Monday, September 27, 2004

A Standing Challenge 

I have, several time, issued a challenge in various comment threads to Kerry supporters (without answer) and have decided to make this a challenge that will remain open until the election. Sen. Kerry often speaks against the President's unilateralism and offers that he will bring more allies into our efforts and relieve the burden on U.S. troops. If you are a Kerry supporter and believe this, please answer the following:

 Which countries, specifically, that are not already engaged in Iraq with us do you anticipate bringing on board?

I ask this question because I can not logically conclude that Kerry can accomplish what he proposes. First, the effort is far from unilateral, in that the U.S. is already joined with England, Australia, Japan, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, ROK and many others, so who of consequence is left? France has already said they have no interest in Iraq, regardless of who wins. Given Germany's Constitution, are they likely to provide forces, especially the combat forces that Sen. Kerry seems to be referring to. Does he expect Russia or China to come on board? Russia is already providing intelligence support, but I suspect issues in Chechnya may already be taxing whatever deployable military capability they have. As for China, the only international party they've come to since Mao's revolution was the Korean War, and they were on the wrong side then. In fact, the most specific Kerry has ever been on this issue was to mention Turkey (who Iraq specifically does not want involved) and a generalization about Iraq's "neighbors" (you know, the countries providing manpower and funding for the insurgency). This is no gotcha, I seriously don't understand how anyone can square the Senator's "promises" with reality in any logical fashion.

Just Can't Please Some People 

Well, the Army is sending Pfc. Lynndie England to courts-martial, so you'd think the media that went on and on about Abu Ghraib would be happy, right? Not if you judge by the CNN headline "Pregnant soldier faces Abu Ghraib court-martial." Now, I'm not saying it isn't accurate, but is her pregnancy (due to an affair with another accused abuser) really relevent? Maybe I'm suffering from media paranoia syndrome, but I'd swear it looks like CNN is trying to come down on the Army for being so mean to this soon-to-be single mother. So that's what it takes for them to defend and be sympathetic to you. Just figure a way into a protected group of special concern and you'll try and help you out. Or maybe CNN just likes slapping the military, regardless if it finds itself inconsistent at times.

Forgetting our Most Important Ally 

John Kerry is swift to decry our allies. When he's not calling them the "coerced and bribed" or when his surrogates aren't telling them they're better off not being out allies, he likes to point out that we provide "[n]early 90 percent of the troops – and [suffer] nearly 90 percent of the casualties." A Washington Post opinion column by Lt Gen Petraeus brought home to me, though, that there was direct contradictory evidence if one but looked to our most important ally in Iraq.

Detractors of the Iraqi campaign rally around the 1000 deaths as evidence not only that we are loosing, but also that we are disproportionately paying the price for the liberation of Iraq. While the first claim might conceivable be stretched as to be a difference in interpretation, the second is demonstrably false as it is made with complete disregard to the 700 Iraqi police and security forces that have also paid the ultimate price since Jan 1. And this does not even include the additional hundreds that have been killed just trying to sign up. While our losses are greater than other countries, including Iraq, the proportional casualty rate for the Iraqis is much higher. If we assume 250,000 individual Americans have rotated through Iraq, the KIA rate comes to 1 in 250, or 0.4%. The Iraqis, however, with about 100,000 forces in the field have sustained a KIA rate of 0.7%. (I know this is very simplified, as the Iraqis have not had 100,000 forces steady-state throughout the sample period and casualty rates earlier in their operations were most likely higher, but I think it is still a reasonable estimate and accurately demonstrates the magnitude of our relative sacrifices)

A more telling question, though, is why the Kerry campaign seems to completely disregard the price Iraqis are paying in securing their own country's freedom. While one potential answer is that this oversight is intentional in order to avoid having to concede the point made above, another answer, and one I feel is more likely, is that the thought of any country other than us "world powers" trying to do anything is seen as irrelevant and unimportant. This sentiment matches the 1971 John Kerry, who seemed to believe that American withdrawal from Vietnam was solely a concern for us, without regard for the millions of South Vietnamese who were fighting with us for the freedom and independence of their country.

