Friday, October 30, 2009

The signs were always there

From p. 269 of Walter Cronkite's memoir, on the aftermath of George H.W. Bush's successful Panama invasion in 1989:
"After Panama the Defense Department's own official review of press relations--the so-called Hoffman Report--criticized Secretary Cheney and other officials for "an excessive concern for secrecy." That chastisement apparently fell on deaf ears. For the Pentagon came right back in the Persian Gulf with the toughest press restrictions ever..."
The measures, naturally, went far beyond the bounds of military necessity. You can presumably read about it with an Amazon text search. It's all consistent with what we know of Cheney, and it deepens his narrative, I think. The current theory runs that, at some point in the past, Dick Cheney was a reasonable conservative who went completely nuts after 9/11. This passage (the book was published in the mid-1990s), coupled with his longtime associations with neocons like David Addington and Paul Wolfowitz (as detailed in Jane Mayer's book) suggests that Cheney's inner authoritarian had always been present, just waiting to get out. The saying goes that "9/11 changed everything" but I suspect it changed some things less than others. 9/11 was a story of bad luck, poor planning and institutional dysfunction, but having Dick Cheney in a position of power when it happened was the real disaster, and probably a forseeable one.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Here's some good news

The process doesn't always fail:
But as the president signed a $680 billion military policy bill on Wednesday, it was clear that he had succeeded in paring back nearly all of the programs and setting a tone of greater restraint than the Pentagon had seen in many years.
This strikes me as significant politically, in proving that you can stand up to entrenched lobbies and win, if you have sense on your side. Nice work.

The incomprehensibility of the Club for Growth

Sullivan asks, "What would be worse for the GOP - a Hoffman or Owens victory?"

Probably a Hoffman victory. Owens winning would exacerbate intramural Republican tensions and lead to some recriminations, but the same dynamics would probably continue. Hoffman winning would mean that he'd have to defend the seat next time around, presumably as a Republican. Such a race will cost lots of money and probably won't be won. Hoffman doesn't know the district, is too far to the right for the district, and seems more interested in becoming a conservative firebrand than an attentive representative. And next time, he won't have the advantage of a split in the moderate vote. But the broader implications of this race will be enormous. Club for Growth will have a very real scalp to hang on its wall, and their power will increase immensely. Their threats to enter contests will be taken much more seriously by Republicans, and the end result will be that representatives will become more inclined not to work with President Obama or engage at all on substantive issues. Ever wonder how AIPAC became such a powerhouse? It started very similarly, actually...

This is, quite simply, a power play. The Club will probably push the GOP those last few inches over the cliff in the process of taking over the party, as now is seeming more likely since they've set themselves up as the financial wing of the Tea Party movement. One wonders why they're not spending money to defeat moderate Democrats in winnable seats instead of shrinking the GOP one seat at a time. It doesn't make any sense whatsoever for a minority party to initiate ideological purges--when you're down like that, you need all the help you can get. All I can think of as an explanation is Milton--"Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven." My guess is that the Club's theory of Republican revitalization is something of an underpants gnomes problem.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Jonah Goldberg makes me defend late-period BSG. Damn him!

But seriously, folks, I know that you put up with a fair amount of my BSG bashing and I've been on something of a TV-blogging kick recently. But stick with me, this is good stuff. (And given the combination of Jonah Goldberg and later BSG, I'm sure Bill Simmon is laughing somewhere.)

In the course of reading a post about BSG, I came across a link to what appears to be a relatively recent article by Jonah Goldberg (about whose book I once wrote a quick one-act play) about Battlestar Galactica. His thesis seems to be (naturally) that left-wing politics destroyed the show. The article is rather long-winded but is worth reading in full, if for nothing else, to read a novel interpretation on why Battlestar Galactica went awry in its later years. I feel I'd like to respond.

Goldberg's argument, when the padding is removed, boils down to this: the New Caprica arc at the beginning of season three of Battlestar Galactica ended a delicate political balance on the show in favor of liberal sloganeering on Iraq. Some brief excerpts:
The truth is that the audience was never given a remotely decipherable, never mind plausible, explanation for this radically bizarre and nonsensical turn of events. Rather, it was simply asserted in a hodgepodge of babbling dialogue. Almost immediately, the show’s protagonists are transformed into “insurgents” who have little or no compunction about becoming suicide bombers. [...]

Most egregiously, the human suicide bombers are not young men brainwashed in a madrassa and promised eternal life with 72 virgins, nor are they threatened with the murder of their families—the tactics used by jihadists to create their human bombs. Rather, they are decent, calm, and composed men and women fighting in a noble cause. Taken seriously, this romanticization of suicide bombers and “insurgency” has a cascade of revolting implications. The insurgency in Iraq was not an authentic resistance like the Warsaw Ghetto uprising or De Gaulle’s Free French forces. The ranks of terrorists in Iraq were overwhelmingly made up of Baathist remnants of the Hussein regime and al-Qaeda interlopers with their own imperialist ambitions for a worldwide umma. [...]

Thus, a show marked by gritty realism about how a decent but flawed civilization modeled on our own tries to cling to its decency while fighting an existential war against an implacable enemy veered wildly off course. The humans were no longer analogized to Americans; rather Americans were analogized to genocidal occupiers. In other words, we are no longer the inspiration for the futuristic Israelites trying to survive. We are now the Nazis.
Goldberg makes more points--I will merely address these ones, as I think they provide the bulk of his argument at its strongest. Leaving aside the puzzling remark that the Iraqi insurgents weren't "authentic"--infusing that word with a moral dimension is unnecessary, "freedom fighters" is a term that already exists--Goldberg has a fair point when he notes some of the sudden changes that had to be made for the New Caprica arc, which was sufficiently dramatic and interesting from a character perspective that it convinced most fans to go along with what turned out to be a very silly premise. Of course, it doesn't take 72 virgins to make a person want to kill themselves for a cause--Buddhist monks sometimes do it for free--but it is true that the Colonials were supposed to be stand-ins for us, and the thought of suicide bombings appalls most Americans. Goldberg, however, neglected to remember a scene between Baltar and Roslin in which Baltar pressures Roslin to say she agrees with these sorts of tactics and Roslin demurs. The suicide bomber (there was only one) was, as I recall, a depressed man who had just lost his wife and volunteered for the job. The man who encourages him to do this, Tigh, is portrayed as a madman who completely cracked after losing an eye during a cylon interrogation. The act itself is depicted directly, brutally, and unromantically. All of this doesn't add up to a glorification of suicide bombing, so much as an examination of the circumstances that lead to it, and whether it's an acceptable way to fight. The show makes no argument that it is proper, and such a reading is only possible if one ignores a number of inconvenient outlying details.

