVER QUIT. ISIS could shoot up any Big Ten basketball game this weekend. VC didn't have that reach.

We had over 3000 killed on 9-11. With our great medical care and high tech weapons, fewer American dead in the Mideast cesspool than in Vietnam but still many injured and lots of combat hours. Vietnam is a much hotter war than the war against Radical Islam but it is damn horrible. Go watch Senator Deb Fischer's tribute to Sgt Josh Ford of Pender, Nebraska. The 1,300 Pender people were just as crushed about his death as the death of the very first American in Vietnam who also was from Pender.

Vietnam is long in the past. We live in the present. Politics is about the future.

CStanley said...

I have no idea what real life Ann Althouse is like, but that the commenter's analysis tracks exactly with my impressions from the blog.

I think perhaps what David Begley means is that the current fight with Islamists is as important as Viet Nam was, but for different reasons.

For my part I'd say that there are a lot of major differences between now and then, with regard to political and economic stability in the world. I think these differences have made this election both more important, and less likely to yield a good result.

My absolute "nos" are Hillary and Sanders, and Trump is pretty close (I can't yet wrap my head around what I will do if it comes down to Clinton vs. Trump in the general election.) I like certain things about each of the other GOP candidates but am not satisfied with any of them enough to get behind one at this point.

Once written, twice... said...

These insipid self-worshipping post of yours are a real hoot. If you were not serious about them, they would be comedic writing of the first order.

But because you write them with all sincerity, they are just highly entertaining insights into the workings of the narcissistic mind.

Ann Althouse said...

The problem with ISIS just isn't an emotional horror show like Vietnam. It's a complicated problem that everyone sees reason to try to solve and the disagreements are over how to fight effectively. Forcing men (and women?) into service is nowhere on the horizon.

I really can't see why anyone can disagree with what I am saying.

amielalune said...

Ann: Comparing Vietnam and ISIS is absurd if you're only counting American deaths, which is apparently what you are doing.

0bama has absolutely indicated that he doesn't want to "win" wars, why do you think Hillary would be any different?

Tank said...

I'm old now, and nobody on the current scene is reprehensible in the LBJ/Nixon fashion.

I'm with those that think the big Vagina is certainly that reprehensible. Were LBJ or Nixon more corrupt, dishonest and incompetent than her? I don't think so. Really, she should be in jail already. And I too am old enough to remember LBJ/Nixon, the war, the draft etc. I almost had to choose between going to Vietnam or Canada. Just missed. No, the Vagina just has not had the opportunity to show just how bad she can be at the Presidential level yet.

Hillary is truly a disgusting evil Vagina.

====================================================

I'm undecided because I don't like any candidate enough to vote for them (as opposed to against someone). In NJ the primaries are so late they never make a difference (and the Pres election always goes Dem lately). Just before the general election I'll be moving south, so I might not even be registered in time to vote.

I'm trying to view this election for its entertainment value, although it's hard because I really do care about how we've flushed our once great county down the drain. Ah well ....

Jeff Gee said...

I'd watch a reality show about Loudon Wainwright III and his family. His kids write and record great songs about what a dick he is and then sing back up on his records.

Once written, twice... said...

Vietnam turned out to be a pointless war that was worth losing. It is now (really not that long since our withdrawal) a pretty nice place that has little to no hostility towards our interests or us as a people.

Amadeus 48 said...

All hail Cruel Neutrality!

One reason I love this blog is the constant effort by our hostess to see herself with some objectivity--aspects of which were captured beautifully by Blake--plus the constant stream of comments from people with varying degrees of insight on what is right in front of them. This blog and its comments are a triumph of performance art.
I once interviewed a student from Wisconsin and asked him about Althouse--what was she like as a teacher? Was she like the person who writes the blog?
He said she never talked about or referred to the blog in class--she was very accessible to students regarding the course material and kept her personal opinions out of the classroom. I took these comments as a real compliment to AA.

All hail Althouse!

Pookie Number 2 said...

I really can't see why anyone can disagree with what I am saying.

