Does Size Really Matter?

Danielle Steele’s novels are automatically superior to Leo Tolstoy’s novels, right? That must be so if you adopt the logic of a common contemporary Republican talking point: Big documents are automatically inferior to short documents.

Increasingly, it seems Republican pols and pundits love to criticize legislative proposals by citing the SIZE of the package. For instance, they are forever scoffing at the number of pages, pounds and words included in Democrats’ health reform proposals. They imply that anything that can’t be read during a bathroom break should be considered a toilet paper substitute.

While the logic of that simplistic argument is obviously silly –- for instance, the disasterous Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was much shorter than the wildly successful legislation that created the GI Bill — it’s also important to not lose sight of the breathtaking hypocrisy of the argument.

After all, opencongress.org recently pointed out that five of the ten largest bills in American history were introduced by Republicans. The No Child Left Behind bill, fathered by Republican Speaker John Boehner, was 274,559 words at birth. And the Bush tax cuts legislation was also a tome. Worse yet, some of the words in these bills were rumored to be polysyllabic.

And really folks, so what? Both Republicans’ and Democrats’ bills are large and complex because — guess what? — they are addressing large and complex issues.

Why the Republican obsession with their partners’ size? The tobacco industry’s PR wizards of yesteryear privately confided that the primary product they were selling was DOUBT rather than cigarettes. That is, they had to make medical science seem so complex that non-scientists remained in doubt. Similary, Republicans’ focus on health reform girth is all about peddling doubt about life under a reformed system. Because when doubt sells, the status quo lives on.

– Loveland

Save the Tiger

What should Tiger Woods do?

Something other than what he’s doing, surely.

John Feinstein wrote Monday that Tiger, like most big businessmen, likes control. He’s carefully controlled his image and the media’s access to him, and now, by running down a fire hydrant and a tree, he’s lost control over the conversation about him.

Feinstein said Woods is probably being poorly advised. Just as likely, I’d say, that he’s ignoring advice. Hoping he can somehow hunker down, swear privately at the damned media (which, come on, is the conduit to the fans who give him his living) and feel like a victim. People with power love to blame the media for their own mistakes.

I know nothing of what happened, of course. Could be Woods was in a fight with his wife, over an affair or over salad, doesn’t matter, and he got royally pissed off and stormed out to his mini-tank and hit the gas. And the hydrant. And the tree. I’ve been that mad, done things that stupid, in fights with several wives (consecutive, not concurrent). Maybe his wife smashed the windows with a nice follow-through before he drove off, maybe after. Doesn’t matter.

If something like that happened, I’d advise Woods to say, “My wife and I got in a fight. Couples do. I did something incredibly stupid, and dangerous. For that, I’m sorry.” End of story. No more questions.

Feinstein offers this advice:

To speculate on what occurred is unfair. But only Woods can stop the speculation. Something got him into the car in a state so frazzled he literally couldn’t drive safely a few yards from his own driveway. He doesn’t need to go into a lot of detail, but it is best for Woods to admit that something happened because clearly something did. Woods should read this statement at a news conference and then answer questions. If anyone asks about the tabloid reports, he should smile and say, “Come on, guys, I told you what happened that caused me to leave the house; that should be enough. Can we please move on?”

What’s your crisis-management advice?

— Bruce Benidt
(Picture from Getty Images)

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Can Obama Make the Case for More Costly War in Afghanistan?

President Obama has a hard job ahead of him — convincing Americans we should keep fighting in Afghanistan, convincing us that the soldiers who are being killed and maimed there are serving our national interest and the interests of global security, freedom and democracy.

I’m tired of useless, ill-conceived and poorly executed war. Obama was handed a mess by BushCheney, and I find the easy way out very alluring — get out now. I think Obama is about to make a mistake, and I’m a huge supporter.

What he says Tuesday, what he lays out, will be a test of his ability to convey his vision, his leadership, and his skill in clarifying a horribly murky situation.

The New York Times Sunday Magazine had an excellent story on General Stanley McChrystal in October. It’s McChrystal whom Obama charged with figuring out what we should do militarily in Afghanistan, and McChrystal who’s asking for more troops. Is McChrystal the latest in a long line of military leaders who seem to be forward thinking for these new times but still seem to have one basic message — more troops, use force? The commanders in JFK’s administration

called for invading Cuba at the Bay of Pigs and during the Cuban Missile Crisis and called for a pre- emptive nuclear strike on the Soviet Union early in JFK’s term. The brass in Vietnam said with more troops and new strategy we could win. More troops and a new strategy is holding Iraq together for the moment, with baling wire and duct tape. And now more troops to help patch together a country that has wrecked modern armies, that we left high and dry twice in recent history, that isn’t really a country. More troops. More debt. More death.

As Dexter Filkins writes in the Times cover story on McChrystal and Afghanistan:

McChrystal’s plan is a blueprint for an extensive American commitment to build a modern state in Afghanistan, where one has never existed, and to bring order to a place famous for the empires it has exhausted. Even under the best of circumstances, this effort would most likely last many more years, cost hundreds of billions of dollars and entail the deaths of many more American women and men.
And that’s if it succeeds.

McChrystal has some new ideas and some new strategies, but he also has some of the same old military instincts — he was a passive part of covering up the death in Afghanistan by friendly fire of Pat Tillman under the secretive and misleading Bush administration. The military viewpoint is so often “just leave us alone to do what we see is right and we’ll take care of everything.”

Obama and America and the world have steep mountains to climb in Afghanistan. The wrong choice — and are there any other kinds there? — could leave terrorists a home base or could leave America bankrupt and bleeding. Or both.

I trust Obama’s judgment, but I hope the ghost of John Kennedy is whispering in Obama’s ear the lessons JFK learned dealing with our military during the Cuban crises — the military is subservient to civilian authority in the United States for a damn good reason. When you’re a commander of a huge military force, you see it as a solution to many problems and you want to use it. When you’re the commander in chief, sometimes you have to just say no.

— Bruce Benidt
(Photo from NYTimes.com)payroll calculator free nice