Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Question for Liberals

OK, time to fess up: how many of you were absolutely convinced that the Bush administration had bin Laden captured or killed and ready to trot out before the cameras in October 2002, 2004, 2006, and/or 2008?  My impression was that an awful lot of liberals believed that an October Surprise was coming in most of those years, especially 2004 (I think it had pretty much faded by 2008, although I do think I still heard it then).  Did you?  Did people you spoke with?  I'd be very interested in hearing your October Surprise paranoia stories -- feel free to attribute it to a "friend" if you want! 


  1. The October Surprise I was actually convinced was going to happen in 2004 was a pardon of Jonathan Pollard. To this day I'm surprised he didn't do it.

  2. I never believed they had Bin Laden. I don't remember talking to anyone who did either. I was much more willing to believe in the incompetence of the Bush administration than their sinister omni-competence (this is a good policy to follow when considering almost any group).

    I remember being concerned about various October Surprises around the 2008 election. The lack of them, and the gracious way Bush handled the turnover in general was one of the only things that ever impressed me about him.

  3. I fall somewhere between you (Jonathan) and Jim. While I wasn't absolutely convinced that Bush had Bin Laden somewhere ready to trot out for election day, I equally would not have been surprised (I suppose this speaks to my cynicism about George W. Bush and the modern day Republican party) had it come out that Bin Laden was captured and kept hidden away in order to tilt the election towards the GOP.

  4. When Bush turned his focus to Iraq, it was pretty clear he wasn't thinking about Bin Ladin, and there are enough of his quotes that are consistent with this idea.

    I always anticipate some cynical last minute ploy from the Rethugs, but I don't recall anyone seriously entertaining the notion you suggest.


  5. In 2004, the Repubs didn't need an October Surprise when they had Ken Blackwell running the election show in OH, so no major surprise then.

    As for 2008, I was surprised Bush/Rove didn't have something underhanded cooked up -- along terrorism/nat'l security lines -- to reward their loyal Bush-hugging boy John McCain and play to his perceived strengths. Or did the unplanned for financial meltdown of mid-Sept put a damper on those plans -- i.e., might have made a planned October "terrorist plot/elevated alert" plan look rather suspicious and too-convenient as McCain was dropping in the polls following his bust of a performance over the financial crisis.

    Not that I'm a conspiracy theorist or anything. Except for a few recent stolen presidential elections, some assassinations in the 60s, Watergate, IranContra and a few other items, I'm not really inclined to go there ...

  6. I thought there was a chance that Cheney would stage a near-miss terror attack in the US late in 2008 and that the elections would be suspended by executive order in deference to The Present Security Crisis.

    I gues that says something about me; I hope it says more about my opinion of Cheney.

  7. I'm not sure I ever heard that one.

    I expected what we got: NH phone jamming, very iffy electronic voting, even iffier counting (see Ohio), voter caging, roll purging, bogus prosecutions from a politicized DoJ, nonsensical terror alerts...

  8. I never believed that, in part because I didn't think they had the restraint or foresight necessary to forego a brief popularity bump RIGHT NOW, whenever the capture or kill might have occurred. Think of the various Bush-administration statements to the effect that "We found the WMDs" whenever some small-scale chemical weapons operation was uncovered. It takes discipline not to do stupid stuff like that, and they never had it.

  9. I wasn't expecting any national security stuff in 2008, but I was expecting a more aggressive "Obama's a foreign Muslim radical" campaign in October, to the extent where I figured they would trot out some more Jeremiah Wright-like characters from Obama's past, or some "eyewitnesses" to his lack of patriotism, like the swift boat vets.

    Instead they gave us Joe the Plumber.

  10. Like Michael, I never thought it myself nor talked to anyone who did. A combination of the overriding sense of incompetence and the fact that they frequently deployed what appeared to be conveniently-timed jumps in the "Terror Alert." They found something that required essentially no up-front work (plenty of after the fact work and costs) and is at once craven, effective, and repeatable, unlike actually capturing, holding, and timing the reveal of a bin Laden capture/kill.

