Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dissecting anti-war talking points

Normally, I don't go back and attack a columnist after rebutting an article. If it's three people who always write together, I think I can do three. This trio appeared in the "holiday edition" Ditchblog, about 3/4ths of the way down. Before they trotted out a really weak talking point about "strategic drift". Now they're trotting out multiple talking points that, while wrong, are much more serious and deserving of response.

Even a cursory examination of American history reveals the complexity of concluding a war that has taken on such a stark partisan tint. The shadow of Vietnam looms, as it has become standard Republican narrative that back then it was the Democrats in Congress who stabbed America in the back by cutting off funding for a winning cause. The fact that the war was lost in Southeast Asia, as opposed to the halls of Congress, is no matter. The Republican machine will press this same theme should it lose the White House in November. A Democratic administration would be accused of surrendering to evildoers, as once more the dovish successors of George McGovern are wrongly said to have pulled defeat out of the jaws of victory.

So they start with 'nam, and to an extent they have a point. If a Democrat is elected, pulls out of Iraq, and things go south there, the GOP will bring up various talking points in regards to why they think Democrats are to blame for what happened in Vietnam. Here is the article that does the best job of delivering said talking points I've seen. There are a lot of ways to combat said points, and the three authors decide to wave it away with "fact that the war was lost in Southeast Asia, as opposed to the halls of Congress, is no matter". You can't brush aside Laird's piece so lazily, and Laird is just giving an expanded version of the usual right-wing Vietnam litany.

Moving on, the trio returns to an anti-war beef I can sympathize with.

Republicans will claim that after four years of disastrous mistakes, the Bush administration finally got it right with its troop "surge." Yet even despite the loss of nearly 1,000 American lives and the expenditure of $150 billion, the surge has failed in its stated purpose: providing the Iraqi government with the breathing space to pass the 18 legislative benchmarks the Bush administration called vital to political reconciliation. To date it has passed only four.

Dubya, ever the not-so-great-communicator, did not do a very good job of providing a timeframe for the 'political reconciliation' end of things. To the extent that he did, the impression was that it would follow right on the heels of a decline in violence. The surge started up a year ago, reached its manpower peak in June, and by September we had the first round of hearings as to its efficacy. At that point I don't know if any of the 18 benchmarks had been met. What I do know is that more movement has happened on the benchmarks in the last month than in the previous year, and also the strength of the security gains wasn't clear until at least October if not November. Considering the pace at which America's vaunted democracy passes important legislation, just how fast does Iraq need to move on the most important laws imaginable before the entire thing is a failure? Again, this is something that the president should be addressing to the public, rather than me on a blog in response to a newspaper column.

Moreover, as part of the surge, the administration has further undermined Iraq's government by providing arms and money to Sunni insurgent groups even though they have not pledged loyalty to Baghdad.

In the short run, nominal insurgent groups were used to help root out al Qaeda cells. In the medium run, the real Sunni power brokers (tribes) are participating exponentially more in governance and Sunnis are joining Iraq's police and military forces by the thousands. The Iraq-based Sunni uprising against Iraq's central government is over as far as being a threat to the nation's integrity, and nearly all Sunni leaders now understand that in order to effect events in Baghdad they have to participate in the political process. Local insurgent groups in Anbar have no more desire to blow up Shiite markets and certainly aren't going to try to overthrow the green zone with the type of arms we gave them. Sunnis are unhappy with the current Iraqi federal government, but are now willing to settle things with words and ballots rather than bullets. The political process is what matters, not loyalty to sitting politicians. It's a tricky but important distinction.

Beyond the impracticalities of the surge, it is important to realistically measure the costs and consequences of a categorical U.S. withdrawal. The prevailing doomsday scenario suggests that an American departure would lead to genocide and mayhem. But is that true? Iraq today belongs to Iraqis; it is an ancient civilization with its own norms and tendencies. It is entirely possible that in the absence of a cumbersome and clumsy American occupation, Iraqis will make their own bargains and compacts, heading off the genocide that many seem to anticipate. Opponents of the war seem to have far more confidence in Iraqis' abilities to manage their affairs than do war advocates. Moreover, a U.S. withdrawal would finally compel the region to claim Iraq, forcing the Saudis, Iranians, Jordanians and others to decide whether a civil war is in their interests. Faced with that stark reality, they may seek to mediate rather than inflame Iraq's squabbles.

