Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Quote for the day

"There are only two kinds of politics. They are not radical or reactionary, or conservative and liberal, or even Democratic and Republican. There are only the politics of fear and the politics of trust.

One says: You are encircled by monstrous dangers. Give us power over your freedom that we may protect you.

The other says: The world is a baffling and hazardous place, but it can be shaped by the will of men.

Ordinarily that division is not between parties, but between men and ideas. But this year the leaders of the Republican Party have intentionally made that line a party line. They have confronted you with exactly that choice.

Thus, in voting for the Democratic party tomorrow, you cast your vote for trust, not just in leaders or policies, but for trusting your fellow citizens, in the anciety tradition of this home for freedom and, most of all, for trust in yourself." -- Edmund Muskie, November 2, 1970

Derbyshire goes where Coulter's gone...

...and wants to roll back the 19th amendment. Those darn women be votin' for liberals. This cannot stand, obviously. Meanwhile, Newsmax publishes a piece that's a barely restrained endorsement of a military coup. Well, they should have thought of that before stretching the military so thin with two needless wars, because I tend to think that a military coup requires, you know, military personnel, and I find it hard to believe that the paranoid, high-strung teabaggers aren't going to be able to pacify the nation. Unsurprisingly, these pieces not exactly being shouted down by an angry rightosphere--a quick visit to The Corner (no link from me, thanks), for example, reveals no comments on either piece. I just don't know what to make of this, aside from that some portion of the right is perfectly fine with ignoring the democratic rights of people who disagree with them. This is, alas, not a new story...

I also enjoyed this bit: "[Derbyshire] added that the United States 'got along like that for 130 years,' and added that the Civil Rights Act may also lack value because you 'shouldn't try to force people to be good.'" Oh, Lord. I call foul. I've heard this at times from some conservative sources, and it's nonsense. The Civil Rights movement wasn't about forcing (Southern) people to be good. Conservatives who argued that way always missed the point. The point was that black people were denied basic human freedoms and had no way to claim them thanks to a legal framework designed by white supremacists to keep blacks from gaining any political power. There's a really astonishing lack of empathy here, an inability to put one's self into the shoes of the black victims of our own Apartheid system. Not terribly surprising, I suppose, but the truth is that Lyndon Johnson could have given a damn about whether Rufus T. Hicks of Southern Alabama felt the race hatred in his heart. Johnson saw that the real prize was those young black kids who deserved the chance to grow up and to have a chance to be whatever they wanted. Derbyshire is echoing the perennial complaint of white Southerners that Civil Rights was somehow an attack on them. Bullshit, sir. It wasn't. Civil rights was not about them--well it was, to the extent that it was prompted by their abject moral failure to create a just and equitable society, but this notion of Southern victimhood is as pathetic now as it was back in the 60's. Just more evidence that these folks just can't get over themselves, I guess.

But no, there's no racism whatsoever among conservatives enraged at Obama's agenda. We're all colorblind. Nothing more to see here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Passed on without comment


What is remarkable is that Republican hawks are not embarrassed by it, and they are now so far out of it that they think they are winning the debate. They imagine that they have already become credible leaders on foreign policy, and they think that the rest of the world is now moving their way. That is what Stephens means when he says that neocons are “back,” and he could not be more wrong.
This is the downside of ignoring the truth all the time: you start to believe your own bullshit.

Here's a real waste of time...

The only people who care about Obama's "Czars" are Becktards and cranky senators, and unfortunately one of the latter is a Democrat who's taking this seriously enough to hold a hearing on it. This is just a reminder to me of how silly the separation of powers idea is these days. Parliamentary democracies have no sort of executive confirmation process at all, though there are numerous differences between our system and parliamentary systems--all ministers are legislators, for one thing, and are therefore directly accountable to the people. I can understand having ministerial and legislative types be separate people so that constituencies are served better, but the notion of senate confirmability doesn't really make much sense from that angle. Aside from perhaps judicial appointments, this notion should be either significantly reformed or shelved, as it serves little purpose. Almost all the time during these things, you get large majorities for confirmation and opposition members talking about how the president should be able to pick his (or her, someday) team. So why bother with the middleman? And there are always the times when the opposition decides to oppose nominees regardless of merit in hopes of scoring political points, as has happened with, among others, Office of Legal Counsel nominee Dawn Johnsen and Judge David Hamilton, Obama's appointment to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Surely, this sort of activity doesn't fall under the clause of "advise and consent", as in those cases, we're getting neither.

So, I say this: the Constitution does indeed require advice and consent, but why not flip the notion of confirmation hearings around? Presidential appointments (except for judicial appointments) should go forward unless, say, 60% of the Senate disapproves them. There could still be hearings, but consent will be assumed unless a substantial majority object. And there would be a time limit to object--say one month. If the nomination isn't rejected within a month, then it counts as a confirmation. I think that this would improve matters quite nicely. No other country has our combination of antiquated, consensus-driven political institutions and relatively recent and highly polarized domestic politics. I think this would improve the situation considerably, though I wouldn't be surprised if the Obama team decided not to risk the political capital on it. Roosevelt's court-packing scheme comes to mind as an example of meddling in the institutions of government in a way that isn't technically unConstutional and is likely more democratic, but is politically unwise all the same.

Godwin's Law! And PC!

From a Times review of the Coens' latest, I found this old attack against the brothers' masterpiece Miller's Crossing:

Occasionally the Coens are accused of engaging in grotesque ethnic stereotypes and even of being anti-Jewish. One New York critic took them to task over having Bernie the Shmatte [from Miller's Crossing] whimper and grovel at the feet of a gun-toting gangster “in a wood as bucolic as any birch grove in Poland.”

I would say that this is the most ludicrous piece of criticism I've ever heard, only I don't think it is. I think it's calculated. Miller's casual anti-Semitism is era-appropriate, but the point of the scene described here is that the Jewish character doesn't get killed! And since when are Polish birch groves a symbol of the Holocaust? Am I missing some obscurity here? If Gabriel Byrne had shot Turturro in front of an oven factory or something, there might be a point to be made here. I'm certainly not well-read enough to say for sure that the birch grove metaphor is irrelevant, but for the average person I highly doubt that it is evocative in that way.

It seems to me that the implications of this sort of statement are unexplored. The story of the Binding of Isaac (the Sacrifice of Isaac to Gentiles, though I prefer the Jewish term because it more accurately describes what happens in the story) also includes a Jew begging for his life, presumably takes place in a sylvan area because of the presence of wood, could involve a Jew being burned, and undoubtedly included some whimpering and groveling. Is that story exploitative upon the Holocaust as well? It's one of the key stories in the Jewish tradition. That this critic saw the Holocaust in Miller's Crossing says far more about the critic than it does about the work, as the Coens weren't trying to comment upon it or, indeed, evoke it in any way. Until I read that statement, I would never have thought about that connection.

I tend to dislike the use of the term "political correctness" as I feel it means different things to different people. I've never felt that calling out racism or sexism is "politically correct", other than that it is correct regardless of the modifier. Attacking people who say bitch or nigger is proper because those terms hurt people, and part of living in a society means you have to relinquish your right to be an asshole and try to be sensitive to the needs of others. But stuff like this is something different altogether. There's a difference between, say, saying that we shouldn't use the N-word to describe black people and saying that showing Jewish people suffering is innately anti-Semitic. The former doesn't hurt anyone and might keep racial tensions from fraying a bit, the latter does hurt people--i.e. the Jews--by saying that they cannot be depicted as suffering in certain ways. This sort of political correctness is the sort that can hurt because it is a form of censorship that can impact the way any group is seen by others, and it can provide a distorted picture of Jewish people in general, and that's never been a problem, has it?

Of course, every group in existence has grievance-mongers. Some groups seem to have more than others (white conservatives have made boffo business out of it). I guess Americans of all stripes like to see themselves as victims of coordinated conspiracies--says something about us I guess. I personally don't like to think that way. But I do think there's a clear difference between being PC and just not being an insensitive asshole: sensitivity is about acknowledging the difficulty of the truth and trying not to inflame. Political correctness is about denying the difficulty of the truth and trying to make yourself feel better. The Times quote is pretty clearly the latter.

