Saturday, March 24, 2007

"Ten-Win Tom" and Other Kentucky Notes

AT THE BARBERSHOP. Bad news at the barbershop for George Bush. The barber Johnny is so disgusted with George Bush that he doesn't like to either see him on television or hear him talk. When Johnny started railing about Bush's appearance, he exclaimed "that's right" when I said that Bush was a little guy trying to look like a big guy. Bad news for Hillary and Obama too. Johnny didn't like them either.

"TEN-WIN TOM." With the departure of Randolph Morris from the University of Kentucky to the Knicks, the UK basketball cupboard is bare for next year--basically a couple of inconsistent senior guards, a too-skinny freshman forward, and a 7'2" statue in the middle. The Tubby-bashers used to refer to ex-coach Tubby Smith as "Ten-Loss Tubby." I don't think they realize that they may be calling the next coach "Ten-Win Tom."

PELOSI ESCAPES KENTUCKY DEMOCRAT SYNDROME. One of the most painful things about being a Democrat from Kentucky was the double-whammy of Mitch McConnell running circles around the Kentucky Democrats and the Bush White House running circles around the Congressional Democratic leadership.

No more.

Unfortunately, Kentucky Democrats are still so inept that you would think they take stupid pills every morning. Even though the Kentucky Republicans are tearing each other apart in a heated gubernatorial primary between Gov. Ernie Fletcher and ex-Rep. Ann Northup, it's still doubtful that the Kentucky Democrats can take advantage.

However, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are moving forward in Washington. They're taking full advantage of the fired prosecutor and Walter Reed scandals and I don't think the Bush administration even realizes the extent to which the Democratic leadership is out-manuevering them on the war funding legislation.

Finally, a reason not to cringe when using the words "Democratic leadership."

Friday, March 23, 2007

Is the House Going to Veto the War?

The Shadow Presidency Wins One. I've been arguing since Nancy Pelosi's installation as Speaker that she's functioning more as a shadow president than anything else. To use one of her formulations, "the House will lead" and she will lead the House. By winning a close vote today over setting a deadline to withdraw troops for Iraq, Pelosi has shown that she has the stuff to be a successful national leader. Pelosi formulated the bill in a way that coincided with almost 60% of the public, got tough with recalcitrant liberals, and added on enough pork to corral some marginal votes. Contrary to President Bush, the House Bill is not a protest against the Bush administration. It is an attempt to set a different course for the war. In other words, Pelosi is attempting to govern herself. That's what puts Pelosi on a collision course with the Bush administration.

Playing Chicken with Renegade President. The Bush administration embarked on the surge policy against elite opinion as expressed by the Baker Commission, against the new Congressional majority, and against a large majority of public opinion. That's what makes Bush a renegade president and it appears that he's getting ready to play a high stakes game of chicken with Pelosi. According to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the American military mission in Iraq will start running short of money if a supplemental appropriations bill that President Bush can sign does not pass Congress.

That's a little more than 3 weeks away and there doesn't seem to be any room for flexibility in either President Bush's or Shadow President Pelosi's position. If Bush accepts Pelosi deadline, people who had been on the fence will come out as war opponents and the whole Iraq war policy will collapse under the weight of public disapproval. So Bush has no choice. It doesn't look like there's a lot of wiggle room in Pelosi's position either. As a result, the issue may come down to a matter of whose willing to risk being blamed for whatever happens to American troops if they run out of money.

As usual in American politics, "who blinks first" will be determined by how public opinion shapes up. Generally speaking, the public sides with Presidents in these kinds of showdowns. For example, public opinion sided decisively with Bill Clinton in the government shutdown crisis of 1995. It will be interesting to see if that's the case here.

Is a Cut-Off Coming? Right-wing commentators and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell responded to the non-binding resolutions by claiming that the only real way that the Democrats could oppose the war was to cut off funding. That might be what's happening here. Pelosi might be putting the House into a position of "vetoing" funding for the Iraq War that doesn't include a deadline for withdrawal. People usually think of the President as the one who has the veto in American politics. However, it's important to emphasize that the House of Representatives has a veto over spending for the war in Iraq. If the House doesn't appropriate money for the war, there isn't going to be any money for the war and they won't need to pass any legislation to cut off funding.

