Friday, July 1, 2011

Tomgram: Engelhardt, The President's Military Mantra By Tom Engelhardt Posted on June 30, 2011, Printed on July 1, 2011

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: The next TD piece will appear on Tuesday, July 5th. Have a fine Fourth of July! Tom]

The Militarized Surrealism of Barack Obama
Signs of the Great American Unraveling
By Tom Engelhardt

It’s already gone, having barely outlasted its moment -- just long enough for the media to suggest that no one thought it added up to much.

Okay, it was a little more than the military wanted, something less than Joe Biden would have liked, not enough for the growing crew of anti-war congressional types, but way too much for John McCain, Lindsey Graham, & Co.

I’m talking about the 13 minutes of “remarks” on “the way forward in Afghanistan” that President Obama delivered in the East Room of the White House two Wednesday nights ago.

Tell me you weren’t holding your breath wondering whether the 33,000 surge troops he ordered into Afghanistan as 2009 ended would be removed in a 12-month, 14-month, or 18-month span. Tell me you weren’t gripped with anxiety about whether 3,000, 5,000, 10,000, or 15,000 American soldiers would come out this year (leaving either 95,000, 93,000, 88,000, or 83,000 behind)?

You weren’t? Well, if so, you were in good company.

Billed as the beginning of the end of the Afghan War, it should have been big and it couldn’t have been smaller. The patented Obama words were meant to soar, starting with a George W. Bush-style invocation of 9/11 and ending with the usual copious blessings upon this country and our military. But on the evidence, they couldn’t have fallen flatter. I doubt I was alone in thinking that it was like seeing Ronald Reagan on an unimaginably bad day in an ad captioned “It’s never going to be morning again in America.”

Idolator President

If you clicked Obama off that night or let the event slide instantly into your mental trash can, I don’t blame you. Still, the president’s Afghan remarks shouldn’t be sent down the memory hole quite so quickly.

For one thing, while the mainstream media's pundits and talking heads are always raring to discuss his policy remarks, the words that frame them are generally ignored -- and yet the discomfort of the moment can’t be separated from them. So start with this: whether by inclination, political calculation, or some mix of the two, our president has become a rhetorical idolator.

These days he can barely open his mouth without also bowing down before the U.S. military in ways that once would have struck Americans as embarrassing, if not incomprehensible. In addition, he regularly prostrates himself before this country’s special mission to the world and never ceases to emphasize that the United States is indeed an exception among nations. Finally, in a way once alien to American presidents, he invokes God’s blessing upon the military and the country as regularly as you brush your teeth.

Think of these as the triumvirate without which no Obama foreign-policy moment would be complete: greatest military, greatest nation, our God. And in this he follows directly, if awkwardly, in Bush's footsteps.

I wouldn’t claim that Americans had never had such thoughts before, only that presidents didn’t feel required to say them in a mantra-like way just about every time they appeared in public. Sometimes, of course, when you feel a compulsion to say the same things ad nauseam, you display weakness, not strength; you reveal the most fantastic of fantasy worlds, not a deeper reality.

The president’s recent Afghan remarks were, in this sense, par for the course. As he plugged his plan to bring America’s “long wars” to what he called “a responsible end,” he insisted that “[l]ike generations before, we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events.” He then painted this flattering word portrait of us:

“We’re a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens. We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others. We stand not for empire, but for self-determination... and when our union is strong no hill is too steep, no horizon is beyond our reach... we are bound together by the creed that is written into our founding documents, and a conviction that the United States of America is a country that can achieve whatever it sets out to accomplish.”

I know, I know. You’re wondering whether you just mainlined into a Sarah Palin speech and your eyes are glazing over. But hang in there, because that’s just a start. For example, in an Obama speech of any sort, what America’s soldiers never lack is the extra adjective. They aren’t just soldiers, but “our extraordinary men and women in uniform.” They aren’t just Americans, but “patriotic Americans.” (Since when did an American president have to describe American soldiers as, of all things, “patriotic”?) And in case you missed the point that, in their extraordinariness and their outsized patriotism they are better than other Americans, he made sure to acknowledge them as the ones we “draw inspiration from.”

