Saturday, March 03, 2007

Andrew Sullivan Gets It Right!

Andrew Sullivan, gay conservative blogger, on Ann Coulter:

"When you see her in such a context, you realize that she truly represents the heart and soul of contemporary conservative activism, especially among the young . . . Her endorsement of Romney today - "probably the best candidate" - is a big deal, it seems to me. "

Far from dissociating himself from Coulter's bigotry, Mitt Romney viewed Coulter's endorsement as the highlight of his campaign to date.

And it was.

The Soul of Popular Conservatism

TPM's Greg Sargent wonders "Why, Why, Why" conservatives would be so eager to hear Ann Coulter at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference. In fact, the depth of Ann Coulter's appeal to the right-wing is hard for people on the left to understand.

So, instead of being "outraged" by Coulter's latest provocation, I'm going to take my shot at explaining Coulter's appeal.

In fact, Ann Coulter is the soul of popular conservatism. To understand Coulter's appeal, it is important to emphasize that right-wingers think they're morally and intellectually superior to white liberals and minority advocates. Conservatives believe that their morality of taboo breaking on race, gender, and sexuality is superior to liberal "goodness" on these issues. Right-wingers also think they're smarter, more rational (as opposed to emotional), and tougher than liberals. This is why Ann Coulter is idolized by the right. She represents the superiority of conservativism in the minds of conservatives.

Coulter gained this status because she is the grand priestess of a particular right-wing rhetorical game in relation to "political correctness." From the right-wing point of view, making racist, sexist, and homophobic statements is a demonstration of moral and intellectual superior. The idea of bigoted talk about "lawn jockeys," "ragheads," "faggots," etc., is to defy norms of political correctness and then laugh at the "outrage" with which liberals respond. Dick Cheney was playing this kind of rhetorical game when he told John Kerry to "fuck yourself." In this context, the "morality" is in the defiance of social convention while the "intelligence" is in manipulating liberal emotions. The right-wing short-hand for this rhetorical game is "driving liberals crazy" and right-wingers derive enormous satisfaction from playing it.

Now, it should be obvious where Ann Coulter fits. Having surpassed Limbaugh as a high-wire artist of calculated bigotry, fencing "outraged" liberals, and laughing all the way to the bank, Coulter is fervently admired because she captures the core of right-wing morality in a way that's extremely pleasing to conservatives. If Martin Luther King was the lens through which Americans were able to see the ugliness of segregation and racism, Coulter is the lens through which conservatives can view their bigotries as a sign of their intellectual and moral goodness.

From the conservative point of view, that's invaluable.

Friday, March 02, 2007

When Your Fastball is Gone

Tonight I heard a speech by Sen. Jim Bunning at the annual meeting of the Kentucky Political Science Association in my hometown of Morehead, KY. Bunning was a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Tigers, Phillies, Pirates, and Dodgers who went into Kentucky politics when he lost his fastball and served on the local and state level before moving to the House of Representatives and then the Senate.

Bunning's far from being a political Hall of Famer, but he also used to throw his share of high, hard ones in Kentucky politics as well. At age 75, however, the Senator has also lost his political fastball and barely survived a re-election campaign against a very obscure state senator in 2004. And tonight was more of the same.

So what do you get from washed up politicians?

In Bunning's case, it was bi-partisanship--a soft-headed helping of wishful thinking that everybody could just get together and solve the problems of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. He did everything but quote Rodney King.

I had planned to ask a couple of tough questions about the culture of corruption in Congress and the sexual orientation of Kentucky's other U. S. Senator.

But I changed my mind and got up to leave at the beginning of the Senator's second baseball story.

I'll save my punches for somebody who can fight back.

A Swamp Less Rancid

Former Republican heavyweight Tom DeLay argued in his blog today that Nancy Pelosi's willingness to put William Jefferson (of $90,000 in the freezer fame) on the Homeland Security Committee meant that she wasn't "draining the swamp" of Congressional corruption as she promised.

But isn't the swamp a lot less rancid now that DeLay himself with his indictment for using illegal corporate contributions, two staff members with guilty pleas, and multiple ethics citations is out of Congress.

Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney, and Mark Foley are gone as well.