In other words, the House can cut off funding for the war by refusing to pass a bill that the President is willing to sign.

The question now is between the surge and cutting off funding for the war. It will be the public that provides the answer.

The Shortcomings of the American Elite

Glenn Greenwald has an interesting post on his Salon blog concerning the Washington Post's Fred Hiatt as a member of the American opinion elite. As a member of the opinion elite, Hiatt is in a quandray. Like almost everyone else who supported the initial invasion, he now admits that the U. S. was woefully unprepared to manage the war once it began. As Greenwald points out however, Hiatt hasn't learned anything. Even though he admits the mistake, Hiatt's still more opposed to war opponents than the war itself.

This is a real problem. The invasion of Iraq was supported just as much by Democratic opinion and foreign policy elites as it was by the Republican elites. Likewise, Democratic elites are just as anxious to be tough on Iran and support Israel as the Republicans.

Just like the Republicans, however, Democratic elites have no idea how to make their tough-guy stances work to the interest for the American interest in stability and peace.

That's why the left-wing blogosphere is so crucial to the welfare of American society right now. It's the only real alternative to the combination of arrogance and incompetence that's paralyzing the American elite.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tubby Smith Out at Kentucky

Basketball is as big in Kentucky as football is in Texas. Right now, the whole state is focused on the high school "Sweet Sixteen" state tournament in Lexington. That's why Coach Tubby Smith's leaving the University of Kentucky for the University of Minnesota is big news.

In Kentucky, UK basketball is styled as "the Roman Empire of College Basketball." Personally, I don't like all the imperial pretence. I'd rather be rooting for a scrappy underdog like Tulsa. In Kentucky, Louisville's the more attractive choice because Rick Pitino seems like a scrappy underdog even when he's on top.

But I always liked Tubby Smith who's an honest kind of old school guy. Unfortunately, Tubby's teams have been slipping below "Roman Empire" standards for the last three years. As a result, Tubby decided to take up the coach's perogative to move to where he's yet to be disgusted with the big shot alumni, sanctimonious sportswriters, or maniacs who call in to talk radio programs.

People in Kentucky might find that the new coach won't do much better than Tubby. A "middle of nowhere" state, Kentucky is separated out from other states by the Appalachians on the East, the Ohio River to the North, and the Mississipi to the West. It's an odd kind of isolation in an information age, but it's there nonetheless. On top of that, Lexington is not a particularly fun place. As a result, the University of Kentucky has not been very competitive for the big national recruits for the 17 years I've lived here. The only really big-time guys that Kentucky has recruited have been Rodrick Rhodes, Ron Mercer, and Antoine Walker. Even Jamal Mashburn wasn't all that highly recruited out of New York.

Even without the high profile guys, Kentucky has been very good because Kentucky high school basketball has been very good. Not any more though. Kentucky high school ball has been down for about ten years and doesn't come anywhere near the standard of North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, or Michigan high school basketball.

Consequently, UK coaches have no fall back if they can't recruit the big name national guys. That's what happened to Tubby Smith at UK and that's why Rick Pitino has not exactly been burning things up at Louisville since his return to college basketball.

With his move to Minnesota, Tubby Smith now has more access to the mother lodes of great recruits in Chicago, Gary in Indiana, and Flint and Detroit in Michigan.

Smith's replacement at UK will have to figure out a way to tap into similar pools of basketball talent if UK hopes to return to Final Four status.

I wish him well.

Notes on Elizabeth Edwards

Feeling at Home. John and Elizabeth Edwards made their announcement concerning her bone cancer from a garden in Chapel Hill, NC, the home of the University of North Carolina. Having lived in Chapel Hill for five years as a poli sci graduate student, the scene on television looked very comfortable and home-like to me.