But, aside from the obvious angle, I think Godwin's Law does apply here as comparing someone to the Nazis is essentially a form of political correctness. The irony, of course, is that the teabaggers that like to compare Obama to Hitler are the same ones that predictably rail against "political correctness" when they are the side that more regularly abuses the concept. Of course, such subtlety seems beyond the town hall screamers.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Another damn post about the media

Writing about the media is not my favorite subject, but I really am bothered by this new media trend of reporting on the Beck beat, as though it were legitimate news. This is merely another thing that demeans the news media in this country, and I think it's actually pretty easy to explain: the media is liberal, yes, but not proudly liberal, a la HuffPo or Kos. No, it's made up of self-hating liberals. I think this explanation makes quite a bit of sense when you consider stuff like this. If the media were really objective, they'd sluff off objections from both sides about bias and just do their jobs. But because of their self-loathing liberalism, they overcompensate by acting as though Beck (almost typed Bleck, though that's not a bad pejorative) is some tribune of Real America. Beck is an idiot that hardly anyone takes seriously, but the coastally-bound elites figure he must be since he can get massive amounts of angry email sent to them. That they think that Beck is actually influential outside the echo chamber actually underscores how much they actually despise "average folks"--they take for granted most of the right's assumptions that the average guy is ultraconservative when the truth is that the average guy doesn't pay much attention to politics and could really do with less posturing and some actual truth. To be perfectly honest, the activist corps of both parties skew heavily toward the elites. Much of the national conversation at this point is about elites arguing with other elites about which set of elites most resembles actual Americans. I can't think of anything more pointless.

In the end, though, the only thing that keeps the Times and the Post around is the indulgence of their readership, which is obviously well-to-do and liberal. The alternative media of the left is still largely embryonic, while the right's has gone from bloom to decay to zombified in the past few years, but the left's will explode if the Times and the Post decide that their need to be liked by the people who despise them outweighs a need to inform. And that will kill the MSM for good if it happens. I go back and forth about whether the death of "objective" journalism will be a bad thing or not a big deal, but these days I'm leaning more toward the latter, if for no other reason than that we don't have objective journalism now. Frankly, I'd love to have some of that, but even the Times got out of the journalism business when they decided to stop using the word "torture" in the MSM's poignant attempt to make conservatives hate them less. Of course, the opposite is the case, because you don't respect somebody you can push around. It's just sad to watch.

I just wish it weren't necessary for the whole thing to die, and it wouldn't be necessary if the MSM would decide that it doesn't give a shit what the Becks and Limbaughs think about things and just reports the facts. But at this point I'm not that worried about self-hating liberals being replaced with proud liberals. Indeed, I suspect that would make the news media far better, so long as liberals continue to stick with trying to report the truth (however imperfect that quest might be executed at times) instead of adopting the political fundamentalism of the right.

Friday, September 25, 2009


The Massachussetts Republican Party forgot to cite any law in their argument against seating new Sen. Paul Kirk. Seriously. I'm not a lawyer, but I think you kind of have to do that in a court of law. Can today's GOP do anything other than spin?

What about Iraq?

Bruce Bartlett's Forbes article is quite good. He provides an historical analysis of conservative views on balancing the budget (it used to be a central priority, and now it isn't) and basically argues that "starving the beast" hasn't worked, and then culminates with Bush's budget-busting spending programs.

This is all largely correct, but Bartlett doesn't mention the wars Bush wanted to fight on the cheap. In the history of America, wars have traditionally been financed by higher taxes to pay for increased spending. This is how it happened under conservative Republican President William McKinley, and it's how it happened under liberal Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt. Wartime tax hikes, along with the increase in government power that accompanies all wars, are the reasons why the right has traditionally been identified with isolationist politics and virulently resisted involvement in WWII until Pearl Harbor. Bush, however, didn't think that even fighting a war was a good reason to raise taxes. This, to me, stands as the more damning indictment of modern conservatism. It's one thing to think that we should lower taxes without cutting spending. It's another thing entirely to think that we should just put wars on our tab, and that paying for a war is some sort of Randian economic servitude. The first is just often irresponsible. The second is simply insane, and says both that the GOP cares more about keeping wealthy people rich than fighting "the greatest moral challenge of our generation" (which seems to be true), and that the GOP really does feel that historical norms and economic analysis shouldn't be binding upon them, and that they're an institution that essentially exists outside of history. Someone ought to send them a copy of The Glass Bead Game.


Just wow:

Igor Volsky reports today that Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) has been pushing an amendment to "prohibit the government from defining which benefits should be included in a standard benefit package." Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) noted that basic maternity care ought to be required.

"I don't need maternity care," Kyl replied. "So requiring that on my insurance policy is something that I don't need and will make the policy more expensive."

Interrupting him, Stabenow added, "I think your mom probably did."

Sometimes you just have to marvel at how crazy the modern Republican Party can be. Independent of any sort of ideological or temperamental changes, I think this underscores the GOP's need to start recruiting outside of the old white dude cohort. Of course health insurance should cover maternity care. I find it hard to imagine any reasonable person saying otherwise. It's a common thing to happen, you know. The right's studied indifference to women's issues isn't really a matter of ideology and could be relieved by simply recruiting more female congressional candidates, and by pulling their heads out of their asses. Seriously.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Of McCain and Neocons

Steve Benen objects to John McCain's constant presence on the Sunday shows:
But there's no reason to assume that McCain is the "leading GOP voice on Afghanistan." Not only are there plenty of other Republicans who approach the issue with the same perspective, but McCain has never demonstrated any particular expertise on Afghanistan -- on the contrary, he has a record of confusion on the war. During the presidential campaign, for example, McCain was both for and against sending additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan. His most noteworthy contribution to the debate was arguing in 2003 that "we may muddle through in Afghanistan," whatever that means.
Just reminds me of a Gore Vidal book in which a war hero runs for Senate and during the campaign it is revealed that his heroics were made-up bullshit, but he wins the race anyway. The point is clear: never underestimate the power of first impressions. I guess being an old war hero just means that you have endless credibility on military issues, unless you happen to be dovish.

But there is one thing about the neocons that I've noticed that doesn't seem to be a part of the left's critique of them. Basically, neoconservatism at present seems to consist of dividing the world arbitrarily up into friends and enemies, and being uncritically supportive of our friends (like Israel) and unrelentingly hostile toward our enemies. This is basically destructive to our "friends", "enemies" and to ourselves, but let's go on. Evidently, the neocons have decided that Russia is to be an enemy, though I'm not sure why that might be. So, therefore, according to the neocon principle, whatever pisses off Russia is a victory, and whatever makes them happy is a defeat. But don't they get that this philosophy of "strength" is basically another form of appeasement? Nonconformity is the ultimate conformity, of course. Such idiocy would be totally easy to manipulate and is basically reactive and weak, and it largely dependent on what others think instead of what we think. In essence, it's a philosophy (for lack of a better term) that is predicated upon insecurity about our position in the world rather than confidence in our abilities.

I've written before that the neocon worldview is a definite response to American decline in the world--to wit, denial. Now that they don't hold power it's funny to laugh at their childish antics, but I'd love to see them gone for good from the political scene. I'm convinced that only a reform movement on the right will make that happen. What I really want to know is why the media always goes to the most hated group of people in politics today for analysis on virtually everything that goes on in the world. And they definitely are the most hated. I realize that Republicans these days seem to think there's some sort of angle in opposing every single thing Obama does, but if what Obama's doing is conducting a sane, rational, realistic foreign policy, why do they think that doing the opposite of that is a good idea?

Hysteria and the hawks

I don't agree with Daniel Larison on the (lack of) virtues of internationalism, but he sure nails the reason why hawks peddle hysteria:
"The state of 'near-constant panic' Scoblete identifies is not an expression of real fear, because the threats are either manufactured or vastly exaggerated, but it is part of a concerted effort to manipulate the public into accepting policies that it neither needs nor can afford. Mark Helprin is not an idiot. Not even people at the Claremont Institute can actually believe that scrapping a small set of missile interceptors that was defending against a threat that didn’t exist makes any difference to European security, much less that it can be seriously compared to Munich or even to the controversy over deployment of nuclear missiles in western Europe. It is hype designed to frighten people, to get them to stop thinking and to begin reacting viscerally and emotionally."
He also admits to being surprised by how strong Obama's foreign policy numbers have been despite months of withering attacks from hawks. I must say, I'm a little surprised myself. As we have seen, support for a policy objective can be demonstrated by how susceptible it is to hysteria. Healthcare reform, for example, turned out to be somewhat less popular when subjected to such hysteria, though it seems to be close no matter how you slice it (and presumably would be more popular if the Republicans were honest or the media did its job). But the public is unmoved by the neocons' hysteria. This might signify a relatively stable equilibrium when it comes to the Administration's handling of foreign affairs, and a sign that people agree deep down with the less-hawkish things Obama is trying to do. I see this as really good news--for the moment, it seems, we have learned our lessons on foreign policy and aren't listening to the idiots. Now, if only that were true in every area of policy...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

An area in which I am admittedly conservative

Yglesias notes: "Or if you think about Germany, the restrictions on layoffs are probably a more noteworthy form of “big government” than the tax rate."

I personally know a lot of liberals who want America to copy Europe in all generalities and most of the specifics. But I think the restrictions Yglesias mentions, though understandable, aren't wise. Our economy is quite a bit different from Europe's, and it just seems like common sense that employment restrictions, price controls, and labor unions would be less prevalent than in countries where the market is generally more consolidated.

