The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman and Bruni

The Pasty Little Putz takes a look at a moron.  In “The Years of Senator DeMint” he babbles that for Republicans, there was a return to first principles but not enough new economic thinking.  Even a cretin like DeMint can see the future of the party he helped turn into the collection of lunatics…  MoDo has managed to create a mash-up of politics, pop culture and the Mayans.  In “A Lost Civilization” she gurgles that Republican tribe is being wiped out, and not by plague, drought or Conquistadors.  Of course, she ends with the obligatory swipe at the Clintons, without which no column is complete.  The Moustache of Wisdom is in Tel Aviv, and has a question in “The Full Israeli Experience:”  In a neighborhood where there is no mercy for the weak, how should we expect Israel to act?  Mr. Bruni addresses “Bin Laden, Torture and Hollywood” and says one of the year’s most lavishly praised movies may vex the White House and critics of the previous administration’s “enhanced” interrogations.  Here’s The Putz:

In November 2008, just after John McCain was routed by Barack Obama, Jim DeMint addressed a Myrtle Beach conference on the future of the Republican Party. The first-term South Carolina senator was there to reassure his audience: Republicans might have lost an election, but conservatism hadn’t lost the country.

His party’s only problem, DeMint promised, was insufficient ideological commitment. Republicans had strayed too far from small-government principle during the Bush era, and then foolishly nominated a moderate like McCain. “Americans do prefer a traditional conservative government,” he told his listeners. But in 2008, between Bush’s deficit spending and McCain’s heterodoxies, “they just did not believe Republicans were going to give it to them.”

This comforting perspective quickly became the official conventional wisdom on the post-Bush right, mouthed with varying degrees of conviction by politicians, pundits and Tea Party activists. But DeMint wasn’t content with rhetoric. He decided to put theory into action and throw his support behind primary candidates who fit his vision of a more authentically conservative Republican Party.

DeMint’s zeal gave his party’s leadership headaches, and his support for no-hopers like Christine O’Donnell helped cost Republicans seats they might have won. But his crusade also succeeded in making the Republican Senate caucus much more interesting — thinning the ranks of time-servers, and elevating rising stars like Marco Rubio and idiosyncratic figures like Rand Paul.

More important, DeMint — and the larger Tea Party wave he rode — also succeeded in making Republicans more serious about limited government than the party had ever been under Bush. On spending questions small and large, from earmarks to entitlement reform, the party moved sharply rightward between 2008 and 2012, testing DeMint’s theory that a return to first principles would be enough to win back the White House.

But as things turned out, the theory failed the test, and now it’s DeMint rather than Obama who will be leaving office in January. Last Thursday the South Carolinian surprised most of Washington by announcing that he’d be departing the Senate just two years into his second term, to become president of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Some of DeMint’s admirers quickly portrayed this move as a brilliant way to expand his campaign to remake the Republican Party. But it’s more likely that moving from the Senate to the world of think tank fund-raising (where he’ll probably excel) and policy (where his experience is thinner) will reduce his public profile, and close a chapter in the history of conservatism in the process.

This chapter — the DeMint chapter, the Tea Party chapter, call it what you will — was probably a necessary stage for the American right. It’s normal for defeated parties and movements to turn inward for a period of ideological retrenchment before new thinking takes hold.

What’s more, the DeMint worldview wasn’t so much wrong as incomplete. It really was important for Republicans to get more serious about entitlements and to shake off their Bush-era blitheness about deficits. The principles of many Tea Partiers really were an improvement over the transparent cynicism of a Tom DeLay.

But if DeMint-style retrenchment was necessary for Republicans, it wasn’t anywhere near sufficient. The conservatism of 2011 and 2012 had a lot to say about the long-term liabilities of the American government but far too little to say about the most immediate anxieties of American citizens, from rising health care costs to stagnating wages to the socioeconomic malaise spreading across the country’s working class. Neither the Reagan legacy nor the current conservative catechism holds the solutions to these problems; they require Republicans to apply their principles more creatively, and think about policy anew.

So it’s fitting, perhaps, that the same week DeMint announced his departure from the Senate, one of the conservatives he fostered gave a speech that tried to do just that. This was Marco Rubio, who used an address at the Jack Kemp Foundation dinner to speak frankly about problems that too many Republicans have ignored these last four years — the “opportunity gap” opening between the well educated and the rest, the barriers to upward mobility, the struggles of the poor.

The speech didn’t offer the kinds of policy breakthroughs the party ultimately requires. Rubio mixed a few modest forays into fresh territory (mostly on education) with a long list of recycled proposals, and he stopped short of the leaps Republicans need to make on taxes, health care and other issues.