Similarly, Goldberg's point that the New Caprica arc changed the show's metaphor from Colonials-as-Americans to Cylons-as-Americans strikes me not only as wrong, but as fundamentally missing the point of the latter seasons of BSG (which, to be perfectly fair, isn't the hardest thing to do in the world). The Colonials-as-Americans parallels are too easy to exaggerate. Obviously, America has not been taken over by al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden has not seized power. The parallels aren't direct. But saying that the Cylons' purpose here was merely to satirize the Iraq War is not correct. One of the major goals of the series' final two seasons is to humanize the Cylons. In the first two seasons, we see relatively few portrayals of Cylons, and most are malevolent. The second two seasons show that the Cylons are misunderstood--that their society is immature and prone to terrifying acts of violence (such as the one that began the show), but as the show progresses, it tracks the spiritual and political fractures that shatter the Cylons, and we see Cylons go beyond their programming and begin to have the same sorts of debates, scruples, and desires as humans do. Now, one could argue that the show didn't entirely succeed at this goal--I'll be the first to admit that these humanistic themes were never handled as gracefully as possible, and the increasing focus on faith proved to be a blunder as Ron Moore knows little about it--but it was what the show was trying to do. Adama's opening question of the series is, "Is humanity worth saving?" It remains an open question. But with the Cylons, the question goes from, "How do we kill them?" to "How can we live with them and understand them?" Because they must. They don't have a choice, the cycle must be broken. It is entirely unsurprising that Goldberg didn't like this turn of events and pines for the days when Cylons were faceless bad guys that Starbuck would shoot up before coming back, drinking a beer and punching Tigh in the face. Personally, I felt that having the Cylons turn out to be functionally the same as humans was not the best plot twist, especially after a whole season of playing "Guess the Cylons". But the reason Goldberg hates this progression so much is not because he thinks the show lost creative energy so much as that he doesn't want to believe that the internal politics of the Muslim world are, in fact, complicated and often misunderstood, and that a final resolution with Muslims is not going to involve guns and bombs but rather forgiveness, awareness, and acceptance. We must do this. We don't have a choice. There isn't another Earth, we're easily outnumbered and Westerners and Eastern Muslims must find some way of living together. Goldberg sees the world as black and white--bad vs. good. He thought the moral universe of BSG was structured in the same way. Only the latter two seasons showed that it wasn't, however imperfectly executed the entire business was. In fact, the show was never structured that way, but Goldberg wasn't able to pick up on that until the show got too strident in referencing the Iraq War. His sharpness as a cultural critic leaves much to be desired.

The funny thing is that Goldberg is right about the general timeline of BSG's decline but wrong entirely about the reasons. Galactica was a truly phenomenal show for the miniseries and roughly one and a half seasons after that. It asked big, serious, deceptively simple questions, like, "Can democracy exist during wartime?" and, "How can we fight against an enemy that doesn't value human life?" and, "Is torture wrong?" and so on. These were questions [with the proper substitutions, of course] that we were all asking ourselves when BSG first came on television, and the show resonated with a lot of people as a result of its political acuity. During the first 1.5 seasons, the show examined each of these questions (and many others) at some length until everything came to a head with the Pegasus episodes. In those episodes, our heroes on the Galactica encounter a ship that has made the complete opposite choices as Galactica--one that gladly practices torture, that has ended any political rule and is solely a military operation that decides to sink to the level of what they're fighting. It turns out that these ideas--ones with which Goldberg sympathizes, from what I've read--turn out to be completely disastrous. The proper frame for viewing these episodes is essentially that Admiral Cain is Dick Cheney--younger and more attractive, but she basically sees things the same way as our former vice president. The shows depicted the Bush-Cheney worldview stretched to its maximal extreme, and the results were absolutely horrifying. The pivotal subplot involved a Cylon woman named Gina who had been brutally tortured and gang-raped by the Pegasus crew with full consent of the command authority. It was decided that Gina was not a person and had no rights--a bit of an exaggeration of the Bush Administration's philosophy on this, but not much of one. The end result was that the Pegasus crew was made up of snarling psychotics and what few decent people remained (e.g. Cain's XO) were too terrified to speak out against the evil on the Pegasus. What's more, the episode didn't resort to cheap shots. It made Cain smart, tough, and determined--uncharismatic, unable to see the big picture, yes, but she was the kind of leader that Bush seemed to want to be and that Cheney was. And the episode showed, poignantly, exactly how it all happened. As it turned out, Gina was guilty and had committed a very evil act that got hundreds of people on Pegasus killed. Later in the show's chronology, she committed another evil act that killed thousands more innocent people. She was a true terrorist, one who was absolute in her convictions and finally became a suicide bomber. But the episode poignantly showed how easily corruptible people are, and how easily evil can ride in on the heels of good intentions. The show merely illustrated how the same evil that drove the Cylons to eradicate humanity is also in the comparatively "good" humans, and that good people can be driven to do evil things for reasons that are entirely laudable. In the end, Gina wasn't successful in her sabotage mission. But she was able to wreck the moral compass of the Pegasus crew, as Admiral Cain committed slow suicide by seeking to wreak impossible vengeance on the Cylons against impossible odds. None of this is difficult to intend or obsure in any way, it's actually basic Christian thought on good and evil, consistent from Augustine to Niebuhr, and it's one of the rare times the show deployed any sort of religious idea without botching it thoroughly.

To me, it was the best thing the show ever did, and it more or less closed out the great political questions the show asked. BSG began faltering nearly immediately afterward, trying to refocus from being a political/military show into being a sociological/faith/prophecy/whodunit/??? show, and it never quite reached its full potential after that. But Goldberg doesn't mention Pegasus at all in his argument. To miss the political themes' development and conclusion with Pegasus strikes me as fundamentally not understanding what the show tried to do, and while he is right that, "After the Iraq story line, Battlestar Galactica deteriorated rapidly over the course of its final two seasons. The plot shift led the show’s writers and producers into a bizarre and meandering world of visiting angels, pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo, and deus-ex-machina literary devices," he cannot even begin to connect the dots as to why the show was successful and why its later seasons were rather insipid. The show's grace notes were the most political and arguably the most "liberal", though even from the beginning the show's moral universe was complex, not all Cylons were evil, not all humans were good, etc. The colonials were always America and the Cylons represented--to an extent--the Muslim threat. But the show's ultimate message was that neither side owned a monopoly on good or evil, that the Cylons were hardly bloodthirsty savages (well, not all of them, anyway), and that peoples can mature, change, and find common ground. This should all be bleedingly obvious to anyone regardless of their politics, but it isn't obvious to Mr. Goldberg. The disposition of his worldview makes it impossible for him to actually appreciate Battlestar Galactica, and his lack of curiosity evidently keeps him from even considering alternate interpretations for the show's meaning. In the end, I just feel sorry for the guy. He's going to live his entire life missing so much because everything has to get fed through the political outrage machine. Sometimes, it's better to listen, to learn, to be quiet, and to reflect.

The last sane conservative

I rather like Bruce Bartlett. This Q&A is good stuff, and while I don't agree with all of it, his bit on healthcare is worthwhile:

I don’t dismiss health reform. I just thought it was unwise for the Obama administration to take it up while the economy was in the tank.

For both political and substantive reasons, I thought it should have focused like a laser beam on the economy and related issues like reform of the financial sector.