So I oppose layoff restrictions and price controls (except the minimum wage, if raised judiciously, which doesn't seem to have any negative effects on the economy), but I do think worker safety and just corporate oversight in general are important, and while one would expect unions to have somewhat less power in our country than elsewhere, they shouldn't be on the verge of collapsing. The conservative crusade against labor has never been about any allegedly held principle like small government, it was because the conservative movement was started by small business owners who hated unions because of their political power and because they just didn't want to deal with unions. I'm not saying that they were necessarily wrong on either count from their perspective, but it underscores the importance of eventually passing the Employee Free Choice Act, card check or no, because without labor there is no real political power to balance against big business, and that power is grossly necessary. As a matter of fact, my guess would be that more widespread unionism could decrease the size of government, and it's not like corporate executives these days are walking around with holes in their socks.

1,000th Post

I don't think I'm big enough in the blogging world to engage in too much navel-gazing, but I think I can get away with it for this one post.

I started this blog back in June 2007, and despite some periods where I was on vacation/uninterested/tired of the idiots, I've mostly kept it up since then. The last two years have seen quite a bit of change in my life, outlook and my politics, and looking at my first post there's quite a bit that's either naive or embarrassing. I'd like to think that I've grown since then, but I did get one thing right: "That, in a nutshell, is why I'm supporting Barack Obama for President...He's our best chance, and things might actually change if he gets elected." Now he is the president, and while he's made mistakes both tactical and substantive I am more convinced than ever that he must succeed.

I started blogging because I just like doing it--I like reading blogs and commenting on them, and politics is an interesting field to me. I didn't realize to the extent that I do now just how high the stakes are at this moment in history, in which there are powerful fundamentalist forces that are trying their best to demolish every last bit of the enlightened, little-l liberal culture that America has modeled for her entire existence. Early on I realized that Clinton wasn't going to be able to win the battles that needed to be won, and I admittedly overestimated the extent to which her "polarization" was a personal phenomenon. But I do think that there is still hope for America, and I still think that Obama is the right leader for the times, even though it's clear he still has some learning to do. He's still the best shot for us liberals to take back our country and our government, and he simply must succeed, because the alternative is a barbarous group of dogmatists who make the Inquisition look high-minded by comparison. This does not describe all conservatives, of course, but these days it seems to describe most, and they cannot be successful. As in, they must not be allowed to succeed.

In general, though, I feel like victory is more within our grasp. Healthcare is the first step--getting insurance to tens of millions who don't have it, especially the poor who don't vote because they don't feel like anybody cares for them--will be a watershed for the country and the party. Fixing higher education costs so that everyone can go to college will be another way people will see a real impact in their lives. We can talk about 2010 or 2012 or whatever, but in the long run, people remember who helps them, and they are frequently appreciative. Roosevelt's coalition was made from people who saw the change in their lives between Hoover and F.D.R., and even though he didn't win all his battles old Franklin left the country a permanently changed place. With healthcare, with education, and with immigration, there is a real possibility of changing the game and banishing wingnuttery for good.

Despite all the reasons to be afraid these days, I find myself more hopeful of our success in the long run. That's all, and I really hope I'm right about this.

Something deserving of ridicule

"The opposite of a common-sense conservative is a liberalism that holds that there is no human problem that government can't fix if only the right people are put in charge. Unfortunately, history and common sense are not on its side. We don't trust utopian promises; we deal with human nature as it is." -- Sarah Palin
The right really doesn't do irony, do they?

Should government be doing more? Or less? How about both?

The leftosphere has been discussing some polls on whether or not the public wants the government to do more or less:

The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal had a similar question in its poll, but found different results (pdf). Respondents were asked whether government "should do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people" or government "is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals."

A narrow plurality preferred the latter, 49% to 45%, but the 49% is the highest anti-government-activism rating in several years. Note, however, that there was only a four-point gap between the two -- in the Gallup poll, it was a 19-point gap between those who think government is doing too much, and those who want it do more.

I personally just think it's part of the well-documented phenomenon of people becoming more conservative during lean economic times. That, and decades of conservative messaging. A well-designed healthcare system could turn this all around.

Of course, I generally tend to think the government ought to be doing quite a bit more--healthcare, of course, plus climate change, stricter financial regulation/oversight, labor and vacation reforms and some serious education reform that includes making college more affordable--but there are certainly areas where it ought to be doing quite a bit less: I'd favor halving defense spending and decriminalizing soft drugs, to start with, along with a major reform of the federal prison system and some sort of means-testing of entitlements (and ending Social Security survivor benefits). While I would like to see the government provide more stability and opportunity for people, I am not a huge fan of the more egregious nanny-statery you see out there. Banning smoking in public places seems fine to me--I see it as less about smokers' rights and more about nonsmokers' rights to breathe, which seems more fundamental to me--but some of the more recent laws on the topic seem excessive.

"Those old guys aren't the leaders the party needs."

Tom DeLay on the Republican Party's leadership prospects. Unsurprisingly, when you run an operation where the only trait that gets rewarded is enthusiastic support for the party line, and anyone who deviates from it even mildly gets canned, you shouldn't be surprised when there aren't any leaders ready to take over.

In any event, doesn't being a Republican politician seem like one of the most boring jobs in the world? Every day, every week, every year, they say the same half-dozen things about the same handful of issues. Attempts to try to do something different, to take the initiative or reach across the aisle are more often than not severely punished (see Grassley, Chuck), and if you change your mind on anything, get ready for a primary challenge. It sounds like the sort of high-stress, boring office job with no security that most people want to get the hell out of. It makes sense that the GOP has no leaders: looking at the state of the GOP, a generation of smart conservatives has no doubt just said the hell with it and decided to take a job that leaves them more fulfilled.

The would-be loyal opposition

I rather like this piece by Heather Mac Donald against anti-Obama hysteria, but I found this point a little too pat:
Republicans were furious at the criticism of Bush, “a wartime president!” We’re still “at war,” but the respect that should be accorded a wartime president, per the Republicans, is nowhere in evidence. The Democrats who are now so offended by Obama-hatred either participated in Bush-bashing themselves or didn’t object to it.
She later makes this point: "We are not moving from pure capitalism to pure socialism, we are moving from an already highly regulated, corporate- and individual-welfare-saturated economy to an even more regulated and redistributed economy...The difference is one of degree, not of kind..." I think the same applies about Bushbashing vs. Obama-hatred, in which Rove & Co. deliberately initiated a polarizing strategy to split the country and alienate blue-staters, while Obama has bent over backwards to talk about how not all conservatives are greedy and slimy, etc. Bush hatred was part of the plan in the former plan, in fact, it was a desirable side effect to show the base just how nuts the other side was. But Obama hasn't sought to alienate conservatives, and indeed has extended his hand in friendship many, many times. Even granting that a lot of liberals thought Bush was essentially evil in much the same way that a lot of conservatives now find Obama evil, with the caveat that liberals loathed Bush for what he did, said and represented while conservatives loathe Obama for no reason in particular, the difference to me is that the infrastructure of the left deliberately tried to shut down the influence of outright, high-profile Bushbashers like Michael Moore (usually by giving them no profile), while simultaneously slamming Bush on his failures of leadership and management viz. Iraq and Katrina. In other words, the Democrats on an elite level maintained the same sort of opposition that Heather wants to see from Republicans. Elite Republicans, on the other hand, are now indulging the tea parties, Rush daily spews incendiary rhetoric, Glenn Beck regularly indulges in fabulism, and Inhofe and DeMint keep talking about the impending socialist/fascist/communist putsch, since all three of those things are roughly the same and have never fought in any wars against each other. Whoops...

Of course, I suppose Mac Donald couldn't well say that Republicans should oppose like the Democrats, as drawing these sorts of moral equivalences (rather, moral inadequacies) turns you into the next Charles Johnson.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Jay Leno's debut week draws big ratings

But I am forced to agree with Todd VanDerWerff's assessment of Leno:
I haven’t watched a ton of Leno in big gulps in the past, largely because I just don’t watch a ton of late night television period and because Leno’s broad-based humor has never been a big draw for me. But, as corny as Leno’s jokes can be, I don’t think I realized quite how much his show has been about picking on the little guy, and in most cases, the little guy is just your ordinary, average, everyday Joe. There’s an undercurrent to that that’s really disquieting and uncomfortable, and after watching a full week of Leno’s new show, it’s the overriding feeling I get from the series so far.
There's substantial irony here. Leno is often marketed as the nice, relatable talk show host, but most of his bits (like "Jaywalking") are smug, self-satisfied, and mean. Letterman, on the other hand, has the reputation of being acerbic and sometimes nasty, but in his audience bits he always shows an unmistakable thrill from talking to average folks from Louisville or Grand Rapids or wherever.

