In Defense of Tom Junod. Sort of.
July 10th, 2012

For my money Tom Junod is one of the ten best essayists working in America these days. I’ll put his stuff up there on the high shelf with Andy Ferguson and Matt Labash and David Grann and Joan Didion. Don’t believe me? Go sit with his profile of Jon Stewart, his piece on Fred Rogers, his essay on the horror of 9/11–and these aren’t even his sizzle reel. I can’t find links to his opus on Lil’ Bow Wow and a piece on porn valley from the late ’90s that blows me away every time I read it.

All of which is why Junod’s 2008 piece on the Obama-McCain race was kind of heartbreaking. It’s not that Junod is a liberal and a Democrat and an Obama voter–more than half my friends and family checked those three boxes. It’s that it revealed that Junod’s approach to politics and politicians was . . . well, let’s just say the piece was embarrassing and not his finest hour and leave it at that.

So today Junod has a giant piece out about the President Obama’s killing of al-Alwaki’s kid. And Ed Driscoll drills down to the heart of the problem Junod faces: That Junod has become what he explicitly warned about in 2004. It’s a pretty tough assessment by Driscoll; but also pretty fair.

But that’s nothing like what Moe Lane does to Junod. His excoriation is just flat out brutal. And again, pretty fair.

The bigger question posed by Moe Lane’s vivisection is why more liberals haven’t turned away from Obama. There’s a small cadre of liberals, like Glenn Greenwald and Junod, who have criticized Obama on principle. And that’s great–God bless ’em. But you don’t see–or at least I haven’t seen–liberals publicly turning their backs on Obama and jumping ship. And I wonder why that is. There were plenty of Republican types whom Bush drove out of the party. (Andrew Sullivan, Kathleen Parker, Andy Bacevich, Jim Webb, etc.–the list is actually pretty long.) Why haven’t any lefty Dems done the same? As Lane points out, if you’re a liberal and you fell a-over-t for Obama and now you realize that he’s elevated cold-blooded murder to the level of routine executive prerogative, why haven’t you clapped your hands together, stepped away from the table, and said, “I’m out”?

Update: Moe Lane has a couple of theories here. What he’s getting at, I think, is that liberals are more partisan (by which I mean, more wedded to the Democratic party) than conservatives. That’s certainly possible. His alt-theory is that liberals are more repulsed by Republicans than conservatives are by Democrats–and so find the prospect of flipping, even temporarily, less acceptable.

A third theory might be that liberals have the Nader-Gore 2000 debacle still fresh in their minds and so basically subscribe to the Natasha Romanov school of political theory: That love is for children.

The only problem with this last theory is that the left fell so crazy in love with Obama. They didn’t just like him, admire him, support him in the way you would a politician like Dick Gephardt or Harry Reid or Joe Biden. They loved him, truly, madly, deeply. And my guess is that, despite everything, they still kind of do.

  1. Moe Lane » #rsrh Answering @JVLast’s question about why there’s been no liberal repudiation of Obama. July 10, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    […] is gratifying) to my written fist-to-the-nose to Tom Junod. The triggering for my response is from Jonathan Last, who (accurately) called what I did to Junod both ‘flat-out brutal’ and ‘pretty […]

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  3. Mustafa Sabuwala July 10, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    I think the reason is pretty simple. Romney is behaving like a corporate manager and simply not connecting to people at large. And the GOP is really behaving in batshit crazy fashion, which really scares pragmatic people, with their complete refusal to accept any reality of the 21st century, whether it is choice for women to abort or acceptance of gays as part of regular society.
    My observations from 15000 miles away. 🙂

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  5. Scott July 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Umm…can you give just ONE concrete/detailed example of; “…Batshit crazy fashion… you so deride? Just one?

    Mischaracterizing GOP positions on abortion and gays doesn’t really cut it dude.

    I believe I speak for most here when I state that I am glad you are 15K miles away and hope you stay there.

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  7. The left, the right, Tom Junod, and politicized killing July 10, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    […] more charitably. JVL is more charitable still, though he gets to the real heart of the matter here: The bigger question posed by Moe Lane’s vivisection is why more liberals haven’t turned away […]

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  9. Will July 10, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    Just out of curiosity, do you think Obama’s shift on national security is more significant than Bush’s drift to the left on domestic policy? Doesn’t Bush’s experience with the conservative base suggest that *everyone* is reluctant to throw their guy under the bus when he’s in office?