Maybe Pelosi doesn't have to do so much draining after all.

"Splatter Boy" Dick Cheney

Last night at a dinner for the Conservative Political Action Conference, Dick Cheney threw some more stuff against the wall to see if it would stick. The Bush people used to say that an American withdrawal would lead to an al-Qaida takeover in Iraq. But that didn't prevent increasing majorities of the American public from supporting withdrawal. So Dick Cheney's been trying out a new line. Now the problem is that an American withdrawal would free up al-Qaida fighters to go to Afghanistan, undermine the Musharaff government in Pakistan, and put pressure on the Arab oil monarchies.

Given how disconnected he was from any reality, Cheney might as well have added "and a partridge in a pear tree." Al-Qaeda in Iraq is only one of the many Sunni insurgent groups fighting against the American occupation of Iraq. Unless an American withdrawal from Iraq serves as a much bigger stimulus to al-Qaeda recruiting than the original invasion, al-Qaeda doesn't have anywhere near enough fighters to engage in a region-wide campaign to undermine Arab governments.

But reality has never been the point with Cheney. During the lead-up to the Iraq invasion, Cheney shifted back and forth from themes of Saddam cooperating with al-Qaeda to Saddam acquiring nuclear weapons, the Niger yellowcake accusation, "knowing" where WMD's were hidden, etc. Cheney could have cared less whether any of this was true. The point was to keep war opponents on the defensive by continuing to splatter new accusations against the Saddam Hussein regime into the media.

This worked in 2003 when the Bush administration still had a lot of credibility. But the story is different now that the war in Iraq has been lost and the vast majority of the American public is looking for an exit. Liberal/left blogger Glenn Greenwald is just speaking the broad public view when he characterizes Cheney an "increasingly embittered and reckless." But Greenwald is mistaken. Cheney isn't any more embittered and reckless than he was at the beginning of the Bush administration in 2001. The only change is that Cheney's "splatter-boy" tactics no longer have any credibility with the public.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Does Romney Have Enough Money for Newt to Win?

It looks like the battle for the Republican nomination is going to be one of the ugliest spectacles in the history of American politics. With all of the major announced candidates standing on shaky ideological ground, rivers of money are going to flow into the nastiest kind of negative advertising. In fact, if the Bush administration had been as determined to win the war in Iraq as McCain, Giuliani, and Romney are to win the Republican nomination, things would probably be going better for the American cause.

The guy who needs to do the most negative advertising is Mitt Romney because he is so far behind Giuliani and McCain that the only way he can lift himself up is to pull one of the other contenders down. Foreshadowing the negative campaign to come, Romney came out slugging against John McCain and Rudy Giuliani in New Hampshire. For Romney, Giuliani "is pro-choice, he is pro-gay marriage and anti-gun" while McCain can't even consider himself to be conservative because of his support for immigrant amnesty and opposition to "a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. " If Romney can match McCain and Giuliani's fund-raising, this kind of stuff is going to be saturating television broadcasts in Des Moines and New Hampshire for most of the next year.

And what will be the outcome?

I don't see Romney as having much chance of winning himself. Right now, he's pandering so hard to the right that he's in a lot of danger of looking absurd to hard core conservatives. But, given the weaknesses of McCain and Giuliani, there is a decent chance that Romney could weaken one or both of the front-runners and set the table for a Newt Gingrich campaign.

Spring is in the Air!

On Tuesday, I saw the first sign of spring on the Morehead State campus--the re-emergence of the Easter Egg look. In this case, it was a female student with bright pink hair, but eventually there will be a sprinkling of green, purple, orange, pink, and white bobbing on the heads of both guys and women. Among the college students I've known, bouncing bright hair is an exercise in the expansion of one's persona. It's as if the hair color is springing itself and the young people involved into the world. It's a laughing sign of faith in the future and an eager anticipation of enjoyment to come.

Then today, the rain began. I know that spring rains cause tornados and flash flooding and can be incredibly destructive. Fifteen kids died today when a tornado slammed into Enterprise High School in Alabama and that's very poignant here because two of my colleagues are from the Enterprise area.

