Saturday, June 23, 2007

Hee-Haw Republicans (Revised, Shortened)

What's happening to the Republicans this week reminds me a lot of an old "Hee Haw" song.
Gloom, despair, and agony on me
Deep, dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all
Gloom, despair, and agony on me

It's hard to say what was worse. Bush at 26%, Rudy's South Carolina chair getting arrested on coke charges, Romney's people masquerading as cops--it was all awful. But I think the absolute worst "gloom and despair" moment was reserved for Congressional Republicans. In an interview with the London Times, Gen. Petraeus emphasized that September "is a deadline for a report not a deadline for a change in policy." No matter how good or bad things are in September, Gen. Petraeus is not going to recommend a change in the "surge" policy.

Not to mix John Donne, Hemingway, and Hee Haw metaphors, but the Petraeus interview tolled the bell of imminent death for Congressional Republicans. Mitch McConnell, Trent Lott, Gordon Smith, John Boehner, and other Republicans have expected the September report to signal a "change of direction" in Iraq. They viewed the surge as the "last chance" to succeed in Iraq and the September report as the time to start withdrawing if it wasn't working.

Changing policy in September would also have given Republican candidates fourteen months to recover their political standing before the 2008 elections. That would have been fourteen glorious months where troop withdrawals were being regularly announced, American casualties were always falling, and Iraq wasn't front page news.

But that dream is "gone, gone, gone."

What the Republicans have instead is an already failed surge policy stretching out to election day. That means more problems recruiting candidates, more problems problems raising money, and more problems motivating Republicans and potential Republicans to vote. In other words, it means fewer Republicans in Congress. The tolling of the Petraeus bell means perhaps eight years of Hillary Clinton in the White House and Barack Obama waiting in the wings. In a recent interview, Newt Gingrich was being funny when he wondered if the GOP would recover by 2016 or 2020.

In other words, the Republican Party has become an endless "hee-haw" re-run.

Larry Sabato unimaginatively refers to the discouragement of Republicans as the "Bush depression." It would be better to just call them "Hee-Haw" Republicans.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Is Rudy Giuliani Too Poor To Be President, and Other Questions

We may be witnessing the last days of Rudy Giuliani as a Republican front-runner. New flavor Fred Thompson is getting ready to formally announce and my bet is that Thompson will come out ahead of Giuliani in the red state/blue statec smackdown.

But while Rudy is still with us, we can ask a few questions about in relation to his dropping out of the Iraq Study Group to business groups at one and two hundred thousand a pop. Not whether Rudy was "greedy" or whether he knows anything about Iraq like other liberal bloggers and writers. Since when has greed been bad for the Gordon Gekko Party and who said Republican candidates needed to know anything about the Middle East. George Bush didn't know a Sunni from a Shiite and Doug Feith used to filter out job applicants who knew too much about the Arab world. Why do we think Republican voters will care what Giuliani knows?

1. CAN RUDY AFFORD TO BE PRESIDENT? The president of the United States only makes $400,000 a year plus perks. Maybe that's not enough. Remember, Rudy's a partner in a big law firm (no doubt a rain-making partner rather than actually practicing law) and a big-time public speaker. You have to assume that he's living a seven or eight figure life as well--the houses, the cars, the clothes, the trophy wife, all the ex-wives and their kids. Hey! Maybe he lost a lot in the stock market slump of 2000-2001 as well. It adds up. Maybe Rudy really needed the $300,000 he got from those speeches. If that's the case, Giuliani probably can't afford to live on a president's salary and should think about dropping out of the race.

2. HOW WILL RUDY USE MAGIC IN IRAQ? This may not seem like a fair question, but I don't see how Rudy can get around the inference that he is going to rely on magic to solve the problems in Iraq. It's pretty clear by now that Rudy doesn't know anything about the situation in Iraq. He even used the Paris Hilton-y line that "other people" were handling Iraq. So, knowledge isn't going to get it done for Rudy. The Bush administration didn't care about knowledge or expertise either. Instead, Bush and Cheney put their faith in overwhelming American military power. Of course, American military superiority only scared the Iraqis for so long. Then the administration put their chips on the adapting a constitution and holding elections. But that didn't work out either. And the current surge policy is such a dud that I'm sure President Bush will soon start denying that the administration ever had a "surge" just like he denied that he had ever said "stay the course."

