Wait ’till next year…

Sports metaphors get used a lot in politics, but there are some key differences between the two endeavors. The biggest is that in sports they keep score.

For example, you’ll never hear a football coach explain after his team is outscored by seven touchdowns that they really won the game, but this fact isn’t being reported by the liberal media.

Nor does it work too well to hold a “Mission Accomplished” celebration three minutes into a contest, and then claim after getting routed that the game plan was excellent, but there were some flaws in the team’s execution.

In sports there’s a scoreboard, which means that, with rare exceptions, there’s true accountability. Thus when Isiah Thomas transforms the New York Knicks into a collection of wildly overpaid misfits, and produces a team featuring both one of the highest payrolls and worst records in the NBA, it’s considered a deep and abiding mystery that he still keeps his job.

Similarly, when Matt Millen achieves the feat of retaining his position as general manager of the Detroit Lions for seven seasons, even though the Lions have had an average record of 4-12 over that span, this is treated by fans and the media alike as freakishly inexplicable.

But what’s freakishly inexplicable in the sports world is completely ordinary in the political universe. Consider an Orwellian event held in Washington last week, when Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute and Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollock of the Brookings Institution debated the future of Iraq.

As usual, this debate represented the entire range of acceptable foreign-policy positions among Very Serious People, from Kagan’s view that we should stay in Iraq forever, to O’Hanlon’s view that we should stay in Iraq forever, but in a very nuanced and thoughtful way.

The highlight of the proceedings was provided by Kagan’s opening statement, which began with these words: “The first thing I want to say is that the civil war in Iraq is over. And until the American domestic political debate catches up with that fact, we are going to have a very hard time discussing Iraq on the basis of reality.”

Within hours after Kagan had graced the audience with his insights regarding the nature of Iraqi reality, fierce battles engulfed the country’s two largest cities, as various Shiite militias fought for control of neighborhoods throughout Basra and Baghdad.

This kind of thing is par for the course for Kagan, as well as for his brother Robert and his father Donald and his wife Kimberly. The Kagans all have full-time jobs analyzing Iraq for the benefit of the American public, and, in analytic terms, they’re currently on the equivalent of a 73-game losing streak.

The Kagans are always wrong about everything.

But does the fact the Kagans are always wrong about everything, often in ways so spectacularly ludicrous that it would be funny if not for all the dead people, have any negative effect on their careers?

No, it does not. This is politics and therefore there’s no scoreboard — or rather, in politics the score is kept by the players themselves, who change the rules as often as necessary to ensure the right team maintains the lead.

Thus Fred Kagan, who continues to be wrong about everything, is spending this year as a David Rubenstein Distinguished Visitor at the American Academy in Berlin, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto.

Thus Michael O’Hanlon continues to publish exquisitely nuanced and thoughtful and serious pieces in the national press about how everyone should still pay very close attention to O’Hanlon’s views regarding Iraq, although he, too, continues to be wrong about everything.

After they’re fired, maybe Thomas and Millen should get jobs with Washington think tanks.

(Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado. He can be reached at paul.campos(at)colorado.edu.)


  1. CheckerboardStrangler

    AEI and several other neocon brotherly love foundations, among them the Heritage Foundation, recoil at something that is accepted as a fact of life in other areas such as medicine, science, law, and manufacturing:


    Lawyers are required to submit to peer review if they expect to be board certified. Doctors are required to submit to it if they wish to have a board certification as well.
    Scientists submit papers which are peer reviewed on a regular basis, and in manufacturing the best peer review of all is…THE MARKET. There is no need to explore or remark on the latter. All I have to say is “the market” and the near universal reaction is “nuff said”, unless of course, we are dealing with a totalitarian regime in which the state manufactures a product and it is the only one available.

    So it is a curious combination of manufacturing and totalitarianism that comes into play whenever a member of one of these Washington think tanks issues one of their thoughtful analyses. The expectation that it will be accepted as gospel truth by the mouthpiece media and by their hoary sycophants is understood and tacitly agreed.
    Indeed it is a time honored custom for one reporter to talk to another at a White House press conference, then rush back and include the phrase “White House sources say”, so why should it be any different with think tanks?

    Truly this IS the “manufacture of consent” in a totalitarian state if ever there was one. The opinions are handed down from Mount Olympus and no one dares challenge the town crier when he unrolls the proclamation.

    “We’re an empire now, and when we act we create our own reality.”
    So spaketh the think tank.

    “The war in Iraq will only cost fifty billion.”
    So spaketh the think tank.

    “There are weapons of mass destruction in Saddam’s Iraq.”
    So spaketh the think tank.

    “The terrorists will follow us home.”
    So spaketh the think tank.

    “They will welcome us like liberators.”
    So spaketh the think tank.

    “The civil war in Iraq is over.”
    So spaketh the think tank.

    There exists, to my rheumy eyes, no marketplace in which the consumer can return this defective product and lodge a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, no council of elders in which a jaundiced observer can mount a rebuttal, and the town square in which bloggers can lodge a reply is oft-regarded as the exclusive province of tinfoil hat wearers, conspiracy theorists and America haters.
    Indeed I am sure that no member of a think tank will read either this column nor my reply.
    I can no more influence the perceived value of their edicts than Bullwinkle the Moose can influence the Cold War.
    There is no medium in which I can lodge a talkback on any sort of equal footing in which I can challenge these people.

    We live in a political climate in which opinion automatically transforms into fact by its mere utterance by a think tank. If lead came pouring out of their mouths instead of smarmy chickenhawk philosophy rants, alchemists would be running Fortune 500 corporations.

    JeffH in Occupied TX