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  11. Jenn July 10, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    I think Mustafa’s comment about the GOP answers the question. It’s not based on any actual reality except one he has created in his mind, but it’s how he feels. For a lot of Democrats/Progressive, the Republican Party/Conservatives are simply the worst thing in the world – worse than terrorists, worse than drones, worse than the indiscriminate killing of innocents. Even though their actual knowledge of modern conservatism is based on caricatures, it’s what they believe. Better that hundreds of innocents should die, than that they should have to compromise their imaginary ideals.

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  13. SkinsFanPG July 10, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    JVL is not asking why liberals haven’t fled the Democratic party to the Republican party, in which case Mustafa and Jenn’s comments would be a possible explanation. No, JVL is asking why more dedicated liberals haven’t been driven into the wilderness (like Sullivan, Parker, Bacevich, etc… Webb is an outlier in that he actually switched parties, whereas the others acknowledge they are not Dems) by their distaste for Obama’s policies in executing the war. It’s an interesting question, but I think there is probably an obvious answer. Race. Once you have declared any opposition to Obama/Democrats is a veiled form of racism, it is impossible to seriously oppose Obama.

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  15. Galley Friend J.E. July 10, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    I’m gonna disagree partially, not completely, because his race is one element in what I think is the larger factor here. Time and again I hear people say that Obama “is the coolest guy in the room.” It’s faint praise, sure, but for a lot of the left with philosophical roots firmly in the ’60s zeitgeist even if they’re much younger, cool is the it quality. Being cool signifies that you know something the rest of us don’t. In movies, you never bet against the cool guy.

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  17. SkinsFanPG July 11, 2012 at 9:57 am

    Gonna disagree: if anything, the “cool” factor is largely defined by his race. Anecdotal evidence is not always reliable, but from the first-hand anecdotes I hear, race is always the deciding factor. I work with a bunch of 50+ year old scientists, none of whom are “cool” or give a crap about “cool”. What they care about is liberal doctrine, and the doctrine these days is “the only reason to oppose Obama is because he is black.” Again, if you spent the last 3 years screaming that all opposition to the president is racism, you can’t very well oppose the president, lest your friends call you a racist. It’s about race, it’s always about race.

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  19. Galley Friend J.E. July 11, 2012 at 10:54 am

    That whole racism charge is a vestige of the ’60s, when being “authentically black” became ipso facto cool. (It’s why Clarence Thomas, for ex, isn’t considered cool.) Isn’t that the new charge against Romney, that he’s “so white”? Anyway, I don’t believe for a second that your scientists and the NAACP and everyone else screaming racism actually believe what they’re screaming about. They’re simply trotting out a lie that they hope is still useful–and indeed it is, b/c the press dutifully plays along, as they did with Eric Holder’s NAACP address. We’ll find out in November whether everyone who in public claims they like and admire the president and think he’s doing a swell job really pulls the lever for him in private.

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  21. Mike July 10, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    I don’t see how anyone can be expected to abandon Obama when there is a binary choice, and the not-Obama will make it much more likely that Mississippi will ban some late-term abortions. This is to say nothing of the nominal reductions in the amount of money appropriated by Congress for contraception at home and abroad and the intolerable likelihood that settled federal law will continue prevent judges in North Dakota from using traditional conflicts doctrines to declare Iowa gay marriages valid. Barbaric.

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  23. Brando July 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    No need to even consider how the Republican would act on those other issues–as far as the War on Terror is concerned, liberals may be dismayed at how Obama has prosecuted it, but they likely feel (and not without reason) that the Republicans would be worse. And if you doubt this, consider why Romney and Co. have not criticized the drone strikes from this angle.

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  25. Syxmyx July 10, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    I think the answer is more simple: they are not flipping on Obama because they are not given an alternative. If Ron Paul had won the nomination for the GOP and he had promised to end all drone strikes you might have seen some of the liberals abandon the President. And if Hillary had won the nomination in 2008 and had said she would pursue the war on terror as bush had, those Republicans would not have voted for her as they voted for Obama.

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  27. DaveP. July 10, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    What’ll be truly hysterical is when President Romney starts using the Obama precedents- extrajudicial assassination of targets declared “terrorist”, appointed and unaccountable ‘czars’ instead of Congressionally-approved cabinet or bureau officers, the Department of Justice as a tool of partisan politics, official White House Enemies Lists with punishment meted out via federal diktat.
    What goes around, comes around… and what liberals cheered or ignored when it served their purposes, is likely to haunt them.

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  29. Steve Sailer July 11, 2012 at 12:43 am

    Maybe for the same reason as why Obama came to be considered Presidential Timber in the first place.

