Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Four-Point Fred Thompson (links in place)

Fred Thompson's unannounced but in the race. He's going to be a contender for the Republican nomination. What does he bring to the table for the Republican nomination? There are four big items.

1. THE SOUTHERN SLOT. There was no major Southern candidate for the GOP nomination. So Tennessee-born Fred Thompson filled a hole in the Republican field. Of course, Mike Huckabee, James Gilmore, and Ron Paul are Southern as well, but they're all minor candidates. From Thompson already had more support than the other three put together the day after he announced that he was thinking about running.

But the South is bigger and more heavily populated than most people think? As a result, Thompson's regional base is much larger than McCain's, Romney's, or Giuliani's. Generally, the South is thought of as the eleven former Confederate states plus the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland. But the stereotype is wrong. The South includes much of southern Ohio, southern Illinois, southern Indiana, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. Of course, some parts of the cultural and political South have defected, including the Washington, DC suburbs and the Miami region in Florida. Nevertheless, Fred Thompson's regional clout would be extensive in both the primary and the general election.

2. THE CORPORATE SHILL. Thompson was a corporate lobbyist for eighteen years and there are already reports that reducing corporate taxes is a significant part of his agenda. Like Mitt Romney then, Fred Thompson would be a candidate of big business and could be expected to pursue the tremendously profitable agendas of social security privatization, free market health plans, shifting the tax burden from capital to consumption, big-ticket defense spending, and reducing business regulation. Certainly, a Fred Thompson presidency would follow the Bush administration in making sure that unions, consumer groups, environmentalists, and victims of business abuse did not have a seat at the table. With this combination of big region affiliation and corporate backing, Thompson starts from a stronger base than the Arizona maverick John McCain even though McCain has a much more impressive political record. Although not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Fred Thompson inherits much of his political support.

3. THE RED-MEAT CONSERVATIVE. Thompson has also shown a lot of gusto for attacking conservative bogeymen like Hugo Chavez and Michael Moore in his radio commentaries and op-eds for, and blogging. Thompson tosses out red-meat to conservative activists better than the other Republican candidates. Pressing the pleasure buttons of the right will be a big advantage in Republican primaries because it's the right that provides a big chunk of the passion, the money, and the ground troops for Republican campaigns.

4. THE ACTOR. Conservative commentators focus a great deal on Thompson's charm and the idea of Thompson "looking" and "sounding" presidential. And Thompson's prospective candidacy is being pounded for its superficiality in the liberal blogosphere. Nevertheless, a candidate's ability to sell himself as a "man" is important to Republican chances in 2008. With the war in Iraq going badly, the on-going Justice Department and Jack Abramoff scandals, and the Bush administration's poor over-all reputation, any Republican candidate is going to have to sell something besides a Republican agenda to general election voters. With his actor's ability, Thompson stands a chance of selling his manly persona to enough weak Republicans, independent voters, and wayward Democrats to off-set popular hostility to the Bush administration. Selling themselves as men was important to the success of Ronald Reagan and George Bush. It will be even more important to any Fred Thompson candidacy.

Needless to say, Fred Thompson has a lot of negatives. Thompson had an indifferent Senate career and a reputation for a weak work ethic. Much of Thompson's lobbying career was spent chasing skirts and he's married to a woman who looks like a bimbo stereotype and is 25 years younger than him. Above all, Thompson would have the Bush albatross hanging around his neck. Whatever weaknesses Thompson has, however, he does have significant strengths and people on the left need to be aware of those strengths.

Paris Hilton and Equal Justice

Yeah, I'm obsessing over the Paris Hilton case. But what are blogs for? Today, I'm going to focus on the myth of equal justice.

The rationalization of Paris Hilton's original sentence and return to jail is that she should receive the same treatment as other, less privileged offenders. That's equal justice. As the co-authors of a Salon article put it, "let's just pray that those bad prison sheets scratch her tender white ass . . ." That's precisely the point. In the United States, we have a extremely harsh legal system that's designed to exercise surveillance over, disrupt, and incarcerate the African-American population. And if Hispanics and poor whites are swept up in the system that's fine as well.

The harsh treatment of Paris Hilton performs a couple of functions in relation to the racial legal system. Of course, putting Paris Hilton's "tender white ass" into a jail creates a high-profile example of a prominent white woman who got the same kind of sadism that's usually reserved for black people. In this sense, Paris Hilton is the rare example of "equal treatment" whose case justifies the on-going mistreatment of African-Americans. At the same time, reveling in the abuse or possible abuse of Paris Hilton provides an escape valve for the anger that all kinds of Americans--blacks, whites, liberals, conservatives-- feel in relation to contemporary politics. As Americans, we might not agree on much and we're all pretty pissed off about it. But we can all agree that Paris Hilton is getting what she deserves.

Needless to say, the collective sadism is an ugly thing.

Counting Down the Dry-Hole Presidency

Now that the immigration legislation is on a ventilator, the New York Times is saying that George Bush has entered his "lame duck period." There are signs of Bush's lame-ness both big and small. The small signs are at the CoffeeTree book store in Morehead, KY. A couple of days ago, I spent eight bucks to buy four "1-20-09" buttons for my family. On top of that, the book store also carried little calculators that enable you to determine exactly how many days Bush has left in office. When people are celebrating the end of your term, it's safe to call you a lame duck.