Yet, I've learned to view the spring rains as a sign of the beauty to come--of trees and plants so heavy with their blooms that they literally hang over the street bursting with colors just as outrageous as the young woman with the pink hair.

It puts a little bounce in my step just to think about it.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Undersecretary for Fuck-Ups

Douglas Feith, former no. 3 man at the Pentagon as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, has set up a web site to justify his role in generating phony intelligence on Iraq.

A recent report by the Defense Department's Inspector General reprimanded Feith in the mildest possible terms for engaging in "inappropriate" attempts to massage raw intelligence reports into conclusions that Saddam Hussein was cooperating with al-Qaeda. Determined to salvage his reputation, Feith protests that civilian officials should be able to criticize the CIA. But the problem is that Feith's intelligence claims were driven by the Bush administration's obsession with invading Iraq. Consequently, Feith's intelligence judgements were even more bogus than the CIA's.

If Douglas Feith was a smart guy, he would focus on taking the real 800 pound gorilla off his reputation--Gen. Tommy Franks' statement that he was "the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth."

But Feith doesn't seem to be that smart. Maybe that's why the Bush administration thought he would work well with Donald Rumsfeld.

Who's the Fly? Who's the Paper?

Yesterday, the American military raided the offices of Moqtada al-Sadr in Sadr City and arrested 16 leaders of Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. Once again, commanders like Gen. Raymond Odierno are engaged in the "flypaper" strategy of enticing insurgents and militia members into an OK Corral kind of shootout that the U. S. would win easily.

But American generals have seen too many movies.

It's not like the Shiite militias didn't see it coming. According to Abdul Razzaq al-Nedawi, a Sadr aide, "the [American] operation appeared to be an attempt to provoke the Mahdi Army" into a confrontation.

The response of the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades to the American surge has been to reduce their activity, lie low, and transfer their fighters out of Baghdad to avoid exactly the kinds of confrontations that the American military wants.

Not being stupid enough to confront American troops in Baghdad in the first place, Sadr isn't interested in fighting the Americans now either.

Actually, one has to wonder if Sadr isn't trying to draw the American military into his version of flypaper. If American (and Iraqi) forces try to start a "clear and hold" operation in Sadr City, they could just as well end up as the flies. Given that Sadr City is a sprawling slum of 2 million people, clearing the area of militia members would be a difficult, possibly bloody operation. Also there would be considerable risk for the kinds of religious desecrations and human rights abuses that might trigger a general Shiite revolt.

That's Sadr's flypaper, the likelihood of a broad Shiite uprising in response to an American effort to occupy Sadr City. If the event of such a development, the Maliki government would lose the support of the majority Shiite population and the American military would be facing the daunting task of occupying another hostile population in Iraq.

Right now, it's difficult not to see Sadr and the Mahdi Army as having the upper hand.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Weighing the Baggage

There have been a number of stories out on whether Hillary Clinton has too much baggage to win a general election in 2008. Here's an indexed video report on Fox. Hillary certainly has baggage. She's hated by conservatives, burdened by her vote for the bill authorizing the use of force in Iraq, and still has the legacy of Bill Clinton's peccadillos hanging over her among other things.

However, it's ultimately deceptive to weigh Hillary Clinton's political baggage in isolation. Barack Obama has the baggage of inexperience, a deceptive land deal, and suspicion over whether he's black enough. I have problems with Obama because I don't think he's aggressive enough with the right-wing.

That's not all.

The major Republican candidates are all going to be loaded down with the failure of the war in Iraq and the general aura of sleaze surrounding the Republican Party. The surge will be an especially big problem. It's tremendously unpopular with voters now and may be ending just in time for the political conventions in summer 2008. The Republican candidates also have their own particular problems, For example, everything that John McCain does in relation to the religious right creates new baggage for his candidacy. McCain's support for campaign finance reform, proposing of eventual citizenship for illegals, and criticism of evangelical leaders weigh down his efforts to appeal to religious conservatives. Indeed, the pre-eminent figure of the religious right, James Dobson, has already announced that he would never vote for McCain. However, everything McCain does to appeal to the religious right like speak at Jerry Falwell University is going to be baggage if McCain ever has to appeal to moderates.

Other Republican candidates and non-candidates like Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, and Mitt Romney also bear heavy burdens if they win the Republican nomination.