In a country that now “supports the troops” with bumper-sticker fervor but pays next to no attention to the wars they fight, perhaps Obama is simply striving to be the premier twenty-first-century American. Still, you have to wonder what such presidential fawning, omnipresent enough to be boilerplate, really represents. The strange thing is we hear this sort of thing all the time. And yet no one ever comments on it.

Oh, and let’s not forget that no significant White House moment ends these days without the president bestowing God’s blessing on the globe’s most extraordinary nation and its extraordinary fighters, or as he put it in his Afghan remarks: “May God bless our troops. And may God bless the United States of America.”

The day after he revealed his drawdown plan to the nation, the president traveled to Ft. Drum in New York State to thank soldiers from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division for their multiple deployments to Afghanistan. Before those extraordinary and patriotic Americans, he quite naturally doubled down.

Summoning another tic of this presidential moment (and of the Bush one before it), he told them that they were part of “the finest fighting force in the world.” Even that evidently seemed inadequate, so he upped the hyperbole. “I have no greater job,” he told them, “nothing gives me more honor than serving as your commander in chief. To all of you who are potentially going to be redeployed, just know that your commander in chief has your back... God bless you, God bless the United States of America, climb to glory.”

As ever, all of this was overlooked. Nowhere did a single commentator wonder, for instance, whether an American president was really supposed to feel that being commander in chief offered greater “honor” than being president of a nation of citizens. In another age, such a statement would have registered as, at best, bizarre. These days, no one even blinks.

And yet who living in this riven, confused, semi-paralyzed country of ours truly believes that, in 2011, Americans can achieve whatever we set out to accomplish? Who thinks that, not having won a war in memory, the U.S. military is incontestably the finest fighting force now or ever (and on a “climb to glory” at that), or that this country is at present specially blessed by God, or that ours is a mission of selfless kindheartedness on planet Earth?

Obama’s remarks have no wings these days because they are ever more divorced from reality. Perhaps because this president in fawning mode is such an uncomfortable sight, and because Americans generally feel so ill-at-ease about their relationship to our wars, however, such remarks are neither attacked nor defended, discussed nor debated, but as if by some unspoken agreement simply ignored.

Here, in any case, is what they aren’t: effective rallying cries for a nation in need of unity. Here’s what they may be: strange, defensive artifacts of an imperial power in visible decline, part of what might be imagined as the Great American Unraveling. But hold that thought a moment. After all, the topic of the president’s remarks was Afghanistan.

The Unreal War

If Obama framed his Afghan remarks in a rhetoric of militarized super-national surrealism, then what he had to say about the future of the war itself was deceptive in the extreme -- not lies perhaps, but full falsehoods half told. Consider just the two most important of them: that his “surge” consisted only of 33,000 American troops and that “by next summer,” Americans are going to be so on the road to leaving Afghanistan that it isn’t funny.

Unfortunately, it just ain’t so. First of all, the real Obama surge was minimally almost 55,000 and possibly 66,000 troops, depending on how you count them. When he came into office in January 2009, there were about 32,000 American troops in Afghanistan. Another 11,000 had been designated to go in the last days of the Bush administration, but only departed in the first Obama months. In March 2009, the president announced his own “new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan” and dispatched 21,700 more troops. Then, in December 2009 in a televised speech to the nation from West Point, he announced that another 30,000 would be going. (With “support troops,” it turned out to be 33,000.)

In other words, in September 2012, 14 months from now, only about half the actual troop surge of the Obama years will have been withdrawn. In addition, though seldom discussed, the Obama “surge” was hardly restricted to troops. There was a much ballyhooed “civilian surge” of State Department and aid types that more than tripled the “civilian” effort in Afghanistan. Their drawdown was recently addressed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but only in the vaguest of terms.