Secondly, I thought its proposals were ill thought-through and that it would have been better to take the time to develop something more coherent, rather than making things up on the fly, which appears to be the case.

I also believe the administration has done a poor job of addressing what I think is the biggest problem with the American health case [sic] system: it costs too much for what we get. We spend in total twice as much of our gross domestic product on health as most other major countries without getting much in return for the extra spending.

Finally, I think the goal of universal coverage is a good one, but the Obama proposal is not properly financed. I think a broad-based new government benefit should be financed with a broad-based tax that is to a large extent paid by the beneficiaries, as is the case with Social Security.

Aside from the quibble that Obama would never have been the nominee without getting Ted Kennedy's support, which meant doing healthcare first, this strikes me as an accurate read of the political situation surrounding healthcare reform. I still think reform will make things a whole lot better despite its faults, but the healthcare system will still be a mess afterwards, and hopefully reform will lead to more reform. My guess is that Obama, had he not made the commitment to Kennedy, would have put HCR off for a little while, and honestly that would have been a smart move that would have made the whole thing easier. Without the constant melodrama that is the healthcare debate, which drowns out pretty much all other political news at this point, and in a way that makes it look like the Administration isn't doing anything on the economy. At this point, what Obama needs most is a better PR machine.

I come not to praise Joe Lieberman...

"The rest of the party has a strong incentive to pass health care reform and avoid a 2010 catastrophe. But Lieberman? He's not a Democrat and won't be running on the Democratic ticket in 2012. Moreover, my read on him is that he's furious with the party, resentful of President Obama (who beat his friend in 2008) and would relish a Democratic catastrophe. [...]

I think Lieberman is the one to watch. My guess is that ultimately he'll vote for reform, but he'll do so because the Democrats will scale back their plan and win over Olympia Snowe, making Lieberman's opposition academic. Lieberman won't join a futile filibuster, but if he has the chance to stick in the knife and kill health care reform, I think he'd probably jump at the chance." -- Jon Chait
I started out thinking this way, but the more I've thought about it, the less sure I am that this is true. Lieberman could have tanked the entire Democratic agenda earlier by coming out against the stimulus package back in February. If he wanted to exact his revenge, why not do it sooner to the perceived insult? Or why not just bolt to the Republican caucus altogether, and join them for all cloture motions? Why would he not have bolted the Democrats in 2007, handing the chamber to the Republicans in the process? Indeed, Lieberman seems to be working diligently on climate change and will take the lead in eliminating Don't Ask, Don't Tell. These are two key pillars of the Democratic agenda going forward. All of this doesn't add up to much evidence of all-out treachery.

I can understand the appeal of this argument. Lieberman's argumentation against the public option--to the extent of not letting it come to a vote if it's in the bill--seems excessive. His shifting explanations on the topic don't add up, it's true, but there is a thread that runs through them all. Ockham's razor suggests that Lieberman simply has ideological objections to a public option. His objections aren't compelling, he seems to be grievously misinformed on the issue and while there are some decent arguments against a public option, he's not making them. But I don't really think it would be fair to assume malicious intent on Lieberman's part with the facts that are available.

It seems clear that Lieberman is on board with a combination of mandates, subsidies, and insurance exchanges (or at least that he won't filibuster that bill), but that the public option is a step too far from him. That he would filibuster the whole package because he hates it so much seems like a strange overreaction from a Democrat who has a history of being on the side of reform. It could very well be that the thought of a public option causes him such great anger--or it could be that this overreaction might well be a power play to try to extract something from the Democrats. He has a great deal of leverage now, and he might try to, say, win the White House's support for another term in office, something that is unlikely to happen unless Obama the Healthcare Enactor is in the Hartford band gazebo clapping Holy Joe on the back in 2012. I have no real facts to back this up, but I think it mostly makes sense. Imagine you're Joe Lieberman. You're kind of a hated guy. You sold out to Bush and McCain, two falling right-wing stars. You've pissed off a lot of people, and you're getting trounced by a popular Democrat in the general election polls. Silently voting for cloture and then voting for healthcare doesn't get you anywhere--it's de rigueur for a Democrat. But threatening to hold up the process might get the higher-ups to panic a little bit. Suddenly, the president is asking what he can do to get your support. And you say, "Weeeeeeeeeeell, there is one thing..." Seems plausible to me.

Most Democrats seem to want Lieberman's ass nailed to the wall, but I think that Harry Reid would be wise to simply see how this all plays out. If Lieberman wants something, he'll let it be known and he'll back down if he gets it. Indeed, spewing complete nonsense as a reason to oppose healthcare seems like it can be interpreted as an attempt to get something. And if not, if it truly is ideological and can't be overcome, then I guess some triggers will be on order. My guess is that Lieberman's the only one to worry about on the question of cloture--Evan Bayh and Blanche Lincoln are both running for reelection next year and so it's definitely in their interest for something to pass, even if they don't both vote for it (I suspect Bayh will). And I don't think Ben Nelson has the guts to stand alone against reform. I mean, he's conservative, but I can't recall a time when he stood alone against the Dems ever. He's always struck me as someone who goes with the flow. Lieberman is the only one with the guts and the possible incentives to gum this up. It should get interesting.

P.S. Oh, and the notion that Lieberman is some sort of loose cannon is laughable. He is not. Some bloggers are throwing this charge around, but Lieberman's moves toward Republican politics have been eminently predictable. After getting dumped by his party in 2006, he moved more toward the other party. This extended so far as to stump for the other party's running mate, and one of the few opposition members with whom he actually has a close relationship. After McCain lost, he started moving back toward the Dems, and was accepted back by the Democratic elites. He must be aware of how he's perceived among Democrats and is employing that to his advantage at this particular moment, but I don't really see a single action in his recent past that is completely inexplicable. Sure, holding a "Czar" hearing is kinda douchey for him to have done, but that's a defining trait of Lieberman's entire career, not just the post-2006 part. But I'm pretty convinced that Lieberman is throwing either a fastball or a curveball here, and not a knuckleball.

We're more liberal than we were during watergate!

There's little that's more inane to me than polls that ask whether a person is conservative or liberal. (Aside from polls that ask people if they're pro-choice or pro-life.) Basically, these aren't systems of belief for most people--they're marketing categories that encompass many different political identities for people that ultimately aren't particularly ideological, for the most part.

I think this chart, from Kevin Drum, shows this. Over the past few decades, America has gone through some really radical changes, but from these charts you'd never realize it because since 1980 or so the liberal/moderate/conservative counts have remained steady. The moral of the story: people don't really care about ideology. They want their problems addressed. And I suspect if you looked at the 30 years prior to this you'll see a similar graph--I remember reading a book about FDR and it said that in 1936, right before Roosevelt won 48 states, 55% of the country considered themselves conservative. Yep, they said that before electing the most liberal president ever in an historic landslide.

So, basically, all this is irrelevant. The question is, as it has always been: where do people stand on the issues?