Fighting Bone Cancer. From everything I've heard from Mrs. RSI the nurse, bone cancer is one of the most painful kinds of cancers and I wish Elizabeth Edwards the best. John Edwards is right though. It's important to stand up to this kind of crisis and keep doing what you believe in. When I was a grad student in Chapel Hill, the traumas from growing up in an abusive family crashed in on me so badly that even watching television was a struggle. But I got a lot of help from my therapists, friends, and girlfriend and gradually started turning the little corners that allowed me to go on with my education.

Props to John Edwards. Having gone through that trial myself, I have a lot of appreciation for the many people who fight these kinds of devastating problems and keep trying to figure out ways around them. Generally speaking, people don't get enough credit for their courage and tenacity in dealing with personal disasters. Living in Eastern Kentucky, I've seen seemingly countless numbers of people coping with difficulties of Biblical proportions in the most admirable kinds of ways. That kind of everyday courage doesn't get shown on television but still deserves profound respect.

I have to admit that I don't like John Edwards. He has a too much preacherly unctuousness for my taste. But today, Edwards was speaking a real truth about dealing with cancer and other kinds of life-altering issues and he deserves our respect as well as our best wishes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


I just got done watching Babel. It was tough to watch in the same depressing way that Robert Altman's Short Cuts was tough. Perhaps Babel is not as tawdry as Short Cuts but similar in that disaster was constantly lurking.

Great acting. Brad Pitt was tremendous and Cate Blanchett was even more tremendous. I wonder where Blanchett stores her talent on her days off. Maybe she stashes her talent in a warehouse the same way Jay Leno stores his vintage cars.

The blub said that the movie was about the necessity and impossibility of communication. I imagine that's the case. A lot of artists focus on these kinds of formal problems. But what made the Moroccan and San Diego segments so compelling was the juxtaposition between the different kinds of desperation, the association of desperation with power in the Brad Pitt character and the association with powerlessness in the Moroccan boys and the Mexican nanny.

I liked the Japanese segment best though--mostly because I identified with the mute yearning of deaf-mute girl. It was a very long time before I could put words to my own yearnings.

Oh No! That Makes Me A Moderate!

Several house liberals are planning to vote against the Pelosi/Murtha leadership on the bill mandating deadline for withdrawing from Iraq.

According to one of TPM's sources:

"None of them wants to be the one making a deal with `the man" . . . None of them wants to be outflanked on the left. None of them wants to be `outprincipled' -- being seen as the one who is willing to compromise."

I'm with the House leadership on this one. My main principle is to move forward on forcing a troop withdrawal and the deadline bill definitely is a step forward from the non-binding resolutions. So I support it.

I guess that makes me a moderate . . . and a mainstream moderate given that almost 60% of the public supports a deadline. Oh No!

Mickey Kaus on the Surge

Mickey Kaus, the former neo-liberal and now right-wing blogger for Slate, argues today that the surge is succeeding. Actually, Kaus doesn't say that directly. People on the right don't want to be caught with their optimism pants down again. Instead, Kaus works through indirection, providing support for the surgey by nitpicking Huffington Post contributor and war opponent Simon Jenkins.

Kaus' main evidence for progress comes from Baghdad blogger Omar:

You look around in Baghdad now and see hundreds of men working in the streets to pick up garbage; to plant flowers and paint the blast walls in joyful colors. Many of Baghdad's squares are becoming green and clean. The picture isn't perfect, but it's a clear attempt to beat violence and ease pain through giving the spring a chance to shine.

It's a tragedy for everyone in Baghdad who sees hope and renewal and it's a tragedy for General Petraeus and American troops. Nevertheless, it's likely that the current stability is a sign that the surge is failing instead of succeeding. One of the top priorities of the surge plan was to confront the Mahdi Army, the Badr Brigades, and other Shiite militias on their own turfs, defeat them militarily, and remake the Iraqi government as a moderate, largely secular regime.

But that's not happening.

Instead, the militias are lying low and militia leaders have gone into hiding. As a result, the whole Shiite militia structure is still in place waiting for the Americans to leave. Shiite militias still have an alternative government, still command thousands of armed fighters and death squad members and are still infiltrated throughout the Iraqi Army and the police. In fact, the Iraqi Army and police have become so unreliable that the U. S. is importing the Kurdish Peshmerga to provide "Iraqi" assistance.

