Saturday, December 09, 2006

Election 2008--Race Baiting Starts Early on the Right

The significance of race-baiting for the right. You have to give our friends on the right-wing credit. They waited a whole month after Barack Obama first expressed interest in the presidency to start race-baiting him. Because political racism is viewed as morally repugnant, there is very little comment on the the significance of racism in American politics. For the activist right, however, race-baiting is an important part of their rhetorical arsenal. Of course, race-baiting allows right-wingers to express their own racism and this is far from insignificant. It also serves the political purpose of connecting them with others who resist the "politically correct" orthodoxies concerning the worth of blacks, women, gays, immigrants, and disabled people.

Even more important for right-wingers is the way that baiting blacks, Muslims, and hispanics allows right-wingers to demonstrate what they see as their moral superiority over white liberals. Right-wingers see themselves as smarter, tougher, more determined, more willing to defy social convention, and more authentic than white liberals and race-baiting is one of the pre-eminent ways that the right demonstrates these qualities. The right especially relishes shoving their race-baiting down the "whiny little throats" of liberals while taking any outrage on the part of the left as a sign that they've won. In this sense, race-baiting is an integral part of the right-wing's "war against liberalism."

The Technique for Obama. The trick to public race-baiting is to express racial loathing without directly attacking blacks in the manner of Michael Richards. So, people on the right are constantly looking for clever new ways to employ symbols of racial hostility, remind minorities of racial stereotypes, attack minority public figures, or defend race-baiting as non-racist. When George Allen called the Indian-American guy a "macaca," he thought he was using a clever and defensible way to call a black person a racial epithet. Of course, that one blew up in his face.

With Barack Obama, what people on the right are doing is playing with his name. Ele_, a poster on Slate's Fray, notes that you get "Osama" when you substitute an "s" for the "b" in Obama's name. The race-baiting trick here is to associate Obama's African-sounding name with terrorism so that "Obama" can become a synonym for terrorism. What's clever here is that the rhetorical manuever is defensible as "word-play" used to score a point against Obama even though the effect of the word-play is generated through attaching Obama's name to a stereotype--i. e., race-baiting.

In the same thread, "JackDallas" sticks in the knife a little further by associating the Osama connection and Obama's middle-name of "Hussein" with a traditional symbol of racial animosity. "[Y]eah that's it," says "Dallas," "Just what this country needs, an arabic lawn jockey for president." Here, "Jack Dallas" fuses the Arab associations of Obama's name with a traditional American racial image. Once again, this is defensible approach to race-baiting. Even though lawn jockeys are well known as demeaning images of racial servitude, they don't have the same force as the n-word or cotton images. Consequently, if Obama himself or any white liberal were offended, they could readily be seen as "over-reacting," "emotional," or "weak" because they were upset over such a minor bit of racism. For a right-winger like Dallas, the lawn jockey image would be a two-fer. He gets to engage in some race-baiting at the same time that he has an opportunity to make liberals look bad.

The Prognosis. Assuming that Obama is going to run and that he's competitive, we're in for at least a long 18 months of race-baiting. And the race-baiting will hurt his candidacy because it will tend to transform Obama from a symbol of hope into yet another black symbol of "racial controversy." In my opinion, the best way to counter race-baiting in the context of Obama's campaign is to respond quickly and go beyond the accusation of racism to emphasize what the right-wing is trying to accomplish with their racism.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Obama: Clearing Out the Second Tier

Maybe I'd be more excited about Barack Obama if I had read The Audacity of Hope, owned a television, or hadn't been excited about Howard Dean in 2004.

But I'm not.

One thing that Obama is doing, however, is killing the long-shot candidacy of John Kerry. He's also making an Al Gore bid a little less likely than it already is.

In the most recent Fox polling, Obama polls at 12% among Democrats, enough to put him alone in the second tier of interested Democratic candidates but not enough to bother Hillary too much. Given that Kerry sinks from 13% to 6% and Gore dives from 15% to 11%, almost of Obama's support is coming from people who still support former candidates.

Not exactly a hip crowd.

And Obama hasn't taken anything from Hillary. Her support increased slightly from 32-33%

Assuming that Gore is not going to run, that means that Obama is the only Democrat other than Hillary with more than 10% support. Eventually, this will make Obama the anti-Hillary in a precedent-setting and high-quality Democratic primary campaign.