Why I'm not optimistic about FlashForward

I've been meaning to blog about the show FlashForward for a while now. It's not a bad show. I think it has a great premise (basically, everyone gets a vision of their future, six months from now) and it has good production, acting, and some flashes of humor that's actually well-executed. It's a show that I should be in love with. But I'm not.

The problem is that the show isn't that interesting. Maybe I should add the qualifier "yet", but I don't really expect it to get better. Let me explain why. As I said earlier, the premise is really good, and you can take it in some really interesting directions. You can take it in a scientific direction by trying to find a rational cause for the flash forwards (which was evidently how the source material explained it). You can take a religious tack and maybe go in a supernatural direction, a la The X-Files or Twin Peaks, and try to uncover a mystery that way. Or maybe you could try some kind of "Lower Decks" approach and have normal people try to figure it out with limited information and rumors, or some combination of all these approaches and then some. But the show takes the most straightforward and boring approach to the material imaginable--i.e. the police procedural. As in, the most omnipresent and worn-out genre of the past six decades. Seriously, it's like CSI:LA with Shakespeare and Harold. Most of the episodes so far have involved Joseph Fiennes remembering something from his FlashForward, spending most of the episode tracking it down, and coming up mostly empty. But then he finds another clue in the last few minutes, which sets up next week's plot. After watching a number of these, it's become clear that you don't really have to watch the episodes to get the one or two clues that propel the overall arc forward--you just need to watch the "scenes from the last episode" every week. Why not do something else with that hour? And while the acting is solid, the characters themselves are weak, lacking in real inner lives that don't directly contribute to the plot. Orwell, in his criticism of Dickens, wrote that the standard for writing a good character should be: can you picture yourself having a conversation with the character? It's a good standard. I can't imagine what I'd say to Pip or Ebeneezer Scrooge. (Maybe, "That Estella sure was something!" or "You greedy bastard!" respectively, which just proves Orwell's point.) The same holds for Fiennes's character in the show. Or anyone else, for that matter. Their problems are implied rather than shown, and the characters service the plots. So why should I tune in? I don't know.

The show is pretty clearly indebted to LOST--the whole hour of melodrama, bookended by significant revelations, is LOST's structure to a T, and the whole notion of people coming to grips with a disaster and trying to figure out what to do is also a big part of LOST. But FlashForward strikes me as a statement of the creative bankruptcy of network television at this particular moment. If LOST's first season had been as risktaking as FlashForward, it would have centered on a diverse crew of special agents who investigate the disappearance of the LOST plane and all its passengers, make discoveries about the passengers (There's a prisoner on the plane! The bartender told us that Jack's dad met Sawyer! Hurley's numbers keep showing up on the paperwork! etc.) and dangle a clue in front of us every week. That show might or might not be worth watching (I doubt it would be very successful) but if LOST had come out today instead of five years ago, it would almost certainly have been more like this show than like itself. After all, it's the same network. But LOST came out before CBS skyrocketed to the top of the ratings by creating an alphabet soup of their primetime offerings, so this is what we get. I guess ABC wouldn't want to take a risk on a show about scientists working on a superconducting supercollider experiment going wrong (which was the book's explanation for the flashes forward, by the way). So, the most interesting new premise on network TV winds up being thoroughly homogenized and while I like enough about the show to keep tuning in and I am interested in unraveling the mystery, I'm not too optimistic that it will prove very entertaining or rewarding.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Deep thought

People who wear Che t-shirts aren't the most politically sophisticated people in the world, in my experience.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sure, Dick can talk...

Some liberal bloggers are annoyed with this Slate piece. I'm not. It's thesis isn't wrong, anyway. The notion that Dick Cheney, as some sort of elder statesman, shouldn't criticize Obama is silly. Cheney's a citizen, and if the media is willing to listen to him, I don't particularly see why his rank alone should preclude his criticism. Of course, the fact that he was a massively incompetent and embarrassing official largely responsible for the humanitarian and defensive failures of the Bush Administration should make him think twice about his legacy before spouting off on the same trails. That and perhaps a smidgen of good taste, perhaps. Cheney seems not too afflicted with that condition, though. The fact that he's discredited and reviled ought to be enough for the media not to cover him (but it's not, because he creates conflict). Cheney's not a particularly talented politician (though he's rather a talented political operator), he doesn't know how to find the center of public opinion and he's not that persuasive, but rather just abrasive, which is why his party ought to ask him to stand down. But they won't, because they're that starved for leadership. And in the end, the voters aren't going to forget that they don't like Dick Cheney, and his constant presence on the teevee is merely going to help Democrats assist voters in recalling the disastrous Age of Bush. And the Villagers say that Democrats still talk about Bush too much! How can one not when his little friend won't go away! In the end, Cheney's continued presence is a sideshow that takes attention away from legitimate foreign policy discussion. I'm guessing ol' Dick doesn't have a problem with that.

All this is why Cheney shouldn't be getting attention from his outbursts. Not because of some made-up emeritus distinction. But I'm guessing he'll continue to get attention. Cable news loves some growling!

(P.S. That Slate piece isn't that great, though. There are a number of examples of this sort of thing, but the point of the piece is utterly banal--basically to say that it's somewhat common for former Oval Office denizens to criticize a sitting president--but there's not really much of a point or an argument aside from that, and most of the post-VP Cheney criticism I've read centers squarely on how he has no credibility, how he was a disaster, etc. That angle is unaddressed. Actual quote: "If that makes Cheney unpatriotic, he's in good company. There's a proud tradition of former executive-branch leaders disparaging sitting presidents. The most notorious example—the ur-ex-presidential critic—is Herbert Hoover." If you're deputizing Hoover into any argument for anything other than his post-WWI humanitarian work, you're doing it wrong. )

Not so much a serious post, so much as an honest question

I've been following the GOP's suicide attempt (it's a cry for help!) in the NY-23 Special Election, and I find it interesting. My only question is this: if you were a moderate who lived in the district, and you were deciding who to vote for, would you consider most a) the candidates' stances on the issues, b) whether electing somebody who would vote in the majority would be better for seeing your needs met, or c) whether some obscure backbench congressman not from New York endorsed said candidate? Well, if it's (c), there's this item to consider.

Okay, I can understand Sarah Palin's endorsement helping out Hoffman, because she's idolized by the base and has real influence among some people. Admittedly, one wonders how many of those people live in New York that might potentially vote for a moderate Republican or a Democrat anyway, but honestly, is anyone who's tentative or undecided going to vote for Hoffman because Representative John Linder of Georgia thinks they should? This displays ego, if nothing else. Well, possibly also some attempt to curry favor with the conservative base without taking any risk. Might someone be running for governor of Georgia?

Why Dollhouse sucks

Okay, so I haven't seen the most recent episode of Dollhouse yet, but the first three installments of the new season have not exactly lived up to expectations. And I think I've figured out why.