The bottom line is still very pessimistic for the surge. If the U. S. triggers a confrontation with the militias, we risk a Shiite insurrection on top of the Sunni insurgency. However, if the U. S. military does not confront the Shiite militias, there's no chance that the surge will have any kind of lasting effect.

The price you pay for incompetence is that you sooner or later run out of good options. We're paying that price in Iraq.

A Nuclear Fort Sumter

On MSN today, John Bolton is in the news for claiming that "regime change" may be the only way to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. That's right, and he likes the idea of regime change in the Sudan as well. A pity Bolton didn't say what he thought about overthrowing France.

How about regime change in Georgia instead? Not Georgia the former Soviet Republic, Georgia the home of the sad sack Atlanta Hawks.

Recently, a committee of the Georgia state senate responded to Virginia's apology for slavery by unanimously passing a resolution declaring April as Confederate Heritage Month.

Talk about hating America and American values! There are many things that worry me about the Georgia resolution. What about the influence of Georgia on other former Confederate states like Alabama and Mississippi? What are the military budgets of these states? Is there a danger of a neo-Confederate rebellion to bring back the good old days.

But what really worries me is whether there are nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction stored in Georgia facilities?

People worry about al-Qaeda launcing a nuclear Pearl Harbor. What about a nuclear Fort Sumter?

Maybe it's time to put our own house in order.

Maybe it's time for regime change in Georgia.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The RSI Challenge To President Bush

President Bush is starting to look like "The Sixth Sense" president. The psychologist played by Bruce Willis in "The Sixth Sense" didn't know he was dead but kept on treating a patient anyway. In a similar way, President Bush keeps on making his typical tough-guy gestures although he's as close to being politically dead as you can get while still in office.

Today's remarks on the fired prosecutor scandal are a case in point. The president challenged the Democratic leadership to take it or leave it on his offer to have Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and Justice Department officials give interviews to Congressional committees without subpoenas, in private, with no transcripts being made.

During the salad days of the Bush administration, that kind of tactic was always a "heads I win/ tails you lose" proposition. But now it's the Democrats who win these games. If the Democratic leadership decides to subpoena Bush's aides and Bush takes them to court, the federal prosecutors scandal will still be going during next year's elections. That would be a win for the Democrats. If Bush caves or Gonzales resigns, then President Bush looks weak and ineffective in dealing with the Democratic Congress.

Heads Bush loses! Tails Bush loses!

Here at RSI, bleeding heart liberals really care about self-esteem and what President Bush needs for his self-esteem is a win. After careful consideration I've decided to help President Bush by challenging him to race me in a one mile run or a ten mile bike race. That's right, big guy. Bring it on!

This way, President Bush would be sure to get the victory he needs to feel better about himself. It seems that being President is not that time-consuming and President Bush has lots of time to work out and stay in shape as a result. Not having been an athlete in high school or college, President Bush doesn't seem to have any sports injuries either. As a result, President Bush is a good runner and a cyclist.

And I would be the perfect opponent for him. I eat way too much, have two ruptured discs in my back from my football days, and am tremendously out of shape. I couldn't run a mile to save my life and it would probably take me a full day to do a ten-mile bike ride. What better way to boost the President's self-esteem than compete with someone like me.

Take the challenge Mr. President! It's time to get back that winning spirit. Just name your date and I'll can guarantee that you'll win even though I'll be doing my damnest. I'll even let you taunt me after you win.

Go ahead! What have you got left to lose?

A Hillary Assassination Video?

The Hillary 1984 video has been called an emotionally powerful ad, a generational protest, and a breakdown in centralized control over political campaigns. Perhaps it is these things.

Still, I wonder if Hillary 1984 isn't also an assasination video and whether there are going to be a lot more of these to follow once presidential campaigns really heat up.