The third tier is made up of John Edwards and John Kerry drifting below the Lieberman futility line of 9% while Evan Bayh, Joe Biden, Tom Vilsack, Wesley Clark, and Bill Richardson all barely register.

What often happens is that third tier candidates drift along hoping to become the leading alternative to the favorite and then catch some kind of lightning to the top. For all the guys in the Democratic third tier, this means that they would be hoping to seize any opportunity afforded if Obama either faltered or decided not to run.

You have to wonder why they bother.

Right now, Barack Obama's main contribution to the Democratic presidential nomination process is to make it necessary for the third-tier riff raff to have a lot more audacity if they want to keep hope alive (to borrow a Jesse Jackson line).

I'm all for that.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Iraq Study Group and Credible Government

The odd imperative of bi-partisanship. As Matthew Yglesias has emphasized, the Iraq Study is an effort by Washington Wise Men to re-establish some sort of bi-partisan elite reconciliation in the United States. It's an important point. In fact, the Iraq Study Group is about the United States as much at least as much as it is about Iraq and the leaders of the Iraq Study Group are putting a strong emphasis on bi-partisanship. However, Yglesias is mistaken in thinking that the Iraq Study Group is simply trying to exclude the left (although they did that). He is also mistaken to think that James Baker, Lee Hamilton, and David Broder are trying to create bipartisan harmony for it's own sake. American government is confronting a real, difficult, and under-appreciated problem right now.

The Perils of Presidential Government. In fact, the U. S. is undergoing the most serious crisis of presidential government since Watergate. The Bush administration has been almost as universally repudiated in the United States as it is in world opinion. Bush policy in Iraq has been repudiated in the polls for months, a repudiation that was reinforced by the heavy losses of the Republicans in the Congressional elections. On top of that President Bush's conduct of the war has lost the support of the neo-conservative policy elite after first losing the loyalty of the CIA, State Department, and military bureaucracies. If Bush were a prime minister in a parliamentary system, his own party would have forced him to resign and make way for a different leader. Because the U. S. has a presidential system where even the worst leaders serve their full terms, we are stuck with an administration that has been repudiated by the public, the government apparatus, and opinion elites of all ideological persuasions. Having a government that has been almost universally rejected is a dangerous thing in a time of war because it prevents the various elements of our enormous society from coalescing around one or two approaches to conducting the war. That's what's happening in the U. S. in relation to Iraq right now. There is a broad sense that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating, but not the least bit of consensus about how to understand that deterioration or what to do about it.

A Substitute for Credible Government. Given that the Bush administration is no longer credible on Iraq and that the Democratic opposition has not found its voice, the Iraq Study Group is serving as an elite substitute for credible government. The fact that such a fragile mechanism is necessary constitutes one more embarrassing measure of the foreign policy and defense failures of the Bush administration. Nevertheless, the Iraq Study Group succeeded in a very basic sense. They re-asserted a sober sense of the reality on the ground in Iraq as the basis for mapping out future policy, a sense of reality initially developed on the left. For years, anti-war commenters have emphasized the failure to get Iraq's economy functioning at more than pre-war levels, Iraq's explosive sectarianism, and the general ineffectiveness of the Iraqi government, army, and police. All of these conclusions and more were adapted by the Iraq Study Group and now have the character of a bi-partisan, elite conclusion. With the work of the Iraq study group, we can have a national consensus about how bad the situation is in Iraq and how ineffective the Bush administration has been in addressing that situation.

Forward Movement. The Iraq Study Group has defined the problems in Iraq in termsthat Disaffected Republicans, the Democrats, and anti-war people can mostly agree on. The only question is whether the Bush administration and the right-wing will continue in their hyper-aggressive denial of reality. I suspect that the answer to that question will be "yes" and that the Bush administration will find themselves increasingly marginal to public debate.