This is wonderful. *Americans* are the cause of conflict, and *other governments* will provide solutions! It's so clear! It's so simple! It's so utterly and obviously wrong!

The rest of the region had their chance in 2005 and 2006. The "cumbersome and clumsy" Americans largely retreated to their bases, an Iraqi federal government was formed, and if the region wanted to promote stability they could have done a diplomatic surge. Instead they aided and condoned the influx of arms and fighters who escalated the sectarian conflict to a boiling point. Saudi Arabia and Syria could have put a lid on al Qaeda; Iran could have put a lid on Sadr. They chose not to. When it looked like Iraq was racked by the exact violence that Korb, Podesta and Takeyh mention above, those governments did exactly the wrong thing if they truly desired stability.

The root cause of violence in Iraq isn't Americans, it's other governments trying to put their favored group on top. Iraq's Sunnis were used as a proxy against the unthinkable prospect of Arab Shiites holding power. Iraq's Shiites, once provoked enough, were used as a proxy to try and liquidate the Sunni population of many neighborhoods and cities. It took a surge of American troops to break huge segments of the Sunni and Shia populations free of that pernicious influence, and if America leaves Iraq en masse it will open the door for those regional actors to resume their proxy war and put a stopper in what political progress there has been. Again I point to the utter lack of political progress in the years of rising violence, compared to the compromises reached in Baghdad just a few months after it was secured.

While I'm going after that paragraph, I'm just stunned that the authors would characterize America's presence in Iraq that way at this point. "Cumbersome and clumsy" is a great way to describe things in 2003. "Cumbersome", not so much after the Iraqi government was in power. "Clumsy" is absolutely the wrong word to describe things under the leadership of Patraeus. What US troops do on the ground right now is nothing short of amazing, and it certainly isn't getting in the way of Iraqi politicians working together. On the contrary: the US has done an incredible amount to foster and facilitate reconciliation between Sunnis and the central government.

They keep layering it on:

The strategic necessities of ending the war have never been more compelling. In today's Middle East, America is neither liked nor respected.
America's occupation of Iraq is estranging an entire generation of Arab youths, creating a reservoir of antagonism that will take decades to overcome. A Democratic president who may enjoy a modest honeymoon in the Middle East simply by virtue of not being George W. Bush can take a giant step toward reclaiming America's practical interests and moral standing by leaving Iraq.

Respect for America in the long run is best served by whatever policies best promote stability and democracy in Iraq. Leave the door open for another round of bloodletting, and America will be the worst of all worlds: a hegemon who can't get the job done. America's presence for years was marked by violence without progress; that isn't the case today. If we stay long enough to leave behind a stable, democratic Iraq, that will do far more for US/Muslim relations than heading to the exit a year or two faster.

What's more, the "reservoir of antagonism" is much more complex than Iraq. To the extent that young Arabs are going to take up arms against the infidel, they were already willing to do so for reasons from support of Israel to raunchy pop culture to the invasion of Afghanistan. Moving troops from Mosul to the Pakistani border might play well in blue states and Europe, but it won't make a dent in jihadi sentiment.

Finally, the events of the last two years in Iraq have provided a powerful narrative that is changing the way Muslims look at the war on terror. While al Qaeda has time and again shown its willingness to deliberately slaughter innocents, America has worked hand-in-hand with local groups to bring about security and begin the work of rebuilding. The news on al Jazeera is hardly rose-colored, but it's no longer possible to do the "Americans bad, insurgents good" reporting that used to be the norm. Opinion polls in many countries have demonstrated a decline in support of wholesale terrorist violence in general and al Qaeda specifically. The horror of Muslim-on-Muslim terrorism has been made clear, and that momentum is best maintained by assisting Iraq in wiping out the last terrorist cells and making sure they don't come back.

It would be one thing for them to publish that column a year or two ago, but today I find it very much lacking.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Various comments

On the election: It shouldn't shock any of you to learn that I prefer McCain to Obama and Clinton, and that I would have preferred someone else to McCain. If anyone is interested I'll go into detail about why, but it should be clear enough from my past writings.