Certainly, there is an enormous violence toward Hillary Clinton in Hillary 1984. The surface idea is that the woman throwing the hammer into Hillary's face is supposed to be distinguishing herself from the inert masses and the lurking storm troopers. The woman is supposed to be declaring her freedom by breaking the spell of Hillary's magnified face and voice. The hammer toss into Hillary's face doesn't break the rhythm of the video sound-track and doesn't serve as a counter-point to the either the pictures of the shuffling masses and the storm troopers. To the contrary, the sequence of images builds the emotional violence of the marching masses, storm troopers, and woman with hammer in relation to the sound of Hillary's voice. The hammer toss into Hillary's video face is a crescendo of the oppressive violence rather than a break away.

The crux of the question here is whether the video ultimately intended to smash Hillary Clinton's video face or her actual face. That's a complex question but the beginning of an answer lies in fact that Hillary Clinton's face looms largest for the people who hate her. Democratic elites outside her own circles aren't positive about a Hillary candidacy. The mainstream media isn't excited about Hillary and the left-wing blogosphere is negative if not hostile. Hillary does not have the kind of institutional support that would make her larger than life in the manner of the video image being attacked. In fact, where Hillary Clinton looms largest is in the minds of all the people who view her as an outsized Medusa or witch figure. It's Hillary-hatred that creates the outsized Hillary image on the screen and Hillary-hatred that's attacking the image it created itself.

The problem is that it might be impossible to separate Hillary Clinton's actual face from her enhanced video representation. Because Hillary Clinton is the Britney Spears of politics in the sense that the media has vetted every detail of her personal life, it's even more difficult to separate the woman from the image-making apparatus (including her own image makers) than it is for most presidential candidates. In the case of Britney Spears, it appears that destroying herself as an actual person is the only way that she can be released from the grip of the media apparatus. With Hillary Clinton, one has to wonder if Hillary-hatred won't consider itself to be free of Hillary Clinton's image until it destroys the actual person.

That's the "politics of personal destruction" represented by Hillary 1984.

The Gonzales Standard Lie

Al G's Short Term Future. It appears that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is not going to be Attorney General much longer. Apparently, the Bush administration is already looking for a replacement.

The Repeat Lesson. But it's important to learn everything we can from Al G while he's still with us. Of course, there's the usual red-state type things that apply to Kentucky as well as the Bush administration and need to be repeated over and over again. That's especially the case with the amazing power of cronyism to advance the careers of incompetents.

The preferred way of doing things in Kentucky, cronyism and it's evil twin nepotism dominate local government, public schools, state government, and private business. May I be struck by lightning if cronyism isn't also the dominant way of doing things in Texas. In fact, there's a book out by Robert Bryce on Texas cronyism entitled Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America's Superstate. Maybe Bryce has some passages on how Al Gonzales got three jobs in Texas state government while Bush was governor.

Unsurprisingly, one of the things that defines the cronyism ethic is the contempt "good old boys" have for anything that keeps them from doing exactly what they want and that includes rules, qualifications, procedures, or any kind of an idea of a good outside their families and friends. When the Bush administration ignores the Constitution and the law, tramples on individual rights, and tortures, they're not just living a right-wing fantasy. They're also doing exactly what their fathers and grandfathers did in the Texas plains, Kentucky bluegrass, and Mississippi Delta. They're doing exactly what they want.

Needless to say, cronyism is a prescription for constant failure at both the national level and the state level. It's one of the important reasons why the Bush administration has performed so poorly in Iraq and with Katrina, and one of the main reasons why Kentucky ranks at the bottom of everything except horse manure and marijuana harvests.

What's New. But Al Gonzales has made his own unique contribution to the history of cronyism in national government--the Gonzales Standard Lie. When challenged about torture during his conformination, Gonzales simply stated that "I share (the president's) resolve that torture and abuse will not be tolerated by this administration." That's simple and clean--no effort to define torture, no explanation of why the Bush administration's interrogation techniques don't fit definitions of torture, no messing with principles, rules, or facts at all. The Gonzales Standard Lie is not a hype, not a big bragging lie. It's a simple emphatic statement that puts the burden on the questioner to prove him wrong. This lying technique works particularly well in cases like where the questioner does not have access to relevant information. In relation to the torture controversy, Al Gonzales could state that "torture and abuse will not be tolerated" and rest easy in the knowledge that the facts in relation to torture were classified and that he could not be contradicted.