The first season of Dollhouse wasn't exactly the best thing ever, and those first few episodes were really tedious. However, after that was over, the show moved quite rapidly into creating some pretty compelling drama, and asking some heady questions about corporate ethics, individuality, and what it means to be human. Not the first time this stuff has been explored--indeed, these are all sci-fi mainstays--but Dollhouse put a fresh take on them, and since nobody seemed to think that the show would get a second season the season's final episodes closed out the major questions asked by the show, with an unaired finale opening up new areas of exploration and a vastly more interesting post-apocalyptic setup to keep exploring similar themes.

But the show got a second season, and it's been struggling since it doesn't seem like the show is willing to pivot so dramatically and fully embrace the post-apocalyptic hellscape of "Epitaph". Instead, it chose a very conservative route and is trying to convince us that there's more to say on the questions that it answered last season, and it's trying to do this while the premise of the show unravels around them. Okay, how can we possibly believe that the Dollhouse would continue to remain a secret organization after people keep dying and power blackouts are caused? Questions would be asked about these things, and huge conspiracies tend to be hard to conceal for very long. How do clients get referred to the Dollhouse? Why pay so much money for a midwife or a fake bride when you can, you know, pay the appropriate fees for non-doll people to handle these tasks? And you add all this to the fact that the Dollhouse staff seems pretty terrible at their jobs and it just seems like more "engagement of the week" episodes merely show the limitations of the show's premise. It's not as bad as 24 yet, where it seems like every season the show tries to wring drama out of traitors in CTU. And you know what? It is dramatic. It's also not too realistic, and it just makes me think that these bozos can't even handle reference checking, much less protecting a country. Or how Studio 60 kept trying to tell us how brilliant Sarah Paulson was as a comedian, when she was not exactly what you might call funny.

Now, it's entirely possible that Dollhouse will rebound and start breaking new ground. Indeed, it might wind up surprising us all. But it's seeming less and less likely to me that the show will have the strong legacy of some of Joss Whedon's other shows, because of its rather low hit-to-miss ratio. And if we don't get back to the Epitaph storyline, it should be remembered as a show that, for whatever reason, wasn't able to follow through on it's best ideas.

Fundamentalists and antitheists

This post by Andrew Sullivan got me to thinking. I think there's a somewhat lazy tendency in religious discourse to divide atheists into camps of atheists and antitheists, with the former being more friendly godless types and the latter being the angry, religion is bad people. But I think this tendency is fundamentally wrong in a number of ways, not the least of which is that it doesn't take being an atheist to admit that religion can bring out the worst in people--it just takes a history book and common sense. (Of course, it shouldn't be controversial to say that religion can bring about great things as well as bad--the Renaissance and the Enlightenment both sprang from what I would characterize as progressive religious movements. But moving on...)

My experience has indeed been that godlessness (and I use the term neutrally) exists on a spectrum, with many different attitudes extant on the topic. Some nonreligious people are interested in religion and find things to like in the idea, others quite the opposite. However, I think that the people generally called antitheists can't be viewed independently of the fundamentalist resurgence with which their rise is directly related. Antitheism is a counterreaction to religious fundamentalism, in much the same way that fundamentalism is a reaction to the inescapable changes wrought by modernity. Mainline religion and mainline atheism often aren't driven by such strong reactions to externalities, but the more radical exponents of those groups are driven to extremes by a feeling of helplessness in the face of scary changes in society and life.

And I think that concern about mingling sports and religion showcases something of a cleavage between the two groups. Antitheists seem, to me, to be the types of people more worried about this sort of thing, just like fundamentalists seem to care more about putting the Ten Commandments up in front of courthouses. Both of those groups, in my experience, tend to see their struggle in a sort of zero-sum apocalyptic grudge match for control over the culture, while mainstream religioners and atheists seem more willing to just let it be and get on with their lives, albeit with some concerns. Many atheists blanch when parallels are made between them and religious people, but I do think there are some undeniable parallels, and I think that both sides of the religious debate seem, upon closer inspection, to be more nuanced and complicated than the other side might think.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Clip of the day

Glenn Beck's latest project, which combines baffling camerawork with cornball production and really just needs to be seen to be believed:

The Fox War

Mickey Kaus illustrates why Fox isn't really a news organization. Amazingly, I agree with almost all of what he says! I think it's bleedingly obvious that Fox doesn't really report news--it seems to mostly function as a televised right-wing blog aggregator--and the rallying around them by the likes of Jake Tapper is reminiscent of nothing more than Hollywood rallying around Roman Polanski against those irritating interlopers. It's annoying. But the Administration denying them press credentials is not a good idea.

This made me laugh

With respect to the Republican Party having its worst approval rating in a decade, from TWM:
"It occurs to me that the most frightening electoral scenario imaginable for Democrats right now would be a Republican Party that cleaned up its act, started taking public policy seriously, moved towards the American mainstream, and stopped taking orders from talk radio and teabaggers -- the kind of steps that might improve a 36% favorable rating.

Fortunately for Dems, there's no reason to think this might happen."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

House committee approves financial protection agency

Good news:
A U.S. congressional committee on Thursday endorsed creating a federal financial consumer watchdog, giving the Obama administration a victory, but only after one of its key proposals was pared back.

The House of Representatives Financial Services Committee, in a 39-29 vote after four days of debate, backed legislation to set up the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which would regulate mortgages, credit cards and other products.

I know there are some libertarian types that might object to this, but it's worth stating that consumer product protection agencies haven't yet destroyed capitalism. This sort of reform is sorely needed, and it's good to see it moving forward.

Checking in with the off-off year elections

Let's take a look at how things are going, about two weeks out:
  • Virginia--Republican Bob McDonnell sure looks likely to win, thanks in large part to an inept, McCain-like campaign from Democrat Creigh Deeds. McDonnell's margin seems swollen, and I'm sure Deeds will be able to trim it to five points or so, but this will be a stinging loss with redistricting coming up after the census. Deeds has nobody to blame but himself for running a muddled campaign, and he's failed even despite manna from heaven in the form of Bob McDonnell's right-wing thesis. Deeds seemed to think he'd be able to skip to the governor's mansion by talking about how McDonnell used to subscribe to crazy views, instead of using those views as a pivot point to talk about his own agenda. An incoherent message, waiting for an opening instead of seizing the initiative, overkill on meaningless attacks--does this sound familiar?
  • New Jersey--Believe it or not, there are politicians that make Deeds look good. One of them is Republican Chris Christie from New Jersey. Deeds seems like the sort of affable local politician who merely hits his Peter Principle ceiling, while Christie seems like a complete, oblivious idiot. Christie, a former DA, decided to emphasize his anti-corruption cred in his race against unpopular Democratic Governor Jon Corzine, while evidently not realizing that the squeaky-clean reformer image would be shattered due to numerous instances of questionable judgment. I guess he assumed they wouldn't come out? We'll be greeted as liberators, too. Corzine has gone negative and drawn quite a bit of blood with his attacks, and this is looking to wind up like a typical New Jersey race in which the state teases the Republicans and then comes home to the Democrats. For Christie to lose a race he was once leading by 15 points is, to paraphrase Lewis Black, like a normal person to lose the special olympics.
  • New York 23rd District Special Congressional Election--massive drama here. The basics: Republican-held seat, moderate Republican challenged by teabagging third party candidate, putting the Democrat in a position to sit back, watch the fireworks, and collect the seat. Check out Dave Weigel for more.
To be perfectly honest, I'd probably prefer that the outcomes here be flipped, but you don't always get what you want. New Jersey could honestly use a period of non-Democratic rule to help weed out some of the corruption, and I'd rather hold the Virginia statehouse. But this is an interesting state of affairs: The GOP is perhaps at its strongest point of the election cycle--many Democrats aren't excited because success hasn't shown up yet, and the Republicans are mostly united in opposing healthcare reform. When we get into less ideological issues that could allow for cross-cutting coalitions, like immigration reform, that unity will end. Additionally, the end of our involvement in Iraq and a robust economic recovery will remove much Republican momentum. And they should be winning all three of these races, based on the fundamentals. But they've only been able to get their act together in one of them. NY-23 suggests that the base is not going to let moderates be nominated without tacking substantially to the right. This is going to be entertaining.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tom Cruise = Patrick Bateman