One thing the 2008 race has made crystal-clear is that if you want a candidate who really fits your beliefs, you need to worry about PRIMARIES the most. If you're a Democrat, you could go for populism (Edwards) or 'hope' (Obama) or competence (Clinton) or down-the-line progressive dogma (Kucinich) or... well there was Dodd and Richardson and Biden at some point and I'm not sure what they brought to the table. But if you think taxes aren't progressive enough, you want out of Iraq, you want universal healthcare, you want judges who support Roe v Wade, and so on and so forth, you had plenty to pick from. I haven't seen any left-wing commentators who didn't like at least one of the initial pool of candidates.

The same goes for the right, at least if you really surveyed the field. For all the grousing about how none of the 'major' candidates followed the straight-and-narrow of conservative dogma, there was Duncan Hunter who got zero support from the conservative establishment and never gained traction. Hunter was as conservative as you could ask for. Incredibly, the ins-and-outs of the GOP field was entirely based on media coverage. Who was viable and who wasn't, who was hot and who wasn't, who was electable and who wasn't. After so many years of the GOP falling so very short of the ideology they supposedly represent, the Rush Limbaughs of the world stayed on the sidelines until long after it was too late. Watching the right-wing bigwigs have a fit over McCain is maddening since they had more than enough time to back someone else.

People who complain about politics and 'the system' never seem to recognize that there are opportunities for them to have an effect. There are primaries for many offices, and I've found that in general there's at least one good choice for the ideologically-minded in any given primary. That person doesn't always win, but at least there's a choice. And in a primary, the efforts of one supporter can effect things exponentially more than in a general election. That's the time to get involved.

On earmarks: I've seen many 'realist' political writers scoff at those who fixate on less than 1% of the federal budget. The real money is in (entitlements / the military), they say. If the entitlements go away, the money would still be spent by the government!

If pork is so small, why does it get so much attention among those concerned about the fiscal health of the nation? I think of it as applying the "broken windows" theory to the federal budget. Pork/earmark spending, whether it be for bike paths or boondoggle military hardware, is something that directly corrupts politicians. Campaign contributors and lobbyists and those with the right connections get a big piece of the pie, and politicians lose sight of what their real job is supposed to be. If we can't get rid of spending that both left-wingers and right-wingers agree should be cut, if we can't get rid of a pernicious influence on those in charge of the most powerful nation in the world, then what chance is there of changing the big stuff? 'Broken windows' theory worked to reduce street crime in many cities. True earmark reform could start to do the same to crimes being committed in Washington DC.

The usual response-to-a-column-I-dislike: Michael Kinsley says the surge is a failure. Not because security hasn't improved; it has. Not because political goals are stalled; several key bills have progressed and/or passed in the last few months. No, Kinsley says the surge has failed because the total number of troops in Iraq isn't going down fast enough.

In fact, the surge was presented as part of a larger plan for troop withdrawal. It was also, implicitly, part of a deal between Bush and the majority of the people in this country who want out of Iraq. The deal was: Just let me have a few more soldiers to get Baghdad under control, and then everybody, or almost everybody, can pack up and come home. In other words: You have to increase the troops in order to reduce them. This is so perverse on its face that it begins to sound Zen-like and brilliant, like something out of Sun Tzu's "The Art of War."


But we needn't quarrel about all this -- or deny the reality of the good news -- to say that, at the very least, the surge has not worked yet. The test is simple and built into the concept of a surge: Has it allowed us to reduce troop levels to below where they were when it started? And the answer is no.

This is so petty. First off, the 'implication' he says Bush used in pushing the surge was never there. Bush used words like 'victory' about a thousand times, meaning that the key goals were security and political gains, not troop reduction. Secondly, the surge only started a year ago, and there was absolutely nothing implied about how soon troop levels would go below 2006 levels.

The point of the surge is that you could keep troop levels where they were indefinitely and things weren't going to improve enough for a responsible withdrawal. The "stay the course" 2005-2006 disaster adequately proved that. By surging in enough troops we gave confidence to Sunni tribal leaders that we could protect and assist them in the process of kicking foreign terrorists out of Anbar. We had enough manpower to take and hold cities and parts of Baghdad that had never really been under control. Iraqis who wanted to join security forces were no longer blown up waiting to apply. By getting so many of these places securable for the long-term, by making the environment more conducive for Iraqi self-policing, it will allow for that responsible withdrawal in the coming years.