I believe the oversight of our Iraqi allies to be a continuation of the demonstrated pattern of gross arrogance and parochialism that characterizes John Kerry. In 1971 he took the ARVN, men he carried on his boat and fought alongside, a people he lived with and, I assume, spoke with and talked to, and he took them and their hopes and dreams and willingly threw them under the bus as unimportant and irrelevant. How can anyone have confidence that he will not do the same to a people he has never seen? He couldn't even be troubled to interrupt his busy campaign schedule in order to talk to the Iraqi Prime Minister, so how can he be expected to recognize that in realizing our hopes and futures, not only in Iraq but through out the region, our best and most important ally is Iraq itself. His silence on them is a political Freudian slip betraying his true disregard.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Media Finds Itself Behind the Power Curve 

Jeff Jarvis takes Tina Brown to task for her anti-blogger snarking. Her comments, though, just cemented an opinion that I've been forming in the wake of the CBS disgrace. The biggest problem Tina and Dan have in understanding the force of blogs is summed up by their chief complaints: a lack of checks and double-checks, perceptions of rumor-mongering and an easy means to spread misinformation and deception. On the one hand I agree 100% that the Internet and blogs, at their worst, can represent all of these tendencies, but the dirty little secret, recently made less secret, is that this is true of any medium for human interaction and communication of information, including the Mainstream Media. Long before the Internet existed, Orson Wells succeeded in (unintentionally) misleading thousands of people using that previously well-respected medium of radio. While similar events might happen today, the total deceived would probably be much less due to the sophistication and education of the audience. The Internet is no different.

When I first got into e-mail I remember embarrassedly being taken in by the "Bad Guy in the Back Seat Warning" and sending it out to everyone I worked with, thinking I was doing them a favor. Like all endeavors, I learned to be a bit more aware and savvy and have helped several friends to likewise smell out obviously false items (teaching my Mom that we weren't going to be subjected to an e-mail tax was like pulling teeth). The thing is, to the Tina Browns and Dan Rathers and so many others in their ivory towers of journalism, the Internet is still nothing except porno, hoaxes, Nigerian scams, jokesters and urban legends. They either lack the sophistication themselves to separate the chaff from the wheat or else, in their elitist ways, don't think Joe Public is up to the task. Given stories like Cathy Seipp's, though, where a journalist buddy falls for the "Draft Scare" without even considering a two-minute Google to find if the anonymous e-mail had any basis, I tend to think it is the former. After all, if journalists can be so easily fooled by the Internet, it's no wonder they don't trust it. But, instead of blaming the snake-oil salesmen, perhaps they should worry more about what has happened to their own inquisitiveness and questioning nature, instincts that were once the stock and trade of their profession. If they spent just a little effort they might find that while it is easy to print lies and deceptions on the Internet, it is as equally impossible to completely supress the truth and facts.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Stolen Valor II - Return of the Crazy Veteran 

In Stolen Valor, authors B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whittley look at several Vietnam myths that have often been repeated so often and loudly by such "credible" sources that they are taken for granted as beng true. One such myth is the Crazed Vietnam VetTM. While the most well known example of this is probably John Rambo, originally seen in the film First Blood as a withdrawn, loner whose killer instincts developed and honed by the military are rekindled when in a stressful situation, he has become as much a stock character as the bespectacled professor or buxom barfly and is prominently featured in such well lauded films as Dog Day Afternoon, The Deer Hunter and Taxi Driver in addition to drivel such as Welcome Home Soldier Boy (in which four CVVTMs engage in a cross-country rampage of rape, kidnapping and, of course, murder). He is today as much an established feature of American folklore as the bandana-wearing Bandit or the steely-eyed Gunslinger or the steadfast, brave Minuteman.