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  31. Nedward July 11, 2012 at 2:10 am

    I normally can’t stand this guy (Junod) because he works in that RollingStone/Sports Illustrated/I’m-your-knowledgeable -buddy vein, but it’s an interesting topic and I’ve thought on how I’d feel about the next POTUS, possibly a Republican, picking through the baseball cards and assassinating a couple guys per week. It started off somewhat treacly but otherwise going well (that friend’s theory about al-Awlaki’s soliciting bust was a deft touch) until I got to this choice bit of pious liberal catechism:

    “… The Iraq war killed tens of thousands of Iraqis, maybe more. The Afghanistan war is a trap from which we struggle to extricate ourselves. The first was vain; the second, in vain…”

    I’ll follow the thread of his reporting any time but ultimately whatever historical judgments made by people like Junod, about “the good war” or any other controversy, are compromised by their unreflective visceral partisanship. His kind is so wrapped up in a belief of their superior personal virtue that you can’t trust them on even the most macro sort of observation.

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  33. Nedward July 11, 2012 at 2:19 am

    I’d also note that, during that labored section where he attempts to isolate the ick factor around baseball card killings

    “And that is what makes the question so profound and so profoundly difficult. ‘For some reason, it’s an unusual and extraordinarily grave thing when you have an individual person who’s being singled out for targeting,’ says an administration lawyer…”

    the word “honor” doesn’t appear (it does, in an undoubtedly unintentional echo of Marc Antony, at the beginning & end of the piece). Such is the state of progs’ moral vocabulary in 2012

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  35. Chester White July 11, 2012 at 9:05 am

    “There were plenty of Republican types whom Bush drove out of the party….Why haven’t any lefty Dems done the same?”

    You cannot be serious. You have not figured this out yet?

    Democrats care about one thing: the power to tell other people what to do, while taking as much of their money as possible to buy votes.

    A large fraction of Republicans and conservatives actually BELIEVE in what they say.

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  37. Hamburglar Hank July 11, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    @Chester: Perhaps you give liberals too much credit – most do think they believe what they say and that the strength with which they feel it is proof enough that it is “sincere” and right (or close enough for opposing the real threats they are told to be against. Contradicting what they said and will say in other election cycles means nothing compared to agreeing with those they are told to listen to and respect.

    I think J.E. is mostly right: Their problem isn’t really their conviction or lack of it – they’re just dupes who want to be flattered and think they are superior (i.e. fundamentally unequal and more worthy of being so) somehow to others. They haven’t actually thought out any of the positions they spout (declaring themselves this or that, as bonafides of their worthiness) and feel so strongly about, or have ever soberly chosen their beliefs upon serious reflection about themselves and the world – they aren’t really even “liberals.”
    Most are just the more arrogant, privileged segment of the vast majority of conformist followers who “make America great/work” as their elected leaders tell them – more eager to please, like, and be liked by the right people – the in crowd, the cool kids in the know, than actually think, question, or doubt themselves or the comforting truth that they are on the right side, and stand together against evil, doing whatever has to be done, no matter what it looks like, calls for – regardless of whether they actually understand or can explain how or why they are right or advancing the great cause of goodness that they just know they are somehow a part of, because someone who sees more of the big picture tells them so and that agreeing with them should assure them and bolster their faith – they are good people, and by definition on the side of goodness with others, as good as they. Why, just look at their friends and associates – they are good, they all agree the others are bad, or, they “hope,” phonies at their core.

    Of course, I think the majority of republican/conservatives are really about the same in their behavior and motivations.
    That’s just how most people are. The main difference between the two may be that the liberal followers are a lot more arrogant and obnoxious, by and large, because they get their affirmations from a lot more places that breed and thrive on just that sort of unaware, groundless smugness and a needy faith in one’s own goodness and acceptability as the very basis of their status and authority. But for the grace of God….

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  39. BravoRomeoDelta July 11, 2012 at 10:38 am

    Ok, this is, to some extent, a bit of usual teapot tempest nonsense that keeps all of us political junkies enthralled, but I really do have to thank you Jonathan for your fair appraisal of the body of his work. I disagree quite strongly with Mr. Junod’s politics, but as you suggest, his writing as an essayist is something to behold.

    Although I like to imagine I’m reasonably well read (a common enough conceit), I don’t really put enough time and effort into it. As a result, I stick with the authors I know. Consequently, once in a while, I get to stumble across a new gem, and it’s fantastic.

    Thank you for that!

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  41. Joe Sixpack July 11, 2012 at 11:22 am

    I encourage you all to read

    Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg

    The reason why these folks (as opposed to Joe Sixpack who flips his vote easily from Democrat to Republican) never flip is because it’s their religion. Politics is their religion; the State is mechanism to immanentize the eschaton.