Well, sort of:
And then one day [Christian Bale, preparing for American Psycho] called me and he had been watching Tom Cruise on David Letterman, and he just had this very intense friendliness with nothing behind the eyes, and he was really taken with this energy.
So I guess that settles that. The real question is why movies based on Bret Easton Ellis's books often tend to be better than the books in question. I'll admit that his most recent novel, Lunar Park, was a lot of fun and terribly well-written and I highly recommend it, but The Rules of Attraction was kind of a clunker as a book. It did, however, make for an excellent movie, with James Van Der Beek (!) turning in an astonishingly good performance as Sean Bateman, easily a career best for him and essentially the complete opposite of his Dawson shtick. Rules is a minor classic and nearly a masterpiece, and it's impartial in a way that Ellis's books often aren't, to their detriment. Of course, American Psycho really is a cult classic as a film, and it is a better-made film (though arguably less impactful because of the highly clinical approach Mary Harron uses) but after reading some of the book and hearing some of the other parts I decided not to read the entire book.

Where's that gang of fourteen now?

A list of judicial appointments by President Obama, compiled by Wikipedia. Four federal justices--out of about twenty--have been confirmed. David Hamilton's been waiting for seven months now for an up-or-down vote. I realize that healthcare is important and is taking up a lot of time, but surely there's a few hours somewhere to clear out some of these nominations, right?

Oh, and the few that have been confirmed have been nearly-unanimous choices. Somehow, I don't buy that these can all be contentious choices. The holds and filibusters are getting a little tiresome here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tell us what you really think, Bill Donahue

The Catholic pooh-bah unloads: "Catholics were once the mainstay of the Democratic Party; now the gay activists are in charge...The culture war is up for grabs. The good news is that religious conservatives continue to breed like rabbits, while secular saboteurs have shut down: they're too busy walking their dogs, going to bathhouses and aborting their kids."

But all those kids are growing up to be Democrats these days, and that's no doubt due in some part to the sort of mentality that could write something like this. Keep up the good work Bill, you're helping us out like gangbusters. Oh, and the reason why liberals are so derisive of Sarah Palin is because we'll afraid she'll win. For sure.

Better rig up that Voight-Kampff test

I generally like Jon Chait, and I find him one of the more substantive and interesting liberal writers in the mainstream media, but this post sees him going the full neocon:
[Human Rights Watch] may not take sides, but it makes decisions about what's important and what to focus on. Its intense focus on Israel -- a democracy with numerous active and influential human rights organizations in a sea of dictatorships that have nothing of the sort -- is a political choice, not just some "nonpartisan" reflection of reality.
Look, nobody is going to argue that Israel is worse than, say, Iran. Or Hamas. Well, nobody who is being honest is going to argue that, in any event. Israel isn't even in the same ballpark as those groups, and that isn't the issue.

Despite this having right-wing fallacy #1 (the other side is worse, basically), this statement also evinces the ultimate right-wing weakness: a lack of empathy. Chait assumes that HRW criticizing Israel more than, say, Saudi Arabia is proof that HRW is biased against Israel. But does it? Could it be that Saudi Arabia will largely not give a shit where they're ranked in humanitarian terms, while Israel probably will? HRW might criticize Israel more because Israel is indeed a liberal democracy while Saudi Arabia is not and it will presumably have internalized the importance of human rights, and being stung by some bad human rights notices might prod them to try better in the future?

Chait's answer is reminiscent of the right's smug, prideful, self-satisfied nationalist encomia about how the left "blames America first" and that earnestly asks why does the left hate America. Of course, we don't, we just feel that assuming the national identity as the exponent of freedom requires an actual commitment to liberty. Hawks like Chait always want to hold other countries to a highest standard, but feel that America (or Israel, such as the case might be) shouldn't be held to a similarly lofty bar. It's simple hypocrisy, no different from when the same contingent talks about how torture isn't a big deal because al-Qaeda cuts off peoples' heads, so who cares about the odd hypothermia death after an inmate is put in stress positions naked in a freezing room for twelve hours? Rather than complain about bias (does it matter anyway if the complaints are correct?), they should wonder why they want us to grade our behavior on a curve, and then just be happy that we don't fail outright. They might think we hate America (or Israel), but why do they take them for granted?

Why Freakonomics sucks

It's not just their global warming idiocy. Ugh. I understand the logic of decriminalizing prostitution, but for these dudes to actually make a sales pitch for it? Very, very strange.

I'll admit that I enjoyed reading the first book, though I thought that the Roe v. Wade leading to crime dropping in the 1990s analysis was the only original and interesting assertion that the book made. It was pretty much trivial fluff that was amusing, but it was sort of a "Who cares?" kind of thing. So old people get voted off "The Weakest Link" more often. Meh. But the new installment seems to run afoul of common sense on several grounds--by suggesting that environmentalists don't understand the scientific consensus (they do) as well as this business. I think I'll skip it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

As good a two-party analogy as I've read

Tomasky uses a sports metaphor to explain the difference between right and left passions:

Yankees fans sort of regally expect victory. Every day between now (whenever "now" is) and the last game of the World Series is just one more 24-hour period that delays the inevitably of Yankee triumph. It's for this reason that cheering for the Yankees has always seemed to me like cheering for Exxon. But they do have a glorious history, and that history informs the quality and nature of the fan's passion.

The Red Sox have a very different history, full of near-misses (until recently), and so they are fatalists. They assume nothing. In fact, if anything, they assume their team will find a way to blow it, even if they're one out away from being world champions (there's a very good reason for this, it turns out).

They're certainly the equal of Yankees fans in terms of passion. But the two passions have different natures.

No analogy is perfect but this one is pretty good, actually. So: why should liberals' and conservatives' political passions, and the quality and nature of their hatred of the other side, be exactly and precisely similar? They obviously are not and cannot be, because they have different histories, different relationships to power, different world views, etc. That's what I'm trying to get at.