Now, obviously, there are a lot of stupid people out there. I mock many of them on my blog, and sometimes I find the ignorance proudly displayed in this country to be depressing and frightening. But I do think there's a way to be a person, and I do believe that one should treat people (especially people who can't defend themselves, like Jaywalking victims) with some level of respect and dignity. I think that's why I've never much cared for Leno's particular brand of "comedy", which, to paraphrase Mencken, largely consists of rearranging prejudices and presenting them as jokes.

The death of the MSM

I think that this is what the deathknell of the mainstream media looks like:

"Right now, get off the couch. While I'm talking, you pick up the phone. You call the newspaper," he commanded. If ACORN hasn't been on the front page, or if the paper isn't investigating the group's local activities, "then what the hell are they good for?"

Shortly, The Post and other papers were flooded with angry calls and e-mails.

It's tempting to dismiss such gimmicks. Fox News, joined by right-leaning talk radio and bloggers, often hypes stories to apocalyptic proportions while casting competitors as too liberal or too lazy to report the truth. [...]

Why the tardiness?

One explanation may be that traditional news outlets like The Post simply don't pay sufficient attention to conservative media or viewpoints.

It "can't be discounted," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. "Complaints by conservatives are slower to be picked up by non-ideological media because there are not enough conservatives and too many liberals in most newsrooms."

The MSM is done for. I'm completely serious. This can't be the story if the Post wants to claim to be nonpartisan. The standard for something being newsworthy can't be that one side's media machine wants it to be newsworthy. Especially if that side holds no actual political power, and few people who aren't conservative activists are clamoring for the perspectives of conservative activists in the media. Alexander's vision is essentially for the news media to become a blog aggregator, but this vision is rather short-sighted as evidently he doesn't realize that such a change could just involve cutting out the middleman and losing him and his staff and keeping Google News.

The news media needs to report newsworthy things. These include: important legislation being passed, major executive actions being taken by the government, war updates, natural disasters--in other words, things happening. They can also include navel-gazing and horserace silliness. They cannot include wild and unsubstantiated claims based on made-up assumptions about things that have yet to happen. This isn't news. I'm not sure what to call it, but it's not news.

What I'm most interested in is the notion by Rosenstiel that the media is nonideological. Of course it's ideological, and that this sort of thing is said without irony is merely evidence that these folks have swallowed their own BS. The notion of an objective media is an artifact of a time of broad liberal consensus on the issues of the day, and as that consensus has crumbled, so has that media. But even in the days of Murrow the media was ideological (and indeed liberal), just like it's ideological now. The problem, as I see it, is that the current ideology is nihilism.

Nonideological is impossible to do, but nonpartisan isn't. I'd say that the media is nonpartisan, but fundamentally uninterested in truth, which was the whole point of the enterprise. I really want to believe that newspapers going bust is going to be bad for our society, but when you publish an article like this, you're not giving me much to work with.

Porn doth lead to the gayness

Wow, if ever you needed to wonder whether the religious right has been OD'ing on the LSD, this is it. You'd almost think they've never been in the world. I guess this means that about 99% of men are gay (and most women, of course). On the other hand, I guess this means that we already have gay marriage, which was easier than I thought it would be.

Michael Steele, pretending to stand up for black politicians everywhere

The GOP's least convincing huckster has another one:
Appearing on Face The Nation, RNC Chairman Michael Steele objected to the report that President Obama has asked David Paterson not to run. "I found that to be stunning, that the White House would send word to one of only two black governors in the country not to run for reelection," said Steele. Steele denied that he thought race played a role in the decision, but also added: "It raises a curious point for me. I think Gov. Paterson's numbers are about the same as Gov. Corzine's. The president is with Gov. Corzine."
So Mike will endorse Paterson over Giuliani? Really? He'd be a pretty shitty party manager if he did that. Is he going to endorse Artur Davis for Alabama Governor across party lines? No? Then stop talking to me.

But there is something that disturbs me about this. Back when he was mouthing off originally about himself, he got unrelentingly negative press. Now, he's engaging in race-baiting and standard-issue wingnuttery on health care, it seems that the media doesn't treat him as much as a joke anymore. Indeed, he still gets booked on Sunday morning shows. Ugh.

The decline and fall of the Christian empire?

Sullivan is right on about this:
61 percent of Nones find evolution convincing, compared with 38 percent of all Americans. And yet they do not dismiss the possibility of a God they do not understand; and refuse to call themselves atheists. This is the fertile ground on which a new Christianity will at some point grow. In the end, the intellectual bankruptcy of the theocon right and Christianist movement counts. Very few people with brains are listening to these people any more. They have discredited Christianity as much as they have tarnished conservatism.
As a Christian myself, I am perversely encouraged by this. I have rejected this form of Christianity as surely as much of Sullivan's "Nones" have, and although I still consider myself a Christian, I think that some creative destruction will do a great deal of good.

What annoys me about the religious right is just how backward their vision of Christianity is. The Bible itself instructs not to put one's faith in princes, which is some pretty wise political commentary if you ask me. Our loyalty should always be to our ideals and not to our leaders, though Christians are supposed to respect authority. The religious right believes none of this. What's more, they seem to be positively eager to note the "cultlike worship" of Obama while ignoring their own Reagan/Bush 43/Palin obsessions. What you see if you dig even moderately deep on the right is a deep and abiding hypocrisy, glossed over with an even deeper layer of pride. The paradox of Christianity is that it seeks to destroy the sin of pride while often stimulating that very sin, and this stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the enterprise. Toss in a loathing of all things modern, and you've more or less got where Christianity is these days. It's depressing, and a good parallel to Umberto Eco's explanation of how the inquisition created more heretics out of hatred for the inquisitors.

Christianity will eventually weather this storm, just as it's weathered any number of prior eras and problems. In fact, considering the decades-long reign of postmodernism in popular culture, a progressive and positive form of faith might well seem an appealing alternative to the seeming breakdown of secular methods of discovery to find ultimate meaning. But if Christianity is to survive, it will have to honor those secular methods to a great extent, to engage with the full extent of the human endeavor to comprehend our purpose and problems (and to recognize the importance of how mutually dependent these things are), and to realize that, with respect to something like evolution, denying the truth is in effect denying God. Believing yourself to be right in the face of overmounting evidence is little more than intellectual vanity--it's just pride, ultimately. It's people afraid of being wrong.

I think the problem here is that Christianity, like Judaism, Islam, and the rest of the ancient religions have had to face modernity, and in all three religions one sees similar fragmenting between a reform (modernist) wing, a fundamentalist wing, and a more moderate wing. With Christianity, though, the reform wing has long since collapsed as the fundamentalist wing seized the center of the Christian field, and the moderate flank is now beginning to buckle as well. We're back to square one when it comes to dealing with modernity. It will be interesting to see how modernization takes form--history, though, suggests it will be inevitable.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Meanwhile, at the Value Voter's Summit*

It seems like they're not too happy about Jimmy Carter opining that racism might be the real cause of the Teabaggers. Mike, methinks thou dost protest too much! Of course, if they wanted to dispel this allusion, they could disown these signs when they see them, as well as whatever nasty sentiment burbles out of Rush's brain that particular day. Or just ignore it.

See, this is what I don't get. If someone makes a complaint about me, I'll think about it, and decide if it has any validity or not. If not, I generally just ignore it. If so, I try to make adjustments. I suppose there is a third option, which is to loudly deny the complaint and assault the character of the person making it, but I've rarely used it because I've found it tends to reinforce the very complaint being made. Correct or not, people who see you react so violently to accusations tend to think that they must have hit a nerve, and are fundamentally true. Plus, using the words "Republican" (or conservatives, or what have you) and "racist" in the same sentence over and over again only helps cement the association in peoples' minds. I suppose this is the Fox/Rove playbook of public relations, but considering its success in recent years, I suspect the actual playbook of public relations would be better suited for a party with no power that is evidently loathed by pretty much everyone in the country outside the South.

[*What a terribly alliterative name! And rather a tongue twister. They need to come up with something better. I think "Voter's Summit for Values" is much easier to say myself.]

Will Maine overturn gay marriage?

That would be depressing. Evidently they're just following the Prop 8 playbook. Regardless of whether or not they're successful, that those tactics have any resonance at all shows, I think, just how deep homophobia goes in our culture, even among people who ostensibly support gay rights. Put it this way: if learning that kids are going to be taught about homosexuality causes you to flip from being pro-SSM to against it, I don't think it's unfair to say that you're not really in a place where you're comfortable with the idea of gays and lesbians.

But the other side of this is that so many of these claims are patently false--when the National Organization for Marriage or some such group claims that legalizing gay marriage will force pastors to perform gay marriages, it's hard to believe that anyone who actually goes to church would buy it--the best evidence would be that your church doesn't have the National Guard out front to make sure gay people can have a religious wedding ceremony. And yet these sorts of attacks made some serious impact here in California last year. Considering that this is already legal and the dire consequences aren't occurring--indeed, haven't occurred in any U.S. state or other country that I know of--suggest that this is all bullshit. It's liars at NOM talking about a slippery slope when we can see very well that the slope lacks viscosity. If these arguments were to be made about, say, interracial marriage in this day and age, nobody would listen. But despite improving poll numbers, I suspect that we're a long way off from actual acceptance of homosexuals in our society. Quite a bit of support for gay rights seems to be very soft and easily pliable to hysteria, which is not so much a good sign.