The Gonzales Standard Lie is a generalizable technique. For example, if my daughters asked me if I smoked pot when I was their age, I could just say "I never smoked pot," act like I was offended that they would even ask the question, refuse to answer annoyingly detailed questions about the issue, and rest easy in the knowledge that I would never be contradicted by my college friends, grad school friends, or first wife. That would be a Gonzales Standard Lie.

Unfortunately for Gonzales, the technique didn't work in the prosecutor scandal. When asked if the firings were politically motivated, Gonzales smoothly replied that "Nothing could be further from the truth.” But this time, fired federal prosecutors like David Iglesias began to provide the media with facts about their contacts with state Republicans and the Bush administration. As a result of the press having access to these kinds of fact, the Standard Gonzales Lie ultimately failed and Gonzales will probably have to fall on his sword.

Still Alberto Gonzales should be given credit for perfecting a new departure in the history of corrupt politics.

Congratulations Al!

And Good-Bye.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Yet Another Contract with America

Ghost of Bill O'Reilly. Bill O'Reilly used to tell his guests to "shut up" on a regular basis before Jack Shafer of Slate called him out on it. It looks like Tony Snow is going the same way. At the White House press briefing today, Snow told Ed Henry of CNN to "zip it" when Henry pressed him to define the Bush administration's "plan for success." Poor Ed Henry must not have gotten the memo that the White House is now trying to create a "chance for success" rather than the real thing. I wonder where they put the "Mission Accomplished" banner.

A Cold Cuppa Joe. Joe Lieberman put on his best media whore face as he came before the MSNBC cameras to tell America that we needed to "declare a truce in the political wars here about the real war in Iraq for about six months." According to Crooks & Liars, six months is a Friedman unit in honor of columnist Tom Friedman's many admonitions that we should give the war "another six months." Six months from today will make 4 1/2 years of war in Iraq which means that we'll be finishing our ninth Friedman unit of seeing the Iraq War descend from celebrations of "Mission Accomplished" to "a chance for success."

Let's Make a Deal. Let's say that Democratic politicians, the mainstream media, the liberal blogosphere, and everyday war critics agree to be quiet for six months. What will the Bush administration do for us in return? Give us peace and stability in Iraq? Well, that's what they say their goal is anyway. But what if Bush doesn't succeed? How will they compensate the 59% of the population that favors withdrawing from Iraq for six months of not talking about the failure of the war, the bungled war management, the inflated no-bid contracts to crony companies, all the dead and wounded soldiers, and all the suffering in Iraq?

I think there's a good chance for a deal here. If the Bush surge doesn't produce results, the Bush administration should resign and let Nancy Pelosi run a caretaker government. Given that Bush believes so strongly in following the advice of the military, he should simply ask the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the end of the six-month period whether we've achieved peace and stability in Iraq. If the Joint Chiefs say "no," then Bush, Cheney, and their whole team will quit and make room for a Pelosi and Murtha administration that would expedite a withdrawal. If the Joint Chiefs say "yes" and they're not engaged in Gonzales standard lying, then Bush gets to fly his "Mission Accomplished" banner while the whole world eats crow. Of course, a national referendum or public opinion polling would be more democratic and I'm fully aware that the Bush administration takes a back seat to no one in their belief in democracy. However, I want to give the Bushies a fair chance to save their jobs. So, let it be the Joint Chiefs.

How about it, Mr. President? I'm willing to risk my free speech if you're willing to risk your job and your exalted standing as a better president than James Buchanan.

It's the MOVIE tough guy!

Conservative columnist Kathryn Jean Lopez in the New York Post (via Matthew Yglesias) reviewing Hugh Hewitt's book on Mitt Romney.