I really can't see any metric by which Hillary is less reprehensible than Nixon. Remember, this is a person that blamed a "vast right-wing conspiracy" for her husband's behavior, and has never attempted to undo that contribution to the political divide. She's also the person that endangered U.S. security to protect her shakedown racket, (probably not coincidentally) oversaw the murder of a U.S. ambassador, and explicitly lied about it.

Nixon, on the other hand, neglected to shave before a debate.

sydney said...

I am not paying attention to this presidential election circus. I have come to realize that my vote does not matter. The Democrats have fixed things so that they can easily steal elections. People can turn in their ballots days before and days after the election, and who knows what happens to them once they arrive.I suspect they are not counted equally. If people complain about it, the media accuses them of wanting to disenfranchise the poor.
Last cycle, I cared deeply about the election, so I volunteered for the Romney campaign. I had to go down to the election board headquarters to vote early so I could be an observer on election day. I saw several of my patients there manning the board headquarters. They were all union members of some sort or other, the same people who helped elect Obama. There were stacks of paper ballots visible in a work room. They did not look to be very secure to me, and I wondered if they would be counted equally. Later, as an observer, I saw people from a group home for the developmentally disabled being brought in with cards printed with Obama's name in their hands. One of them brought her ballot up to me and asked me how to vote for Obama.

Paul said...

Two things; neither Nixon nor LBJ rose to prominence on the coatails of their spouse and neither were part of a political dynastic family and expecting to be "corinated".

Also I think you're clearly mistaken if you think Hillary is likely to be the next president. Odds are she won't even be the nominee, and the Trump cascade you have alluded to is inevitable and unstoppable except by an assassin's bullet.

Bobby said...

Ann,

"The problem with ISIS just isn't an emotional horror show like Vietnam. It's a complicated problem that everyone sees reason to try to solve and the disagreements are over how to fight effectively. Forcing men (and women?) into service is nowhere on the horizon."

Agreed- even inside the tiny circle of those who are actually involved in the fight (forget about the politicians and pundits), there's great disagreement about the best strategy, tactics and methods for the job. Just yesterday, in fact, Gen. Votel- currently SOCOM commander, but awaiting Senate confirmation on his nomination to become CENTCOM commander- who "owns" most of the assets targeting Daesh, just recently sent a memo to the Pentagon asking them (read: Peter Cook) to stop commenting on SOF activities. Votel wrote: "I am concerned with increased public exposure of SOF activities and operations, and I assess that it is time to get our forces back into the shadows."

Amadeus 48 said...

I recommend Evan Thomas's Being Nixon for some insight into--and some sympathy with-- our most complicated president. He was a strange mix of idealism and paranoia, of resentment and tenderness, of statesmanship and pettiness, of sensitivity and callousness. Because he was so divided himself, he is rarely seen objectively.

The Vietnam war was doomed for all the reasons alluded to by Althouse--a war fought 6000 miles from home by draftees for years and years for an international strategic purpose that lost credibility as time went on. Nixon and Kissinger wound American involvement down, but the pace of disengagement was too slow to satisfy domestic political exigencies and thousands more died while the process unfolded.

Hillary is no Nixon--she lacks both his brilliance and his fragility. She represents the triumph of the time-server. With no real accomplishments of her own, she rises on assumptions and complacencies of identity politics. She may be our next president.

Bay Area Guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bobby said...

Correction: Votel sent the memo in December (December 8th, to be precise), but it was leaked to the public just yesterday. I see that my original phrasing unintentionally failed to connect those dots.

clint said...

Vietnam was one front in a large ideological struggle between Freedom and Communism.

ISIS is one front in a large ideological struggle between the Enlightenment and Islam.

At the time of the 1960 elections, U.S. deaths were in single digits. At the time of the 1964 elections, U.S. deaths were in triple digits.

U.S. deaths in the war on terror are already higher than that. And by the 2020 election, Iran will have a nuclear bomb that fits into a standard shipping container.

The fight with Islam is nowhere near the scale of the Cold War, yet. But the U.S. civilian casualties are already far higher.

Vietnam had the draft to turn it up to eleven. Radical Islam has the random civilian casualties, like San Bernardino.

Mazo Jeff said...