He continues:

The surge will have surged in and surged out, leaving us back where we started. Maybe the situation in Baghdad, or the whole country, will have improved. But apparently it won't have improved enough to risk an actual reduction in the American troop commitment.

And consider how modest the administration's standard of success has become. Can there be any doubt that it would go for a reduction to 100,000 troops -- and claim victory -- if it had any confidence at all that the gains it brags about would hold at that level of support? The proper comparison isn't with the situation a year ago. It's with the situation before we got there.

Prudence is a sign of failure? The administration, having seen security gains from past mini-surges fail to hold, is taking it slowly. You might even say they're being cynical. Golly, I wonder why they'd be cynical about things taking a turn for the worse in Iraq?

It would be irresponsible and stupid to flee Iraq as soon as things got better. There are still terrorist cells to be flushed out, there are still security forces to train, and there is still a fear in parts of Iraq that security will be fleeting. A gradual drawdown will give recently secured parts of the country time to relax, it will give newly minted security forces time to get experience before being given the reigns, and it will make sure that terrorists aren't allowed to gain new footholds. Kinsley is opposed to the war, that's fine. My problem is that he's setting a standard of success that has nothing to do with actually accomplishing the goals of the surge, and in fact works against it.

Monday, February 4, 2008

A column based on a book based on a strawman

If I'm going after someone writing in Le Monde, one might assume I'm attacking a Frenchman. Happily in this case I'm attacking an American by the name of Chalmers Johnson. Perhaps someone with the last name of Ditch shouldn't mock someone's name, but Chalmers? Really? That must have been a fun childhood. Most of his ideas are much more worthy of ridicule than his moniker.

The gist of his argument is that US military spending is causing huge deficits, which in turn greatly harm US financial health. I will begin by noting the few things which we agree on.

There are many reasons for this budgetary sleight-of-hand ... but the chief one is that members of Congress, who profit enormously from defence jobs and pork-barrel projects in their districts, have a political interest in supporting the Department of Defense.

There is no way around the fact that a significant percentage of military spending is pork, and in many cases pork that utterly dwarfs more famous things like the 'bridge to nowhere'. Congressmen push for the purchase of billion-dollar hardware that the military doesn't want, Senators demand that superfluous domestic bases remain open, and it's been going on for decades. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent in a way that would irk hawks just as much as doves, though for some reason military pork isn't as widely reported as domestic pork.

The second area of agreement is that government spending financed by deficits for the purpose of 'job creation', which is the functional definition of Keynesian economics, is not good policy. A congressman who lobbies for a military project in his or her district because it would 'create jobs' either does so by diverting funds from the general public through taxes, or by deficit spending. Some level of deficit spending is tolerable, but after a certain point it isn't. Chalmers things that the US debt is too high, and I agree.

If only those areas of agreement covered even a fraction of his column, which is from what I can tell little more than an extended book plug.

There are three broad aspects to the US debt crisis. First, in the current fiscal year (2008) we are spending insane amounts of money on “defence” projects that bear no relation to the national security of the US. We are also keeping the income tax burdens on the richest segment of the population at strikingly low levels.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, when did tax policy come into play? What does that have to do with the military? Ah, it has to do with the debt. Chalmers wants to raise taxes and gain more revenue to start paying off the debt. Taxes are relevant in a debate about deficits, and you know what else is? The rest of the federal budget, most of which is non-military. Chalmers bases his 'three broad aspects' on three broad (false) assumptions, the first being that only military spending and too-low tax rates are the cause of deficit spending.

Chalmers expands on this later, and comes up with $1.1 trillion in annual military spending. Included in this number are such items as "$1.9bn to the Department of Justice for the paramilitary activities of the FBI" and "$200bn in interest for past debt-financed defence outlays". The military's portion of debt financing is certainly into the billions, but unless debt financing is well over $500 billion it makes no sense to say that the military is responsible for that much. It makes even less sense to lump that, homeland defence (which is mostly about 'first responders') and veterans affairs into "military spending", and then compare that with armies-and-armaments spending of other nations. Chalmers doesn't even NEED to high-ball the military spending number, since the amount that can't be contested is in the 600-800 billion range, but he does anyway just to get the maximum outrage impact. $1 trillion is the magic number.