But his tone and themes represented a very different response to an electoral drubbing than the kind of retrenchment Republicans embraced four years ago. And as DeMint exits electoral politics stage right, his legacy ultimately depends on whether that difference turns out to be real or superficial — and whether the younger generation he helped catapult to prominence can prove itself more supple, creative and farsighted than its departing patron.

You keep on whistling past the graveyard, Putzy…  Here’s MoDo:

My college roommates and I used to grocery shop and cook together. The only food we seemed to agree on was corn, so we ate a lot of corn.

My mom would periodically call to warn me in a dire tone, “Do you know why the Incas are extinct?”

Her maize hazing left me with a deeply ingrained fear of being part of a civilization that was obliviously engaging in behavior that would lead to its extinction.

Too bad the Republican Party didn’t have my mom to keep it on its toes. Then it might not have gone all Apocalypto on us — becoming the first civilization in modern history to spiral the way of the Incas, Aztecs and Mayans.

The Mayans were right, as it turns out, when they predicted the world would end in 2012. It was just a select world: the G.O.P. universe of arrogant, uptight, entitled, bossy, retrogressive white guys.

Just another vanishing tribe that fought the cultural and demographic tides of history.

Someday, it will be the subject of a National Geographic special, or a Mel Gibson movie, where archaeologists piece together who the lost tribe was, where it came from, and what happened to it. The experts will sift through the ruins of the Reagan Presidential Library, Dick Cheney’s shotgun casings, Orca poll monitoring hieroglyphics, remnants of triumphal rants by Dick Morris on Fox News, faded photos of Clint Eastwood and an empty chair, and scraps of ancient tape in which a tall, stiff man, his name long forgotten, gnashes his teeth about the 47 percent of moochers and the “gifts” they got.

Instead of smallpox, plagues, drought and Conquistadors, the Republican decline will be traced to a stubborn refusal to adapt to a world where poor people and sick people and black people and brown people and female people and gay people count.

As the historian Will Durant observed, “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”

President Obama’s victory margin is expanding, as more votes are counted. He didn’t just beat Romney; he’s still beating him. But another sign of the old guard’s denial came on Friday, a month after the election, when the Romney campaign ebulliently announced that it raised $85.9 million in the final weeks of the campaign, making its fund-raising effort “the most successful in Republican Party history.”

Why is the Romney campaign still boasting? You can’t celebrate at a funeral. Go away and learn how to crunch data on the Internet.

Outside the Republican walled kingdom of denial and delusion, everyone else could see that the once clever and ruthless party was behaving in an obtuse and outmoded way that spelled doom.

The G.O.P. put up a candidate that no one liked or understood and ran a campaign that no one liked or understood — a campaign animated by the idea that indolent, grasping serfs must be kept down, even if it meant creating barriers to letting them vote.

Although Stuart Stevens, the Romney strategist, now claims that Mitt “captured the imagination of millions” and ran “with a natural grace,” there was very little chance that the awkward gazillionaire was ever going to be president. Yet strangely, Republicans are still gobsmacked by their loss, grasping at straws like Sandy as an excuse.

Some G.O.P. House members continue to try to wrestle the president over the fiscal cliff. Romney wanders in a daze, his hair not perfectly gelled. And his campaign advisers continue to express astonishment that a disastrous campaign, convention and candidate, as well as a lack of familiarity with what Stevens dismissively calls “whiz-bang turnout technologies,” could possibly lead to defeat.

Who would ever have thought blacks would get out and support the first black president? Who would ever have thought women would shy away from the party of transvaginal probes? Who would ever have thought gays would work against a party that treated them as immoral and subhuman? Who would have ever thought young people would desert a party that ignored science and hectored on social issues? Who would ever have thought Latinos would scorn a party that expected them to finish up their chores and self-deport?

Republicans know they’re in trouble when W. emerges as the moral voice of the party. The former president lectured the G.O.P. on Tuesday about being more “benevolent” toward immigrants.

As Eva Longoria supersedes Karl Rove as a power player, Republicans act as shellshocked as the Southern gentry overrun by Yankee carpetbaggers in “Gone with the Wind.” As the movie eulogized: “Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind.”

Gun sales have burgeoned since the president’s re-election, with Black Friday weapons purchases setting records as the dead-enders rush to arm themselves.

But history will no doubt record that withering Republicans were finally wiped from the earth in 2016 when the relentless (and rested) Conquistadora Hillary marched in, General Bill on a horse behind her, and finished them off.

MoDo, take a pill.  Go and see someone about your Clinton obsession.  It’s not healthy…  Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

These were the main regional news headlines in The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday: “Home Front Command simulates missile strike during drill.” Egypt’s President “Morsi opts for safety as police battle protestors.” In Syria, “Fight spills over into Lebanon.” “Darkness at noon for fearful Damascus residents.” “Tunisian Islamists, leftists clash after jobs protests.” “NATO warns Syria not to use chemical weapons.” And my personal favorite: “ ‘Come back and bring a lot of people with you’ — Tourism Ministry offers tour operators the full Israeli experience.”