Then there was a major surge of CIA personnel (along with U.S. special operations forces), and there’s no indication whatsoever that anyone in Washington intends reductions there, or in the drone surge that went with it. As a troop drawdown begins, CIA agents, those special ops forces, and the drones are clearly slated to remain at or beyond a surge peak.

Finally, there was a surge in private contractors -- hired foreign guns and hired Afghans -- tens of thousands of them. It goes unmentioned, as does the surge in base building, which has yet to end, and the surge in massive citadel-style embassy building in the region, which is assumedly ongoing.

All of this makes mincemeat of the idea that we are in the process of ending the Afghan war. I know the president said, “Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.” And that was a foggy enough formulation that you might be forgiven for imagining more or less everything will be over “by 2014” -- which, by the way, means not January 1st, but December 31st of that year.

If what we know of U.S. plans in Afghanistan plays out, however, December 31, 2014, will be the date for the departure of the last of the full Obama surge of 64,000 troops. In other words, almost five years after Obama entered office, more than 13 years after the Bush administration launched its invasion, we could find ourselves back to or just below something close to Bush-era troop levels. Tens of thousands of U.S. forces would still be in Afghanistan, some of them “combat troops” officially relabeled (as in Iraq) for less warlike activity. All would be part of an American “support” mission that would include huge numbers of “trainers” for the Afghan security forces and also U.S. special forces operatives and CIA types engaged in “counterterror” activities in the country and region.

The U.S. general in charge of training the Afghan military recently suggested that his mission wouldn’t be done until 2017 (and no one who knows anything about the country believes that an effective Afghan Army will be in place then either). In addition, although the president didn’t directly mention this in his speech, the Obama administration has been involved in quiet talks with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to nail down a “strategic partnership” agreement that would allow American troops, spies, and air power to hunker down as “tenants” on some of the giant bases we've built. There they would evidently remain for years, if not decades (as some reports have it).

In other words, on December 31, 2014, if all goes as planned, the U.S. will be girding for years more of wildly expensive war, even if in a slimmed down form. This is the reality, as American planners imagine it, behind the president’s speech.

Overstretched Empire

Of course, it’s not for nothing that we regularly speak of the best laid plans going awry, something that applies doubly, as in Afghanistan, to the worst laid plans. It’s increasingly apparent that our disastrous wars are, as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry recently admitted, “unsustainable.” After all, just the cost of providing air conditioning to U.S. personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan -- $20 billion a year -- is more than NASA’s total budget.

Yes, despite Washington's long lost dreams of a Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East, some of its wars there are still being planned as if for a near-eternity, while others are being intensified. Those wars are still fueled by overblown fears of terrorism; encouraged by a National Security Complex funded to the tune of more than $1.2 trillion annually by an atmosphere of permanent armed crisis; and run by a military that, after a decade of not-so-creative destruction, can’t stop doing what it knows how to do best (which isn't winning a war).

Though Obama claims that the United States is no empire, all of this gives modern meaning to the term “overstretched empire.” And it’s not really much of a mystery what happens to overextemded imperial powers that find themselves fighting “little” wars they can’t win, while their treasuries head south.

The growing unease in Washington about America’s wars reflects a dawning sense of genuine crisis, a sneaking suspicion even among hawkish Republicans that they preside ineffectually over a great power in precipitous decline.

Think, then, of the president’s foreign-policy-cum-war speeches as ever more unconvincing attempts to cover the suppurating wound that is Washington’s global war policy. If you want to take the temperature of the present crisis, you can do it through Obama’s words. The less they ring true, the more discordant they seem in the face of reality, the more he fawns and repeats his various mantras, the more uncomfortable he makes you feel, the more you have the urge to look away, the deeper the crisis.

What will he say when the Great American Unraveling truly begins?

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute's His latest book is The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books).

Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt

© 2011 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.
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US Reaching out to Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt Posted on 07/01/2011 by Juan Cole

The Obama administration has decided to open direct contacts with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood long ago gave up violence and has been a responsible parliamentary actor for many years, though it largely promotes right-wing policies. People who believe in democracy should welcome the incorporation into the parliamentary process of all major political blocs, and the Brotherhood is among Egypt’s largest. Of course, that welcome depends on the party’s willingness to play by parliamentary rules– to seek to win political arguments by persuasion, to avoid violence, and to contest elections in a transparent way and to go home if you lose. So far there is no evidence that the Brotherhood’s party would not play by those rules, and its party functionaries insist that of course they will. More on the Brotherhood can be found at MERIP.

I called for a more straightforward relationship between the US and the Brotherhood in my book, Engaging the Muslim World (which apparently George W. Bush and his administration would not have wanted you to read.)

The Brotherhood has blown hot and cold on Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, which most Egyptians critique as a separate peace that allowed Israel to attack Lebanon at will and to expropriate the Palestinians on a vast scale. Still, a just-released poll shows that 2/3s of Egyptians want to keep the treaty intact. Egyptians of an older generation remember the hardships of the Arab-Israeli Wars, and have told the youngsters about the meatless days and bad economic times, apparently to some effect. A founder of the Freedom and Justice Party, Usama Gado, has said that past treaties signed by Egypt that benefit the people should be retained. Freedom and Justice is the Brotherhood’s new political party (or at least one of them; the young people may go in a different direction). Some other Muslim Brotherhood members sympathize with Hamas and want the treaty abrogated.

But the US has diplomatic relations with many countries that do not recognize Israel and have no peace treaty with it. It is not clear why its diplomats should treat the Brotherhood differently.

Personally, I don’t like most of the Brotherhood’s policies and wouldn’t vote for them, but then I feel the same way about many evangelical-Republican positions in South Carolina. It is better to have them in the system where we can argue with them publicly.

The French ambassador on Thursday met with the leader of the Justice and Development Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is contesting for seats in about half of Egypt’s parliamentary constituencies.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Readings from Sunday, June 25, 2011 @ Trinity Lutheran church, Ingleside, IL

WHO IS ALEXANDRA PETRI (permalink): What does Barack Obama think about same-sex marriage?

Like the editors of the New York Times, we have no idea. That said, we were struck by this morning’s scolding editorial on the subject.

This is one of the ways we liberals lose, the analysts sadly said.

The editors believe that Obama should declare his support for same-sex marriage. On the merits, that would be fine with us, but we were struck by the political cluelessness evinced all through their piece. In this passage, the editors explain the politics of the matter as they understand it:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (6/27/11): Why is Mr. Obama so reluctant to say the words that could lend strength to a national effort now backed by a majority of Americans?

In the 2008 campaign, when Mr. Obama said he supported civil unions and believed marriage should be between men and women, he may have wanted to appeal to slightly more conservative voters who were wary of him.

After he took office, it became evident that Republicans intended to portray him as a radical, out-of-touch leftist no matter what he did. Supporting same-sex marriage at this point is hardly going to change that drumbeat, and any voter for whom that is a make-or-break issue will probably not be an Obama supporter anyway.

Firm support for gay marriage is, on the other hand, likely to help him among his cheerless base. Mr. Obama opposes the Defense of Marriage Act and is presiding over the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He signed the United Nations declaration on gay rights, and allowed the Census to count same-sex relationships. But he has been absent from the biggest and most difficult drive of all.

Public opinion has swung toward acceptance of gay marriage since 2008; five more states and the District of Columbia have lifted marriage bans. Thousands of gay men and lesbians now possess marriage certificates and many former skeptics have come to realize that the moral foundation of the country has been strengthened. It is long past time for the president to catch up. He often criticizes discrimination with the memorable phrase, “that’s not who we are.” Favoring this discrimination should not be who he is.

“Why is Mr. Obama so reluctant to say the words that could lend strength to a national effort now backed by a majority of Americans?” When our intellectual leaders are so clueless, is it any wonder that we liberals have failed so badly down through the years?