  11. I don't recall hearing it first hand, but I saw plenty of it in comments at places like DKos and TPM. In fact one thing that dismayed me in the Bush era was seeing so much conspiratorial thinking on the left. But that is assuming that the commenters on the 'big' blogs reflects broad sentiment out there.

  12. Rick,

    For me, the thing was that the Bush admin kept surprising me with the things I thought that even a really bad admin just wouldn't do. They pretty clearly had very few internal constraints.

    However, I doubted their competence. But if Bush had lost in 2004, while I wouldn't predict it, at that point I wouldn't have been *surprised* at marital law. (Ok, I would have been, but then I would have wondered why I was surprised.)

    I recognise that certain extrapolations are unlikely, e.g., just because Obama has an assassination list with a US citizen on it doesn't mean he, or any near term admin, can have roaming death squads in the US. But manipulating the terror alert level for election purposes was a standard move!

  13. It wouldn't have surprised me a bit in 2004, though it was very apparent that the bushies were way too incompetent to pull it off. As for it being dismissed as a "conspiracy theory," well, just remember how they manipulated the capture of Sadaam, and what a huge boost in approval they garnered. As well, they regularly manipulated the terror alerts for political purposes. That's a documented fact, and as a matter of fact they *did* issue a false terror alert in 2004 during the Democratic National Convention, and pushed Tom Ridge to raise it again in October 2004 to help Bush's reelection campaign, according to Ridge himself.

    So why would it be out of the realm of possibility that, if anyone in that administration had the wherewithal to capture Osama bin Ladin "dead or alive" they wouldn't have manipulated that extremely important news for maximum political benefit? We are talking Karl Rove and Dick Cheney here.

    So I don't know what your definition of "believe" is, nobody I know actually "believed" they *were going to do that* it was more of a joking thing in the blogosphere where I hung out.

    2002 it wasn't really an issue, the Dems rolled over for the AUMF. 2006, well we saw the vote manipulation and suppressing in 2004 and I personally was surprised that Rove with his private math couldn't pull that off again. (Remember Florida 2000, Ohio 2004, New Hampshire phone jamming scandal, caging, etc.) Still, it was jokingly thrown out there in the blogosphere (and among friends) that their only chance to win was to produce bin Ladin. But I wouldn't put it up there with a serious "conspiracy theory."

    Don't you think they would have done it if they could? I do.

  14. "Absolutely convinced" is a strong term. I wondered about it, but I never considered it especially likely. My penchant for conspiratorial thinking tends to consist of scattered thoughts crossing my mind, which I quickly discount as soon as I give them any serious consideration. That's what happens to me, for example, at the idea that new coke was a publicity stunt.

  15. In 2004 I self-identified as a conservative (despite voting mostly Democratic) largely because all the vocal campus liberals seemed to believe that sort of thing. That conspiratorially despairing faith in the opponent's "sinister omnicompetence" (great locution, Jim!) -- though I don't remember having heard much of this particular thought.

    Of course now I don't want to call myself a conservative (despite having lots of conservative views) because so much of the vocal crazy is on that side. As a resident of Brooklyn plus five (!) different college towns since 2001, however, I can attest that there's still a lot of vocal crazy on the left. Worse in England afaict, and rather prominent even when Labour's in charge, unlike here.

  16. Yeah, there are is a lot of "conspiracy theories" on the radical left. The radical left as in the anti-corporist greens, the ANSWER crowd, the truthers, the larouchies, the free Mumias, and so on. So I guess you'd see those types on college campuses. These fringe groups shouldn't be confused with "liberals," especially the "liberal" blogosphere. Most of the "liberal" side of the blogosphere are pretty mainstream in their views, unless you are starting out from the conservative right.

