Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Sulkiness or just political sense?

Andrew Sullivan today quotes a letter-writer who complains that Democrats look at good news coming out of the Middle East (for example, from Lebanon or Egypt in recent days) and react with "sulky nonsequitors," and Sullivan then says this is why he doesn't trust Democrats on foreign policy.

Andrew's logic, however, seems to me to put the cart before the horse. He puts this alleged Democratic churlishness on foreign policy progress down to some kind or "irrational Bush hatred" on the part of the Democrats. But unfortunately, this hatred is hardly irrational.

Let me explain what's maddening to Democrats: no matter what happens that is progressive in the Middle East, Republicans and the Bush regime not only claim credit for it, but also claim that the war in Iraq is the reason for the progress. Libya doing a deal on weapons and Lockerbie so it can back into the international oil market? Must be because Bush invaded Iraq! Lebanese reacting with revulsion to Hariri's assassination, probably by Syrian agents, and demanding Syria's exit from their country? Must be because Bush invaded Iraq! Progress in the Palestinian-Israeli peace effort as a result of Arafat's death? Must be because Bush invaded Iraq! Who’s really peddling nonsequitors here?

In short, what drives Democrats batty is the tendency of the Bush regime to take partisan political credit for anything progressive, and what's more, to blame anything retrograde on political enemies (both foreign and domestic) who "just don't get it." Never is there any recognition that Bush's international strategy even might be responsible for the negative radicalization we're seeing in places like Iran, North Korea, and even Venezuela -- not to mention alienating essential partners in nation-building.

What's more, what really kills Democrats is the way that Bush not only takes credit for everything that goes well, and denies any responsibility for things that are going badly (and, when we're honest, how many people really feel that the world is, on balance, headed in the right direction?) -- it's that he then claims this false credit as the basis for "political capital" to promote retrograde domestic policies.

How else do you really expect Democrats to react to the Bush regime's radical partisanship on all fronts at all times? Given the partisan dynamic Bush has established (it began immediately after 9-11), the only reasonable first reaction of Democrats to good news in the Middle East (or anywhere else) is to ask themselves, "How can Bush be denied political credit for this, since you know he's going to claim it?"

That's not sulkiness; rather, it's a natural reaction of the opposition party to the complete partisan politicization of everything by this regime, by the refusal of the Bush regime to make any effort to build bipartisan support for anything. With Bush making everything into a partisan attack, how else is the minority party supposed to react?

Update: To see how rightwingers give Bush credit for everything positive that happens, just check out the last few days' posts at Belgravia Dispatch, who gives Bush credit for improved the situation in Lebanon and Egypt in particular. Actually, he just gives Bush the credit in passing, without even arguing the point, which is also typical of the genre: just assume that Bush deserves all the credit and none of the blame. Belgravia's only complain is that the Bushies aren't aggressive enough.


zachawry said...

Your point about the tendencies of Bush to take credit for everything conceivable, and the resulting democratic instinct to deny him good news, is a good one.

It reveals your political leanings, though, in that you assume local politics trumps all. In other words, if something good happens in the Middle East, you and most other democrats would rather pretend that doesn't exist than lose political points. This means you view everything through the lens of whether or not it scores points for your side, not about the value those events have in the world apart from your own political combativeness.

If a race of benevolent aliens came down and offered the man in the White House the cure to all our ills, you would skulk because it meant points for Bush. This is more than a little pathetic.

The fact is, you could say "There are some good things happening in the middle east, although Bush is not responsible for them," but even this willingness to acknowledge *some* goodness demands shedding a little bit of instinctual political hackery ("everything is important only insofar as it advances or hurts my pet cause").

purpleprose said...

You're right, Zak: some good things are happening in the Middle East. Most recently, for example, I celebrated that the election in Iraq went off relatively painlessly. However, I would dispute that practically anything good has happened as a result of Bush's foreign policy. It's almost pure bad.

And I say that not because I'm incapable of acknowledging that Bush can and has some reasonably policies. Just to prove it, here you go: I think Bush's proposal to impose national testing standards on schools and to make federal education funds dependent on improving the results is a perfectly fine idea, even if I'd quibble with some of the implementation details.

Finally, it is Tip O'Neil who is usually credited with pointing out that, "All politics is local." That's not hackery or partisanship, it's just an acknowledgement of where the bread gets buttered.