There are bigger signs of lame-duckness in Washington. For the New York Times, the fact that there were 39 Republican votes against bringing up the immigration legislation is an indication of Bush's diminishing clout. Actually, Bush might not have any clout at all. The major players in the immigration legislation have been Jon Kyl of Arizona, John McCain, Teddy Kennedy, and the Democratic leadership. The major player for the Republicans is minority leader Mitch McConnell who is viewing immigration in terms of the future of the Republican Party. A future without George Bush.

Finally, Bush is becoming a pariah in his own party. Republican candidates took a lot of shots at Bush during the last debate. Newt Gingrich is also arguing that the Republican Party is doomed unless they can separate themselves from the Bush administration and its litany of failures.

Needless to say, George Bush himself is oblivious to all this. As Bush's long-time friend Donald Evans says, Bush was "typically undaunted by “dry holes” when he was a failed oil man in Texas. Why would he be discouraged by his dry-hole presidency?

Friday, June 08, 2007

Are We Safer Now?

During the Democratic debate last Sunday, Hillary Clinton claimed that

I believe we are safer than we were . . . We are not yet safe enough, and I have proposed over the last year a number of policies that I think we should be following (via TalkLeft).

The idea that "we are safer than we were" has been widely criticized in the blogosphere even if it hasn't caused much of a stir in the mainstream media. In the final analysis, I think it's appropriate to stick with the standard Democratic line of thought that the Bush administration's initial actions in Afghanistan worked relatively well but that we've squandered whatever gains we madein Afghanistan through the invasion of Iraq.

In certain ways, the U. S. is safer from terrorist attack as a result of the Bush administration's initial response to 9-11 and the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The big plus is that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda organization was largely broken up. As a result, there is no more central planning of global terrorism, no large-scale training facilities, and a gradual decrease in the scale of terrorist attacks. If al-Qaeda in Iraq really has been as decisively weakened in Anbar province as the Bush administration has claimed for the last several months, that dramatically reduces the terrorist threats emanating from Iraq itself (and also eliminates one reason for the U. S. military to stay in Iraq).

The most important negative is that the invasion of Iraq inspired thousands of young Muslim men to travel to Iraq and fight American and Iraqi forces before returning to their home countries. As a result of those young men receiving military training and acquiring leadership skills, there will be a large pool of potential global terrorists in the Middle East, North Africa, Bosnia, and Chechnya for at least a generation. This is where the Madrid and London bombing came from as well as the recent conflicts in Lebanon. It is also out of this pool of battle-hardened fighters that future bin Ladens would emerge.

There are other ways that the situation is less secure than it was. Most importantly, hostility to the U. S. has increased dramatically among Muslim populations in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States. There's also a real danger of non-Islamic terrorists launching major attacks in the U. S. Other negatives are less important. Our alliances are weaker than they were in 2001, but I think the decline of the alliances has not had a big impact on the security situation. I also believe that the problems with our alliances are temporary. Our major alliances can also be repaired once the Bush administration and their neo-con advisers were out of office.

The feckless effort to force a moderate, democratic regime on Iraq has also weakened the U. S. military, but that does not make all that much difference to the fight against global terrorism. Contrary to the Bush administration, the "war on terror" is mostly a police operation and is being fought through intelligence work, police forces, border patrols, and things like that. Given that terror is still the primary security threat to the United States, it would make sense to spend less on advanced fighters, aircraft carriers, and submarines and more on "policing" types measures.

On the whole, I think that Hillary is wrong but not that far off.

Breaking Paris Hilton

In the kids movie "Big Fat Liar," Kaylee made this final speech as the good guys were getting ready to ruin and humiliate the villain, Hollywood director Marty Wolfe (played by Paul Giamatti).
We are talking complete physical and psycho-emotional breakdown, people; I want to see a broken man; I'm talking broken like I just threw a baseball through your window broken. Snap him like a twig; Squeeze him like a bug; I want you to turn him into mincemeat and I don't even know what mincemeat is; I want him to scream for his mommy. Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!

I was reminded of this movie when I saw today's stories on Paris Hilton returning to jail. Just like the movie audience wanted to see Marty Wolfe's "complete physical and psycho-emotional breakdown," the television audience has wanted to see Paris Hilton broken. And that 's what we got today. She cried throughout the hearing called to determine whether she was going back. In fact, she was physically shaking. That sounds like "psycho-emotional breakdown to me." She even called "Mom" after the judge made his decision.

According to one of the city attorneys, Paris Hilton's “release after only three days erodes confidence in the judicial system.” Actually, the whole spectacle of receiving a 45 day jail term for violating probation for "reckless driving," remanded to home custody, and then dragged back to prison has been eroding my confidence in the judicial system.

Paris Hilton was on the mark when she yelled "it's not right" as she was led away. It's disgusting.

Are the Leading Republicans "Christians?"