Hewitt opens the book with an odd quote though: "Mr. President," Dean Acheson says in a call to Harry Truman. "The North Koreans have invaded South Korea." Hewitt writes, "It is with evenings like that one of June 24, 1950, in mind that Americans ought to cast their primary and general election votes for presidents. When devastating surprises arrive, whether on Dec. 7, 1941, Sept. 11, 2001, or any such future day - and there will be many - our country's survival depends upon the man or woman in the Oval Office." Now maybe it's a New York thing, but if I didn't know I was reading a Romney book by a Romney fan, I'd immediately have figured I was about to read about Rudy Giuliani.

Yglesias has a hard time accepting that right-wingers like Rudy Giuliani when Rudy's main skill is striking a tough-guy pose. He also wonders why conservatives can't distinguish between "acts like a jerk" and "would do a good job of organizing a military campaign.'"

Actually, it's worse than that. What right-wingers really want isn't just for presidents to project "images of toughness," they want MOVIE images of toughness. Conservatives want presidents to respond to crises by yelling lines like "UNLEASH HELL" at the top of their lungs and they would particularly love the reference to Gladiator. Conservatives like gestures, big gestures. Lines like "Make My day," "Tear Down This Wall," "Wanted: Dead or Alive," or "Axis of Evil" turn politicians and leaders into conservative heroes and icons. That's why right-wing pundits like Giuliani. They can see him making the big iconic gesture in times of trouble.

As for actually waging a war--Iraq has proven that actually fighting the wars is not nearly as high on their priority list.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Spite from the Right

Today seems to be spite day at Townhall seemingly went for spiting up their whole Sunday edition after they decided to publish an excerpt from Tom DeLay's new book.

1. DeLay leading the way. My recommendation to people on the left for Tom DeLay's No Retreat, No Surrender: One American's Fight--Buy It! Yeah, buy it! Today excerpt, "the criminalization of politics," has everything you'd expect from DeLay--the mean-spiritedness, the vindictiveness, and the allergies to anything resembling a fact. DeLay's also incredibly whiny. "Those horrible liberals just never stopped persecuting him." Boo hoo! From DeLay's account, you'd think that Patrick Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi are the two most relentless forces for evil on the planet. And needless to say, DeLay wasn't going to discuss the various lawsuits, ethics committee findings, and indictments against him. And he wasn't going to talk about the staff of future criminals with which he surrounded himself. Or his friendship with Jack Abramoff. No, was all a conspiracy against him because he was just so darn successful. Damn those liberals!

As an added bonus, DeLay's a ridiculous pompous and wooden writer who couldn't analyze his way through a two-ply tissue. So, if you want to confirm all your stereotypes about conservativism, you can't do better than to read DeLay's book. Or catch his wretched blog. It's free!

2. Slavery Splatterspite. Mary Garang responds to the Virginia legislature's apology for slavery and attempts to promote such legislation in her state of Georgia with a Cheneyesque splatter approach. Not limiting herself to trashing the proposed legislation, Ms. Garang lashes out at the extremely wealthy "liberal elite," the Port Huron statement, grad students writing dissertation topics about blacks, black liberals, black rappers, and "blacks in general and the white liberals who exploit them."

Oops, I forgot to mention the "overthrow of Western civilization." My bad.

But Garang doesn't say anything about the relation of slavery to the present except that we ought to move on.

I agree.

And the best way that we can move on as white people, black people, and Americans is to remember slavery in all its gory, disgusting, and heroic details. The organization of plantations as forced labor camps, the lack of food and clothing, the rape of slave women, the breaking up of slave families, the brutality of the punishments--all of these things need to be remembered in their full evil and chewed over again and again if the United States is going to "move on as a society."

There's an image in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that applies to the memory of the slave past. Dumbledore stands over a green potion and tries everything to render a poisonous green potion harmless--vanishing, transfiguring, charming, etc. Finally, Dumbledore understands that he has to drink glass after glass of the potion if he is to get to the bottom. The same is the case with the poison of slavery. We can't wish it away. We can't forget it. If we're going to move on, we have to drink it cup after cup.

The same is true of the many heroic aspects of slavery, including slave escapes, the mutual support among the slave population, the work of abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison, and participation in the underground railroad among other things.