In other words, the Bush administration has pretty much exhausted all the options for "winning without knowing anything." So Rudy must have some sort of magic in mind. Maybe a spell or incantation--a little wand waving perhaps. Speaking of Harry Potter, Rudy might be thinking of using legilimency (a mind-reading spell) to break into the brains of the Iraqi insurgents and make them surrender. Or maybe Rudy's going to rely on the magic of American racial fantasies, tap his heels three times, and say over and over that he'll put all those non-white people in "their place."

3. ARE YOU GOING TO NULLIFY THE BRIBERY LAWS? Not that several Bush administration officials haven't been caught up in the Jack Abramoff scandal, but most of the law-breaking in the Bush administration has been about the abuse of power. Bush's promotion of torture techniques, extraordinary rendition policy, and maintaining of foreign prisons have all violated U. S. law, U. S. military law, the American Constitution, and the Geneva Conventions. To justify their law-breaking, Bush's legal team has argued that 9-11 authorized them to nullify a chunk of the American legal framework.

Needless to say, all of America expects that you would nullify laws limiting your power in the same way as the Bush administration. Nevertheless, given the example of your great friend Bernard Kerik, the country expects that the people you appoint also will be engaged in all kinds of good ol' financial graft with the money appropriated for Iraq. Does this mean that you're going to "reinterpet" the anti-corruption laws to mean that government officials can skim 5% of the money appropriated for their departments without violating the law? Or maybe that increasing their salaries by 100% is legal but 101% is "crossing the line" just like Don Imus crossed the line. Or are you going to claim that defense dapartment officials are both legislative and executive figures because they are carrying out the laws passed by Congress and are therefore not subject to anti-bribery, anti-graft laws, or any other laws? Of course, if you also nullified the laws that applied to defense contractors, then everybody would make a lot money from the war.

If the Bush administration has taught us anything, it's taught us that some people have more important things to do than serve the public or obey the law. We just want to know how you're going to achieve your goals for American government.

The Jackhammer of New Reality

It looks like my idea of writing in my B&B room is out the window. The jackhammer started at 7:41 this morning. On to Plan B, whatever that is.

12:37pm--Actually, the hammering stopped just before 8:00am and I managed to get some writing done on the Philadelphia workingmen's movement this morning. Not much, but it was a start.

I'd like the hammering more if it weren't literally in my back yard, but I like it anyway because jackhammering is the sound of economic vitality--of new things being built and old buildings, roads, and sidewalks being torn down to make way for them. I've always admired construction because of my grandfather's work as a bricklayer, but I really learned to see construction as an indicator of vitality when I first came to Philadelphia in 1983. Although this sometimes sets me at odds with my anti-development friends, I follow Marx in generally seeing the creative destructiveness of capitalism as a good thing.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Cancer of Right-Wing Normality

At the recent Take Back America progressive conference, the blogger Digby received an award on behalf of all liberal bloggers and gave a speech defining what bloggers have in common. What caught me eye in a generally excellent speech was her statement about the right-wing.

But there's no disagreement among us that the modern conservative movement of Newt and Grover and Karl and Rush has proven to be a dangerous cultural and political cancer on the body politic.

This is absolutely true and I devote a lot of my own blogging to attacking the right and the many elements in the mass media and Democratic party who kowtow to the right.

But this is also a very disturbing truth from a red state perspective.

Lots of my students in Eastern Kentucky are committed right-wingers. I can think of four or five in one class alone. Two of my sisters in North Carolina would count as right-wing true believers. So would one of my aunts in South Carolina. Wherever Aunt Betty lives, she's probably a right-winger as well. Hard to tell about Uncle Jack in Texas. Maybe him too.