The wearisome neocons

I'm always staggered at how much time MSM outlets give the neocons. At this point, neocon is only a step or two above pedophile in the American lexicon of smears, probably a few steps below Stalinist or LaRouchie. And yet they're all over the cable nets, screaming about appeasement as always, despite the fact that they are probably the most hated political class of people, well, ever and deservedly so. Our "liberal" media at work, I suppose.

I just wonder whether it ever occurs to the media not to cover extremist gasbags whose opinions are shared by a small minority of the public (this includes Limbaugh and his ilk). It's unclear to me exactly why these folks deserve attention--between this and the Town Hall disruptions, it does seem as though the media has finally bought into the notion that yelling means you're right. (Just kidding: I know it's just cynical, raw sensationalism. Expecting the media to inform people is soooo 1950s.) And so, Michael Goldfarb--the same dude who demanded that Israel kill women and children to teach the terrorists a lesson (I don't know if someone has already coined the term "bin Ladenist right", but it applies here)--is treated like a credible voice on this topic.

Oh, and the neocon arguments about missile defense (and foreign policy in general) seem to think that anything that isn't recklessly aggressive = appeasement. I doubt they'll have any more success at turning around the public debate to their favor than they did the last few times they did this (torture investigations, North Korea hostages, the "apology tour", etc.). Each and every time, the neocons whine and complain, but Obama still gets his strongest ratings on foreign policy because people remember the past eight years. Evidently the neocons don't. Nor the media, apparently.
Kevin Drum gives eminently sensible advice to Massachusetts Dems:

Well, look, I sympathize with Sen. Murray and the mixed feelings of her fellow Dems. This is obviously Calvinball, after all. But seriously, ask yourselves this: do you think the Texas legislature would hesitate even a few hours to do the same thing in reverse? Or any other Republican state legislature?

I didn't think so. Now go change the law and let Deval Patrick fill that Senate seat. Don't be chumps.

I agree, but I wouldn't even go this far. The fundamental principle at stake here is majority rule. In 2004, a majority of legislators wanted the state succession law changed. The Democrats weren't turned out of office. So, since there is no constitutional provision dictating senatorial appointments, there is no reason not to do this, especially since it would only immanentize the inevitable.

Seriously, one of the reasons why liberalism has such a squishy reputation is because of people like this senator, who seem repelled by ever throwing weight around and doing something controversial. But we're not talking about something that is illegal, immoral, unethical, or undemocratic. We're talking about a procedural change, in essence. Since that right is reserved to the states for the time being, and most every other state supports interim appointments, there's no real argument for not doing this that holds up.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


"If there was any evidence that Grassley hated Baucus and wished him ill, [his behavior] would count as one of the truly masterful political defenestrations in recent decades." -- Ezra Klein

Chris Dodd will win re-election

I really do believe this. There has been some shadiness in Dodd's dealings, certainly, and it would probably be better if the Democrats promoted one of Connecticut's hungry young congressional members to the job instead of going for another Dodd term, but honestly, if Simmons is only up by five points now, with the election more than a year from now, my guess is that most Democrats will come home before then. I could be wrong, but my guess is that next year's elections won't be catastrophic to Democrats. Sure, they'll lose a few house seats, but I'm guessing there'll be a three-seat Dem pickup in the Senate. Ohio and Missouri are examples of races where the Democrats just have better candidates and I think are more likely to win than not, and New Hampshire seems like it will eventually wind up in the Democrats' hands, especially if John Sununu is right and Ayotte is archconservative. I'm a little less certain on this, as NH did recently have two rather conservative senators, but the state is changing and I think when things start going in earnest it will be difficult for a conservative to hold it. North Carolina is possible for the Dems--that particular seat has not seen a single person holding it re-elected for decades--and I just don't see New York or Delaware putting Republicans in office in this sort of climate. I'm guessing that the Democrats will drop either Blanche Lincoln or Harry Reid, perhaps both, but if the GOP really wanted to take down the latter, they'd run the popular moderate former governor, Kenny Guinn. I honestly wouldn't be too sad to see Reid go, as Democrats are apparently loathe to drop him as their Senate leader, and he's not exactly got the right skill set for the job. At least a Reid loss would pave the way for Majority Leader Chuck Schumer*, who does seem to have the right skill set for the job, I think, as well as the undying gratitude of about 1/4 of the Democratic Caucus for basically getting them elected.

*Assuming it doesn't pass to Dick Durbin, because apparently Democrats are positively aristocratic when it comes to these sorts of things (see Reid himself), but Durbin doesn't really seem cut out for the leadership either and might stand aside and stay in his current job. Of course, having Schumer as the Democrats' whip is an exciting possibility as well...

The GOP's first team for 2012?

A list of potential hopefuls from the Value Voters Summit:
  • Newt Gingrich
  • Mike Huckabee
  • Bobby Jindal
  • Sarah Palin
  • Ron Paul
  • Tim Pawlenty
  • Mike Pence
  • Mitt Romney
  • Rick Santorum
Not exactly an all-star team, is it? For my money, Huckabee's the only one who has a real chance at general election victory, but will he leave his Fox News perch? Romney and Paul are the only ones on here I have any real respect for, but I suspect both are dead on arrival.

Obama cancelling missile defense

This is change I can believe in. Missile defense is only "defense" in the Orwellian opposite sense. The intention is really offensive--to be able to strike first, without fear of reprisal. If you look at who backs it the most--neocons--then it makes sense.

Still, it would be great if we could somehow make nuclear missiles obsolete. My preferred method would be to invite other nations into the process. I don't see how it could work with places like Iran, but it seems like most countries that have nukes (Russia, us, India, Pakistan) find themselves in balance of terror situations where neither side really reaps an advantage by having nukes. This is sort of a half-baked idea, but if you really wanted to make nuclear weapons passe, I think you'd have to do it in such a way. Or, you know, through incremental disarmament. Luckily, we now have a president who thinks through these issues--which might not get front-page headlines but where so much is at stake.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Here's something I agree with

"But Barack Obama, bourgeois in every way that bourgeois is right and just, will not dance. He tells kids to study--and they seethe. He accepts an apology for an immature act of rudeness--and they go hysterical. He takes his wife out for a date--and their veins bulge. His humanity, his ordinary blackness, is killing them. Dig the audio of his response to Kanye West--the way he says, "He's a jackass." He sounds like one of my brothers. And that's the point, because that's what he is. Barack Obama refuses to be their nigger. And it's driving them crazy."
There is another dimension to this, in my opinion--Obama just acts in a way that liberals aren't supposed to. He doesn't seem to be constantly apologizing for being one, basically. He's not sniveling, he's not a buffoon, he's just a guy. And that's what they really can't stand.

A quick thought

You know, I think that President Obama has already been responsible for some pretty interesting cultural innovations. For example, before Obama was elected, I'd never heard of people protesting something that hasn't been proposed. Nope, it was always something that was actively being considered, or already happened, or was already happening. Seems to make more sense that way--protests of hypotheticals aren't exactly efficient. But hey, it's their time, I guess.

The apex of self-awareness

Victor Davis Hanson's article: The Rise of the Uncouth. And, yes, he is indeed speaking of "teh left" as the uncouth party. Note to Mr. Hanson--by stating that the left is uncouth, and then just basically arguing that they did all the same stuff as you did and are hypocritically and unfairly tarring you as uncouth, isn't the inevitable syllogism that you, as well, are uncouth? Plus, there's this interlude (a propos of nothing) about Kanye West:
Then a buffoonish rapper Kanye hijacks a music awards show, to scream out that he prefers the loser to the poor embarrassed winner, standing mute before him with the trophy. But how can the audience that honors the violence and degradation of hip-hop / rap, then be outraged that they get a live version of such crude behavior before them of what they buy on CDs?
I guess this narrowly qualifies as not completely idiotic since Kanye West did talk about how George Bush didn't care about black people, but it's not like the liberals liked what he did. Umm...

Plus, in an article that is ostensibly about how uncivil the left is, he not only includes such red herrings as the West bit, rehashes the Dan Rather memogate, and the "Chicago political style". Seems like something they're throwing that around a lot--I don't get it. Obama isn't Mayor Daley, he's not really corrupt, and Michelle Malkin's book might sell to the dittoheads but this is as bizarre, insular, and fruitless an attack as the one about the Czars, or the Census, or whatever Glenn Beck has been thinking about today.