Megyn Kelly for President !! She is the total package; brains, looks, articulate and, last night, "she looked maaaarvelous". I know why Trump chose to "run away, run away" (reminded me of the scene from Monty Python & The Holy Grail).

Peter said...

"I hated the argumentative overtalking."

I think it would be quite possible to moderate these debates in ways that don't reward argumentativeness and overtalking, if the will existed to do it. It doesn't because, even though you may hate it, conventional wisdom is that it's "good television" in that it keeps the audience's interest. Perhaps conventional wisdom is wrong, but, most TV is still the business of selling eyeballs to advertisers. Perhaps you're an atypical viewer in that although many may find the disorder unattractive, it still keeps their attention?

In any case, I can't fault any one candidate for being argumentative or overtalking, since any candidate who's in such an environment and who declines to do this is sure to be perceived as a loser. And winning will always trump being right in electoral politics, simply because losers won't get to implement their fine ideas.

AllenS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AllenS said...

Ann Althouse said...
66% of the men who fought in Vietnam were drafted.

Nonsense. Here are the facts:

25% (648,500) of total forces in country [Viet Nam] were draftees. (66% of U.S. armed forces members were drafted during WWII.

Draftees accounted for 30.4% (17,725) of combat deaths in Vietnam

AllenS said...

IIRC, even that 25% is inflated. I think it was 24.something %. I guess close enough for government work.

AllenS said...

Ann Althouse said...
The problem with ISIS just isn't an emotional horror show like Vietnam.

Simply because the MSM doesn't want it to be. How about this: show daily the atrocities of ISIS or any other Muslim butchery that goes on. Once a week show people jumping to their deaths from the Twin Towers. Show the beheadings. Show the homos being thrown off of roofs. How about more reporting of the rapes.

We simply don't have the camera crews to show everything that needs to be shown, but believe me the horror show that is unraveling now is every bit as bad as Viet Nam. How many casualties of this present war have been Americans on American soil? How many Americans died from the Viet Nam war on American soil?

Ann Althouse said...

"I recommend Evan Thomas's Being Nixon for some insight into--and some sympathy with-- our most complicated president. He was a strange mix of idealism and paranoia, of resentment and tenderness, of statesmanship and pettiness, of sensitivity and callousness. Because he was so divided himself, he is rarely seen objectively."

I do have quite a bit of sympathy for Nixon. LBJ is the really despicable one. I just asked Meade to compare the 2 and he said: "Everything Nixon did wrong is forgivable. Nothing LBJ did wrong is."

"Hillary is no Nixon--she lacks both his brilliance and his fragility. She represents the triumph of the time-server. With no real accomplishments of her own, she rises on assumptions and complacencies of identity politics. She may be our next president."

So saying Hillary is like LBJ is what would get to us.

FullMoon said...

There were 47,424 combat deaths in Vietnam. 66% of the men who fought in Vietnam were drafted. Young men in America were continually facing the threat of being drafted, and it was to fight in a war that most of them believed was a big mistake.
Every boomer knows somebody who died or was injured in the war. Or, knows somebody whose relative died or was injured in the war.

I was drafted and got a 1y deferment. Don't know why, and did not ask. Unlike some, I will not pretend to be disappointed. I was scared shitless of going to Vietnam.

Bobby said...

The foundations of one of the nine Principles of War, Economy of Force:

"He who defends everything, defends nothing." -- Frederick the Great

"Every unnecessary expenditure of time, every unnecessary detour, is a waste of power, and therefore contrary to the principles of strategy." -- Carl von Clausewitz

Ultimately, we had to defeat Communism for our way of life to continue -- did we have to win in Vietnam to do that?

Birches said...

I really don't like any of the candidates too much, and I also don't hate any of them.

This.

I'm not old enough to remember LBJ or Nixon (or Carter), but I keep thinking to myself that this is what malaise felt like.

buwaya puti said...