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  43. Joe Sixpack July 11, 2012 at 11:23 am

    wow my grammar bad. much sorry

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  45. Brando July 11, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    I think the main reason liberals haven’t abandoned Obama over this issue is they think the GOP would have done worse in his place–more drone strikes, etc. Sort of like conservatives angry about Bush’s high deficits, but not so angry as to want the Democrats in charge, as they’d likely spend even more.

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  47. MNP July 11, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    Well I’m a hardcore Dem but I’m not voting for Obama. But I live in North Dakota where that doesn’t matter. From my point of view almost any Republican would be even worse on this matter let alone any other matter so switching isn’t an option.

    Sanity on the right please.

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  49. Galley Friend J.E. July 11, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    Define sanity.

    You’re living among the blind and kvetching that the cyclops doesn’t have 20/20.

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  51. suthrnboy July 12, 2012 at 12:12 am

    So Republicans are “the cyclops”? I’ll stick with the blind, thank you very much!
    Great job at pointing out that Republicans are monsters and Democrats are just flawed human beings…

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  53. tom July 11, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    To elaborate on Syxmyx’s point and others who brought up Nader, think about the trade-offs. With Obama we get something we really like: health care reform and yes, I’ve got my personal reasons to really pull for the success of the ACA. We also have Obama partially carrying on with Bush’s bad precedents of grabbing authority to kill, kill, kill. If Obama succeeds, you get the survival of health care reform, and the continuance of those aspects of Bush’s foreign policy. If Obama falls, you don’t get health care reform and you go back to even worse instincts on foreign policy. Do the math. If I’m going to live in a police state, at the very least I want to be able to see a doctor.

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  55. Chuck Miller July 11, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    Why haven’t liberals left Obama?

    1) He has done EXACTLY what he said he would do… go after the terrorists. You can’t say you weren’t warned.
    2) When the economy is in the crapper, liberals worry much more about jobs. There is MUCH more disappointment about Obama’ s management of the economy than drone strikes.
    3) Nothing Romney has said give lefties any reason to vote for him.

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  57. Tom_B July 11, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    I am a really, really hard left liberal. Pro net neutrality, marriage equality, anti- gun except for the military (“the militia”, as it were). Pro healthcare. Mostly pacifist– as a non-Christian I would have applied– probably with success– for CO status had I been ever draft eligible.

    But I can’t fault the drone program. What’s the alternative:
    1) do nothing. Let homicidal criminals “walk”? Really?
    2) leave it to the locals? We got Bin Laden– the pakistanis have been so busy pretending to be outraged they haven’t yet thanked us.
    3) send troops? Put American troops at risk? Risk dozens??? Of troops, at great cost, for one gangster?
    4) B-52’s? Not humane; tons of collateral damage.
    It’s not a trivial problem. Cut Obama some slack; he’s got a Nobel Peace Prize– do you (let’s ignore former winner Henry Kissinger. They are only human in Stockholm).

    @Chester White: “A large fraction of Republicans and conservatives actually BELIEVE in what they say.”
    It’s the 21st century; I sure hope not or our nation is in far worse shape than I prefer to believe.

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  59. Hamburglar Hank July 11, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    @Tom B: “Let homicidal criminals ‘walk’? Really?”
    See, this is why Chester thinks you don’t mean what you say.
    After making it clear that you are a “really, really” good smart person in the know, you sloppily use words like “criminals” to justify your apparently strong desire that your leaders tidily kill “gangsters” for you (or, perhaps a secret desire to be the free from fear (of others – other “criminals” being in charge)).
    Okay, I believe you are truly bloodthirsty and want lawbreakers, or suspected gangbangers dead, out of sight and out of mind more than Precrime Officer Knott. But, you actually say you are a “liberal,” and 4 years ago, most self-declared liberals used similar words while “pretending to be outraged,” in order to dress up and codify what they really meant – They pretended Bush was a “criminal” because he did not respect the rule of law or treat alleged “”terrorists”” as the law-breaking “criminals” they were – refusing to bring them into court to be tried by a jury of their peers, but innocent until proven guilty, and if proven, certainly not subject to cruel and unusual questioning – just the usual, routine and humane sort of “punishment” all guilty people deserve (which always meant economical and efficient, unwitnessed drone assassinations, apparently)
    You (or the “liberals” who affirmed what you correctly think and feel) used to say/feign that Guantanamo “really, really” mattered, for serious, because laws and rights mattered, and that Obama’s promise to shut it down was “really, really” important for redeeming our national honor/dignity/meaningless elusive concept you all felt really really strongly and seriously about.