The weirdest part of the article is that I'm not quite sure what his argument is. Here are three quick quotes from the piece:
  1. "The truth is that a new generation of boors has come of age without sober wise people to teach them how to act. A Rep. Stark or Rep. Wilson, whether left or right, were Sixties people, a generation known for its hip crassness and uncouthness."
  2. "The Left is now furious that, as the new establishment, the rules of discourse are not more polite. But from 2002-8, they (Who are “they”? Try everyone from Al Gore to John Glen [sic] to Robert Byrd to Sen. Durbin [sic -- parallel construction]), employed every Nazi/brown shirt slur they could conjure up. NPR’s folksy old Garrison Keiler [sic -- does PJM even have an editor?] was indistinguishable from mean-spirited Michael Moore in that regard."
  3. "The solution, of course, is for the majority to simply say enough is enough, and declare a personal code of decency: 'I will not stoop to smear and slur, won’t interrupt a speaker, won’t call anyone a Nazi, won’t do to others what they’ve done to me.' Only that sort of code will end the craziness."
So, based on these, Hanson's theory is as follows: that Uncouthness is possessed of both political parties' baby boomers, and the left is now angry at this (BTW, Al Gore called Republicans Nazis? I'd love to see that clip) after years of being arch practitioners of the art of Uncouthness. Therefore, Democrats should become more decent than Republicans, who admittedly call Democrats Nazis, and for God's sake to become less like Garrison Keillor. In his zeal to trumpet the canard of hypocrisy--an extremely overrated sin, all things considered--Hanson failed to make an intelligible argument. And there's more right-wing cliches than you can shake a stick at [And yes, I am aware that's a cliche itself. Irony!]. Though I do think that we should all of us strive to be a little less like Garrison Keillor.

So, basically, Davis Hanson has now hit the wingularity. Godspeed, Vic.

Why the LA area sucks

It's partly summed up by Kevin Drum:
In fact, considering that Palmdale has high water bills and high air conditioning bills and high summer fire hazards AND sits right smack on top of a major fault line — well, the fact that people still live there at all probably means that people are willing to live just about anywhere no matter what it costs. Maybe a $200 water bill is just another pinprick.

Plus high traffic and an annoying local population. (I am aware that Palmdale isn't actually IN L.A., but it's close enough.) Basically the problem is that the Southern California area is just not very ideal to sustain life--at least, not as much as is there. Northern California is much better in virtually every way. They may have more people--and some movie stars--but we've got the water and actually clean air, neither of which is in very great supply down there. I'll admit, I've always preferred San Francisco to Los Angeles anyway. Both are screwed up, but S.F. is screwed up in ways that are less annoyingly abrasive.

How much does Leno's suckiness cost?

Hater gets down to basics:

How did I get that (probably incorrect, knowing my math skills) estimate? Well, according to the NY Times, Leno's yearly salary is "probably more than $30 million" and The Jay Leno Show is "expected to cost less than $2 million a week." Assuming the show lasts a year, that's 46 weeks of shows at 5 shows per week, or 230 shows a year at a cost of about $530,000 per episode. Last night's show featured 6 segments: Monologue, unending car wash singing bit, Jerry Seinfeld interview, terminally unfunny Obama mock interview, Rihanna, Jay-Z, Kanye interview/performance, Headlines (aka Vagina Jokes I Found In The Paper). These bits obviously don't cost the same amount of money to produce, but assuming they did, each segment would cost NBC roughly $88,300.

I counted 16 jokes in that piece (and I'm being generous), which means that the utterly worthless tort/tart reform joke alone cost about $5,500, or one month's rent in a large NYC apartment in a super-desireable neighborhood.

$30 million?

Can Dancing With The Stars be far away?

"Joe" "The Plumber" is getting into comedy. Not since Laguna Beach has there been such a waste of no talent.

The battle to the strong (on foreign policy)

New polls show Obama regaining support. This, from CNN, is interesting:

The survey indicates that 54 percent of Americans approve of how the president's handling the economy, up 5 points from late August. Fifty-seven percent of those questioned approve of how Obama's dealing with health care, up 7 points from late last month. The poll suggests that the president's up 7 points on the issue of taxes, from 45 percent to 52 percent, up 10 points on how he's dealing with the federal budget deficit, from 36 percent to 46 percent, and up 4 points, to 58 percent, on foreign affairs.

I've said this before, but I really think that what could put a stake through the heart of the GOP is if the Democrats become the more trusted party on security and foreign affairs. Despite all the teabaggery and town hall protests, the GOP hasn't held the upper hand on domestic policy for about thirty years (since the early days of Reagan, basically). The notion that they're going to make a comeback based upon the same old ideas strikes me as, umm, insane, considering that the Democrats even now are still trusted to a much greater extent than the Republicans on every major domestic issue.

Historically, Republicans have tried to disguise a weak domestic policy that basically involves running on the same issue positions and emphases every election cycle with a "strong" foreign policy, which has come to mean aggressive military use, disregard for civil liberties and human decency, war profiteering and aggressive measures to discredit critics. Democrats have frequently played along--hence John Kerry turning questions about war into questions about Bush cutting VA spending in 2004, or talking about how he was for supplemental Iraq spending before he was against it, or Hillary Clinton voting for Lieberman's hawkish Iran bill in September 2007. But Iraq has torpedoed any sort of Republican claim to foreign policy competence beyond their base, and if Obama wraps up two terms as successful on foreign policy as he is now--and with some significant domestic reforms under the Democrats' belts--I don't see what opening the Republicans will have to regain power, especially if they keep acting as they have been.

I do think it would be ironic if Obama's foreign policy wound up buttressing his approval numbers for now, at least until some of the big-ticket items pass. For all the comparisons to Kennedy, Roosevelt, Reagan, etc., for the moment the president Obama seems to resemble most is George H. W. Bush.

Carter bleg

Tomasky has the right idea:
Carter also risks opening up a topic that in the long run it doesn't benefit the president or his supporters to dwell on. It's Obama's opponents who want to remind white, middle-of-the-road voters that Obama is black and therefore not like them. Obama and his supporters would sooner leave these things undiscussed. [...]

Lots of activists think telling the unvarnished truth is what matters in politics. But it isn't. What matters is accomplishing your goals, for yourself and the people. A former president ought to know this. Carter seems to me a good and sincere man. But his presidency was, let's face it, a failure. He does not have the standing to persuade large percentages of Americans to see things his way. Being right can sometimes be wrong.

It's always sad to see a good, smart, respected guy start to lose his marbles, but Carter's behavior over, say, the past five years strongly indicates that this is what's happening. His wildly unsuccessful attempts to intervene in the Middle East peace process have been characterized by extreme political insensitivity--there is an argument to invoking the Palestine/Apartheid analogy, but surely a successful politician must realize that these sorts of rhetorical comparisons turn people off? And then there was the business with handing out with the head of Hamas...

What's been frustrating is that Carter has a point, just as he had a point in the Palestine argument. That this comes on the heels of conservative assholes trying to lubricate racial tension (good take from The League), and the 9/12 march where racist posters abounded. But there's a way to make this point in a less-blunt way, just as there was a way to make the Palestine point in a more nuanced and digestible way.

This being said, I disagree with Tomasky that it's a no-win situation for Obama. Actually, this is the sort of thing he excels at--he can denounce Carter and Limbaugh, occupy the center ground, say that Carter was wrong and that a few rotten apples don't spoil the whole bunch, while Limbaugh is wrong to inject racial overtones into an essentially non-racial incident. But nontheless I think Carter should realize that his political sense is not as sharp as it was back in the day and he should quietly leave the public scene.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Will immigration reform turn out like healthcare reform?

“I think when the American people saw that outburst, they saw it for what it was. It’s created a backlash against the anti-immigrant position, and I think it’s helped the health care bill move forward. And it’s provided momentum for comprehensive immigration reform.” -- Rep. Jared Polis

Immigration reform along the lines of the Bush-McCain-Kennedy 2007 effort is manifestly a good thing and necessary. There are really no alternatives: the status quo is unacceptable--what we have now is essentially a silent amnesty, and rounding them all up is impossible and will produce some of the most cringingly godawful news footage you've ever seen.

I think that the politics on this are dicey but manageable. The key difference, as I see it, is that there are about a half-dozen Republican senators that are committed to reform--or were in the past, at least. The ideological hurdle isn't present as it was in health care, and if you rig up a system in which illegal immigrants pay off back taxes to gain legal status, we're talking about something that could help with the deficit. Make it clear that there will be background checks, beefing up border patrols, etc., and I think this could be doable and bipartisan, to some extent.

All the same, I wonder whether the growing support for immigration reform will withstand another death panels-level onslaught. If a significant number of Republicans are willing to stand up to their base, then it might happen. Oh, wait, I just read that sentence. Well, we'll see.