To extend my analogy, since the US is by default a fairly (not extremely) conservative country, with liberalism ascendant only spasmodically, I think conservatives are more like Yankees fans and liberals are more like Red Sox fans. But enough from me. I've now written (between the column and this post) nearly 1,500 words on the subject in the last two days. Your turn.

Of course, if the Democrats score some wins on healthcare, energy and Don't Ask, Don't Tell, one wonders how that will affect the relative confidence of the two sides. Couple that with ever-increasing signs of a party spiraling out of control, and I'm hardly convinced the 2010 midterms will be the rout the media thinks they will.

Sorry, son

An hilarious news story:
The parents of Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) pitched in to help Majority Leader Harry Reid, the state's senior senator, in his 2010 re-election battle, reports CQ Politics.

"Mike and Sharon Ensign, who made waves in July after admitting to giving $96,000 to Ensign's mistress and her family, each gave the maximum $4,800 in contributions to Reid's campaign committee in the September, the senator disclosed in his third quarter fundraising report."
I don't know Ensign's relationship with his parents, but usually, if Mom and Dad are jumping ship it's not a good sign for the incumbent. Reminds me of Giuliani's daughter back in 2008. Looks like the title of The Most Famous Native of My Hometown is going to revert back to Molly Ringwald soon, unless Jonathan Taylor Thomas of Home Improvement fame still qualifies.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Yep, Chris Dodd is definitely a goner...

He's facing a teabagger. I mean, honestly, is that the best the GOP can do?

I've said it before, but Dodd must be considered very likely to win another term. He's played a central role in the healthcare process, and healthcare reform is highly popular in Connecticut. He'll be able to cut an ad touting his importance in establishing universal healthcare--delivering a longtime liberal goal ought to be good in one of the most progressive states in the nation. He can cut an ad about it. Then he can cut an ad with footage of him with his dear old friend, the late Ted Kennedy, talking about how they worked together on so much, and then maybe include a clip of Dodd having a walk-and-talk with President Obama. Then they can run the ad of Rob Simmons, "who as a congressman voted with Bush 95% of the time" and chooses to associate with radical teabaggers. Cut to image of Nazi/racist signs. Done. At that point, it's Dodd by 20.

I realize that it's interesting to speculate about Arlen Specter's chances in Pennsylvania, or whether New Hampshire will remain in Republican hands, but I find it unlikely that either state will return Republicans to power. Pennsylvania has slipped a bit for Obama, the result of a GOP campaign to scare seniors about losing their Medicare, which is especially effective since PA is the second-oldest state in the country. Toomey's extreme conservatism doesn't offer much of an incentive to seniors, and the prospect that they'll eventually realize that Obamacare didn't really hurt them is a strong one. Seems to me that the dynamics favor the Democrats here--either Specter or Sestak is going to make Toomey's record an issue, and unlike Obama, Toomey really does want to raid entitlements (or at least did). Kelly Ayotte holds the most promise for the GOP, but her record is rather conservative, and while Republican women have tended to do well in recent years in New England Ayotte herself hasn't yet run for public office. I tend to think that Mike Castle and Mark Kirk are somewhat overrated in Delaware and Illinois as well.

In any event, what makes me think that the Democrats are in good position in these races is the race for the New York 23rd District seat. If you haven't followed it, basically, the local GOP nominated a moderate Republican, and Club for Growth and the teabagging types have had a lot of success in destroying her candidacy by entering a third candidate. Now, Scozzafava is broke in a three-way race. The torsional stresses being applied to Republicans these days seem to me to be unmanageable, requiring them to move far enough to the right that they please the Beckites, while becoming unelectable in the process. If Scozzafava indeed loses next month, and the Democrat, Bill Owens, wins the race, it will probably lead to more division within the party, as will substantial Republican effort on global warming (which might happen, as Lindsey Graham appears to be on board) and especially immigration reform. Right now the GOP is unified, but that picture seems destined to change soon. And if the economy finds itself in full recovery come Election Day 2010, those intramural debates will only accentuate.

Pointless musing of the day

I finally realized who New Jersey Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie (below) reminds me of...
That'd be this guy:

Then again, this saga could make a killer episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, with Larry going around messing with Corzine's staff, and Jeff Garlin being ridiculed by Corzine as a "fat fuck", and maybe he could offend Ted Danson along the way.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Beyond cutting edge"

Steve Benen reviews the new GOP website:
  • The site includes a new two-page section on Republican "heroes." It features quite a few historic African Americans -- note to the RNC: you're trying way too hard -- including legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson, who wasn't actually a Republican.

  • Steele has a blog on the site. It's called "What Up." The first sentence reads, "The Internet has been around a while, now." Seriously, that's exactly what it says.

  • The site features a timeline of Republican Party "accomplishments," dating back to 1860. The last entry is from 2004, and refers to directing federal funds to private religious schools in D.C., in a voucher program that's failed in a variety of ways. The previous "accomplishment" was the launch of the Iraq war in 2003 (the piece also spells "Iraq" incorrectly). According to the RNC's own new website, the Republican Party hasn't had any accomplishments in the last five years.

  • The RNC created a page for "future leaders" of the party. It's literally blank.

  • Steele's first blog post asks readers, "Why are you are Republican? Think about that for a minute."
I'm not sure what comment you can really make at this point. I actually feel pretty bad for Michael Steele these days. He obviously didn't deserve his job and he simply can't do it. And his self-appointed role as the "cool" Republican couldn't have been executed better by Ricky Gervais. It's like he got all his information on being black from watching VH1 ten years ago.

But the Iraq war as an accomplishment? Larison continues to be right--they really don't get it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Well, they asked for it...

An ironic submission to the Washington Post's Next Great Pundit challenge.

Sullivan's wishful thinking

Andrew Sullivan engages in some wishful thinking:

The ideals of small government, individual freedom, fiscal sanity and prudent foreign policy are appealing to many gays - a third of whom voted for McCain last time around. But Rove and Bush used us as a wedge to build a fundamentalist coalition, a coalition that has inevitably now become a rump.
Look, I'll admit that I find it annoying when people just tell gays and lesbians to just wait and be patient and hope something will emerge from Congress. They shouldn't have to wait. But I think this is rather disingenuous.

For at least fifty years, the GOP has been an organization dedicated to excluding large groups of people from contributing to America. It started with blacks, moved thenceforth to women, and it's finally landed on gays for some time. American conservatism was never built on a platform of letting people just do what they want and keeping the damn government out of their hair. Sure, Barry Goldwater believed that, but he was not the leader of conservatism after 1964. That was Ronald Reagan, who made a career out of the culture wars and, in essence, telling people how they should live their lives. Nixon just synthesized it well enough to get elected in 1968.