CHRISTIANS AMONG THE DEMOCRATS. One of the interesting dimensions of the upcoming presidential campaign is that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama seem a lot more comfortable with religion than their likely Republican opponents. In fact, by some criteria, the two leading Democrats can be seen as the "Christian" candidates in the race while the Republicans seem like secularists.

THE DOBSON DEFINITION. The criteria I have in mind are those of James Dobson, the head of Focus on the Family, the most important Christian conservative political group. Dobson claimed that Fred Thompson is not a "Christian" because he does not give public testimony to his Christian faith. Thompson's long history as a skirt chaser doesn't help in this regard either. The same applies to the declared candidates as well. Romney, McCain, and Giuliani all appear to be less religious than Clinton and Obama. Compared to the Democrats, they're also much less comfortable with religiosity in public. There may be political reasons for this. McCain, Giuliani, or Romney are all seeking to appeal to an evangelical Republican "base" although none of them are evangelical Protestants themselves like President Bush. As a result, Republican candidates have reason to play down their religious beliefs even as they are pandering to evangelicals on abortion and gay rights. Still, by Dobson's criteria, the leading Republican contenders are not "Christians."

WORRIES OF THE BROTHER. The situation with religion and the Presidential race is causing discomfort among conservative pundits. David Limbaugh (brother of Rush) has a weak article on Limbaugh documents efforts by current Democrats to highlight their religiosity and Ed Rendell's argument that there are few Biblical passages on homosexuals or abortion in the Bible compared to the enormous number of passages on aiding the poor. Here Limbaugh's in trouble. In fact, "Jesus talked tirelessly about the poor." As a result, Limbaugh's only reply is a "me-too" claiming that conservatives care about the poor but don't believe "the best way to eradicate poverty is through government-coerced redistributions of wealth." This is very weak. In fact, Jesus was highly suspicious of wealth in general ("Ye cannot serve God and mammon") and demanded that the wealthy voluntarily redistribute their wealth by giving all of it away to the poor. Wouldn't government sponsored redistribution accomplish the goals of Jesus, and have the added benefit of saving the wealthy from an eternity of damnation as well?

In the final analysis, Limbaugh is driven back to pointing the figure at secular liberals as the enemy.

This is mistaken on several levels. The biggest part of the Democratic base and the strongest constituency for political liberalism is the highly religious African-American population. The Democrats are also very strong with the Catholic Hispanic population (70% in 2006). Likewise, white liberals (the only liberals for Limbaugh) are comfortable with the Quakers, Unitarians, and mainline denominations. A lot of white liberals do "look down their nose" at fundamentalists and evangelicals and are wrong to do so. Although I'm an atheist myself, I still think that Jesus' demand that people "love your enemies" is a worthy principle for all the difficulty of putting it into practice. Knee-jerk hostility toward evangelicals also contradicts the important liberal value of multi-culturalism. To be fair of course, evangelicals like Limbaugh don't love liberals any more than white liberals love them.

Democratic evangelicals also fail to explain liberals' high comfort level with secular values and their unmistakable hostility toward Christians, mainstream Christian values and, sometimes, the very concept of absolute truth. You might recall Democratic Senator (and presidential candidate) Joe Biden confessing, "We have too many elites in our party who look down their nose on people of faith."

In the final analysis, it's hard to see how David Limbaugh would count the leading Republicans as Christians either. When he claims that liberals have an "unmistakable hostility toward Christians," he defines "Christians" as evangelical, publicly professing, Protestants in the same way as James Dobson. By that definition, the only Christians among the major candidates are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Is There An Establishment to Tilt to Mitt?

Noam Scheiber has an interesting article in The New Republic (TNR) about how at least some parts of the Republican establishment are tilting toward Mitt Romney. Scheiber focuses on the support for Mitt that's developing among the evangelical establishment (Jeff Sekolow, Gary Bauer, and some people associated with Focus on the Family). But Scheiber also could have mentioned Wall Street where I recall that Romney's been cleaning up in fund-raising.

While acknowledging that Romney has received support from some parts of the Republican establishment, I don't believe that the Republican nor the Democratic establishments have been cohesive enough to create favorites for 2008. Since 1976, the Republican establishment has anointed favorites and had the muscle to push their candidates through the primaries. Democratic elites are much less cohesive than the Republicans but the Democratic establishment has been able to get their candidate nominated in 1984 (Mondale), 1988 (Dukakis), 1992 (Clinton), and 2000 (Gore). Paralyzed by the Bush ascendancy and the war in 2004, elite Democrats worked for several candidates as John Kerry pushed toward the nomination.

This year, the Republican establishment seems to be just as paralyzed by Bush's decline and the various candidates seem to be free to recruit consultants, financial backers, and local supporters on their own.

But the Democrats might have an even more interesting situation. They have three strong candidates, but my impression is that the Democratic establishment of Beltway figures, newspaper editors, DNC figures, and Hollywood money people don't particularly like either Hillary (too divisive), Obama (too black), or Edwards (too much of an insurgent). This isn't to say that any of these candidates don't have partial backing from the Democratic elite. However, I believe that the Democratic establishment as a whole would have preferred "safer" candidates like Evan Bayh or Mark Warner.

One of the outcomes of the 2008 election might be a president that much of the Democratic elite doesn't like--sort of like Jimmy Carter in 1976. That would be interesting.