Things I agree with

"Mr. Speaker, I think it is clear to the American people that there are far more important issues facing this nation than what we're addressing right now. The President said the time for games is over. I agree with the President. He graciously accepted my apology, and the issue is over." -- Rep. Joe Wilson

The guy has a point. Let's take a vote or whatever and move on.

Paging Morrissey

Please, please, please, let me get what I want:
Former Sen. Rick Santorum affirmed speculation on an RNC conference call that he's considering a run for president in 2012, Ben Smith reports, because, he said, the Obama presidency is "injurious to America."

Santorum is basically the Gavin Newsom of the right. His speech comparing sodomy to bestiality is exactly the sort of statement that drove younger and more tolerant voters away from the GOP in droves, much like Newsom's condescending talk about how people with problems with gay marriage galvanized equality opponents. Santorum can't win his home state of Pennsylvania, he's still addicted to Bush-era slogans and ideology, he's basically a walking punchline, a retread, a has-been, a loser.

In other words, he's the Republican Party's perfect poster boy. And I think the widely-known story about bringing home his dead son from the hospital and introducing him to the kids makes this venture a non-starter, much like Bobby Jindal's exorcism makes him an unlikely standard-bearer. Weird stories like that can kill candidacies. And they're both Catholic--someone like Huckabee is sure to make an issue of this fact if they're competitive, which might or might not have an impact.

And one more thought on Blanche Lincoln...

Why? Look, I disdain ag subsidies as much as the next guy, but the fact that Harry Reid agreed to put Lincoln as chair of the Ag Committee suggests that he doesn't take global warming seriously. That's my real issue here. Yes, I know, the position will probably help her get another term, but we shouldn't be working toward giving Lincoln another term...we should be mounting a primary challenge against her, to keep her honest if nothing else.

I suppose it's possible that giving her such a plum position gives the Democrats some sort of leverage over her--she loses her gavel if she kills the climate change bill--but I tend to think that these sorts of spots should go to hard-charging party members that have demonstrated legislative skill and loyalty to core principles, not to backbench hacks who haven't adjusted to the new (i.e. post-Clinton) state of affairs: that being a good Democrat and taking tons of special interest money don't mix. Or, they shouldn't. But, then again, Harry Reid couldn't even bring himself to kick Lieberman's butt to the curb when he endorsed the other party's presidential nominee so I don't really expect tough leadership from him. The wait for Majority Leader Chuck Schumer continues.

The talk show problem

Yglesias mentions a wrinkle I hadn't quite put into words on the topic:
Politics is a practical business, about accomplishing concrete goals and winning elections in an environment in which most people don’t care about politics very much. Becoming a successful cable news or talk radio host is about attracting a relatively small audience of die-hard fans and whipping them into various frenzies.

I think the problem is worse than that for the GOP. Their leaders are positively toxic in terms of unpopularity--conservatives tend to talk about Nancy Pelosi's unpopularity, but John Boehner has roughly the same level of unfavorability and only half the favorables. Their leaders, without exception, come from deep-red enclaves and have only ever had to deal with challenges from the right. It's a party, basically, whose playbook begins and ends with Rovism, and they're running that playbook, step by step.

Weird twist in the CA Governor's race

No good can come of this:
Former President Clinton will back San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) for California governor over Attorney Gen. Jerry Brown (D), "potentially upending" next year's Democratic governor's race, reports ABC News. Clinton's decision to endorse Newsom -- one of his wife's top backers in her presidential campaign last year -- comes at a critical time for the San Franciso mayor since he's trailing Brown in most polls and in money raised.

I live in the SF Bay Area, and while Oakland is a much scarier place than San Francisco, Jerry Brown seems to have had much greater success in improving the city than Newsom had in SF. Newsom has largely been useless as Mayor of San Francisco, and his interventions into the gay marriage debate have probably set the cause back about 5-10 years. The combination of his issuance of marriage licenses in defiance of state law in 2004 were a huge part of what catalyzed the gay marriage issue in that election, and his regrettable comments in the last election similarly catalyzed supporters of Prop 8 and brought an end to the great period of gay marriage in our state. He's rather a doofus, a poor manager, and a loudmouth who pops off way too often. He's sort of like John McCain, in other words, but minus the heroic military record.

Then again, Bill Clinton's influence has been severely diminished among progressives since last year's red-faced finger-wagging tour, and his endorsement might not make much of a difference. This seems like an attempt to try to rebuild the Clintons' influence within the party, but sadly the Clintons' influence is already being felt in the Democratic Party to this day (I'm looking at you, Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln). Newsom is, at heart, a DLC-style Democrat who has managed to style himself a progressive hero because of his gay marriage gambit five years ago, one that backfired tremendously, in my opinion. At the end of the day, I suspect Clinton's endorsement isn't going to be enough. California Democratic politics are heavily dependent on approval from local elites, and in particular, the big unions (nurses, teachers, prison workers, etc.), and those groups have longstanding relationships with Brown and do not (to my knowledge) have them with Newsom. It's actually rather maddening, to be honest, and it's the reason why we've only had two Democratic governors in forty years, but it might work out well in this case. Somehow, I doubt that Clinton is going to rent an office in Sacramento and try to cultivate the head of every union local and local politician, and I really suspect that he'd need to in order to get the nomination for Newsom. Betting on a losing horse seems...weird...though I suppose this is the much-vaunted Clinton loyalty machine. No doubt Clinton will be angry at Newsom when he winds up supporting someone over Chelsea Clinton in 2028, as well.

I'm favoring Brown at this point, and I think it's more than likely he'll win the nomination and the general election (easily). Schwarzenegger is unpopular, and he's taken most of the blame for the recent troubles in the state, which aren't all his fault, though he's certainly not done a great job proposing remedies (despite his general moderation, when it comes to economics, Arnie is very right-wing). The state's GOP is extreme and reckless--basically, the state becomes Idaho after you travel a certain distance inland--and Jerry Brown, despite the drubbings he got in the 1970s, was actually a good, moderate, fiscally sound governor, and he understands the peculiar, libertarian-inflected liberalism of the Golden State quite well. So I say he should get another shot at the desk, myself, and I think the odds are good that he will.

Of course, I might be persuaded to back Dianne Feinstein for governor if she ran, if for no other reason than that it moves her out of the Senate and into a job that fits her ideology and popularity much better.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Explanations of rightist rage, post-9/12 edition

There seem to be many explanations for this phenomenon, and ones like this, while interesting, strikes me as overanalytical. I think Matt Yglesias's is the best I've seen yet:
I think the crux of the matter is that since 1928 or so, the Democratic Party has typically presented itself in national politics as representing a coalition of “outsider” groups—Catholics & Jews back in the day, nonwhites and seculars more recently. The actual identity of the leader of the coalition matters, but only at the margin. It could be a patrician from upstate New York or a war hero from South Dakota or a cracker from Arkansas at the top of the ticket, but fundamentally no matter who’s in charge the election of a Democrat represents the mainstream’s loss of power to the outsiders. Clinton’s win, notwithstanding Ricky Ray Rector and all the rest, still represented the triumph of the “cares what black people think” political coalition and thus enhanced power for black political machines. Thus the reaction to an actual black president is different, but not all that different, from what you saw previously.
This naturally appeals to my essential political realism. For all the talk about culture wars, the notion that the conflict basically boils down to political power strikes me as plausible. I think it's true, but it's not the whole truth: there are large sections of the right that literally believe that their fellow citizens want to put large populations of the public to death if they cease to serve society. For whatever reason--be it the segmentation of the country by geographic region, the preponderance of crazies thanks to cable news, etc.--it just seems to me that empathy is in short supply these days, and that strikes me as the biggest problem. I'll readily admit that I've been too glib at various points while writing this blog, but I look and listen and really try to learn what drives these people, and the only reasonable conclusion that I can draw is that they are (mostly) well-meaning people who have been led astray by demagogues and dimestore fascists with their own agendas. I do hold them responsible for not demanding accountability from their leaders and for not really trying to learn what drives the other side, though. To argue, to allow others to argue, to listen and rebut and to re-examine and engage, are not only the actions of a confident person who is truly interested in broadening their knowledge of the world and themselves, but also the fundamentals of little-d democratic politics and society.

Now, of course, democracy is fundamentally based on a struggle for power--albeit one that places confines on its use--and that debate is bound to get raucous and ugly on occasion. I do think the continuing existence of right-wing rage--which has incredibly survived the complete geographic reorientation of America politically, from when the strongest resistance to F.D.R. was in the Northeast and the South was his electoral bulwark, until the present time when the converse is true--has got to have something to do with a struggle for power. Indeed, that is the only explanation that really makes sense considering this anger's longevity. I'm still trying to figure out what else is feeding it.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Tim Pawlenty goes the full Palin

Meh. He's not going to win. Pawlenty has the sort of profile that Republicans need in a candidate, but the coin of the GOP realm these days is identity and, frankly, he doesn't pass the "one of us" (i.e. Republicans) test.