Wasting no time, Hollywood is at it again, building a new archetype, the Confused (but still Crazed) Iraqi War VeteranTM . While folding some laundry last night, I happened upon a rerun of Without a Trace, a CBS show about FBI investigators that, for some reason not completely clear to me, are immediately called in to investigate missing persons reports. Once you swallow the premise it's not a bad show and has an occasional interesting plot twist. In last night's broadcast, the team was trying to find a soldier/hero who had been wounded in Iraq, then came home and went missing. Skipping past the part where two of the investigators fly all the way to Iraq to interview his platoon mates (revealing that he intentionally exposed himself during a firefight to get wounded/killed so he would be sent home), we eventually come to the climax. In an attempt to get money to win back his straying fiancé he robs a bank with another C(bsC)IWVTM and ends up killing an off-duty police woman. Faced with the situation, it seems his trained killer insticts took over and he just dropped her. He had to redeem himelf in the end, of course, by unloading his weapon and charging through the front door of his house to the waiting hail of bullets from the assembled police. And so another legend is born.

Now, the basic scenario (unstable boy does something stupid "for his girl") is not uncommon and really happens, to one degree or another, hundreds of times every day. I do, however, question why this particular unstable boy had to be protrayed as a C(bsC)IWVTM. Complete with his grumbling about "not accomplishing anything", "no WMDs" and an expressed desire by many soldiers to do anything to get out of Iraq, it seems this background was used to allow a statement to be made. I don't think Iraq is easy duty, nor do I envy those in coutry, but I honor their sacrifices and those of the families of members deployed. Futher, I feel a certain disgust with them or their situation being used and exploited for dramatic effect or to make a story seem more current or to just allow the writers/producers/directors to make a statement. I mean, this is not a year or two or five after the war is over, but right during the thick of it. Have they no shame? (OK, I know it was rhetorical, but it still felt good.) I just hope that this stereotype will not gain traction like the last invention of the Hollywood "elite" did.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Today’s OPTEMPO Effects on Tomorrow’s Guard and Reserves 

The elephant in the military's living room today has to be the question of what effect the great demands made on the Guard and Reserve hold for the future of these essential components of the Armed Forces. There is no denying that a war can not be effectively fought today without their contribution, but some fail to see that this is by design. In the days of the draft, as large a military as needed could be made available and the presence of conscripts from across the country ensured that legislative interest in military operations was not limited to only those States and districts that hosted major military installations. With the advent of the all-volunteer force, however, this balancing effect of the conscripts was lost. The emergent importance of the Guard and Reserve, though, has replaced this as well as served the DoD's legislative purposes, buy ensuring that members of Congress from non-military centric regions still represent constituencies that have military concerns. For example, it is much easier for the DoD to request funding for pay raises or additional benefits or improved weapons systems if more members of Congress have an at-home interest in these matters. While all services continue to report meeting or exceeding recruitment, I am concerned that sufficient attention may not be paid to the long-term effects and structure of these essential components. In this discussion, I will try to look at the mobilization of forces we are seeing, how that mobilization is controlled and managed, my impression of the effects of mobilization and how the future of the Guard and Reserves can be better served. In this, I will focus more on mobilization of the Naval Reserve, as that is where my experience and expertise lies. While I will make the assumption that the effects are similar in other branches and components, I welcome any with specific knowledge in other areas to point out differences or things I missed.

Background. The mobilization in effect to support the GWOT was authorized under provisions in 10 USC 12302(a) (partial mobilization), that allows up to one million members of the Ready Reserve to be involuntarily ordered to active duty "for not more than 24 consecutive months". In accordance with policy set forth by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs this has been interpreted as "not more than 24 cumulative months", as it was understood that in the past the word "consecutive" had been used to justify mobilization of an individual for some period less than 24 months, returning them to reserve status and then re-mobilizing them for another extended period. While the Navy has mobilized some individuals more than once, it was the expressed intent to limit total time on Active Duty to less than two years every five, including processing and accumulated leave. In fact, I have heard that other branches have begun to press the "consecutive" issue but are facing a possible legal interpretation that matches Navy policy. While the Navy does have some individuals in the third year of mobilization, this was done by the member voluntarily transitioning their orders to authorization under 10 USC 12301(d) (voluntary recall) and was only authorized for certain mission essential requirements.

