Thursday, March 12, 2009

How Chas Freeman got me skinned

Thanks to my colleague Mike at The Big Stick, I’ve been reading some very interesting conservative and progressive blogs of late. I can’t say I always agree with what they write, but they write well, they are open to comments from seeming all sorts of people, and I think if the Republican Party can harness a few of them, then in 4 years Republicans might be a coherent opposition party again.

So I was interested yesterday when Megan McArdle took up the Chas Freeman Affair in her blog. She started by exerpting an Article from Foreign Policy:

David Rothkopf of Foreign Policy: “Financial trivia, minutiae from people's personal lives and political litmus tests have grown in importance while character, experience, intelligence, creativity and wisdom have fallen by the wayside.”

Then, perhaps forgetting that as a conservative she’s supposed to always rail against Democratic policies and politicians, she made this entirely reasonable point about how Mr. Freeman’s opposition had worked it’s magic:

Megan McArdle: “This new tradition of bulldogging every appointee in the hope of embarrassing the president has to stop. We should be focusing on whether or not the nominee can do the job, not whether there is some small breach of an onerous regulation in his history that can possibly be dug up. It feels good in the short term, but when ability to find a native-born nanny becomes a more important qualification for the presidential candidate than experience relevant to the job to be done, it's time for a national rethink.

While I may not agree with Ms. McArdle’s politics, I heartily agree with her assessment of the appointment process. Her commenters, however, took the opportunity to heap on as much spin as they could, to somehow deflect the fact that, when all is said and done, even Washington Post columnists think AIPAC gave MR. Freeman the shaft. So, 26 comments later, I said this:

Sadly, you have all missed the iceberg here. Mr. Freeman wasn't sunk because of these things, he was sunk because he speaks regularly and forcefully against current U.S. policy regarding Israel. Gleen Greenwald has the latest on his blog. All the things mentioned above were part of an organized campaign to discredit Mr. Freeman, without directly attacking him on this key issue. That it succeeded, and is intellecually dishonest at best, speaks volumes about the sad state of American foreign policy.
Posted by
Philip H. March 11, 2009 1:29 PM

Not content to attack Ms. McArdle, they began to fire at me:

So, Philip H., what you're saying is that it's okay to be on the Saudi payroll, support the crushing at Tiananmen Square, and support the US Army firing on the Bonus Army veterans, so long as Jews oppose you? Would you have opposed Mr. Freeman on the basis of those other things if only AIPAC and the Jews hadn't been involved? Sure, I'm upset that enough other people don't seriously care about that horrific statement about the Bonus Army, about being on Saudi payroll, or about Tiananmen Square. That doesn't make me support Mr. Freeman just because I think not enough people are opposing him for the right reasons. In any case, your theory may be wrong anyway. Newsweek's sources claim that Speaker Pelosi's opposition came about because of Tiananmen Square. Of course, the Speaker and Newsweek could just be lying too...
Posted by John Thacker
March 11, 2009 1:49 PM

Would if that were all true, but it isn’t. As has been noted by numerous bloggers and journalists, there is no Chinese or Tibetan human rights group on record as opposing the Freeman nomination. Nor is there any quote available anywhere from anyone who works on Chinese foreign policy and analysis that says anything bad about Mr. Freeman. What Mr. Freeman was saying, and said repeatedly, is that the Chinese government should have acted sooner to resolve the issue, whether by force or by negotiations. He never makes the case that what the Chinese did was right, just that it was done too late so that the Chinese governement had fewer choices in how to respond.

As to the Saudi payroll contention – if it’s perfectly acceptable for Republican officials to go back and forth through the revolving door of K Street lobbying firms (many of whom are also paid by the Saudi’s as well as other foreign countries), why is it not ok for Mr. Freeman?