There is the issue of personal interest in selecting a candidate to support. If it does not matter much, if one is not likely to be affected by the likely changes in government policy, then what may seem to another as trivial matters drive preference.
In the case of Democrat vs Republican in this one the critical matter is the direction of the activities of the regulatory authorities. A lot of people are directly affected, nearly all negatively, by recent trends. For instance nearly everyone in the actual, physical economy, the making and transporting of material products and energy.
The physical economy has been progressively crushed over decades, the weight of regulation and legal risk has constantly increased costs and economic risk. And this trend has accelerated during the current administration.
The relative underperformance of the US economy since the 1980s, leaving out the bubbles, is the result of this increasing paralysis.
More than any high profile "issue", this is the most important matter of public policy, the biggest overall risk to the wellbeing of the US short of general nuclear war. And, it seems, only Presidential elections matter as a check on bureaucratic mania. It is however not easily perceived unless one is in a decision-making position within this part of the economy.
It is easy to be neutral if the personal consequences are likely to be small. Much of the US elite, including the upper middle class, is separated from the physical economy, living on rents (taxes, interest, dividends, regulated revenues, and actual rents). This is natural in a place that has been so wealthy for so long. Then there is the non-physical economy which has been so active because there the regulatory burden has been light, and that is where a generation or so of the upper middle class went.
But in the end real things are real. The US is stuck in a very long period of zero or negative real growth, and this is driving many other problems that are starting to affect even the non-physical economy, like demand for law schools.
Personally I have little in this, not being a citizen, nearly retired, and likely to eventually pack up for foreign parts. Still, our kids are citizens, so some statesman-like thinking as befits a voter is in order. This should be the proper attitude of actual voters I think.

Freeman Hunt said...

So saying Hillary is like LBJ is what would get to us.

That's exactly how I feel about Hillary. My voting for her is an impossibility. (Unless the alternative were someone more corrupt. Who would that be?)

mccullough said...

LBJ, Cheney, and Hillary are the only US leaders since WW2 that are reprehensible people.

W and Obama are bad presidents but not bad people. They are naive, idealistic, stubborn, in denial but not bad people. LBJ, Cheney, and Hillary are bad people. They have no soul.

Freeman Hunt said...

Hillary is the embodied possibility of voting for Trump.

"I can't vote for Trump. He's a crony capitalist. It will be yet another admin of favors for the favored. What are his principles? He's wild. He doesn't care enough about bringing citizens together. No, I can't vote for him."

... But then... but then, there is Hillary, and one is repelled toward Trump.

Roughcoat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Begley said...

AllenS @9:37

What a great point. America needs to see more of the daily Muslim butchery. The Religon of Peace website aggregates and counts them. Stunning. Way worse than Chicago.

Original Mike said...

Hillary is way more venal than Nixon.

Original Mike said...

"The comparison of these 2 wars is absolutely absurd."

This one ain't over yet. One can imagine developments that would "change everything". The challenge is to keep that from happening.

eric said...

It seems like someone has to "lose" you in order to get you to vote for someone else. No wonder all the negative adds, they must really work.

But, if Hillary hasn't already lost you, then nothing that comes up about her between now and November could possibly lose you. She can shoot four people in the face in a street in Benghazi and it still wouldn't lose you.

eric said...

Blogger Ann Althouse said...
The problem with ISIS just isn't an emotional horror show like Vietnam. It's a complicated problem that everyone sees reason to try to solve and the disagreements are over how to fight effectively. Forcing men (and women?) into service is nowhere on the horizon.

I really can't see why anyone can disagree with what I am saying.


Except for the men and women in California that you didn't include in your death count.

Telling.

Roughcoat said...


Excellent thread here, excellent discussion and comments. I especially like Amadeus 48's assessment of Nixon at 8:04 a.m. Also the comments by Michael K and this, by Althouse:

I do have quite a bit of sympathy for Nixon. LBJ is the really despicable one. I just asked Meade to compare the 2 and he said: "Everything Nixon did wrong is forgivable. Nothing LBJ did wrong is."

This is how I've felt about the two men for a long time.

I've made a promise to myself not to refight the Vietnam War in blogs or anywhere else for that matter. That said, I would add that the Vietnam War was a catastrophe for the United States and, of course, for Vietnam as well. It was badly managed by our military and civilian leadership, which both disgraced themselves with their mendacity and incompetence. Fortunately the military has recovered; American society has not. The damage it did to American society and, by extension, to our culture has been long-lasting and is actually worsening. It wrecked our culture not least by empowering the America-hating anti-Constitution left, whose power is expanding and accelerating as it makes its Gramscian "Long March" through our institutions.