I believe the mobilization, however, has been somewhat different for the Navy than for many other branches, in that most mobilizations were performed individually rather than as units. Granted, many units were recalled in whole (especially commissioned hardware units like LCDR SMASH's Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare (MIUW) Unit), but the vast majority of people brought on active duty, especially in the initial response to 9/11, were individual members to meet specific individual requirements at the different commands. For example, NAF Misawa might have requested 12 additional people for security duties as a result of the heightened THREATCON (Threat Condition). Since there was no Naval Reserve unit organized for this purpose, the Reserve Forces Command (RESFOR) went out and found the first 12 qualified people they could, sent them orders and mobilized them to fulfill this requirement. In another example, BUPERS (Bureau of Naval Personnel) estimated they would need five officers to help in sourcing Active Duty members to fill emergent requirements in the AOR, so they went to the Pers-4 Reserve Unit (Pers-4 is the detailing branch of BUPERS) and the CO found (or coerced) five volunteers to mobilize (as a side note, this team eventually grew as it took over management, detailing and order writing for all mobilized Reservists). While individual mobilization to fill specifically identified requirements has provided greater flexibility for some Reserve Units (the Pers-4 unit, for example, has been able to mobilize new members, as needed, to fill the Active Duty roles of mobilized Reservists reaching their two-year limit, providing continuity of service and knowledge), it has also created additional bookkeeping problems by having to track who has been mobilized and for how long. And this, then, is where the keen reader can see the problems start to arise. How long can we sustain the support required under the existing authorization?

While some units, such as the Pers-4 unit, have been able to sustain support of a fairly large all-Reservist staff (Pers-4 supported 30 mobilized billets at its peak and currently about 12), this has largely been due to the influx of new personnel or borrowing members from other units and the fact that the knowledge required to do the job can be fairly rapidly learned by any Naval officer. There are, however, units known as "Low Density/High Demand", where either the need for specialized skill and training (such as cryptologists, combat corpsmen and Chaplains) or dedicated hardware assets (such as the IBU mentioned above) effectively limit the pool of available resources. The problem, obviously, is that once these assets are "burnt out" on their two years, that's it. There are two issues that have compounded this.

Issues. First, when mobilizations began in response to 9/11 a lot of people got called up for a lot of reasons. In some cases, I wasn't really convinced they had anything directly to do with what was then just known as Operation Noble Eagle, but the Component Commander requested, OPNAV approved and RESFOR identified so the member got mobilized. In all fairness, at that time no one knew what was going to happen and who we were going to need, so having a few extra bodies already on Active Duty "just in case" did make sense. By March 2002, however, OPNAV realized that a lot of folks' clocks were ticking and the Navy wasn't really getting much bang for their mobilization buck, so we began massive demobilizations. The intelligence and cryptology communities immediately recognized the danger of burning people out and being left with no bench for the long stretch, so those not actively involved in GWOT were sent home. The same thing happened with many of the Navy Coastal Warfare commands (MIUW and others), especially those in domestic locations that could be effectively covered by the Coast Guard. In the end, though, as a result of the uncertainty immediately following 9/11 and the mad grab for warm bodies some commands exhibited there were a lot of Reservists and even entire Reserve Units that were no longer full up rounds for two years of duty. In a lot of cases, that was fine, but, again, it is in the "Low Density/High Demand" area that this has most significance.

The second compounding issue is that two years does not equal two years. What I mean by that is, depending upon the individual or unit, any work-up or training needed, mobilization processing, equipping, transportation, etc. it can take upwards of a month to get people on station. The same thing happens when they're moving in the opposite direction, as well. Add to that 30 days of leave earned each year and that takes another two months off the available Active Duty time. Normally, I wouldn't worry about the leaveaas it is expected that people will take some time off, but when a unit is being deployed specifically for an expected one-year rotation in theater that changes the dynamic, as it is certain that almost everyone will return with a full 30 days on the books. Considering that legally the member must be completely off Active Duty (including leave) before the end of 24 months, it means that a two-year mobilization starts to look more like 18-months of actual time on the job. And if it is broken up into two one-year mobilizations you get even less time on-station since the mobilization and demobilization processes happen twice. So, to take the example of our friend in the MIUW again, assuming he hasn't exceeded 365 days active duty during his first mobilization, we still cannot reasonably expect his second year to really be a full year. What you end up with, in essence, is a deployment cycle that slowly shifts to the left a few months with each mobilization. It's the nature of the beast, but it still, in the long run, means you need more bodies.