Then I made the mistake of trying to bring this back to being a process argument, as Ms. McArdle intended her blog to be:

All, i'm not saying anything that other Atlantic Authors aren't saying. Railroading a guy out of public service because you don't like what he says is ok by me - so long as you are HONEST about it. Hiding behind supposed tax issues (unproven), or speeches (misquoted) on one subject when you really object for other reasons is LYING. That's where my problem exists.
Posted by
Philip H March 11, 2009 3:21 PM

From that point, I was dismissed using many classic conservative approaches. First, I was accused of having some sort of God-like ability to discern motives which other commenters supposedly lacked (as if it is hard to fathom what AIPAC’s motive might be). This is called an ad hominum attack, BTW:

Philip H., where did you purhcase your finely calibrated motive-o-meter, which allows you to peer into the souls of people who you don't know, and thus unerringly discern the real reasons all the critics of Freeman have for opposing his appointment to this job?
Does everyone say stupid things at some times in their life? Sure. We aren't talking about some off the cuff remarks at a cocktail party here, however. We are talking about scheduled interviews, in which there was plenty of time to antcipate the questions that would be asked, and then WERE asked. To anaswer in a manner which suggests you have had a psychotic episode does not engender confidence.
Posted by Will Allen
March 11, 2009 3:53 PM

Then, even though I’m trying to focus on the process by which all this was handled, the bus is backed over me because I haven’t said whether I agree or disagree with Mr. Freeman (which is irrelevant to whether he was dealt with fairly and honestly and evaluated on the credentials he would bring to the table):

so long as you are HONEST about it. Hiding behind supposed tax issues (unproven), or speeches (misquoted) on one subject when you really object for other reasons is LYING. That's where my problem exists.
Take it up with
Newsweek and Speaker Pelosi, then, as they insist that her (very important) opposition was about China. They're liars, too?
But if that's where your problem exists, fine. Just answer one way or the other, Philip H. Aside from all the "opponents were motivated by the wrong reason" crap, and your allegations that they wouldn't care if someone on their team made his other statements, do you think his statements on Tiananmen and the Bonus Army were disqualifying? Do you at least disagree with them?
Posted by John Thacker
March 11, 2009 4:11 PM

Finally, I am dismissed with a backhanded . . . compliment . . . . that what I’ve actually written is satire. I suppose one could argue that most political discussion these days is satire at one level or another, but clearly this is another attempt to move away from my central process thesis:

Aren't a lot of you missing Philip H.'s point? Do you really think he means to be taken at face value? He's written some pretty good satire there, and the uncertainty as to whether it really is satire only makes it better.
Posted by Bambi
March 11, 2009 4:19 PM

Quite the ringer. How I managed to get away from being accused of being shrill is beyond me. Here’ the thing – Walter Pincus made the very point I was making in his article in today’s Washington Post. To quote Pincus:

For example, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), often described as the most influential pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington, "took no position on this matter and did not lobby the Hill on it," spokesman Josh Block said.

But Block responded to reporters' questions and provided critical material about Freeman, albeit always on background, meaning his comments could not be attributed to him, according to three journalists who spoke to him. Asked about this yesterday, Block replied: "As is the case with many, many issues every day, when there is general media interest in a subject, I often provide publicly available information to journalists on background."

All I was trying to get at is this – if you are the official, employed spokesman for a political action committee, as Josh Block is, and you tell everyone that the PAC you work for has no official position even as you are meeting off the record with various journalists who grant you anonymity in exchange for the real thinking of your organization; and that thinking goes against the public statements of your organization, then you are lying. That’s one of the major reasons why our national political discourse is so broken. It is one of the things that needs to be fixed. And there is nothing satirical about my belief in this regard.


Apparently I'm not the only one with the view that this is bad . . . . . .


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Mike at The Big Stick said...

Glad I can point out a few of the more 'progressive' conservatives out there...though to be fair, I believe McArdle considers herself a libertarian. I've really found her insights on the financial mess to be helpful for a non-economic expert like myself.

Philip H. said...

I agree some of her insights are useful, especially for those of us who are economics challenged.