It's hard to think of my relatives and many of my better students as a "cultural and political cancer." Glenn Greenwald's even tougher. His post today on Norman Podhoretz is entitled "Face of a Psychopath" because Podhoretz would so blithely subject Iran to a bombing campaign. In a way, I agree with Greenwald. Calmly contemplating the murder of thousands of people certainly does sound psychopathic. But, I'm sure that my sisters and aunts would put a lot of enthusiasm into their own advocacy of bombing Iran. The same with my students.

Does that make them psychopathic?

I'm not sure that Greenwald who writes out of New York or Digby who bunkers in Santa Monica have this kind of problem. But the fact that my relatives and students are all either "normal" or normally screwed-up people actually makes the situation worse. The right-wing is not just Newt, Grover Norquist, Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove. It's at least 20% of the populatio. It's mostly in the Southern and rural red-state areas and it's mostly pretty average or even fairly admirable people. This is what makes the American right so dangerous to the American democracy and to global stability. It's become "normal" in large parts of the country and might even be the majority in states like South Carolina.

The conservative movement is a cancer on American society. What's worse is that it's become a well-established cancer or a cancer of right-wing normality.

Hillary: The Danger has Passed

Not the danger that Hillary Clinton would be elected president. That's alive and well. If anything, Hillary has solidified her lead for the Democratic nomination with a 14 point edge in the RCP average and leads in all the early states except Iowa (otherwise known as John Edwards' living room).

Given that Hillary isn't going to be handicapped with all the problems plaguing the Republican candidates, she has to be thought of as a favorite for the general election as well.

No! It's the danger that Hillary Clinton would be elected president without a single puff piece being written about her. The Washington Post puffs today on Hillary's base campaign team, the fact that it's almost entirely women, the lower middle-class origins of many of the women involved, the "day care" atmosphere of Hillary offices, and Hillary's eagerness to help the members of her team juggle work and motherhood.

As puffing goes, it's not horribly bad. The Hillary team seems human and there definitely aren't any of the weenie boy, pseudo-macho crap that dominates the Bush administration and that was the intended effect. The idea was to make the "Hillaryland" team look seasoned and tough without the frantic Bush chest-beating that has been such a disaster for the country.

And it works pretty well.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Reconfiguring the Left-Center Relation: More Thoughts on Gerstein

In Dan Gerstein's second reply to me, he ended with this call to a common purpose.
All of which is to say that, instead of getting bogged down in this unproductive and increasingly irrelevant left versus center fight, I would much rather field a diverse group of dynamic, authentic, and innovative-thinking Democratic candidates who can help us reframe the discussion about the past versus the future and convince voters we are the party that can meet the challenges of the 21st Century.
I also want to get beyond the "left versus center" fight in the Democratic and the best way to do is to change the relationship between the center and the left in the Democratic Party. During the Clinton and early Bush years, "triangulation" meant primarily that the Democratic party leadership in the center would be "open" to the right-wing proposals but wouldn't want to go as far. The Democratic center was always compromising with right-wing initiatives, but was basically telling the left, unions, and African-Americans that they had no place else to go.

The Bush administration and the Republican majority first undermined this strategy by either refusing to negotiate or framing issues in such a way that centrist Democrats could not compromise without starting rebellions among Democratic constituencies. Sticking a "no union" poison pill provision in the legislation for the Department of Homeland Security to ensure Democratic opposition is a good example of this. When the Iraq War relegitimized the left, the triangulation of the centrist Democratic leadership was further undermined. The anti-war left was almost as disgusted with the Democratic leadership as it was with the Bush administration and has been contemptuous of the leadership's continued desire for "center-right" compromises.
I'd like to see the center-left relationship in the Democratic Party reconfigured in such a way that the left-wing (white progressives, African-Americans, hispanics, gay rights activists, consumer activists, etc.) became the primary source for policy initiatives. They would also maintain their role in providing much of the party's fighting spirit and small donor base. In this context, Democratic centrists would still be forging the compromises needed to get legislation passed and programs enacted. It's just that the direction of compromise would change. Instead of compromising from a right-wing idea base in a leftward direction, they would be compromising left-wing ideas so that they would be acceptable to moderates and mild conservatives.