Problems. This is where we get into something I don't see happening that I believe should be explored. In the Navy Reserve it's pretty easy to find a job as a LCDR (O-4) and below and most drill in local units. In fact, most enlisted folks I know stay in the same unit for most of their careers (unless the units change, disband or move). At this level, personnel are moved about and billets are filled largely at the local Reserve Center level. Once you make CDR (O-5), though, you have to compete for a limited number of billets in a national selection board or face assignment in a non-pay Volunteer Training Unit (VTU) billet. As a result, you will regularly find CDRs and CAPTs (O-6) who travel hundreds if not thousands of miles to serve in a paying job. So, while the CO and/or XO of any given unit may have never been mobilized and have a "zero clock", so to speak, the entire rest of the unit may be burned out, making them unavailable for mobilization. In fact, left to random Brownian motion of members in Reserve billets, just having a large number of burnt out members effectively prevents mobilization of the entire unit. And the converse, also, is true in that the situation is entirely possible that the only person unavailable for mobilization may be the new CO or XO who had been mobilized in their previous billet. I believe RESFOR should have been more proactively cross-training Reservists in higher density and/or lower demand units to meet the billet requirements of, for example, IBUs so that following each mobilization half of the entire unit can be replaced with "fresh" sailors fully ready to be mobilized. Only by conciously detailing all billets in these Reserve Units can RESFOR be assured they have deployable assets without having to jump through hoops trying to fill billets with unqualified sailors at the last minute.

This, however, just highlights something that is true in today’s Reserves that just wasn't true before. In today's war we not only find ourselves employing a force that largely was conceived and designed to fight a different war (i.e. the Cold War turned Hot), but we find ourselves replacing the paradigm of that Cold War Reserves with a new reality. Active Duty work for Reservists has always been available, if the Reservist desired, and many did. There was not, however, an expectation of such. The GWOT not withstanding, it is today openly discussed that a Reserve career without extended Active Duty will, in the future, be seen as a non-viable option. The force structure and support systems, however, are still largely based upon a model where mobilization is the exception and not the norm. In all fairness, I don't expect to be privy to all conversations between OPNAV and RESFOR, but I haven't even heard rumors of any frank discussion at upper levels if the change in service expectations can continue to be supported with the structure in place. We have had many Reservists who were mobilized and had to close or sell their private businesses or practices. We have had members who literally lost the farm. And, even after the Active Duty obligation is fulfilled full recovery may be years in the making. A lawyer who has to find his clients new representation cannot count on all of them to come back after he fulfills his service obligation. A computer software developer who looses two years of technology returns to a work place in some cases competely foreign to him. Whereas we once saw this to be exceptional circumstances, we are now saying this is to be expected two or three times in the course of a career. I have not seen any serious attempt to address this shift in thinking.

Ideas. There are many ways to look at this. On the one hand, we are fighting a war and the vast majority of Reservists I have talked to are proud that they have been able to contribute, even in the most minor of ways. Ad there is always the old "they knew what they were signing up for" argument as well. But we cannot ignore that as the war goes on (and it will) the patriotism of Reservists and Guard members may not continue to always trump other concerns. Many who are leaving Active Duty join the Guard and Reserves based upon the understanding that existed during the Cold War period. After all, if an Active Duty member is leaving the service due to family separation, will the separation anticipated as part of the Guard and Reserves be sufficiently less to encourage that person to continue his affiliation? Especially given a marked degradation in benefits made available. While recent changes have been of some use (for example, permitting Guard and Reserve unlimited use of Commissary privileges), they just aren’t enough, I think, to bridge the gap between expectation and compensation. If we are to continue to rely on the Guard and Reserve, not only in combat where it counts most but also in support roles during both war and peace, there needs to be more parity in benefits or I think we seriously risk loosing a lot of the prior Active Duty participation.