What to do? The weak point of the Iraq Study Group was their suggestions for addressing the many dimensions of the problem in Iraq. Launching a new international initiative, challenging the Maliki government to engage in a broad national reconciliation, and concentrating more on embedding American advisers into Iraqi units are all worthwhile recommendations. However, these ideas don't provide the ballast needed for a comprehensive solution to Iraq's problems. The Iraq Study group wants to reach out to Syria and Iran but provides little reason for Syria and Iran to respond. Likewise, they demand that Maliki embark on broad national reconciliation but provide no idea on how that could happen. Here, the Iraq Study Group has not being able to prioritize Iraq in relation to other American priorities on Iran, Syria, and Israel. If the U. S. is going to seek to integrate Iran and Syria into efforts to stabilize Iraq, it might have to accommodate Iran on nuclear weapons and accomodate Syria on Lebanon. If the Iraq Study Group wants the Maliki administration to become a more forceful presence, it will have to allow Maliki to build on his strongest assets, the Shiite militias.

The Iraq Study Group could not come up with a magic bullet for making the Iraq situation better. However, the members of that group deserve a great deal of credit for agreeing on the nature of the target in Iraq. At a time when the U. S. desperately needed a substitute for credible government, the Iraq Study Group provided one.

Dick Cheney: Another Grandchild for Worst VP in 200 years

Early reports this morning are that Mary Cheney, the daughter of VP Dick Cheney is pregnant and expecting a baby with her lesbian partner Heather Poe. I'll forbear any cheap shots about the hypocrisy of Mary Cheney spearheading her father's 2004 campaign while the Republicans made attacks on gay rights their primary theme. It's not like Mary Cheney was the only gay Republican implicated in the ugly homophobia of the Republican campaign in 2004. There was Rep. Mark Foley, Kirk Fordham (former chief of staff to Rep. Tom Reynolds), Robert Traynham (communications director to Rick Santorum), and an apparently extensive network of gay staffers on Capitol Hill. According to David Corn, Sen. Mitch McConnell is supposed to have a gay staffer. Actually, the rumor in Kentucky is that McConnell himself is gay and that his marriage to Elaine Chao is a sham. Because there are so many influential gay Republicans, there is not much use in slamming Mary Cheney or Dick Cheney in particular.

Besides, Alan Keyes, Donald Widmon, James Dobson, and the rest of the homophobic bigots on the religious right are going to spend most of the day upbraiding Mary Cheney and her father anyway.

The only point I want to make is that his daughter's pregnancy is by far the best thing that Dick Cheney's been involved with since he became vice-president. Dick Cheney was supposed to be an adult mentor for the woefully ignorant president Bush when he took office. Instead, Cheney the adult turned out to be more of a weird little boy than the President. Cheney has used his position as the most powerful vice-president in American history to pursue the crazed project of trying to vindicate most of the worst qualities of the Nixon presidency. I'm not talking about cutting taxes for the wealthy or handing the Alaska National Wilderness Reserve over to the oil companies. Making life even easier for the "haves" is the ambition of any Republican, straight or gay. Rather, Cheney has been the worst vice-president since Aaron Burr because of his involvement with the Bush administration secrecy campaigns, torturing suspected terrorists, sending suspects off to other countries to be tortured, cooking the intelligence that led to the Iraq invasion, and dishonestly posing one "rosy scenario" after another to justify the whole misbegotten occupation. Cheney has been at the center of almost every Bush administration move to screw up the Iraq invasion, waste American resources, and lower American credibility in the world over the last six years and it literally will take decades for the U. S. to recover from Dick Cheney's vice-presidency.

So, congratulations to Dick Cheney for the upcoming birth of another grandchild. It's the only honorable thing he's been involved with for a long time.

Monday, December 04, 2006

George Bush and the "T" Word

Lately, there's been some comment on the left about whether George Bush is the worst president in the history of the United States. The bright yellow "W-Worst Ever" bumper sticker on my car says that I agree with Eric Foner and Douglas Brinkley in rating Bush the worst. However, it really is too early to tell.

It does seem likely that Bush will be listed either with the disastrous Presidents like James Buchanan, Herbert Hoover, and Richard Nixon or the weak but not quite disastrous presidents like Franklin Pierce. Whether Bush is dead last will depend on the priorities of the historians doing the rating. Reagan biographer Lou Cannon points out that future historians might lift Bush's ratings because of the success of No Child Left Behind or the Prescription Drug Benefit. But it's just as likely that that the future will make things worse for George W. For example, information may turn up that will lead either American or international courts to indict President Bush and members of his administration for crimes against humanity.