Hooray! Paris Hilton's Out of Jail

Last night, dangerous criminal Paris Hilton was transferred from a county jail to home custody after serving three days of her 23 day sentence. If the entertainment media on MSNBC video and Bill O'Reilly of Fox are any barometer, the nation is "outraged" about the "favoritism" showed Ms. Hilton.

But of course, there wasn't any favoritism. According to John Patrick Dolan, anybody except Paris Hilton who was arrested in LA for violating a parole on a reckless driving charge would have been fined $100 and been able to go home. Paris Hilton got 45 days reduced to 23 days reduced to 3 days in jail and 40 days of home incarceration because she's Paris Hilton.

The whole Paris Hilton legal episode has been a show trial to demonstrate how tough we are on celebrities. Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears are particular targets because the entertainment media has made the lives of these women into an on-going rape trial. Given that Ms. Hilton's guilt for "living like that" is assumed, it was inevitable that she would sooner or later run afoul of the law and that pressure would build for her incarceration.

But what has Paris Hilton done? She's essentially a model (check out the videos) who has built the circulation of a sex tape and "news" about her partying and dating into a consumer brand. Obviously Ms. Hilton has been an active participant in making her life a spectacle but she does no harm other than offending an audience that's looking to be offended.

I'm glad she's out.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

That Ann Coulter, Such a Nice Girl!

NICE IMAGE FROM A NICE GIRL. Just in case anybody wasn't sure that right-wing opposition to the immigration bill is racist, here's Ann Coulter to set them straight:

And as long as we're adopting an open borders policy for immigration, how about Opening the borders for emigration? . . . You can leave the country, you can Renounce your citizenship -- but you still owe taxes for 10 years. The government does not allow us to stop supporting welfare recipients in America, millions more of whom it plans to import under Bush's bill. That's not a free market -- it's a roach Motel.

Immigrants as roaches. Our country as a roach motel. Such a nice image. It's also very striking because the racial power of roach motel imagery starts deep within Coulter's white-supremacist gut with its connotations of welfare in relation to African-Americans. She also catches up the whole range of non-whites in her list of the most prominent sources of immigrants: "Mexico (161,445), India (84,681), China (69,967), the Philippines (60,748), Cuba (36,261), Vietnam (32,784), the Dominican Republic (27,504), Korea (26,562), Colombia (25,571) and Ukraine (22,761)." In Coulter's eyes, they're all either non-white or non-Protestant (the poor Ukrainians)-- all like the African-American population in not sharing a British cultural base, all as much non-white "roaches" as she imagines African-Americans to be.

Given Coulter's flair for the outrageous, I'm surprised that she doesn't find a way to apply the "n-word" to all these groups.

NOT ANN COULTER'S AMERICA. For Coulter, open immigration is ruining the country. The white percentage of the population has slipped from 90% in 1960 to 65% and is slated to go below 50% by 2050. Note that Coulter could not bring herself to mention that more than 10% of the population has been black. From her point of view, blacks were never "real" Americans. Coulter doesn't believe a majority minority America is not really America. She quotes the conservative political scientist Samuel Huntington as asking"Would America be the America it is today if in the 17th and 18th centuries it had been settled not by British Protestants but by French, Spanish or Portuguese Catholics? The answer is no. It would not be America; it would be Quebec, Mexico or Brazil." Or India. Or China. Or Vietnam. Or some combination of all of them.

AFTER THE ROACH MOTEL. Coulter can't abide that. For Coulter, open immigration is ruining the country and she wants out. "If these free-marketeers at The Wall Street Journal want the free movement of people, how about letting us freely leave after they've wrecked the country?"

But where's a nice racist girl to go if she emigrates from the United States? The logical choice for her would be a white, Protestant country in Europe. However, Great Britain, France, Germany, and the Scandanavian countries are all social democratic countries where even the conservatives reject the American right? There's so little interest in religion in these countries that they can barely call themselves Christian anymore. Even worse, they've all been letting in Muslim immigrants.

Personally, I think Ann might be happy with the Russians. True, they aren't Protestants, but it was the Russians who put the Caucasus in "Caucasian" and the Russians have the kind of government she likes--an elected autocracy that is flexing its muscles, expanding its power, and cracking down on soft-minded liberal dissent. What more could Ann want? But wherever Ann goes, we should wish her well as she flies off. Then we can have the pleasure of closing the door behind her.

Man-Loving Mitt (Revised)

ALL THE MAN-LOVE MONEY CAN BUY: Digby at Hullabaloo is a terrific blogger who's unfortunately confused about all the man-love that mainstream political journalists show the Republicans. According to Digby,

I honestly don't know what to make of all these men in the political establishment who insist on using their mancrushes as some sort of guideline for who is and is not "presidential."