The first, most obvious area available for change is in retirement benefits. Reserve retirement pay is already less than Active Duty, as it is based upon a prorated 20-years of service on a point-for-day basis (in simpler terms, if the member has, for example, 3650 points, or the equivalent of 10 years worth of points, he is entitled to half the retirement pay he would have received as a 20-year Active Duty veteran). This is right and just, but most people outside of the Guard and Reserve don't know that after one retires they don't see their first check until age 60. As I mentioned earlier, despite legislation such as USERRA (Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act), mobilization can have real, long-term effects on civilian compensation. Even if one is guaranteed seniority while serving, there is no denying that the member still suffers the loss of experience and contacts, which directly relate to opportunity and promotion. While the member is drilling, this difference is compensated by the Active Duty pay earned, but currently that disappears upon retirement. Currently, there are thousands of so-called "gray area" Reservists who have retired but are not yet receiving benefits. While I freely admit I have a vested interest in this, I do believe the gray area should be eliminated and retirement benefits should be paid upon retirement. This means the Reservist, in the new paradigm, will continue to be recognized and compensated for the sacrifices made in his civilian career on behalf of the service. After all, if the Active Duty member sees less of a difference in service expectations between Active and Reserves, he should not see a glaring difference in compensation benefits either.

The second oportunity I immediately see is in health benefits. While I don't think all Guardsmen and Reservists should receive full Active Duty benefits, I do think they should be able to purchase, at a nominal cost, TRICARE benefits for themselves and their families (TRICARE is the military's version of health insurance). Often people are hesitant to enter into private business because of a loss of health insurance, but by allowing the Guard and Reserve access to TRICARE it provides them greater flexibility to have and build a civilian career that is more compatible with the anticipated demands of service. It also ensures continuity of care for the member and his family before, during and after mobilization. Again, as we are asking more from these members they should see a greater support network available to them.

Conclusion. So, are we approaching a crisis in the Guard and Reserve? I don’t think so, but I do see more warning signs than proactive measures to avoid the possible problem. In the late '70s we went through what many call the "hollow force", where the military was largely combat ineffective due to being stretched thin and a pervasive internal malaise. While there are many like myself who have so many years in that we can't afford not to stay, we need to take steps now to ensure that the young men and women leaving Active Duty today, the sailors, soldiers and Marines who really do the hard work, see the Guard and Reserves as a place where they will want to continue their military career. What we cannot afford is for the Guard and Reserve to become a place known for doing half of the work for a quarter of the benefits and none of the glory.

UPDATE: SMASH was kind enough to let me know I had inadvertantly placed him in the wrong unit when I previously said he was with an Inshore Boat Unit (IBU). He is actually with MIUW, another hardware unit that not only has small boats but can also deploy and monitor underwater listening devices to help detect submarines. While the point is still the same, the text has been corrected.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Adrift on the Stormy Seas of Public Opinion 

 Innocent, until I'm proven guilty.
Deny Everything! Deny Everything!
I'm being framed. It's all a set-up.
Deny Everything! Deny Everything!

- Circle Jerks

The blog natives are restless and they taste blood. They go to sleep each night with glorious visions dancing in their head of their personal April 9, as they connect the chain and drag down the towering statue of Dan Rather, then wake just as the sandals come off. With scant minutes to go before the promised CBS statement, I will go out on a limb and say that I don't think it will be what so many are hoping for.

Unfortunately, I only see more stonewalling and denial. Since there appears to be no "compelling legal authority" that would ever require presentation of the material in court, the only negative effect this scandal will ever have is on their credibility and caché, and it seems we may have reached the nadir of that effect. The only way to further damage CBS is by a self-admission of guilt, since there will never be a legal finding.

You see, in today's over-riding sentiment of "no absolutes" and everything, including truth, being relative, unless everyone, including CBS, admits to the falsification noone (at least in MSM) will definitively declare it as such. For eternity we will be reading about the alleged forgeries and the disputed documents. This is an effect of the liberal American culture that has anointed the courts as the arbitor of truth. There will be no trial, so they will never know the truth. Yes, the role of bloggers in trying to get the truth was vital and a great accomplishment, but I think it's reached its point of maximum effect.

Like other great deniers before, CBS and Rather will batton down the hatches, weather the storm as best they can and try to clean up after the storm.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Three Party System No Good? How About Four? 