Having said that, I contend that ISIS and Iran in particular and Islamic expansionism overall constitute an existential threat to our nation and civilization. The stakes are much higher in this war than in Vietnam, and by several orders of magnitude, and the consequence for us will be terrible if we lose it.

Original Mike said...

"Having said that, I contend that ISIS and Iran in particular and Islamic expansionism overall constitute an existential threat to our nation and civilization. The stakes are much higher in this war than in Vietnam, and by several orders of magnitude, and the consequence for us will be terrible if we lose it."

Thanks, Roughcoat. I was working on a post along these lines. You saved me the trouble and said it better than I would have.

Unknown said...

What about your "Rubio lost me" comments:

http://althouse.blogspot.ca/2015/12/chuck-todd-interrupted-marco-rubio-to.html?showComment=1450058867903#c1204724106973715377

Birkel said...

It's not exactly Lincoln-Douglas.

Birkel said...

Althouse above: "I really can't see why anyone can disagree with what I am saying."

That sentence encapsulates so much.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

It was before my time, but why, pre-Watergate, did the members of so many of your generation hate Nixon so passionately, Professor?

Roughcoat said...


Thanks, Michael. I appreciate your kind words.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said...We know we can win if we want to use our real strength.

Hmm, I'm not convinced that's true for certain definitions of "we" and of "real strength."

And make it war that we aren't going to win and we know that and that people don't believe serves any purpose.

I see what you mean here, but I'm sure you'll admit there are quite a large number of people who've expressed a sentiment like "we can't defeat radicalism by fighting" or "military might can't defeat extremism" or something similar, so the "serves any purpose" part of your statement w/r/t beliefs about using military force isn't wholly accurate (for a broad "we"). One might compare beliefs about Communist imperialism and the need to check it with military force (in a place like Vietnam) with beliefs about the threat of worldwide jihad and/or a global caliphate, etc (and the need to check it with military force in, say, Syria).

I'll grant you that Jane Fonda isn't explicitly embracing the ISIS leaders yet, but given the depths of my low opinion of her it's not something I'd say is impossible.

Roughcoat said...

Re ... why did the members of so many of your generation hate Nixon so passionately?

Good question. One could write volumes trying to answer it. IMO, simply put (much too simply): he lacked the common touch; he wasn't cool or handsome or charismatic; he was a Republican; and the media and academia absolutely hated him. The broadcast media were especially hostile; and especially powerful, because there were only three TV networks. During his presidency the first Baby Boomers were only beginning to come of age: the first cohort of Boomers began entering college in 1963 (that's if you locate the start of the Baby Boom in 1945, which is technically correct but probably too early, although it has also said to have started in c. 1943-44). The Baby Boom generation did not even start becoming politically influential until well into the mid/late 1970s, i.e. after Nixon was gone. But we did make a lot of noise about Nixon because young Boomer males were the ones who were, for the most part, actually fighting the Vietnam (the average age of combat-unit soldier was 19, as opposed to mid-20s in World War II), and because we blamed Nixon for the war which by then (i.e., upon his assumption of office in 1969) was increasing being recognized by Americans as a bullshit enterprise that we had no real viable plan for winning and no intention of winning. We were wrong about that: we shouldn't have blamed Nixon, we should have blamed Johnson and the Democrat Party, but we were young and dumb and heavily influenced by our pre-Boomer media figures, college professors, and grad students.

Lydia said...

The boomer generation had been fed Nixon-hatred all their lives. Nixon had been despised by liberals and the left since the time of his association with Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, and in particular because he brought down Alger Hiss.

Bobby said...

Roughtcoat,

"Having said that, I contend that ISIS and Iran in particular and Islamic expansionism overall constitute an existential threat to our nation and civilization."