Where Digby errs is in thinking that it's a largely heterosexual world with between 3-8% of the population being gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or trans-sexual. It's a big mistake because it leaves out all the the men whose are erotically oriented toward other men even though they have sex with, get married to, and otherwise consort with women. The homoeroticism is all around. It's in the pornography (shared with other guys when its not autoerotic), trips to strip clubs (also shared with other guys), chest-bumping, butt slapping, "I love you man" testimonials, gaming networks, sports obsessions, workout addictions, poker marathons, nights out with "the boys," NBA players measuring each other's penises, and the like. When I asked a class how many guys had sex with women primarily so they could tell their guy friends, one male student answered something to effect of "100% of American males." A guy in another class referred to dating women as "gay."

Seen in this light, traditional masculinity is not just male about domination, it's about the domination of male-homoeroticism in most spheres of life outside the home. This reveals another dimension of the threat posed by second-wave feminism beginning in the seventies. Feminism wasn't just about female equality as feminists intended; it was about breaking the nexus of male-male relationships by integrating women into workplaces, traditionally male fields of study, and male preserves like sports. As a result of feminism, the spectre of heterosexual living has been haunting America.

EXAMPLES. As a result, the man-love tributes spotlighted by Digby are normal behavior in most ways.

Here's Roger Simon in the Politico, via Media Matters: From Simon's June 6 column: Here are the winners and losers of Tuesday night's Republican presidential debate, accurate to three decimal places. FIRST PLACE: Mitt RomneyAnalysis: Strong, clear, gives good soundbite and has shoulders you could land a 737 on. Not only knows how to answer a question, but how to duck one.

More from Roger Simon:

But Romney is so polished and looks so much like a president would look if television picked our presidents (and it does) that sometimes you have to ask yourself if you are watching the real deal or a careful construction. Romney has chiseled-out-of-granite features, a full, dark head of hair going a distinguished gray at the temples, and a barrel chest. On the morning that he announced for president, I bumped into him in the lounge of the Marriott and up close he is almost overpowering. He radiates vigor.
Howard Fineman and Chris Matthews also like to shower Mitt Romney and the other Republicans with as much man-love as they can.

SPECULATION AND ANALYSIS. Given the prevalence of man-love themes with the Republicans, it might be useful to speculate a little bit about the role of heterosexual male homoeroticism in presidential politics. In this context, it might be best to think of the President of the United States No. 1 Alpha Male in this country, a guy that American men can bond with as a role-model and identify with as an enhanced version of their own masculinity. Because Bill Clinton had a powerhouse lawyer-political figure as a wife, he was also extremely questionable from this point of view. Nevertheless, George Bush has been positively dangerous for traditional manhood because he embodied so many of the frat-boy, chest-thumping, big-talking American male gestures and he has failed so dramatically. In this sense, Bush's failure might be seen as a failure of "real guy" masculinity in general.

And as a result of Bush failure, the presidential link in the nexus of manhood is now being threatened by the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. Traditional guys have long thought of Hillary Clinton as the "uber-bitch"--"sort of a Madame Defarge of the left" according to Chris Matthews-- and now it looks like she's getting ready to occupy the ultimate alpha male position. Because Hillary could upset the whole symbolic system around homoerotic masculinity, traditionalist reporters like Roger Simon, Chris Matthews, and Howard Fineman are bringing their homoeroticism out of the closet and into the open as they pump the Republican candidates.

If Hillary Clinton is nominated by the Democrats and elected as president, she would not only be a huge role model for women (I've already promised to take my 12 year old daughter to her inauguration if she wins), but her election also would represent an interesting leap forward in the "heterosexing" of American institutions.

Kentucky Comes to the Big Apple

No, I'm not referring to the star turn that Laura Bell Bundy (of Lexington, KY) is taking in Legally Blonde on Broadway. Instead, it's the invasion of Kentucky-style political corruption on the cheap. Former Brooklyn Supreme Court judge Gerald Garson got 3-10 years for fixing divorce cases in exchange for cigars. In the BOPTROT scandal in the early nineties, Kentucky legislative leaders corrupted themselves for steak dinners. Corruption is immoral--corruption for nothing (or almost nothing) is an embarrassment.

Romney: The Green Cheese Candidate

This is probably a sign that I'm spending too much time with my kids, but I'm starting to look at Mitt Romney as the "green cheese" candidate--the guy who would say that the moon was made of green cheese to get elected.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Romney's Distancing Act

Responding to a question about his Mormon faith at tonight's debate, Mitt Romney gave a brief testimony to his believe in God, his belief that Jesus was his savior, and his belief that individual rights are a gift from God. A nice testimony to Christian belief, but nothing particularly Mormon about that.

There was nothing particularly Mormon about his follow-up either. "There are some pundits out there who are hoping that I'm going to distance myself from my church to help me politically."

Of course, what Romney was doing was distancing himself from Mormonism by refusing to name it while still claiming that he would not "distance myself from my church."

It was a kind of slick manuever that Romney's so good at. But Romney's so transparently dishonest in his slickness that I bet people reach for their wallets when he's around to make sure he doesn't their pockets.

I have to admit that it's working for him though. I saw one poll where Mitt was up to 15% and had replaced McCain in third place.

Obviously, Republicans don't mind getting their pockets picked.