A rather lengthy comment chain to a Roger Simon post addressing same-sex marriage veered off (as comment chains are wont to do) into a tangent on the viability of third parties in the American political landscape. The general consensus was that third parties have, traditionally, either died on the vine or supplanted an existing party, leaving us with, for better or worse, a generally bicameral system. This was certainly the story seen by the Reform Party that bounded on the stage just long enough to monkey wrench the GOP’s efforts in 1992 and complicate things a bit in 1996 before fading into relative obscurity. This discussion, however, revitalized a thought that has been swimming about in my head for some time and about which I wanted to write.

While politics in the US is generally viewed as consisting primarily of two parties, I feel that it is perhaps more accurate to think of this as two coalitions of two parties each. This election year, especially, has helped to highlight the internal divides within the parties and I feel that amplified internal stress within the parties is the most likely catalyst of significant change on the political landscape. Additionally, the perceived strengths of each element may also serve as motivation among other dissatisfied elements to drive toward schism as a means to assert their own ascendancy.

The Republican Party is generally equated with conservatism, but that actually represents but a part of its makeup. In this regard, I would define the Conservative branch as that group that believes in traditional moral and societal norms and believes that the government should do what is appropriate to either preserve or promote those values. This group, of course, includes the so-called Religious Right as well as other not so religious but less well organized individuals for whom traditional morality is important. Unfortunately for the Republicans, though, this also sometimes includes those who may wish to preserve old societal traditions that are not morally based (most notably racist and other bigoted groups). The second major constituency of the Republican Party I would call the Libertarianism branch. While not exactly the same as the big-L Libertarians we all know and love(?), the same ideals of smaller, less intrusive government and greater personal liberty (and responsibility) are common. While there are many in the Republican Party that share both Conservative and Libertarianism beliefs, there are also Conservatives that believe in a stronger government role in protecting morals and values as well as Libertarianists who are uncomfortable with "legislated morality" but who none-the-less make their home in the Party as a mater of practicality.

A similar duality is evident in the Democrats, where the semantic opposition to the Conservatives would be logically termed Liberals, but which I think is more properly identified by the nomenclature Activists. The Activists are really more of a coalition among themselves of specific causes (Feminism, Gay Rights, Animal Rights, Environmentalism, etc.) that originally banded together for strength in numbers. Over the years the Activist agenda has become more a package deal in that today one can almost count on a certain base level of support for all causes from any in this group. As with the Republicans, the Democrats also have an economic-based component, which I call Socialism. Now, before anyone gets offended or thinks I’m tossing out insults or whatever, let me be clear that I use this term to represent what I generally see in the Democrat Party as an emphasis in economic matters on the government supporting the society in which we live. Many traditional Democrat initiatives (New Deal, Great Society) are largely concerned with strengthening the social structures of America and ensuring the oft-referred to "social safety net."

What I think we are seeing in this election, though, is an amplification of a trend in the Democrat Party that began in the '60s: the rise of the Activists as the dominant force in the Democrat Party. With this shift, though, we are also seeing more and more disaffected Democrats that share Zell Miler's traditional values who are looking for other allies. This was also the motivation behind the infamous Neo-Con movement that began in the '80s. As a side effect, the stronger influx of Socialists Democrats into the Republican Party has helped strengthen the Conservative branch. This is seen more and more by the disaffected Libertarianists Republicans feeling betrayed by a party that seems to be embracing more and more big-government solutions. For the time being, these Libertarianists still feel they have no real alternative as the Democrats, by and large, are still more Socialist than the Republicans, but that may change.