Has support for same-sex marriage become a political winner on a national basis? It’s possible, but you can’t make that judgment by consulting the national poll to which the editors link. To the extent that this may be a re-election concern for Obama, his advisers would, among other things, be looking at polling results among unaligned voters in swing states. They would devote no attention to the numbers from large blue states like New York and California.

Those numbers would tend to tilt the outcome of national polls. But if we’re talking about the politics of this issue, they wouldn’t likely influence Obama’s advisers at all.

Is it possible that a declaration of support might help Obama politically in the ways the editors imagine? Yes, it certainly is—but presumably, a declaration could hurt him on the politics too. It’s typical of fuzzy heads like those at the Times that they can only imagine a good political outcome from a position they favor on the merits. Needless to say, Maureen Dowd was on the same page in her latest attempt to write a political column:

DOWD (6/26/11): The man who was able to beat the Clintons in 2008 because the country wanted a break from Clintonian euphemism and casuistry is now breaking creative new ground in euphemism and casuistry.

Obama is “evolving” on the issue of gay marriage, which, as any girl will tell you, is the first sign of a commitment-phobe.

Maybe, given all his economic and war woes as he heads into 2012, Obama fears the disapproval of the homophobic elements within his own party. But he has tried to explain his reluctance on gay marriage as an expression of his Christianity, even though he rarely goes to church and is the picture of a secular humanist.

Dowd is still eager to let us know what “any girl” would tell us.

For the record, “the country” had already had an eight-year “break from Clintonian euphemism and casuistry” when Obama defeated Hillary Clinton in 2008. But it gets no break from the ongoing plague of Dowdian dumbness. That highlighted attempt to imagine the politics is just astoundingly dumb. (Why would Dowd think that the politics of this issue would turn on the reactions of “homophobic elements within” the Democratic Party?)

Might we make a note about the foolishness of the editors’ eagerness? Let’s consider what Barney Frank recently told the Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg about this type of political issue. In this passage, Frank explains what Obama may have thought about same-sex marriage when we was a candidate:

STOLBERG (6/19/11): The White House would not comment on whether Mr. Obama was ready to endorse same-sex marriage. But one Democratic strategist close to the White House, speaking only on the condition of anonymity, said some senior advisers “are looking at the tactics of how this might be done if the president chose to do it.”

And Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who is gay, said in an interview that a top adviser to Mr. Obama, whom he would not name, asked him this year, “What would be the effect if he came out for same-sex marriage?”

“My own view is that I look at President Obama’s record, he was probably inclined to think that same-sex marriage was legitimate, but as a candidate for president in 2008 that would have been an unwise thing to say,” Mr. Frank said. “And I don’t mean that he’s being hypocritical. I mean that if you live in a democratic society, it is a mix of what you think the voters want and what you think is doable.”

Duh. Frank understands the way American politics works. More specifically, he understands that it doesn’t all come down to the question of what Daddy (the president) says on some issue. In fact, gay rights groups have made tremendous progress in the past few decades without the support of major national Democrats on same-sex marriage. We can think of few major social movements which have had smarter leadership; part of this movement’s leadership smarts has involved the understanding that social progress comes from the efforts of an extended village—a village which may not include the president at every juncture. Gay rights leaders have been very skillful and very wise in the ways they’ve negotiated national politics. On the other hand, progressives are also stuck with the low-IQ instincts of society’s most visible clowns:

DOWD: Still, Obama’s reluctance to come out for gay marriage seems hugely and willfully inconsistent with what we know about his progressive worldview. And it is odd that the first black president is letting Andrew Cuomo, who pushed through a gay-marriage bill in Albany on Friday night, go down in history as the leader on the front lines of the civil rights issue of our time.

But for the president, “the fierce urgency of now” applies only to getting checks from the gay community, not getting up to speed with all the Americans who think it’s time for gay marriage.