Slavery was central to the American experience and we won't be able to move on from slavery until we embrace that centrality into the marrow of our shared culture. Like the Confederate flaggers, Republican warriors against black vote fraud, and other reactionary impulses in white culture, Garang's bitterness over just about everything associated with blacks is evidence that she does not want to move on from the master side of the slavery issue.

Pelosi and Murtha: Genius Democrats

Newsweek has some interesting survey numbers out (via TPM). A solid majority, 59%-34%, supports House Democratic efforts to withdraw troops from Iraq by Fall 2008.

Those numbers are even better than they initially look for the Democratic leadership. What jumps out first is that Democrats are far more supportive of the Democratic proposal (78%-18%) than Republicans are united in opposition (32%-59% with 9% undecided). The proposal developed by Nancy Pelosi and John Murtha is a rallying point for Democrats while the surge is opposed by almost a third of Republicans (31%). Perhaps Republicans opposed to the surge won't be very excited about a Republican presidential candidate promising almost endless war.

Yet another reason to think that Bush and his advisers setting the Republicans up for a fall in 2008.

Another measure of the effectiveness of the Democratic proposal for troop withdrawal is that it manages to "capture" almost all of the public opposition to President Bush and the war. There's 60% disapproval of President Bush's job performance, 69% disapproval of his handling of the war, and 64% disapproval of the surge. The fact that an overwhelming majority of war opponents support troop withdrawal is a strong testimony to the political skills of the Democratic leadership in coming up with the proposal.

Finally, the Democratic proposal is supported by a strong majority of independent voters at 58% to 34%. The keystone of Rovian politics has been that almost all independents routinely vote the party line of one party. As the election of 2004 demonstrated, this was a valid insight. However, the failure of the Bush administration has raised the possibility that the whole spectrum of independents might be shifting toward the Democrats--that Democratic-leaning Democrats are becoming more solidly Democratic, that weakly Republican independents are beginning to lean Democratic, and that more strongly leaning Republican independents are becoming more "independent."

The other day, Karl Rove raised the question of whether he was a genius or an idiot in relation to the McCain smears of 2000. Two months into Democratic control of Congress, the Democrats are looking like geniuses compared to Rove.

A Ghost From an Abusive Past

Sometime when I was in my twenties, perhaps twenty-five years ago, my mother told me that Linda Henson committed suicide. Two or three years older than me, blondish, and friendly in a distant Upstate New York kind of way, Linda lived down the street from us and was the oldest girl among the Henson family's twelve children. No, they didn't have twelve kids because they were Catholics. They were Methodists. Having moved away, I hadn't seen Linda for many years before her death and I was struggling with my own abusive family history at the time. So, I didn't give Linda's death much thought other than to tell my mom that she had always been pretty nice to me.

Then, last week, my mother told me that Linda Henson's father had been implicated in a long-standing pattern of sexually abusing his daughters and grand-daughters.

"Oh," I thought. "So that's why Linda committed suicide." Evidently, I remembered Linda's death better than I knew.

Of course, I can't be absolutely sure that Linda was sexually abused or that the sexual abuse caused the suicide. Linda herself is no longer with us to bear witness. Still, over the last week, my mind has been drifting toward Linda occasionally and I find myself trying to imagine how she must have felt--especially the isolation in going through something that traumatic and not be able to talk about it with anyone. As isolated as I was in my own head while I was growing up in my own family, it must have been much worse for her.

Well then, is there anything that can be done about the long dead past of Linda's Henson's abuse and suffering?

In some ways of course, there's nothing to be done. Even if Linda were alive, nothing could compensate her fully or even adequately for the abusive past. That's even more the case now that she's been dead for so long.

Nevertheless, I do believe that it is incumbent on those like me who knew Linda to embrace her memory as an element in my actions towards others--for seeing the struggles of my students, colleagues and friends more effectively, for having a constant good will towards those people we know are in trouble. Linda's life and death can't be redeemed, but our memories can help us conduct ourselves more humanely and effectively toward those we encounter in the present and future.