I really wonder whether this is good strategy to begin with. It would make much more sense for Pawlenty to run as a solid conservative, but with an institutional/rhetorical reform strategy that seeks to elevate the discourse, provide real conservative solutions, etc., while denouncing the crazies. He's got the sort of resume to pull off that kind of attack. He won't win in 2012, but in 2016? He'll have staked out the sort of territory that might sound appealing after two terms of Obama*. I just wonder whether this is a good idea--the media already bends over backwards to try to make insane Republican complaints sound reasonable. Can you imagine the sort of coverage a powerful Republican would get if he (or she) stood up and said true, sensible things? Huckabee got great coverage before he decided that the independent/integrity route wasn't going to work. Hell, Bush actually got pretty good coverage in 2000, despite the intermittent fixation on his verbal incoherence off the cuff. This shit can work. Ah, well.

(*And yes, I am assuming two terms for Obama, and better than even money that he'll be succeeded by a Democrat. Not much better than even money, though.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The presidential healthcare speech

Some of Obama's best work so far, in my opinion. I first took notice of the man as a serious contender some time ago, but what's impressed me since then is how much better he's gotten over the past few years. This speech shows just how good the man can be at talking about policy--this was certainly not always the case, as the early criticisms of Obama as being too abstract and aloof were hardly inaccurate. But this really was a Clinton-level policy speech, one that said a lot and was quite shrewd overall at making his case. I was kind of surprised at how little airtime the subsidies got in the speech, and how focused on finance it was (though that is probably the right move at this time). And the GOP's behavior was really embarrassing--we know they can't intelligently discuss policy, but they can't even seem to act like adults anymore. Just sad.

Just a question

Why should anyone care if Obama appoints a lot of "czars" or not? I'm not sure what the foul is here. If it's that they're "unaccountable", this isn't true, as they're accountable to Obama, and aside from confirmations, that's all that cabinet secretaries are. If it's that they're not Senate-confirmed, it's worth noting that few countries require executives to confirm their cabinet. I know Britain and France don't, and yet they survive.

I don't even see the angle for an effective attack here. There are two possibilities for who is driving this unusually insipid attack strategy:
  1. Right-wing senators who are angry at having their bailiwicks upended
  2. The usual FoxNews editorial strategy of scaring the bejesus out of the base, so that they'll quiveringly tune into the teevee nightly about stories about the evil shadow government that Barack Obama is obviously constructing
Unsurprisingly, I tend to go with option number two. Fox could give a damn about what makes Jim Inhofe cry. But I do think that we need to rethink the whole "advise and consent" idea at some point. I'm sure that the Senate has all sorts of ideas as to what makes an ideal Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Aviation, but they needn't bore the rest of us with them.

Is half a loaf worse than no loaf on torture prosecutions?

I disagree with Tim and Greenwald in that I think it would be better to prosecute the people who went beyond the Yoo/Addington torture line than to do nothing at all. I understand their point, and I would prefer a full, honest investigation of the matter. I'm a big believer in the notion that if you do good, professional, unimpeachable work and have the truth on your side, you have little to worry about. I want to see Cheney being grilled in open court as much as the next guy, but the prospect of some justice being done is better than none being done at all. I suppose we'll just have to see where this leads--it might well spawn a greater investigation. Who knows.

What I find really problematic is that a lot of liberals approach this question in the wrong way, i.e. that torture is obviously wrong, that it's a question that is impertinent to ask, etc. Republicans reopened this question and they're standing by torture, full-bore. They'll probably continue to worship at Keefer's altar for some time to come, as this has become a new touchstone of Republican identity politics and I suspect that even if an ironclad report came out saying that torture is counterproductive at best, they wouldn't care at all. What liberals (and torture opponents in general, though an opposition to torture strikes me as requiring some real little-l liberalism) need to do is to make this clear--Republicans don't care whether torture is effective, they take it for granted and what little evidence they have that it works is either spin or lies. They're standing by it because of their eternal quest to show liberals as wussies who can't handle those damn terrorists. This strikes me as both inescapably true and oddly understated in intra- and extraliberal debates. It shouldn't be, because it displays virtually everything that's sick and depraved about contemporary movement conservatism in a nutshell.

And there is a key political dimension to all this. For whatever reason, the public's confidence in Obama has dipped a bit over the past few weeks, but not so much on foreign policy and security matters. I think that this is causing a bit of a panic among Republicans. Despite all the talk of healthcare, Republicans have not been particularly strong on domestic issues for at least a generation, but the party (until Shrub) had a much stronger record on foreign policy and security. Frankly, I don't see the Republicans coming back from their rut without recapturing public support on those issues, and a pragmatic foreign policy and a sane security policy are the best ways of establishing a real, permanent (read: a decade or two) Democratic majority. The GOP can score some points by scaring people about health rationing, but it's not very likely to actually happen, and when it comes time to propose an alternative they really have no ideas of their own, outside of some combination of tax cuts, deregulation, and "Drill, Baby, Drill" (admittedly, doesn't apply to the healthcare debate). When the time comes, their domestic policy ideas are unlikely to suddenly become popular where they weren't before. However, without an opening on foreign policy I can't imagine them getting another shot at real power--Obama easily wins the Commander-in-Chief test vs. Sarah Palin, and Hillary Clinton in 2016 (maybe?) will flatten just about anyone aside from David Petraeus (who, of course, opposes torture). I think the Republicans see the torture issue as their last, best chance at regaining their foreign policy cred, but I think that the best argument against torture will be made in four years, when Obama faces the voters and says that we can have security and uphold our humanitarian values, because we did just that for four years. The combination of strength and compassion is typically a tough one to beat, especially if all you have is curdled cynicism sprinkled with nihilism. This all assumes, of course, Obama makes no major errors to sink himself in that arena. But this stuff really is the province of the executive, as opposed to domestic policy, so this will be where Obama (and his team) really will singlehandedly write the destiny of the party.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Happy Labor Day!

A tribute to all my fellow working stiffs:

I'll be signing off for the weekend. Have fun!
Since I spent a fair amount of time beating up on the right today, here's something with which I wholly agree that disses my side:
If Van Jones is a truther, it is time for him to exit stage left. I have a hard time determining what is fauxtrage and what is legit these days, the right is throwing so much nonsense, but it sure seems like there is evidence he was somehow involved in the movement. Apologies won’t cut it if that is the case.
I have nothing to add.

Beyond Buckley

Good stuff from Patrick Ruffini:
In "The Joe the Plumberization of the GOP," I argued that conservatives have grown too comfortable with wearing scorn as a badge of honor, content to play sarcastic second fiddle to the dominant culture of academia and Hollywood with second-rate knock-off institutions. A side effect of this has been a tendency to accept conspiracy nuts as a slightly cranky edge case within the broad continuum of conservatism, rather than as a threat to the movement itself.
But, while it's all well and good to fete the late WFB, as Ruffini does in his piece, surely this is the inevitable outcome of four decades of identity politics--starting with Nixon and culminating with Palin--which centered on the "silent majority" who lived in places where kids still respect the college dean, etc., right? Wearing coastal scorn as a badge of honor was precisely the point of the identity politics that Nixon constructed. This strategy, though, isn't infinitely iterable and caring only about the "silent majority" only matters when that group is, in fact, a majority, which is becoming less and less of the case.

As far as the nutters go, this often gets overthought and I think the effect that political style has on a movement is underrated. Democrats, for roughly the past three decades, have presented themselves as sober, rational, and dependable as a governing force. I think that this has gone a little too far in general (political movements need to have at least some populism), and at its extreme it lends itself to caricatures of liberals as limp-wristed elites who speak in such elevated terms that they can't connect to people, but we did get Barack Obama so it can't be too bad. But while the left certainly has its crazies, there are few of them with any influence because being seen as a reasonable, sane person is an important part of the left's self-identity and therefore the LaRouchies get no truck in Democratic circles. The right, however, is less concerned with how the damn elites see them, and instead cultivate a hothouse environment of paranoia and dread--presumably to motivate their supporters to be active--and it's not hard to see how this sort of environment breeds loudmouthed conspiracy theorists like prize-winning daisies. After all, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, correct? Why beat up on Limbaugh and let the Democrats off the hook? Republicans seem to take a "no enemies to the right" point of view these days--one which Ruffini seems to understand and is trying to counteract--but it's difficult to see how the right can rid themselves of conspiracy theorists without a significant change in tone and style, the very things that have brought them decades worth of success. If one Republican after another were to go on television, denounce the birthers and proclaim that the president is an honorable public servant with whom they disagree, I think you'd see a very different dynamic for the nutters on the right. Unfortunately, this is all rather unlikely. Large institutions rarely change course unless they have no choice. If the GOP makes anemic gains in the House in 2010 and handily loses in 2012, Republicans might be ready for something new. But, until then, get ready for the global warming and immigration reform equivalents to "death panels", I suppose.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.