Really? Dowd can’t understand why Obama, who must appeal to a national electorate, might defer to Cuomo, who is the governor of a socially liberal blue state? In similar ways, these savants often wondered, in Campaign 2000, why Candidate Gore sometimes took less progressive positions than Candidate Hillary Clinton, who was running in New York only. But then, this gang’s capacity for understanding nothing at all has long been its most obvious trait.

(Some readers will be old enough to remember when this same sort of analysis was adopted with respect to the death penalty, a killer for national Democrats as late as 1992.)

This brings us to today’s basic question: Who is Alexandra Petri?

Last Saturday, the analysts had finally had it! It had become fairly clear that Petri is now a regular Saturday columnist at the Washington Post. The analysts wailed when they read her latest analysis of the 2012 race. Once again, this was just fatuous:

PETRI (6/25/11): A candidate whose name I haven’t already heard a dozen times? Are you crazy?

Forget people. People can change. We don’t want change, in spite of what we said during the 2008 election.

Instead, we want brands.


The biggest complaint about the Republican primary field, so far, has been that people don’t already know what they think of the candidates. “I don’t have any preformed opinions about them,” they mutter. “Can’t we draft Giuliani?”

But it’s hard to blame us. Everywhere you turn, you can customize your settings. Don’t like Hillary Clinton? There’s an app for that. Don’t want any opinions from the wrong side of the aisle? Just click a button or flip the channel.


Palin’s flagging now—not because she’s changed but because she’s stayed the same, and we’re getting tired of it.

But old habits die hard. If the brand fails, we produce a shinier wrapper. Don’t retreat! Reboot! Rebrand! Mitt Romney unbuttons his collar. Miley Cyrus removes all her clothing and dresses up as a bird. Even Osama bin Laden bought into this; some of his e-mails suggested that al-Qaeda should just rebrand itself to build appeal. How about putting Jihad back into the name?

It would be hard to overstate the fatuity here. For starters, no one is trying to draft Giuliani; this notion came and went a few weeks ago in roughly a New York half-minute. Meanwhile, two relative no-names—Bachmann and Cain—have been the growth stocks in the GOP polls. Beyond that, is Palin flagging “because she’s stayed the same, and we’re getting tired of it?”

Good God, the analysts cried. Where do they find these people?

They were thinking back to one of Petri’s recent columns, in which she got all over Mitt Romney for his hair and his clothes (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/8/11). The analysts came to us with a question: Who is Alexandra Petri? they demanded. Where did the Post ever find her?

We thought the answer was interesting. The Post found Petri—where else?—at Harvard, from which she graduated in June of last year. Presumably, she has shot to her current status as a weekly columnist because of her fatuous take on political news, not in spite of it.

Petri is the daughter of a Republican congressman. In 2001, at the age of 11, she got a poem published in Highlights for Children. (Someone should have seen the problem coming.) Before too long, she was writing generally pointless columns for the Harvard Crimson (so what—she was just a college student) and doing stand-up at Boston’s Comedy Connection (no one is good when they start.) By the summer of 2009, she was interning at the Post.

By the summer of 2011, she was writing fatuous columns in the paper’s Saturday edition. She was reciting standard drivel about one of the candidates’ wardrobes; she was offering absurd accounts of why “we” have judged the GOP candidates in the ways “we” have done.

Can we talk? Thinking back on her earlier piffle about Romney, we were surprised by Petri’s youth. At one time, young people couldn’t get his fatuous this fast. It took a few years among the swells before they developed a nose for the inanity which constitutes mainstream discourse—before the natural spirits of youth gave way to the rigid demands of scripted political nonsense.

Petri has made it to fatuous very fast. For decades, fatuity has been the soul of the nation’s political press corps. Dowd advances the culture at the Times—and the Post has now found its own star.

Can a modern society run on The Stupid? Actually no, it really can’t, as we’re all finding ou
t at this point. That said, the nature of this death-dealing problem still seems quite elusive.

