Friday, January 11. 2008
I watched Bill Maher tonight, mostly to catch Matt Taibbi -- just read his Rolling Stone piece, and was writing a bit on it when I found out he was appearing. He's sharper as a writer than as a pundit, but his big problem tonight was Tony Snow, who jumped all over him with well rehearsed talking points. One of those points was the Surge, which is only a success relative to past failures -- Snow claimed the violence in December was the lowest since December 2004, which was the month after Fallujah was levelled by the Marines, more like a brief retrenching. One thing people have already managed to forget about the Surge is that there was no evidence of it working back in September, the initial test date. It was only after failing the report that the scheme of paying Sunni tribal leaders to suppress Al-Qaeda came into play. Equally important was US forces backing off, an option that was always available, and that obviously didn't require the 30,000 extra troops. Also important was Moqtada al-Sadr's cease fire, and some form of rapprochement with Iran. I'm reminded of The Battle of Algiers, which a minute before the end of the film looks like the French had won.
Maher's response to this snow job was lame -- something about Bush only realizing that he needed more troops after fucking it up for four years. I really doubt that any conceivable number of troops ever could have done the job. The big problem was always the expectation that Bush's team had that they could mold Iraq into a compliant client state, after the US had double crossed, starved and raped the country for a whole generation. That was never really in the cards: Iraq was too broken, and America was too corupt and incompetent, or to put a more philosophical point on it, too dedicated to our own gratification. The only thing that might have worked was to earnestly serve the Iraqis, but why would such a self-interested, self-important nation do anything like that? Especially one led by a claque convinced of their ability to manage perceptions, allowing them to sweep inconvenient reality out of sight. (The Surge hype shows they still have the knack. Who, after all, asks whether a relatively safer Baghdad is safe enough for reporters to cover without armed convoys, like they could in 2003? How does that safety translate into real reconstruction gains?)
But the issue Snow jumped on faster than any other was Maher's question to Taibbi about why the class-oriented Edward campaign doesn't seem to have much traction despite the economic downturn that most working people (Maher's term was "middle class") have experienced. Taibbi started to answer that the media just aren't interested in anything that resembles a real issue, when Snow jumped in with an argument that populism doesn't fly because workers are "too smart": they realize that any effort against corporations will rebound and cost them jobs. It's a nonsense argument, but was stated so emphatically everyone was taken aback. Still, it is a good example. The one thing corporate power, and more generally conservative power, depends on above all else is that people affected by it will fail to recognize that their problems can be addressed by democratic politics. Edwards is no Mother Jones, but Snow's sponsors haven't merely become so greedy that he threatens them. Their whole political order depends on people not realizing that any other way is possible. It's remarkable how brazen their con job is. Also remarkable that they seem to be getting away with it.