UPDATE: In regards to the $200 billion in interest counted as military spending, the 2009 budget has $260 billion in interest. This means for 2007, Chalmers is counting all or the vast majority of debt interest payment as being from military spending, even though military spending hasn't been a majority of the federal budget in generations.

Moving on, Chalmers provides the following as 'no relation to the national security' items:

-Pork-barrel military projects wanted by congressmen
-Excess nuclear weaponry

One might assume that he views the war in Iraq as being in this category, but he doesn't even come out in opposition to it. An article thousands of words long, discussing current US military spending, contains the word Iraq 4 times, and all of them are neutral! Johnson doesn't attempt to say that the mission is wasteful, or the way it's done is wasteful... he doesn't SAY anything about a war that adds hundreds of billions to the current spending level! He references pork projects without saying how much they total, and notes that much military spending is obscured from public view, but surely there must be some way to explicitly bring up what he sees as bad spending, what a reasonable level would be, etc. This would be a perfect place to try and hype a military version of the 'bridge to nowhere', something that doves and fiscal libertarians can unite against... nope. Just a vague "look at how much is being spent, it must be mostly waste!". Granted, there's the "for more details, buy my book" aspect of things, but if he has time to give line-items like *the FBI*, and lots of debt-related minutiae, why so little that directly impacts the core of his argument?

Oh and he doesn't actually address the "we aren't taxing the rich enough" part either, meaning that he makes no serious attempt to prove the first of his three 'broad aspects'. Let's move on to the second.

Second, we continue to believe that we can compensate for the accelerating erosion of our base and our loss of jobs to foreign countries through massive military expenditures — “military Keynesianism”. By that, I mean the mistaken belief that public policies focused on frequent wars, huge expenditures on weapons and munitions, and large standing armies can indefinitely sustain a wealthy capitalist economy. The opposite is actually true.

I'm not even sure what to do with this. Who has ever, EVER said anything like this? I've heard politicians say this in the context of government spending on the environment, but not the military. Chalmers dredges up some obscure government quote about the US economy being able to provide a high standard of living and a strong military- which is true by the way- and then says that this proves his claim of the existence of 'military Keynesianism'. This is really his core argument, and it's a blatant strawman. I won't even go into the "public policies focused on frequent wars" argument, which is a nod to "military-industrial complex" conspiracies. The term comes from Eisenhower, who was primarily referring to pork projects, not imperialism. 'Military Keynesianism' can perhaps explain some of the wasteful spending, though political greed is a better explanation. It certainly doesn't explain the bulk of hawkish military spending since WW2, from the anti-Soviet buildup to the current war on terror.

Here we see Johnson's second broad (false) assumption, that most military spending is done not in the interest of securing the country, but in a vain attempt to do 'make work'. For instance, this passage:

Between the 1940s and 1996, the US spent at least $5.8 trillion on the development, testing and construction of nuclear bombs. By 1967, the peak year of its nuclear stockpile, the US possessed some 32,500 deliverable atomic and hydrogen bombs, none of which, thankfully, was ever used. They perfectly illustrate the Keynesian principle that the government can provide make-work jobs to keep people employed. Nuclear weapons were not just America’s secret weapon, but also its secret economic weapon. As of 2006, we still had 9,960 of them. There is today no sane use for them, while the trillions spent on them could have been used to solve the problems of social security and health care, quality education and access to higher education for all, not to speak of the retention of highly-skilled jobs within the economy.

I'm willing to grant that we didn't REALLY need that many nukes. Why have enough to blanket the earth so many times over when a much smaller number spread out in enough locations could have provided the same deterrence capacity? Chalmers is really slick here. If we didn't need most of the bombs (never mind that many people actually believed they were needed), then most of the spending was wasteful, and it could have been given to starving orphans and union workers! Sadly, no. The production of the first nuclear weapon was several orders of magnitude greater than the production of the last. An enormous amount was spent on theorizing, researching and testing. Even assuming the $5.8 trillion number is accurate, there's no way of knowing how much went to 'excess' or 'make work' nuclear warheads, as opposed to baseline keeping-up-with-Stalin, etc.