    For a long time, nothing was more important and nothing made you more of a serious, good human being than thinking and saying so. But now the whole issue of doing things right, for the sake of our moral honor and conscience is amusingly shrugged off, like some childish faze or or fad from the 80s, and dismissed in knowing, hard-headed tones, as too great a “cost” to even seriously ponder. It seems pretty widely accepted, without any regret or remorse or anger that Obama just spouted what was fashionable to say at the time for the sake of removing the real “criminals” (the domestically internal other/enemy within) from power.
    Indeed, much more authentic disgust has been expressed at the fact that Obama has let the criminal Bush just “walk,” without being dragged before congress or punished by a drone firing squad to answer for his crimes than about the fact that subsidized health care (and its modest costs and few headaches of complexities) became so much more morally urgent than caring a whit about constitutional powers, rights or international laws, or the hard work of crafting policies that abided by them.
    I guess it was clearer to more “liberals” (or easier to accept) that the moral outrage over due process of enemy combatants and their supporters was all just affect and empty rhetoric, than the fact that all that talk about Bush being an evil enemy/”criminal” other. Not everyone got the memo that the “pretending” outrage party is over. (The binge-hating made these poor, used souls bitter hate-aholics without any hope of satisfaction – more senseless, innocent victims of the great liberal cause to win and push “forward” toward “punishing” our gangster enemies in the other gang and being accepted by the cool people at any cost.)
    Of course, both these faux-beliefs just so happen useful to their pragmatic programmers and leaders, since issues come and go, but it’s always election season.

    Nah, just kill em all, let their families and companions sort it out – they’re probably all guilty of something anyway – too much cost and risk and collateral to think about the meaning of the words we use, now that we have the ball – just turn your attention and cameras toward Bain and let us put down the dogs (er, criminals, I mean, murderers, uh assassins – no, suspected enemy, terrorists – oh yeah, unseen foreigners or whatever). Feign some concern about risking the lives of our boys over there and move on.

    At least now we don’t have to be stressed out and sleepless – because we can trust our leaders and not worry about being bombarded with all the reports and self-righteous hand-wringing diatribes about sleeplessness and how much more stressed others are and we should be about the dark injustice and evil and blood America is guilty of because we somehow allowed the srong side – they who believe wrong dangerous evil terrible godless things.

    At least now, whatever’s going on in our name, it isn’t being done by them – the real others, who you correctly despise as the decent people you are because we told you so – voice your concern, to show you are serious and care, but just accept that some people have to die to keep certain difficult and complicated unpleasantries off your tv and out of your nuanced minds. Just call ‘em all, and yrself, whatever you want, for now – “gangster,” “liberal,” “humane,” “troops,””homicidal,” whatevs – (that’s the peace of mind Obama promised and won for you!), and just want them crazies dead (efficaciously, at low cost, under the radar, like a real American hero) to show how toughminded and realistic a baby-killer-kissinger-loving pragmatist conscientious objector you are, and then get back to attacking your real enemy with more meaningless words –the enemy within, who tries to hide behind our laws and uses them and their loopholes to try to confuse, oppress, and manipulate you like the wrongheaded, dangerous sucker ideologue phony others you hope/know they are.
    Who “cares” if you “mean”/understand/pay attention to none of the words you say to them – they are hypocrite phonies themselves. They don’t deserve anything but your disdain and lame, pseudo-provocations, half-assed “arguments” and pretended “beliefs” about “conscience,” “murder,” “crime,” “gangs” and “peace” prizes – it’s all the same, bra – all good (except them) – just call it “ironic” – no one knows or cares what that “word” means anymore either.

    Sorry, I just can’t believe anything you say – because I don’t understand what you all even think you mean by any of it anymore.

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  61. suthrnboy July 12, 2012 at 12:47 am

    I’ll take nearly anybody over the “fiscally conservative” party that was handed a surplus by a Democrat , then proceeded to blow America’s new-found wad on “emergency supplementals” for Iraq and Afghanistan, all while asking nothing from American citizens in sacrifice except to “go shopping” with your new-tax-cut-during-wartime check and enjoy your new unfunded Medicare Part D! Pathetic.
    The labels Republicans apply to themselves never, ever stick because they must not believe in any of those labels, really. They’re just “the opposition” and are quite happy being just that.
    Go ahead and prove me wrong by winning the next Presidency. Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts, of all places, will not shrink the United States government one iota. After all, Bush had the House and the Senate from 2004-2006 and look what happened.

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  63. suthrnboy July 12, 2012 at 12:47 am

    Sorry for double post. Didn’t mean for this comment to be a “reply” the first time.