Ah, yes, “the full Israeli experience.”

The full Israeli experience today is a living political science experiment. How does a country deal with failed or failing state authority on four of its borders — Gaza, South Lebanon, Syria and the Sinai Desert of Egypt — each of which is now crawling with nonstate actors nested among civilians and armed with rockets. How should Israel and its friends think about this “Israeli experience” and connect it with the ever-present question of Israeli-Palestinian peace?

For starters, if you want to run for office in Israel, or be taken seriously here as either a journalist or a diplomat, there is an unspoken question in the mind of virtually every Israeli that you need to answer correctly: “Do you understand what neighborhood I’m living in?” If Israelis smell that you don’t, their ears will close to you. It is one reason the Europeans in general, and the European left in particular, have so little influence here.

The central political divide in Israel today is over the follow-up to this core question: If you appreciate that Israel lives in a neighborhood where there is no mercy for the weak, how should we expect Israel to act?

There are two major schools of thought here. One, led by Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, comprises the “Ideological Hawks,” who, to the question, “Do you know what neighborhood I am living in?” tell Israelis and the world, “It is so much worse than you think!” Bibi goes out of his way to highlight every possible threat to Israel and essentially makes the case that nothing Israel does has ever or can ever alter the immutable Arab hatred of the Jewish state or the Hobbesian character of the neighborhood. Netanyahu is not without supporting evidence. Israel withdraws from both South Lebanon and Gaza and still gets hit with rockets. But this group is called the “ideological” hawks because most of them also advocate Israel’s retaining permanent control of the West Bank and Jerusalem for religious-nationalist reasons. So it’s impossible to know where their strategic logic for holding territory stops and their religious-nationalist dreams start — and that muddies their case with the world.

The other major school of thought here, call it the “Yitzhak Rabin school,” was best described by the writer Leon Wieseltier as the “bastards for peace.”

Rabin, the former Israeli prime minister and war hero, started exactly where Bibi did: This is a dangerous neighborhood, and a Jewish state is not welcome here. But Rabin didn’t stop there. He also believed that Israel was very powerful and, therefore, should judiciously use its strength to try to avoid becoming a garrison state, fated to rule over several million Palestinians forever. Israel’s “bastards for peace” believe that it’s incumbent on every Israeli leader to test, test and test again — using every ounce of Israeli creativity — to see if Israel can find a Palestinian partner for a secure peace so that it is not forever fighting an inside war and an outside war. At best, the Palestinians might surprise them. At worst, Israel would have the moral high ground in a permanent struggle.

Today, alas, not only is the Israeli peace camp dead, but the most effective Israeli “bastard for peace,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak, is retiring. As I sat with Barak in his office the other day, he shared with me his parting advice to Israel’s next and sure-to-be-far-right government.

Huge political forces, with deep roots, are now playing out around Israel, particularly the rise of political Islam, said Barak. “We have to learn to accept it and see both sides of it and try to make it better. I am worried about our tendency to adopt a fatalistic, pessimistic perception of history. Because, once you adopt it, you are relieved from the responsibility to see the better aspects and seize the opportunities” when they arise.

If Israel just assumes that it’s only a matter of time before the moderate Palestinian leaders in the West Bank fall and Hamas takes over, “why try anything?” added Barak. “And, therefore, you lose sight of the opportunities and the will to seize opportunities. … I know that you can’t say when leaders raise this kind of pessimism that it is all just invented. It is not all invented, and you would be stupid if you did not look [at it] with open eyes. But it is a major risk that you will not notice that you become enslaved by this pessimism in a way that will paralyze you from understanding that you can shape it. The world is full of risks, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a responsibility to do something about it — within your limits and the limits of realism — and avoid self-fulfilling prophecies that are extremely dangerous here.”

Last but not least, here’s Mr. Bruni:

I’m betting that Dick Cheney will love the new movie “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Who could have predicted that? Hollywood, after all, is supposed to be a West Coast annex of the Democratic National Committee, and the makers of this gripping thriller, about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, were expected to repay the Obama administration for its indulgence of them with a tribute to the current president’s wisdom and grit.

But the movie of the year is also the political conundrum of the year, a far, far cry from the rousing piece of pro-Obama propaganda that some conservatives feared it would be. “Zero Dark Thirty,” which opens in theaters on Dec. 19 and presents itself as a quasi-journalistic account of what really happened, gives primary credit for the killing of Bin Laden to neither the Bush nor the Obama administrations but to one obsessive C.I.A. analyst whose work spans both presidencies. And it presents the kind of torture that Cheney advocated — but that President Obama ended — as something of an information-extracting necessity, repellent but fruitful.