    In fact, if you browse through this excellent survey The Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard University Role of Government survey (pdf) you'll see a surprising proportion of the adult population hold quite "liberal" views of the government role, even when they describe themselves as politically conservative. By contrast, the Beltway has a decidedly conservative bias, and living in an information bubble as they do, have been convinced that the folks who inhabit the liberal blogosphere are about as fringe far left as it gets in America. Obviously, they couldn't be more wrong.

    I always presumed that Prof. Bernstein was addressing the "liberals" meaning the people who inhabit the liberal blogosphere, but I may be wrong about that. Jonathan, what is your assessment of the liberals who answer your Sunday questions? Wild-eyed liberal? Sallow-depressive liberal? Mainstream Democrats? Larouchie types? Inquiring minds want to know.

  17. The thing I always heard was that Bush would cancel the elections because of some national security thing. Never believed it, especially in 2008- hell, by then he was clearly BEGGING to get out of the White House.

  18. James,

    Yup, that's exactly what I mean -- people who are more or less mainstream Dems.

    (BTW, everyone: LaRouchies aren't "left" in any way, although I don't suppose they're "right" either).

    Of course, everyone is welcome to answer the question for liberals, regardless (and everyone is welcome to answer the question for conservatives, although I do appreciate it when those who don't self-identify but want to comment anyway let us know that, which is pretty much what people do).

    Oh, and as for myself, when I heard people say those things in 2004 I told them pretty much what Chris said above.

  19. I heard enough of it, being in Berkeley through '06 and academia the whole time, but never from anyone serious.

    Now, did I hear it from people who thought it might happen not by intent but by damn luck? Yeah.

    And I know a lot of people, myself included, who didn't necessarily think the terror alerts were timed for elections, but would not have been surprised if they were.

  20. James -- I'm totally on board wrt your liberal/left distinction. I'd classify the campus liberals I was thinking of as mostly mainstream Dem, sometimes flirting with the left. In general I've encountered more professors than students who would seriously associate themselves with the left; there's definitely something generational there.

    In England however (and my experience is mostly Oxbridge, but I also see this sort of thing in the Guardian) there seems to be a bloc of people on the left, with a genuine presence, who here would not be much listened to. Of course, England also has elected multiple MPs and EPs on explicitly xenophobic and racist platforms, who make Tom Tancredo et al. look measured, and the media don't take them seriously at all but they get ten percent of the vote in some cities. Always good to spend some time over there when I'm feeling low about the state of our political culture.

  21. The idea that the liberal blogosphere is mainstream liberal rather than far left seems to overlook Daily Kos, where I posted regularly for six months. Some of the people there are really extreme. Although conspiracy theories are officially banned there, that's a fact about its rules, not its demographics.

    And although most liberals I've encountered online have no use for truthers, there are other leftish conspiracy theories that are quite widespread. I'm always surprised at how many liberals I meet (online and off) who not only believe but practically take for granted that the 2004 election was stolen due to Diebold voter fraud.

  22. It's true that the dKos community is quite diverse. Kos himself is a mainstream Dem, and so are most of the longtimers, but I'd agree that the median Kossite is probably much more on the liberal side than most prominent blogs.

    But "extreme" is a relative term. As @classicist has pointed out above, the spectrum of political thought on this side of the pond is very, very narrow, at least on the left side of the spectrum. You just don't have a lot of hard-core socialists (the real kind) and/or committed communists in the "liberal" blogosphere, or participating in the public political conversation here in America. I suppose they exist in this country, but they certainly aren't visible (except perhaps on college campuses), much less participate in American politics or have any kind of power. State ownership of the means of production, for example, just isn't a point of debate in America. That's how the Republicans have controlled and defined the frame of debate.

    @Jonathan, but didn't LaRouche used to be a Dem? I refer to LaRouchies as on "the left" because here in Cali they set up shop on many college campuses espousing truther theories, anti-IMF stuff, free Mumia and a lot of way-out-there stuff that I attribute to the fringe left (as opposed to "liberal"). I certainly agree that it isn't a *coherent* left position, but I thought the liberals were tarred with LaRouchies like the right is tarred with Phelps.


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