There's also the possibility that a shadow of treason will develop over the Bush administration. There was a time in late 2003 and early 2004 when the insurgency had taken root but was not as entrenched as it would be that the Bush administration could have dramatically increased the American military presence in Iraq in the attempt to defeat the insurgency before it got a lot worse. Certainly, John McCain and John Kerry were advocating significant increases in the number of troops on the ground in Iraq.

Of course, there might be several reasons why the Bush administration decided to stay the course with 137,000 troops. Given that Wolfowitz, Feith, and Rumsfeld were all still on board, the Bush administration might have sincerely believed that the troop deployment was adequate. Perhaps Bush's people thought that increasing the number of troops would be admitting that their initial deployments were a mistake and thus would be disadvantageous politically.

However, I have always had the sneaking suspicion that the Bush administration saw political advantage in the initial growth of the insurgency. Sure, they would rather that the insurgency not have come into existence at all, but some of the "unintended consequences" of the insurgency were good for the Bush administration. First, the insurgency could be used as a club to beat the Democrats in the 2004 election and beyond. Second, the existence and growth of the insurgency could remind the Shiites in control of the Iraq government that they still very much needed the American military and would do so for the forseeable future.

To the extent that the Bush administration decided that the growth of the insurgency was a good thing in some ways, they were coming close to committing treason according to the Constitutional definition of treason as providing "aid and comfort to the enemy." If the administration adapted a policy that knowingly allowed the insurgency to grow, that's as close as any government has come to aiding and abetting an enemy.

It will be interesting to see what emerges concerning the Bush administration's policy-making concerning the Iraq War. The thing that Bush's people have to fear most are war crimes accusations. However, it's conceivable that information could emerge that will make people start talking about the "t-word" in relation to the Bush administration's conduct of the Iraq War.

Doubts About Obama

A couple of days ago, a student in one of my classes listed three "good" people--Mother Theresa, John Paul II, and Barack Obama. I'm not as enthused about Sen. Obama. Barack Obama may be a good man. He may be a great man. So far, however, Obama has shown no evidence of one of the absolutely necessary qualifications for any Democratic presidential candidate or any Democratic President:

the toughness needed to grind out the daily political warfare against the right-wing.

So far, Obama has been about hope and vision and that is something that Americans yearn for after 3 1/2 years of occupying Iraq, 6 years of George Bush and 14 years of non-stop trench warfare of American politics since Bill Clinton's election in 1992. But the trench warfare is not going to stop as long as Rush, Sean, and Bill O'Reilly are on the air, the political right dominates Republican politics, and the most extreme conservatives are rolling in money. To be a successful president, Barack Obama would have to show that he can effectively convey hope and vision after the right-wing turns on the inevitable "war on Obama."

Right now, I don't see Obama as being that tough. That's why I'm supporting Hillary at this point. If Obama does run, it will be a good thing. Obama's candidacy will suck the air out the Democratic primaries for all the second and third tier candidates and get the race quickly down to Hillary vs Obama. It will also give the winning Democratic candidate a tough tough test before they come up against the still-formidable Republican attack machine. I think Hillary will prove to be stronger when the heat gets white hot, but Obama certainly deserves a chance to start proving himself.

John Bolton: A Conservative Martyr at Long Last

John Bolton has to be one of the happiest guys in New York this week. Having submitted his "take this job and shove it" letter to President Bush, Bolton now has only two more weeks of "building coalitions against Iran and North Korea," "promoting reform," having tea with Kofi Annan and consulting with the French, Angolans, Madagascans and other inconsequential parties.

Then, Bolton is free to begin his career as a conservative martyr.

The whole secret to the John Bolton controversy is that Bolton did not want to be UN Ambassador in the first place. When Condoleeza Rice became Secretary of State, Bolton lost out on a power struggle to become Rice's Under-Secretary of State and function as a "minder" making sure that Rice stuck to the neo-conservative party line. The UN job was a completely unwelcome consolation prize that ensured both that Bolton would not be in the decision-making loop and that he would be spending all his time on completely disagreeable tasks.

Work at the UN?--Bolton believed that the UN should be blown up and international law eliminated.

Organize coalitions against North Korea and Iran?--Bolton wanted to overthrow both governments. Syria as well.

Negotiate with other members of the Security Council?--Bolton believed that the U. S. should be the only permanent member of the Security Council.