Bradley Schlozman: Another Helium-Sucking Bush Weenie Boy

Bradley Schlozman, who TPM refers to as "the chief vote suppressor and serial dissembler" in the Bush Justice Department, is getting grilled by Sen. Pat Leahy before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Like Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales, D. Kyle Sampson, Tim Griffin, and every other Bush tough guy involved in the fired prosecutor scandal, Schlozman is a weenie-boy. In fact, Schlozman's voice is so high and sqeaky that he sounds like he was sucking helium before he took the stand.

Helium-sucking weenie-boy--yet another legacy of the Bush administration.

Is Scooter Only the First?

Scooter Libby got 30 months for obstruction of justice. One wonders, though, if one legacy of the Bush administration is going to be perpetual pressure to arrest leading figures like Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and John Yoo for human rights violations.

The Obama Contradiction

I'm supporting Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, but I also think highly of Barack Obama and believe that he would make a fine president as well. With that in mind, I'd like to discuss Obama's major strength is also a major weakness.

Much of Obama's appeal is his ability to project a vision of a "new politics" that would be more high-minded, more idealistic, and less negative than current political styles. However, that means that he can't go for Hillary Clinton's jugular during debates. Arianna Huffington argues that there were several occasions where Obama could have caught Hillary in contradictions concerning her position on Iraq. For example, Hillary argues that she voted for the bill to authorize war because she wanted to give the Bush administration a stronger hand in forcing Saddam Hussein to accept inspectors. However, she also voted against a Sen. Carl Levin resolution requiring "Bush to exhaust all diplomatic approaches before invading Iraq."

Likewise, Obama didn't challenge Hillary's claim that "we're more secure" in relation to the Iraq invasion when he certainly could have.

Huffington claims that Obama could have challenged Hillary more sharply without undermining his claim to be engaged in "a new kind of politics." That formulation doesn't quite hit it. In fact, Obama needs to be able to go for the jugular. Nobody who wants to be a successful president can get away without being able to strike at his opponent's weak arguments and peal away the opposition's marginal followers. Though Obama is impressive in many ways, I'm not sure he fully understands this.

Monday, June 04, 2007

A Nation of Murderers?

Sam Brownback hammered Mitt Romney today for refusing to call abortion "murder." But that makes me think. I've read that there have been 40 million legal abortions since Roe v Wade in 1973. If Brownback thinks abortion is murder, wouldn't he believe that all of the 30 million or so women who got abortions (accounting for repeat cases) and all the doctors who performed the abortions were murderers.

If Sam Brownback really believes that abortion is murder, wouldn't he want everybody involved in abortions arrested and subject to some sort of criminal trial or crimes against humanity proceeding?

If abortion is murder, certainly every woman who has had an abortion and every doctor who has performed an abortion should be arrested and tried for something. Someone might argue that abortion has been legal, but the murders of the Nazis were legal and Nazi leaders, camp commandants, and even concentration camp guards have been subject to arrest and trial. Why wouldn't the women and their doctors involved in abortion be subject to simialar kinds of arrest and prosecution under the pro-life version of international law?

Actually, tens of millions of Americans were involved in murder if abortion is defined as murderous. The population of murderers certainly would include the nurses who assisted in the surgery and the receptionists who processed the abortion patients when they came into the clinic. If a bank robber kills a teller during a hold-up, the getaway driver is just as guilty of the murder as the robber himself. Nurses and receptionists would be just as guilty of the murder of a "baby" during an abortion as the doctors and mothers.

What under Brownback's definition of murder, really mass murder, would prevent them from being arrested and tried?

And of course, hospital and clinic administrators would most likely be guilty of "conspiracy" to aid and abet large-scale murder as would the friends, relatives, and anyone else who assisted the woman in getting an abortion. It would be more of a stretch, but one could envision the politicians, feminists, and liberal political activists who have defended abortion rights being accused of "co-conspirators" in the holocaust of the unborn. Would they go unpunished?

Ultimately Brownback's definition of abortion as murder implies that the United States is a nation of murderers?

And conservatives have the nerve to say the left hates America.

Newt's Same Old Same Old

In an upcoming speech to the American Enterprise Institute, Newt Gingrich articulates a two-pronged strategy for creating a new Republican majority. But it's tepid stuff. First, he wants to emphasize symbolic issues like making English the official language of the United States and keeping "One Nation Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Newt's idea here are that these are issues where people on the left disagree with the majority of the American public. But if Newt wants to have an impact, he'll either have to engage in issues that people see as important, like health care, global warming, or job security, or he'll have to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on advertising to everyone that the wording of the pledge is one of the most important issues facing American society.

At the same time, Gingrich wants to go back to old fashioned fear-mongering about "the threat of the irreconcilable wing of Islam as well as resurgent Russian aggressiveness and the challenge of Chinese economic and scientific development." After four years of Bush blundering in Iraq, it's hard to scare anybody by waving the bloody shirt of Islamic terrorism. So Newt is throwing in the Russians and the Chinese as well. Of course, Newt conveniently ignores the problem of how to deal with the war in Iraq.

This makes me wonder if Newt is actually going to run. Gingrich is certainly preparing for a campaign, but I'd be surprised if even Newt is delusional or megalomaniacal enough to think he's going to win on a platform of making English the official language and baiting the semi-resurgent Russian bear.

Of course, I could be wrong about that.