This highlights the importance of perception of political viability as it relates to the various parties and groups. If the Activist Democrats unintentionally succeed in driving enough Conservative-Socialists into the Republican camp it may create a de facto Republican hegemony. It seems we are close to that now, and the unique pressures placed on the voting public to reconcile party loyalty with either support or opposition to the war only helps to exacerbate the dynamic. The only real question is if the Conservative-Socialists will find a comfortable home in the Republican Party and if the Activists realize what is happening in time to try and woo them back. If this hegemony does grow and is recognized, though, a new dynamic comes into play. For if the Libertarianists believe that their support and strength is no longer essential to Republican Party success there will no longer be any reason for them not to separate and work toward their own agenda. It is my belief that separated from big-government allies and united with big-L Libertarians this bloc will not be insubstantial. While they certainly have a degree of power in some isolated locations (San Francisco, Seattle, some parts of NYC), I do not think the Activists by themselves could ever be more than a minority interest. The question then in this possible future political landscape is if the Activists stay outside the larger picture and degenerate into a fringe party or if they will recast themselves outside the current model of relying on government largess to join with the Libertarianists.

GEEK ALERT: If you don't want to wallow in my misplaced youth and joutney deep into the heart of geekness, you can stop reading.

A recent link from Glenn Reynolds reminded me of the vast amount of time in my teenage years spent with graph paper and dice playing Dungeons and Dragons, and I saw in that game a parallel with some of the political ideas expressed above. In D&D, a characters' (and even creatures') general nature was expressed as alignment. In the original game, alignment was defined as Lawful, Neutral or Chaotic. While most people tended to treat this as equivalent to Good/Evil, it really was meant on a more metaphysical level and came from Michael Moorcock's Elric saga (known today as part of the Eternal Champion), in which a cosmic struggle between Law (or Order) and Chaos (or Entropy) was ongoing and the role of great heroes in that war was important. With the release of Advanced D&D (or AD&D), though, alignment became more complex. Rather than just a one-dimensional number-line sort of scale, it had been transformed into a two dimensional grid where Law/Order (or Chaos/Entropy) was still relevant but with less metaphysical undertones, and into which Good and Evil had been introduced along the second axis. This then allowed a spectrum in which to define one’s nature. I think you can see where I’m going with this, and the obvious identification of Law with Socialism and Chaos with Libertarianism. I will leave it to the individual reader to decide how the Good/Evil and Conservative/Activism correlation is to be made. By thinking of this as a graph on which one’s individual tendencies toward the different extremes can be represented it is quite easy to see how a Conservative-Socialist can easily find more in common with a Conservative-Neutral than an increasingly marginalized and extreme Activist-Socialist party. I find thinking of individual groups in this way helps to identify some of the clearly labeled sub-groups (for example, Libertarians can be considered Libertarianism-Neutrals while true Anarchists are clearly Libertarianism-Activists). This isn’t really anything new, but thought I’d just put a geek-twist on it.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Trapped in Your Own Brilliance 

Cap'n Ed lambasts Tom Shales' Washington Post review of the RNC to date for the sheer smugness evidenced. I couldn't agree more, but see it as just another symptom of the same illness the Democrats have long suffered. Just let Shales' own words speak for him:
"People [i.e. We] don't commonly associate adjectives like 'cool' and 'hip' with the Republican Party, but ... the GOP [is] more media-hip and glitzy than the Democrats"

That one word, "but", sums up the problem the Democrats just can't get past. We saw the exact same use of that word in Howell Raines’ editorial on the intelligence of the candidates, where he basically said "everybody knows Kerry is more intelligent, but Bush has had some significant successes".

The Democrats have convinced themselves of their complete intellectual, moral and philosophical superiority and it is such an ingrained paradigm of their very political existence that they are completely blinded to any possibility that they might be wrong about any of their assumptions. This is so much the case that anything contradicting the doctrine is explained as an anomaly, an exception, a "but". After all, Bush's successes couldnt' possibly be an indication of intelligence since we already know he's an idiot. A black Republican has to be an oddity because it's common knowledge that Republicans are racists. An elected Republican that is supportive of gays or women or any other "traditional" Democrat constituency is just an odd ball because those people are homophobes, sexist and bigotted to the core. Everybody knows that!

The Republican party, for all its stereotype of old-boy stodginess, not only has members that are less than hard on the part line, but, like Guiliani and Schwarzenegger and countless others, embraces and celebrates them. I feel this "new blood" and a willingness to revisit, discuss and explore a true variety of opinions is what has made the Republican party more popular of late, and until the Democrats realize this they will be left holding their "buts" and wondering why they are watching the Republicans be sworn in.

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