The second 'broad aspect' is a thinly-constructed strawman. Let's move on to the third.

in our devotion to socialism (despite our limited resources), we are damaging the long-term fiscal health of the US. These are what economists call opportunity costs, things not done because we spent our money on something else. Our public education system has deteriorated alarmingly. We have reduced the incentive to achieve, stunted job growth, and created dependency on the government. Most important, we have lost our competitiveness as a manufacturer for civilian needs, an infinitely more efficient use of scarce resources than entitlements

Oh wait, we're not allowed to talk about the tens of trillions spent on wealth transfer payments and federal bureaucrats, my bad. Here's what he actually said:

Third, in our devotion to militarism (despite our limited resources), we are failing to invest in our social infrastructure and other requirements for the long-term health of the US. These are what economists call opportunity costs, things not done because we spent our money on something else. Our public education system has deteriorated alarmingly. We have failed to provide health care to all our citizens and neglected our responsibilities as the world’s number one polluter. Most important, we have lost our competitiveness as a manufacturer for civilian needs, an infinitely more efficient use of scarce resources than arms manufacturing.

Leaving aside left-leaning budget priorities, I will continue to agree that excess military spending burdens the economy. It wastes resources. If only he would make ANY attempt to distinguish between what's necessary, what's debatable, and what's wasteful, but he doesn't. As a result all military spending is maligned as a burden we should seek to be rid of. For instance, he approvingly quotes the following passage:

According to the US Department of Defense, during the four decades from 1947 through 1987 it used (in 1982 dollars) $7.62 trillion in capital resources. In 1985, the Department of Commerce estimated the value of the nation’s plant and equipment, and infrastructure, at just over _$7.29 trillion… The amount spent over that period could have doubled the American capital stock or modernized and replaced its existing stock

YES! What fools we were! We could have just spent ABSOLUTELY NOTHING on defense and we'd be twice as wealthy! Brilliant!

He also says the following:

It was believed that the US could afford both a massive military establishment and a high standard of living, and that it needed both to maintain full employment. But it did not work out that way. By the 1960s it was becoming apparent that turning over the nation’s largest manufacturing enterprises to the Department of Defense and producing goods without any investment or consumption value was starting to crowd out civilian economic activities. The historian Thomas E Woods Jr observes that, during the 1950s and 1960s, between one-third and two-thirds of all US research talent was siphoned off into the military sector

Woods is the source of the earlier 'total military spending versus total infrastructure value' comparison. "Between 1/3rd and 2/3rds"... ummmmmm... okay. Let's take a look at the data used to derive this figure:

Oh there isn't any? Well shucks. I mean, Chalmers isn't making an unsubstantiated claim, he's just approvingly quoting some other guy making an unsubstantiated claim! Can't blame him for that, can we? And when he talks about "turning over the nation’s largest manufacturing enterprises to the Department of Defense", which is his own claim, why that has ample evidence:

Oh, well I'm sure it's in the book!

Chalmers goes on to discuss US manufacturing woes, and by this point in my blog response I'm not even sure if it's worth continuing. He just keeps bringing up military spending numbers and interspersing economic woe numbers and it's the thinnest of thin "correlation equals causation" gruel. Why is the only reason, the ONLY reason for the decline of the US manufacturing sector, military spending? Is it taxes? No, those aren't high enough. Could it have something to do with jobs 'lost' to machines? Considering that the value of goods manufactured in the US is higher than ever, I'm guessing the mechanization of industry plays a significant role. Perhaps globalization, which gives an advantage to foreign manufacturers who use low-cost labor? Maybe, just maybe, cushy union contracts make US labor less competitive compared to said overseas laborers? No. No, my friends, it's all the military.

This is his third and final broad (false) assumption: that defense spending, which accounts for only a couple percent of GDP, was the primary factor in reducing America's manufacturing competitiveness. Just like the only federal spending that matters to him is military spending, the only government resource use and opportunity cost that he sees is for the military.

I'm sure Chalmers provides much more data, lots of quotes of experts who agree with him, and much more logical justification in his books. In the context of a column, however, he's using very few facts to support his biggest logical leaps and lots of space to prove the one thing everyone already knows (the US military spends a lot). As with so many other articles I've targeted, even long ones, going for too many big assertions at once makes it very difficult to properly make a case for any of them. A piece going after military pork, excess bases and redundant nukes would still have the impact of hundreds of billions worth of spending, opportunity costs and so on, and could sow the seeds of his other main points. Instead he uses an overly broad brush to paint all military spending. Maybe he thinks he can get away with it because he's preaching to the choir.