I agree that Islamist extremism constitutes an existential threat to our civilization; putting ISIS, which is just the latest and most radical strain in a long line of Islamist extremists, on that list is just redundant. But if the objective is to (1) neutralize Islamist extremism, then that doesn't mean I'm sure that either (a) nuking or firebombing ISIS-held territories into oblivion or (b) introducing thousands of US and Coalition partner troops in an OIF-style liberation and occupation campaign are likely to be more successful than (c) using special operations forces, supported by precision air strikes, to enable organized, trained and equipped local ground force proxies to seize and hold territory currently held by IS. On the contrary, I have strong concerns that (a) and (b) could create enormous backlashes throughout the world and actually exacerbate the problem of worldwide Islamist extremism. But I acknowledge that I'm professionally wedded to (c) and thereby might be somewhat biased (as you may also be given your own work).

Bobby said...

Hoodlum,

"I see what you mean here, but I'm sure you'll admit there are quite a large number of people who've expressed a sentiment like "we can't defeat radicalism by fighting" or "military might can't defeat extremism" or something similar, so the "serves any purpose" part of your statement w/r/t beliefs about using military force isn't wholly accurate (for a broad "we")."

I actually would say (and have said numerous times) that I doubt we can defeat extremism through the application of US military force. I actively support precision targeting and Direct Action against Islamist extremists because I believe killing their leaders and destroying their sanctuaries is essential to disrupting their operations to the degree required to keep the homeland safe and because it buys time and space for a longer-term strategy to build up the conditions essential for enduring security. But if you look up the military definition of defeat, then no, I don't buy for a moment that US military force is going to defeat Islamist extremism. Been doing this way too long to believe otherwise.

"One might compare beliefs about Communist imperialism and the need to check it with military force (in a place like Vietnam) with beliefs about the threat of worldwide jihad and/or a global caliphate, etc (and the need to check it with military force in, say, Syria)."

Of course, the ironic problem with your analogy is that if the goal was to defeat Communist imperialism, we clearly did not need to win Vietnam in order to do it. Obviously, hindsight is 20/20 and US policymakers at the time may or may not have truly believed that Vietnam constituted a vital strategic interest (the historical record demonstrates that most did not), but the fact remains that we lost in Vietnam and still were able to defeat worldwide Communist imperialism. One can easily argue that LBJ's escalation turned Vietnam into a much larger problem than it needed to be (as Nixon and Kissinger believed, hence their desire to "restore Vietnam to its proper role as an utterly unimportant backwater peninsula") and that the 56,000 lives, billions of dollars, and damage to American prestige could have been more judiciously applied elsewhere.

A better analogy might have been Berlin- had Truman let Berlin go during the blockade, it could have had serious ramifications for the NATO alliance and US foreign policy across the globe. And, of course, it's not altogether clear whether Syria, or Syria and Iraq, or Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, or Syrian, Iraq, Afghanistan and Niger are Berlin or Vietnam.

But the historical record demonstrates that the West could, in fact lose Vietnam and still defeat Communist imperialism, and there were plenty of non-Leftist strategists at the time who argued that exact point. It's just that, as often seem to happen going back at least to Thucydides account of the Athenian campaign in Syracuse, more bellicose voices seemed to carry the day.

hombre said...

"The problem with ISIS just isn't an emotional horror show like Vietnam. It's a complicated problem that everyone sees reason to try to solve and the disagreements are over how to fight effectively."

ISIS isn't an emotional horror show if you are not repelled by mass murder including burnings, beheadings and crucifixions, rape and enslavement of women, terrorist attacks and the prospect of WMDs in the hands of well-financed jihadists.

The disagreement is only among the Obots. It's about how to fight without actually fighting.

mccullough said...

And after the USSR fell and the Venona files were released, it was shown beyond any reasonable doubt that Alger Hiss was a spy for the GRU, the Soviet's military intelligence.

McCarthy was a reactionary but there were a number of Soviet spies in the US government, especially the State Department.

The fight against communism was a good one, but Vietnam was a disastrous mistake. Just as the fight against radical Islam is a good one but the war in Iraq was a disastrous mistake and so was our strategy in Afghanistan.

ISIS is just the most recent manifestation of radical Islam. Al-Qaeda was before and there are other groups and movements and will continue to be. Defeating ISIS won't really stop inspired radical Islamists in the US. The weak minded will always be susceptible to radicalization. No one ordered the Boston Marathon bombing or the recent police shooting in Philadelphia.