Given that all of the major presidential candidates have substantial negatives, it is important to consider the baggage of a candidate like Hillary Clinton in relation to the baggage of other candidates. The same goes for Obama, Edwards, McCain, and Giuliani.

In this context, Hillary Clinton is carrying some real baggage, but I don't believe that the things weighing down her candidacy are not nearly as burdensome as the Bush administration is going to be for Republican candidates. If Hillary wins the Democratic nomination, it will be her relative lack of baggage that wins her the general election.


I confess. I looked at an Oscar Night "fashion disasters" pictorial on MSN. I hate myself for looking at it, but not as much as I hate Joan Rivers, Mr. Blackwell, Kay Giantis, and all the parasites who gather to chew on Oscar fashion.

At bottom, the Oscar fashion pundits are woman-hating misogynists who use the same formula to get out their bile at highly accomplished women. In the fashion pundit universe, the only acceptable style is "classic elegance" represented this year by Kate Blanchett. When any actress deviates from the highly conservative elegance look, writers for fashion pundits delve deeply into the obscure corners of their English degrees to come up with insulting euphemisms, similes, and analogies for their ugliness. For example, Kay Giantis of MSN characterized Jennifer Hudson's "metallic python shrug" as looking "like something the flamboyant Dr. Smith would have made out of one of Will Robinson's aluminum foil jumpsuits on "Lost in Space." Once Hudson and other actresses stepped out of the narrow, classic elegance box, they become the target for put-downs of female moral character, intelligence, and sexuality that are aimed ultimately at all women. They're Medusas and other monsters, freaks, ditzy types', pitiful little children, passive victims of male mistakes, and sluts all rolled into one. For pundits like Kay Giantis, there's only one model of proper femininity. The rest are just "women."

By the way, Jennifer Hudson looked great in the accompanying picture. So did most of the other women portrayed as "cringe-inducing disasters."

Wasn't Jesus Buried Next to Judas?

Coming to the Tomb Next to You! James Cameron and his associates are airing a documentary claiming that they've found an ossuary or box that was the tomb of Jesus in a Jerusalem suburb, that Mary Magdalene is buried in an ossuary next to Jesus, and that their son Judah was buried in an ossuary next to them.

Evidently the Jesus family moved out to the burbs so they could have a bigger yard for young Judah. All that commuting must have been tough!

What About the Virgin in the Pan? The main evidence that Jesus was buried in the ossurary was the fact that it was labeled "Jesus." Theologians are dismissing the idea that the "Jesus" inscription meant that the "Jesus" in the tomb was the Jesus because everybody and their brother was named Jesus in the first century. This is understandable except that one of the scholars making the claim is Ben Witherington of Asbury College in Kentucky. Just a couple of years ago, it was Witherington who made the sensational claim that an ossuary he found contained the bones of Jesus' brother James. The importance of the James discovery was that it was supposed to bring us that much closer to Jesus. But if Witherington can still maintain that he found James, why can't James Cameron claim that he found Jesus and Mary Magdalene?

Besides if Cameron is right, that means that Jesus was not resurrected and that he was not the Son of God portrayed in Christian accounts. It would also mean that yesterday's story of the Virgin Mary in the pizza pan in Texas isn't true?

And we can't have that.

What About Judas? I have to admit that I don't buy into Cameron's account myself. I don't think that Jesus was resurrected any more than Cameron does, but having Jesus and Mary Magdalene buried in the same place is too much of a coincidence given that they probably died years apart and relatively far from their home towns.

Besides, Jesus would have been buried next to his best friend Judas.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Strom/Sharpton Connection

One of the most disgusting facts about American slavery was the constant raping of black girls and women by slaveholders and their sons. The ideology of slavery may have held that blacks weren't fully human, but the men of slaveholding families viewed black females as very human when they wanted to have sex with them.

Which brings us to Al Sharpton.

Yesterday, there were reports that an ancestor of New York activist Al Sharpton was a slave owned by an ancestor of Strom Thurmond, the recently deceased arch-segregationist from South Carolina.