WHO IS ALEXANDRA PETRI! The analysts came to us with a question: Who is the Post’s newest

MONDAY, JUNE 27, 2011
The editors (attempt to) explain the problem with inequality: Last Sunday, Peter Whoriskey wrote a front-page piece in the Washington Post about the enormous growth in income inequality over the past forty years.

Yesterday, the editors discussed Whoriskey’s piece in their featured editorial. We were intrigued by the things they said—and by the things they didn’t.

As they started, the editors voiced their concern about the growth in inequality. “The details never cease to amaze,” they said—although they would soon ignore some of the most basic points Whoriskey made in his piece:

WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (6/26/11): There’s nothing new, alas, about the increasing gap between rich and poor in America, where the share of national income, including capital gains, claimed by the top 0.1 percent of earners rose from 2.5 percent in 1975 to 10.4 percent in 2008. Still, the details never cease to amaze. In a recent Post report, Peter Whoriskey documented the fact that the average executive’s annual pay has roughly quadrupled since the early 1970s, while average wage income has crept up only 26 percent. No one who cares about the social cohesion of a society premised on the idea that all men and women are created equal can view such statistics indifferently.

The question, though, is what to do about it.

In the highlighted passages, the editors took the progressive position, identifying this inequality as a major concern. For our money, they made little attempt to explain why they find this situation so troubling. But before we ponder that omission, let’s consider a few other things the editors said.

In his piece, Whoriskey focused on a changed corporate culture, a culture in which greed became good over the past forty years. From his first paragraph forward, he focused on this changed culture as part of the explanation for the growth in inequality.

But when the editors summarized Whoriskey’s report, they didn’t mention this thesis at all. Instead, they highlighted a familiar, shopworn explanation—an explanation Whoriskey had explicitly challenged. This was their full second paragraph:

WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL: The question, though, is what to do about it. Some of the growing income disparity results from long-term social changes or market forces that are either inherently benign or practically irreversible. The statistics partly reflect the spiraling rewards to superstar talent in entertainment and sports. The golden age of U.S. income equality—from World War II to the 1973 Middle East oil embargo—stands out as an exceptional time when American wage workers were still mostly shielded from Asian and European competition.

“The statistics partly reflect the spiraling rewards to superstar talent in entertainment and sports?” Presumably, that is technically accurate. But Whoriskey explicitly said that this explanation has been vastly overplayed; he specifically noted that athletes and entertainers account for only three percent of America’s biggest earners. We thought it was odd that the editors specifically cited this shopworn (and rejected) thesis, without ever mentioning the cultural change Whoriskey highlighted.

Did the editors read Whoriskey’s piece? We’ll let you decide.

As the editors proceeded, they offered a string of wonkish suggestions for governmental action. These suggestions were all focused on reducing upper-end income; none of them addressed the possibility of raising incomes in the middle. But let’s return to a more basic question: How well did the editors explain why this inequality is a problem? They seem to think it’s a very big problem. But again, this was the best they could do when it came time to explain why:

“No one who cares about the social cohesion of a society premised on the idea that all men and women are created equal can view such statistics indifferently.”

Plainly, the income gap has grown. Plainly, the highest earners are now gaining a larger percentage of national income. But why exactly is that a problem?

The editors didn’t say.

Alas! The editors adopted the progressive view—and they adopted a progressive instinct in the process. They seemed to feel their noble view was evident on its face. Unfortunately, we live in a society where corporate interests have spent the past forty years promoting ideas which undercut this progressive view. In the comments to yesterday’s editorial, you can sample the views of many voters who don’t see a problem with inequality.

Our view: If we progressives want to advance the reach of our views, we have to explain their merits.

As the liberal web has grown in the past few years, a great deal of liberal talk has rather clearly been aimed at other liberals. This makes us liberals feel very good. But there is one attendant problem: It changes nobody’s vote.

Why is income inequality a problem? For ourselves, we know where our own explanation might start. But what is the general progressive view? And why exactly is it so hard to answer so basic a question?