Muslims in the US are going to have to assimilate to the point where they don't take their religion seriously, like the mainline Protestants. They need to intermarry and miscegnate. No burqas, or niqabs, or hijabs. Of course we can't accomplish this through law. But we can stop immigration of Muslims who aren't willing to assimilate.

Roughcoat said...

Bobby,

Like you, I'm inclined to support option (c) as well, but only if that option is contextually optimal. All military strategies are contextual, and when the context changes the strategies must also change. Note that I did not advocate, in my post, any particular strategy (e.g., "nuking or firebombing ISIS-held territories into oblivion or ... introducing thousands of US and Coalition partner troops in an OIF-style liberation and occupation campaign). I said merely that the conflict in which we are now involved is one that we MUST win. The means by which we can achieve victory are variable--they can and will change depending on the context. An SOF-type approach you described may be optimal now, in the context of fighting a war against semi-irregular forces in Mesopotamia and the Levant. But it won't work in a larger-scale quasi conventional such as the one we might have to fight with Iran: a war that will certainly involve naval combat, ground forces with heavy armor divisions, and the requirement of conquering and holding territory. And what if Iran uses a nuclear weapon; or, more's to the point, if a Jihadist cell explodes a nuclear device in an American city? That will require something more than an SOF-type response.

Bobby said...

mccullough,

"And after the USSR fell and the Venona files were released, it was shown beyond any reasonable doubt that Alger Hiss was a spy for the GRU, the Soviet's military intelligence.

McCarthy was a reactionary but there were a number of Soviet spies in the US government, especially the State Department.
"

Agreed on Alger Hiss, but Venona did not vindicate McCarthy. On the contrary, according to Harvey Klehr, "virtually none of the people that McCarthy claimed or alleged were Soviet agents turn up in Venona." Klehr agrees that McCarthy was right about "some of the larger issues" and that McCarthy "remains a demagogue whose wild charges actually made the fight against Communist subversion more difficult. Like Gresham's Law, McCarthy's allegations marginalized the accurate claims. Because his facts were so often wrong, real spies were able to hide behind the cover of being one of his victims and even persuade well-meaning but naive people that the whole anti-communist cause was based on inaccuracies and hysteria." (For those who don't know, Klehr has spent his career criticizing those who still deny the extent of Communist espionage in America or downplay its significance.)

Bobby said...

Roughcoat,

Oh, I agree with you there. I'm actually one of the few OIF/OEF hands who cheered when the NTC announced it was going to reduce its emphasis on training Brigade Combat Teams in counterinsurgency tactics and stabilization operations and re-emphasize its traditional (pre-OIF) focus on training them in conventional force-on-force maneuver warfare. I fully understand their concerns that the Army is going to bury the lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan (as Krepinevich claims the Army leadership did coming out of Vietnam), but if we're serious about deterring conventional threats like Iran and North Korea, someone in DOD has to be trained to do maneuver warfare. The risks in a conventional war are way too big to not already be trained in it when the artillery rounds start landing. Let JRTC or JMTC or even just MCTP train their customers for COIN, but NTC customers need to be trained to defeat armored formations pouring through the Fulda Gap.

mccullough said...

Bobby,

I wasn't defending or exonerating McCarthy. I said he was a reactionary but that there were also a number of communist spies in our government. Much like radical Islamists, it wasn't easy to figure out who was what. But the concern was real just as it is real now.

Nixon was most famously associated with Hiss and Nixon was right about Hiss. And liberal historians were wrong. Dead wrong.

Francisco D said...

Nixon was despised by the Left because he exposed Alger Hiss. There was a good reason that he was paranoid. The left was out to get him because he was a Republican and a strong anti-communist.

Our generation (Ann and mine) got caught up in the anti-war zeitgeist of the times and went along with the leftist media that desperately needed a reason to destroy Nixon. It happened to be the Viet Nam War and the ridiculous Keystone Kops escapade known as Watergate.

I may need to call a psychiatrist for the appropriate meds. I actually agree with Ann in full on this thread. Well stated, Professor.

Roughcoat said...