According to Al Sharpton, "it was probably the most shocking thing in my life." Of course, any connection with as prominent and determined a racist as Strom Thurmond would be shocking and embarrassing. As a white person, I'm shocked and embarrassed that Strom's white relatives haven't renounced him yet. Instead, a distant white cousin of Strom's named Doris Strom Costner,said Sunday she "never heard of such a thing" about slavery because "my momma . . . only talked to me about good things."

Uhh, right. Maybe her mother should have talked with her a little more.

But it gets worse. If Strom Thurmond's forebears owned Al Sharpton's relatives, there's probably a distant blood connection between the two men as a result of liasons that escaped the notice of genealogists.

Sharpton's no saint, but you really have to feel for him at a time like this.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Local Notes: Walking the Walk

Walking for Lungs. Props to Mrs. RSI and all the Morehead, KY Carews for doing the "Climb the Carew" walk up in Cincinnati today. That was walking up 45 flights of stairs in the Carew Tower, the tallest building in Cincinnati to raise money for the American Lung Association. The Carews trace their ancestors back through Ireland to the Carew Castle in Wales. As always, they make those ancestors proud.

The Husband Walk. I'm afraid of heights. So there was no "Climb the Carew" for me. But I did take care of our two daughters and their stream of friends while their mom was climbing in Cincinnati. After two marriages, doing the good husband walk isn't really that hard anymore and I didn't have to stop for oxygen like the Carew Tower climbers. But there was breakfast and lunch to get, picking up to do, clothes to wash, and lessons to teach one of my daughters about drawing up lists. For someone who hates cleaning up, I did ok.

A Standing "O" for Sportsmanship. Yesterday, Mrs. RSI and I went to the banquet for the Kentucky Middle School Speech Tournament. Our home team from Rowan County had won the state tournament 16 times in a row and our oldest daughter was on the team. This wasn't our year though. Only two of the kids on the Rowan County team finished in first place and a team from Ockerman Middle School in Boone County slipped through for the victory. Like the kids, parents were disappointed at losing. But every parent at our table gave the champions from Ockerman a standing ovation when they were announced. Believing in sportsmanship, we were happy to provide our kids with proper role models at a sensitive moment. I also took the opportunity to congratulate Kelly Crump, Rowan County Middle School's outstanding speech coach, on her team's successful season and her excellent work with my daughter.

There is a God!

In what has to be one of the most boringly officious New York Times articles of all time, David Kirkpatrick discusses the unhappiness of big league Christian conservatives at a meeting of the National Council for Public Policy, an umbrella group for the Christian right.

Founded by Rev. Tim LaHaye, the nut case behind the Left Behind series, the National Council for Public Policy was attended by James Dobson, Grover Norquist, Paul Weyrich, and other gunslingers and hate-mongers whose agenda is to reduce the federal government back to the nineteenth century levels, repeal reproductive rights of women once and for all, leverage their bigotry against gay people into constitutional amendments, put 11 million illegal immigrants in jail, and launch endless new wars without paying a cent in new taxes.

Hoping to continue using cancer as a weapon against sex among church-going girls, the Christian right also opposes a vaccine to innoculate girls against cervical cancer.

Such great humanitarians!

I don't think it's exaggerating to say that the leaders attending the National Council for Public Policy have done more harm to the United States than any convention of drug kingpins.

The problem for the National Council for Public Policy is that they don't see a candidate that the Christian Right can wholeheartedly support in 2008. John McCain thinks they're intolerant bigots (wonder why!). Rudy Giuliani has been married three times. Mitt Romney panders to liberals as well as conservatives. You would think that a Christian conservative like Sam Brownback would find support at this kind of meeting, but observers claimed that Brownback touched "only briefly on the threat of Islamic terrorists." Neither Mike Huckabee nor Duncan Hunter satisfied either.

The only speaker who provided full satisfaction for the gathered leaders of the Christian Right was the Pennsylvania politician Rick Santorum.

Fortunately however, Pennsylvania voters addressed the "Santorum threat" when they defeated him by 19 points last November.

There is a God!

A Gender Tipping Point?