All the Bad News on the Surge

To be honest, the surge is going better than I thought it would. I had thought that the surge would have led to a big blow-up among Shiites by now. But Baghdad hasn't exploded and both Americans and Shiites have acted cautiously to prevent a large scale confrontation. The leader of the Mahdi Army, Moqtada al-Sadr, cautiously decided that the beginning of the surge would be a good time to take a long vacation in Iran and ordered his militia underground. The American military matched Sadr's caution by limiting itself to a token show of force in the giant Shiite slum of Sadr city where the population is largely loyal to the Mahdi militia. As a result, the surge is not the disaster it could have been if both sides had been more aggressive.

But that doesn't mean the surge isn't failing.

According to the New York Times, American commanders thought they would have control over every Baghdad neighborhood by now. But they only have control over 1/3 and even that is uncertain.

The American military was counting on Iraqi Army and police forces to "hold" Baghdad neighborhoods after they had been cleared by Americans. But the Iraqi Army has disappointed again while the Iraqi police are still infiltrated by the Mahdi Army. There have even been a couple of incidents where Iraqi police have been involved in setting up roadside bombs to attack American soldiers.

The bottom line is that Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents are coming back into neighborhoods as the Americans move on to clearing new neighborhoods. Nothing has changed since 2004. The American military "clears" out neighborhoods, towns, and cities but there aren't enough American soldiers or reliable Iraqis to "hold" areas let alone engage in any economic reconstruction.

As a result, Baghdad is far from being "stabilized" in the way the Bush administration envisioned.

Actually, the New York Times is looking at things through the rose-colored glasses of the American military. Sunni insurgents are stronger than they were, they're launching more suicide bombings and attacks on American troops, and have made life more dangerous for the Shiites they're attacking. It looks like security forthe civilian population in Baghdad has deteriorated somewhat as a whole since the beginning of the surge.

American military officials don't think that Baghdad can be completely secured until September. Maybe they're right, but it sounds like they're being wildly over-optimistic again.

Who's More Individualistic?

One of the interesting conundrums of American political life is the different approaches to individuality in relation to group life. The standard formulation is that the right-wing values economic freedom but are more favorable toward government regulation of entertainment and sex. In this sense, conservatives emphasize group standards when it comes to regulating our social behavior.

To the contrary, the left supposedly values freedom in relation to sex, booze, and entertainment but believes in more government regulation of the economy. In other words, the nation or group as a whole should protect individuals from various kinds of economic abuses.

But I don't think that says it all and I'd like to formulate some rough points on the contrasting cultures of right and left here.

One of the things that's interesting to me is that conservatives have long had an edge in group consciousness. In the South especially, white conservatives have a thick knot of group loyalties. Conservatives are highly family conscious, very loyal to their churches, highly motivated to send money to the Jerry Falwells and James Dobsons of the world, and strongly identify themselves as "conservatives" and "Republicans." That's one reason why the Republicans have traditionally had an edge in small donor fund raising than the Democrats (although they started losing that edge in 2004). Everyday conservatives have much more of a group sense of themselves in relation to "conservatism" and the Republican Party.

On the other hand, I've always found white liberals and those on the left to be more individualistic in the sense that they see themselves primarily in terms of their "self" rather than group identity. and have a relatively "thin" and less intense set of group identifications. The main group reference of white liberals tends to be their nuclear families, but even there people on the left don't see "Family" as an group-identifying principle in the same way as conservatives. Generally speaking liberals have fewer religious, community, and other group affiliations and less of a group consciousness about the affiliations they have. For liberals, the primary fact of their group affiliations is their own "choice" rather than their loyalty to the group itself.

Three points.

First, I believe that the individualism of white liberals is one of the most important things that separates them culturally from African-Americans, gays, and union members. The African-American sense of being part of a collective blackness is especially foreign to the white liberal experience. The same thing is the case with gays in relation to heterosexual liberals and union members in relation to white liberal professionals and managerial types. This is one of the reasons why the Democratic common front on racial issues, the war in Iraq, and government involvement in the economy is like an alliance between foreign nations rather than participation in a common group endeavor. The parts of the Democratic coalition more motivated by group consciousness are affiliated with complete different and to some extent opposing groups while most white liberals tend not to affiliate much at all. The fact that the American left contains several different cultures that don't have a common bond has been a debilitating weakness.

Second, the group consciousness of the right gives them a decided edge in terms of small donor fund-raising, volunteering for political campaigns, going to see speakers, and things like that. Being more motivated by a group consciousness of conservatism, people on the right tend to do more for the conservative cause than white liberals especially

Third, there seems to be a shift toward more of a group awareness among white "progressives" as a result of the Iraq War. However, that still strikes me as being pretty weak. The big "netroots" web sites like Daily Kos have some group consciousness but it is also pretty weak and poorly coordinated with blacks, gays, and union members to the extent that it's coordinated at all.

I've posted extensively on what I think is going to be the big Democratic victory in 2008. At the same time though, I think the Democratic coalition would be stronger if white liberals developed more of a group consciousness among themselves and with other elements in the Democratic coalition.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Hillary Wins By Not Losing

I caught about half an hour of the Democratic debate on CNN. Bill Richardson looked like a deer in the headlights and sounded terrible. Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich got in some good points and John Edwards and Barack Obama had some informative exchanges.