This is a group that gets by on fear and loathing. They need to have enemies, and they need to be able to think that these enemies are the worst people in the world. Witness the zombified 2010 Republican strategy to center attacks on Nancy Pelosi for the third straight election. (I guess because it worked so well before?) It might well be that Republicans will stop the anti-gay campaign at some point in the future, but if history is any guide, it will only be because there's a better, more divisive target for their hatred to find. In many ways, hating the gays is sort of the apotheosis of right-wingery--they're a very small group so the political ramifications are small, they've been stereotyped and denigrated for generations, and while racism might or might not be endemic to the human condition homophobia almost certainly seems to be, and getting people to overcome that particular bias requires a great deal of personal work that many people simply aren't that willing to do. Plus, there's a verse or two in the Bible that lets people totally sidestep the issue. So, unless the right's DNA completely changes to such an extent that they're totally focused on putting forward a positive agenda and not on hating unAmerican groups--something unprecedented in history so far--it's unlikely they'll drop these attacks for a while. At least, not until enough of the oldsters watching Fox and listening to Rush keel over and they need to find a new angle to promote conservatism.

Then there's this:

How long before Ted Olson's view manages to make its way back to the center of the GOP? The news of the HRC sell-out reveals just how important that now is for the future of civil rights. And if the GOP had any idea how to get back to the center, they'd do in America what the Tories have in Britain and outflank interest group politics by embracing civil rights for all individuals, regardless of any identity, as non-negotiable.

I actually find this mostly reprehensible. Back to the center? Since when has gay marriage been the center of the GOP? And in what universe is giving a speech broadly supportive of gay rights to a major gay rights group considered a sell-out? A sell-out would be if Obama had said that there's just too much going on, and we're fighting two wars, and so repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell will just have to wait until Iraq ends. This didn't happen. And if the Republicans actually did what Sullivan is suggesting they'd get about 15% of the vote nationwide tops, after every religious rightist bolts to the Constitution Party or some such.

I think the thing to understand here is that the predominant complex on the right is victimhood while the primary complex on the left is betrayal. Liberals are frequently very cynical about the political leadership on our side, and this often manifests itself in shouts of "betrayal" (the right, of course, equivalently shouts "treason"). Of course, if substantive healthcare reform occurs and if something real on energy gets passed, liberals will be confronted with something unusual: victory. That might change mindsets a bit.

I generally like Sullivan, but I always have to mentally remind myself that when he says "conservatism", he's using a definition of the term that merely exists in his own head. I totally support Sullivan's boldness in pushing equality, and I truly wish that Republicans were much better on this issue than they are. But I think his tendency toward wishful thinking and his bias against liberalism--which is sometimes merited but often not--is getting the better of him here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama wins the Peace Prize

A few points:
  1. It's admittedly way premature.
  2. The right wing's response to the news reminds us, once again, that it is made up of petty and loathsome creeps.
  3. This (via Sullivan) is hilarious.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A review of Windows 7

You know you want it.

Jon Stewart = Glenn Beck?

Jon Chait smacks down an inane post by fatuous tool Jonah Goldberg. As always, Goldberg tries to draw false equivalencies with the other side instead of dealing with the issues on his own.


It's not just that it's been about two and a half years, but I find this hilarious: "After 4 years of Democrats running this country's finances, Americans are fed up with the lack of accountability and the worsening economic indicators."

So, vote Republican? I think Americans just want more jobs. The party of the financial crisis and the spending freeze can't quite deliver them, I suspect.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The more I think about it, the more this Grayson thing bothers me. It is hypocritical for the GOP to be shocked, shocked about this, but while I support left populism I think this is not the way to do it.

The curious Alan Grayson problem

Matt Yglesias nails it:
I think the real issue—and the real import—of Grayson’s statement is that it involved breaking one of the unspoken rules of modern American politics. The rule is that conservatives talk about their causes in stark, moralistic terms and progressives don’t. Instead, progressives talk about our causes in bloodless technocratic terms. This is also one of the reasons that Ted Kennedy’s stark, moralistic attack on Robert Bork’s legal theories are for some reason often cast by the MSM as some kind of illegitimate smear campaign. The reality is that it was just him talking about a conservative the way conservatives relatively talk about liberals. Like Grayson he characterized his opponents’ views polemically, but wasn’t offering any kind of wild factual distortions. But moralism from the left is very unfamiliar to American political debates.

The media will hate this, because it's made up of self-loathing lefties who can't stand left-populism. Indeed, it seems like most liberals tend to be skeptical of populism, seeing it as a province of the right and somehow unintellectual and undignified. But this is silly, and a liberal politics that doesn't include populism isn't a liberal politics with any future. Yglesias grasps this point as well:
I think there are some real limits to how far it does go. For one thing, it puts you at a permanent kind of rhetorical disadvantage. But for another thing, it’s just very hard to do big things without a certain amount of moralism. In particular, you really can’t talk about the climate change issue in a sensible way without mentioning the irreducible wrongness of residents of a large developed nation endangering the lives and livelihoods of a couple billion people in the developing world with our industrial activities. When you think about it, it’s really wrong! Wrong in a way that transcends the fact that it would be inconvenient for some key states and industries to recognize that fact.

The right, needless to say, is going ballistic at this development, but I doubt they're going to get as much mileage out of it as the Wilson remark gave the Dems. It's all about context. Wilson did his insanity during a speech by the president, Grayson did it during an ordinary House speech. Furthermore, as Marin Cogan notes, "It’s hard to see these two situations as equal. Grayson is being tongue-in-cheek; unlike the Republicans, who took up the death panel lie in earnest, no Democrat is seriously saying that the Republicans want you to die." Then again, conservative appreciation of irony is limited. Just Karl Rove's columns.

Personally, I wouldn't have said exactly what Grayson did, but are the Republicans really on solid ground here? Does hyping this do anything other than just remind people that the Republicans have no plan on healthcare?

Rand vs. Hayek

Mark over at The League makes an interesting point:
"This is why, for all the bluster about “death panels,” and health care reform
being an irreversible step on the road to socialism, it is the Randian vision of
the world that animating the Right’s position on reform at the expense of the
far more rigorous, thoughtful, and classically liberal vision of Hayek."

I'm more familiar with Rand's work than Hayek's, but I suspect there's a good point here. How anyone could find Rand compelling is beyond me--she's every bit as dogmatic and unmoored from reality as any of her Communist antogonistes were. The major difference, so far as I can see, is that at least Marx and Lenin were trying to solve problems of social justice, and while their solution was deeply flawed it's not hard to see how it appealed to a lot of poor and powerless people. Rand pretty much dismisses any notion of social justice and prefers to see the world as a brutal, zero-sum struggle between people where helping others is merely a sign of weakness, and it's always obvious where her sympathies lie--with the virtuous rich instead of the scum-sucking poor. I'll admit this though: she did have a comprehensive worldview, as the sex scenes in her books can show. Ugh.

What I find interesting about the right's enduring Rand crush is that Rand was a notorious antitheist, and her philosophy is essentially a negation of the entire Christian enterprise. Rand would have thought Christ an idiot because he chose to sacrifice himself for others, instead of feeding his own desires and not letting people stand on their own two feet. How can one believe both of these ideas? I guess it's not new news that conservatism isn't exactly a coherent philosophical system, but the irony here is delicious.

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.