Among all the books I haven't read, I believe that I like Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point the least. Indeed, The Tipping Point may be the most destructive book published over the last 25 years. Certainly, the Bush administration's has been obsessed with finding "tipping points" in Iraq where little things like setting up outposts in Sunni neighborhoods can change the whole culture of the Middle East. The fact that our search for tipping points has made the situation in Iraq a lot worse has been a big factor in the overall incompetence and destructiveness of the American occupation.

With that said, I'm beginning to wonder about the potential for a tipping point in American gender relations.

That's a Hillary Clinton victory in the presidential election in 2008.

The most important thing here is the "Bushification" that can be seen in college guys. At my university, guys have been getting a lot less interested in academic achievement over the last ten years and have thrown themselves into pornography, stripping, sports obsessions, and computer gaming.

This is not to say that the past was ideal. I don't doubt that drinking, carousing, and rioting have been much more important than academics among college guys since the founding of the University of Paris in the 12th century.

All of this stuff is as heavily homoerotic as it is homophobic. The primary bonds--the time commitment, trust, interest, body contact, gestures of affection, and language of love--are with other men and women are either excluded or admitted on a strictly token basis. For customers, stripping is a good example of homoeroticism to the extent that the erotic charge is shared among the guys rather than between the customers and the stripper. The same kind of bonding among guys is also the case with heavy sports involvement and computer gaming where guys spend night after night involved with other guys.

If there's sexual activity associated with these kinds of homoeroticisms, it's mostly masturbation which seems to be becoming a bigger focus of college life for guys. That's obviously the case with pornography and stripping. Likewise, some female students have reported guys bragging about heroic feats of near-constant masturbation and that numbers of guys will choose masturbation over involvement with women.

Of course, involvement in heterosexual sex also has a heavily homoerotic component. When I asked one class about the percentage of guys who got most of their pleasure from heterosexual sex from talking about it to other guys, one male student replied "100% of American men" as if he were stating the most obvious thing in the world. Maybe he was.

To make a long story short, college guys are turning more and more into contemporary versions of George W. Bush. Like George Bush was in college, they're much more comfortable in a homoerotic "guy world" than they are with situations like classrooms in which women are present and competing with guys. Come to think of it, I haven't heard anything about Bush dating in college either. At the same time, they're just as deeply contemptuous of the academic work, self-discipline, delayed gratification, and focus needed to accomplish anything in academics, business, or artistic endeavors.

I'm not saying this is all college guys by any means. There's certainly lots of exceptions to this. I would argue, however, that the Bushification of college men is an emerging pattern and I get a great deal of agreement from both guys and women when I try out this idea in my classes.

To the contrary, college women seem to be becoming more committed to achievement. When I first started teaching in Kentucky, many of the brightest college women here were painfully self-conscious and insecure about their intellectual interests. There's still some isolated cases of painful shyness, but most of the best students, most of the most mature students, and most of the most committed students that I see are women. The female students also seem more determined as a group. Almost all of the students who overcome severe personal difficulties are women as well. Non-traditional women, women with children, pregnant women, and women with illnesses like cancer generally get through pretty well. Come to think about it, I hear a lot more from female students who are dealing with tough problems than guys. My suspicion is that a lot of guys (certainly not all) just drop out if overwhelming problems emerge.

In this sense, college women are looking a lot more like Hillary Clinton than they're looking like Laura Bush.

The value of female accomplishment still isn't recognized in American business, politics, culture, education, and academics. Generally speaking, under-achieving, low-energy guys still have a better chance of getting hired, getting promoted, and getting appointed to leadership positions than their more accomplished, harder-working, female colleagues.

But I don't think this can continue forever and I'm not sure it's going to continue for much longer. This is where Hillary Clinton comes in. One thing I've consistently heard over the years from female students is how important the lack of any female presidents has been to their perception of gender equality in the United States. Thinking about a possible Hillary victory, I wonder if Hillary Clinton's becoming president would not be a boost to the confidence of non-right-wing women all over the country. I know my 12 year old daughter is already excited about the prospect and I've promised to take her to any Hillary inaugural as a way to encourage that excitement.

I also think that there's a chance that a Hillary victory will encourage employers in all fields to look more at the bottom line rather than the gender line and start to notice that their female applicants, female employees, and female executives might be doing better than their male counterparts.

If that's the case, a Hillary victory might be a tipping point toward gender equality.