But the clear winner was Hillary. She just didn't do anything that made her look bad or made her look like a questionable front-runner. Hillary is advancing a little bit in the polls while a little bit of the shine has come off Obama and Edwards. It looks like the Democratic nomination is hers to lose and she's so far refusing to lose it.

I have to admit that I like Edwards a little bit better after this debate than previously. He seems more like a real human being and less like a collection of up-by-the-bootstraps Southernisms.

Zakaria Forgets the Right

Faheed Zakaria has a lengthy, overblown, and insipid essay on what the United States has to do to solve it's foreign policy problems and regain it's standing in the world. The argument boils down to a single word--"confidence." Zakaria wants American to get over the paralyzing fearfulness that was engendered by 9-11 and regain the confidence to embody the values of openness, expansiveness, generosity, and tolerance once again. For Zakaria, it's not just George Bush or the Bush administration that's become rigid, fearful, and uncaring, it's American society as a whole.

Having spooked ourselves into believing that we have no option but to act fast, alone, unilaterally and pre-emptively, we have managed in six years to destroy decades of international good will, alienate allies, embolden enemies and yet solve few of the major international problems we face.
Matthew Yglesias writes that he agrees "with almost every word of Fareed Zakaria's latest essay on what the country needs to do, post-Bush, in terms of restoring America's position in the world."

To the contrary, I thought Zakaria's essay was crap even where I agreed with it. The problem is that Zakaria tries to be politically neutral. Zakaria is especially disturbed by the fear-mongering of Rudy Giuliani and other Republican presidential candidates, but he is almost as critical of the Democrats for playing "I'm tough too." But why do the Democrats have to play tough? Zakaria doesn't either ask or answer that question.

Likewise, Zakaria is disgusted with the Bush administration's lone wolf approach to foreign policy and views the values of negotiation and compromise as crucial to American foreign policy success. However, Zacharia also shows Broderesque even-handedness in giving Bush credit for developing a version of a more sensible "containment" policy toward Iran. But what about that lone wolf approach, the sneering at negotiations, the loathing of any kind of compromise, the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war, and the justifications of torture and secret prisons. Where did those elements in Bush administration policy come from? Zacharias neither asks nor answers these questions either. He seems to have little interest in how the United States got to a point where our primary political currency is fear and revulsion.

Of course, if Zacharia had asked these questions, he couldn't have been even-handed. He would have had to point an accusatory finger at the American right and the people who aid and abet the right-wing in the American media. Zacharia makes a lot of the fear-mongering of Rudy Giuliani, but fear-mongering has been the primary motif of Republican candidates going back to Richard Nixon's law and order campaign in 1968. The primary significance of Ronald Reagan was that he put a friendly, optimistic face on conservative fear-mongering about the Soviet Union, the civil rights movement, crime, feminism, and homosexuality.

Of course, it wasn't just Reagan. If the right-wing was promoting fear, the mainstream media was translating those fears from conservative political discourse into the common sense interpretation of the news. The media might have rejected Republican policy prescriptions on things like crime but they found the structuring of the news in terms of relentless litany of the horrors of urban crime, drugs, and pedophilia to be comfortable and profitable. Even specialized liberal media jumped on the right-wing bandwagon by translating the conservative world view into the language of liberal values on welfare, unions, NAFTA, the privatization of social security, and the debate over invading Iraq. With the rise of "neo-liberalism," the conservative world-view became the common sense of most of the American left as well as the right and Democratic politicians were reduced to advocating a "kinder and gentler" conservativism than their Republican opponents.

Without discussing the origins of the American fear-mongering, Zacharia's argument for a renewal of American confidence was just as empty as Julie Andrews singing "they'll have to agree that I have confidence in me" in The Sound of Music. If the United States is going to stop wallowing in fear after the Bush administration leaves office, we need to defeat the overly large right-wing in this country. Given the disastrous performance of the Bush administration, the opportunity to defeat the right lies at hand, but the left-wing blogosphere is the only part of American political discourse that specifically opposes the right. If mainstream journalists like Zacharias want the Democrats to stop being influenced by right-wing fear-mongering, the first thing they can do is cut themselves off from the right-wing. They can stop hiring personalities like William Kristol, stop taking the work of the lunatics at the American Enterprise Institute seriously, and start reporting seriously on the distortions in the right-wing media and blogosphere. The first step toward defeating the right-wing is to isolate the right within American society.

For Zacharia, that means acknowledging that the right-wing is the source of the fear-mongering that bothers him so much.

A Day Without Blogging

Yesterday was the first day I haven't posted in this blog for something like 11 months. It was mostly miscalculation. Mrs. RSI and I went to a 40th birthday party for a friend and colleague at a hotel that did not have free internet access. Not being willing to pay, I was unable to post.

The party was great! There were friends and relatives from all over the country--guys, women, straights, gays, white people, black people. Good people.

There was a lot of love for the birthday girl. Friendship and good feeling abounded with the rest of the party. Mrs. RSI and I even got out on the dance floor and shook it a little.

A good time.