Even as David Edelstein, the film critic for New York magazine, named “Zero Dark Thirty” the best movie of 2012 in a recent article, he digressed to say that it “borders on the politically and morally reprehensible,” because it “makes a case for the efficacy of torture.”

Edelstein isn’t the only critic in a morally complicated swoon over “Zero Dark Thirty.” Last week the New York Film Critics Circle awarded it the best movie of the year. So did the National Board of Review. Surprises atop surprises: not only does “Zero Dark Thirty” decline to toe a conventionally liberal line, but it is being embraced by many cultural arbiters who are probably at some level horrified by the conclusions it seems to reach.

Will they wrestle honestly with that, as Edelstein did? Or will they elect unsullied rapture for “Zero Dark Thirty” and either ignore or come up with a selective interpretation of its policy implications? That will be one of the fascinating wrinkles of the imminent debate about a movie that demands close examination.

With ample reason, we often dismiss what comes out of the commercially minded dream factory of Hollywood as simplistic, candied, trivial. Yet “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Lincoln,” another of the year-end movies at the center of the unfolding Oscar race, are dedicated to the ethical ambiguities and messy compromises of governing — to the muck and stink that sometimes go into the effort of keeping this mighty country of ours intact and safe.

“Lincoln” looks at that through the prism of our 16th president and the legislative art and chicanery by which he and his allies passed the 13th Amendment, ending slavery. “Zero Dark Thirty” uses the war on terror as its lens and raises big, complicated questions about whether one brand of evil excuses another and the preservation of freedom hinges on targeted applications of savagery. From Hollywood during the holiday season, we’re getting not just “The Hobbit” and the inevitable Tom Cruise vehicle. We’re getting a civics lesson.

“Zero Dark Thirty” takes its title from a military term for half past midnight, which is when Navy SEALs raided Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. It’s the work of the director Kathryn Bigelow and the screenwriter Mark Boal, who previously collaborated on “The Hurt Locker.” As they researched their new movie, they got considerable cooperation from the C.I.A. and the Defense Department, provoking complaints from some conservatives, who smelled an Obama hagiography in the making.

They smelled wrong. Obama isn’t a character in the movie but, rather, a part of the backdrop to a narrative about the bloody drama and bloodless tedium of intelligence gathering over the course of nearly 10 years between 9/11 and the killing of Bin Laden. It’s about finding a needle in a uniquely messy and menacing haystack. “Enhanced interrogation techniques” like waterboarding are presented as crucial to that search, and it’s hard not to focus on them, because the first extended sequence in the movie shows a detainee being strung up by his wrists, sexually humiliated, deprived of sleep, made to feel as if he’s drowning and shoved into a box smaller than a coffin.

The explicit detail with which all of this is depicted could, I suppose, be read as the moviemakers’ indictment of it, and to some extent “Zero Dark Thirty” will function as a Rorschach test, different viewers seeing in it what they want to see. But the torture sequence immediately follows a bone-chilling, audio-only prologue of the voices of terrified Americans trapped in the towering inferno of the World Trade Center. It’s set up as payback.

And by the movie’s account, it produces information vital to the pursuit of the world’s most wanted man. No waterboarding, no Bin Laden: that’s what “Zero Dark Thirty” appears to suggest. And the intelligence agents involved in torture seem not so much relieved as challenged by Obama’s edict that it stop. Their quest for leads just got that much more difficult.

That’s hardly a universally accepted version of events. “Some of the F.B.I. agents and C.I.A. officers involved in this program at the really gritty, firsthand level were the ones who blew the whistle on it, because they were really horrified,” said Jane Mayer, the author of the best-selling book “The Dark Side,” which is widely considered the definitive account of the interrogation program.

“Zero Dark Thirty” doesn’t convey that, nor does it reflect many experts’ belief that torture is unnecessary, yielding as much bad information as good. “The military, the F.B.I., the C.I.A. itself — along with G.O.P. hawks like McCain, who was himself tortured — say there’s no justification, no need and no excuse,” Mayer said.

And for the drone attacks that have been a favored tactic of the Obama administration, leading to the assassinations of people never tried or convicted? Is there ample justification for that? The end of “enhanced interrogation” wasn’t the end of methods seemingly outside the usual precepts of American law, and as “Zero Dark Thirty” reminds us, Obama ordered the raid that led to Bin Laden’s death without any guarantee that Bin Laden would be there and that the bullet-riddled bodies in that Pakistan compound would be his and his associates’.

In the name of our democracy, we have long done and we continue to do some ruthless cost-benefit analyses and some very ugly things, to which we should never turn a blind eye. Whatever “Zero Dark Thirty” gets wrong, it gets that much right.


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