The only redeeming feature of Bolton's nomination to be UN Ambassador was the possibility that the nomination would be rejected by the Senate. This way, Bolton could spend the rest of his life as a conservative martyr. Bolton would get a promotion at the American Enterprise Institute, his speeches would be much anticipated at the Hoover Institute on the West Coast, and his books on how "liberals opposed him because he stood up for America" would fly off the shelves of right-wing publishers.

As UN Ambassador, Bolton would be living his own private version of hell. As a conservative martyr, Bolton would be rich, famous, respected, and beloved. He could throw out his rhetorical bombs anytime he wanted. He could have fun.

Bolton must have been secretly disappointed when President Bush gave him a recess appointment. When the Senate refused to nominate Bolton again, he moved quickly to pre-empt any attempt by the President to shoehorn him into the hated UN job again.

Free at Last! Free at Last! John Bolton is free from the UN at last.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Conservatives Yearning for Another Country

Last night, the RSI family had a Superman Returns festival. Watching the most current version of the Superman story almost three times, we decided that it wasn't a bad movie at all. Brandon Routh also was a pretty good Superman for our Rwanda/Darfur/Katrina times. When Routh was standing above the world listening to the cries of millions of people as he was deciding who to help, he was representing the best of the American Way.

At the same time, watching Superman made me wonder about the extent to which our conservative friends still believe in the American Way.

Exampls of conservative disaffection with the United States are readily at hand. Yesterday, it was reported that the conservative San Joaquin diocese is fed up with American Episcopals consecrating female priests, appointing gay bishops, and making women into national leaders. Indeed, San Joaquin Bishop John-David Schofield has accused national Episcopal leaders of heresy and the Fresno-based diocese has endoresed a direct affiliation with the worldwide Anglican community rather than the U. S. Episcopals. Bishop Schofield has also explored the possibility of affiliating his diocese with the Argentinian Anglican Church.

That's right, Argentina.

It is important to understand the significance of the disaffection of Bishop Schofield and much of his diocese. Their objection to Episcopal policy is that the national church has made women and gays into full participants in the Anglican communion, with the assumption that women and gays have the ability to lead and religious integrity as heterosexual men. Given the traditional exclusion of women from priestly functions and higher administration within all Christian denominations, American episcopals were taking a tremendous step. The same was the case with their election of a gay man as a bishop.

In manuevering its way toward disaffiliation, much of the San Joaquin diocese is expressing its wish to disaffiliate from female priests and gay bishops. At the same time, conservatives want to end their religious association with those who would make women and gays full religious citizens. They want to disaffiliate so much with religious liberals that they're willing to look a continent away for like-minded conservatives.

The idea of equal rights for women is now intellectually dominant in American society even if male supremacy still has an enormous impact. Likewise, the idea that gays and lesbians should be able to live as full citizens is gaining enough ground that homophobes feel that the only way to preserve exclusions is to write them into constitutions.

To the extent that full citizenship for women and gays has become the American Way (for Anglicans), the conservatives in the San Joaquin diocese are looking to disaffiliate from the United States.

This yearning for other countries characterizes many other conservatives as well. Anybody familiar with the Confederate flag phenomenon--and Confederate flags, bumper stickers, shirts, and scarves are very popular in this part of Kentucky--knows that a lot of racists would rather live in the Confederacy. To give an example from public life, Republican Senate whip Trent Lott of Mississippi is on record as saying that “Sometimes I feel closer to Jefferson Davis [leader of the Confederacy] than any other man in America.”

Likewise, many neo-conservatives and other conservatives yearn to live in a country that's more like Israel than the United States. Admiring Israeli aggressiveness against the Arabs and the long Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, American conservatives view the Israelis as an "ideal imperialist"and are fervent in their desire that U. S. foreign policy become more like Israel's. Defense Department conservatives like Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith were so strongly identified with Israel that some of their critics began to wonder about their loyalties to the U. S. For ardent neo-cons, however, there is no problem because they hope to see a successful Israeli state serving as a role model or father figure to the more aggressive, more dominant U. S. they wish for.

One of the odd things about conservatives is that they see themselves as the "real Americans," but often have very tenuous cultural and ideological attachments to American society. Knowing that they are at best underdogs in the cultural warfare in American society, conservatives are beginning to cast about for places and times that their right-wing hearts can call home.