Bobby,

Excellent post. Totally agree. Whenever I hear military theorists declare that the main battle tank is obsolete, that wheeled LAVs represent the future of armored combat, and that the heavy armored division is no longer useful ... I become worried. VERY worried. I'm all for the employment of SOF and light forces assisted by precision air strikes if that's what works. I'm very favorably disposed to enabling, training, equipping and generally supporting local/indigenous forces to carry the main burden of combat--as I've mentioned in previous threads on this blog, that's the line I'm in now. I'm for whatever works. But whatever works should be determined by context not by political calculation or rigid adherence to a particular warfighting doctrine.

grackle said...

Vietnam turned out to be a pointless war that was worth losing. It is now (really not that long since our withdrawal) a pretty nice place that has little to no hostility towards our interests or us as a people.

Yeah, Vietnam sure is a pretty nice place – unless you happen to live there:

Specific human rights abuses included arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life; police attacks and corporal punishment; arbitrary arrest and detention for political activities; continued police mistreatment of suspects during arrest and detention, including the use of lethal force and austere prison conditions; and denial of the right to a fair and expeditious trial. The judicial system was opaque and lacked independence, and political and economic influences regularly affected judicial outcomes. The government limited freedoms of speech and press and suppressed dissent; restricted internet freedom and freedom of religion; maintained often-heavy surveillance of activists; and continued to limit privacy rights and freedoms of assembly, association, and movement.

The above citation is only a portion of the report; read the full State Department Report on Human Rights for Vietnam at the below URL:

http://tinyurl.com/6sgb4wd

buwaya said...

Important as the military is, and as annoying as ISIS and Muslim extremists are, these don't seem to be the most pressing problems at the moment.
The economy is, and its fundamental to everything else. And the President and his appointees are in charge of all the tools that are immediately relevant there, unconstrained by the other branches of government.

Bobby said...

mccullough,

Agreed. I misread your post.

Roughcoat,

Yeah, I think part of the problem is that you've got four Services (plus SOCOM who are "Service-like" in their Title X authorities and responsibilities) chasing a shrinking budget and so each organization's tendency is to emphasize (and sometimes exaggerate) their capabilities while downplaying (and sometimes wholesale ignoring) their weaknesses in order to maximize their share of the pie.

Add to that the decision-makers in charge of approving the budget priorities (Congress) increasingly have less military experience than in previous generations (and those that do frequently come in with rather parochial priorities), so when a Service says "unit x can generally achieve these approximate objectives," the committee hear something much more absolute (and therefore less accurate).

It takes the entire Department to accomplish the full range of military objectives. Unfortunately, the budget process tends to cause them to pursue the flavor of the week.

Grackle,

Agree that Vietnam has an extremely repressive government. But, historically, American foreign policy has never really cared much about that. Even during the Cold War, when we were on the side of Freedom against Communism, "Freedom" didn't mean being "democratic" or "respecting basic human rights" -- at least not if you were Nicaraguan under Somoza or Chilean under Pinochet or Iranian under Pahlavi or Cuban under Batista or even Vietnamese under Tran (etc. etc.) Freedom just meant, you know, not being Communist.

Michael K said...

"LBJ, Cheney, and Hillary are the only US leaders since WW2 that are reprehensible people. "

What horseshit! This is standard far left rhetoric. Cheney was NOT president and made none of the decisions.

I am so tired of leftist morons venting their ill-considered opinions about Cheney. Bush made errors. Cheney give advice but made no decisions and made no complaints if his advice was ignored.

In retrospect the Iraq war may have been a mistake but none of the geniuses who vent such horse shit ever talk about the choices Bush was forced to make after 9/11.

Mary E. Glynn said...

are you trying to imitate paglia here?

Krumhorn said...

Hillary settled it with me when the 900 FBI files of Republicans somehow stacked themselves in the White House basement and the Rose law firm billing statement miraculously appeared on a coffee table in the residence literally out of nowhere. The foundation contributions and emails on the private server in Bedford were just more of the same. As Gump might have said, venal is as venal does.

There isn't a single Conservative in public office as a governor or at the national level who wouldn't be a far superior choice for our country than any single leftie in public office at any level. I really can't see why anyone can disagree with what I'm saying.

-Krumhorn