Reconfiguring the center-left relationship would involve a lot of change on both sides. For the left, it would mean coming up with more policy ideas, better framing them in terms of legislation, and better promoting those ideas in terms of mainstream white values and culture. As long as the U. S. is a 70% white country and the white population remains relatively conservative, that kind of promotional work is a crucial element in political success. Lots of people on the left are working to re-frame foreign policy in non-neoconservative terms, Al Gore has had some success in linking environmental initiatives to economic growth, and there's been a lot of work on health care initiatives. There just needs to be a lot more of these kinds of initiatives.

For centrists, this kind of reconfiguration means that they would start looking on the left more as friends and allies and less as self-righteous pains in the butt. Not that people on the left can't be self-righteous pains in the butt, but they also have many virtues that need to be integrated into the core of Democratic Party functioning.

Philly Brings Out My Inner Neo-Con

Philadelphia is a majority minority city--just barely. The white population is 45% and the African-American population with about 5% Asians. But being "white" isn't quite the same in Philly as it is in Eastern Kentucky where there isn't much ethnic differentiation among the largely Scots-Irish white population. In Philadelphia, there are substantial Italian-American, Jewish, gay, and other white sub-populations.

The Clinton Street part of Center City is more white than other areas I've lived in, but there is a playground two blocks away with a basketball court and a lot of tall African-American guys hooping it up. They're good too--strong D, good form on their jumpers, and able to make shots at tough angles. They're certainly a lot better than the guys playing on that same court in the mid-80's. Another block over is South Street and a whole foods store with a lot of thin, tanned, and prosperous looking white people hanging around there. And then there's the largely white dog walkers always out in force. The only thing really missing is little kids. The dog to child ratio is tilted heavily in favor of the canines.

Maybe people think dogs are easier to raise, but walking a dog three times a day in the city isn't the world's greatest experience either.

Anyway, I'm following the advice of Bill Bennett today and being relatively color blind because the thing I notice above everything else is the presence of so many short guys. There's always a substantial number of short women around because women are shorter than guys on average. But my areas of Philadelphia has more tiny guys than any other place I've been. Short white guys, short black guys, short Italian-American looking guys, short young guys, short old guys--just a lot of short guys around 5' 2' and 5' 3". I'm not sure what to make of it. I'm 5' 10 which is the average height for American males. On my college campus in Eastern Kentucky, I'm on the short side. But here in Philly, I'm looking far down at a lot of the guys I see on the street.

The neo-conservative in me likes that feeling of imaginary domination.

Maybe I can talk the 5' 2" Mrs. RSI into moving here. She'd feel right at home too.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Juneteenth and Celebrate America Days: A Proposal

Juneteenth is the celebration of the emancipation of African-Americans from slavery. June 19, 1865 was the day in which the Emancipation Proclamation was brought by federal troops into Galveston, Texas and has been celebrated as Emancipation Day ever since.

If liberty is the most important anchor-point for the collective self-image of most Americans, then Juneteenth should be just as important a holiday as the Fourth of July and much more important than Halloween or Thanksgiving. For that matter, there should also be a celebration on July 2 for the enormous expansion of liberty for African-Americans, women, gays, the eldeerly, and other groups triggered by the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Like the Fourth of July and Juneteenth, the turmoil of the Sixties was fundamental to the broad social and political liberties that we enjoy as Americans today. The Sixties should be commemorated with a national holiday to celebrate the most important political accomplishment of that era.

In fact, the whole period between Flag Day on June 14th and the Fourth of July should be designated as the "Celebrate America Days" and most of the U. S. should shut down in the same way that most European cities shut down during August. One of the big disadvantages of living in the U. S. is the general lack of vacation time. I've read someplace that Americans only average ten days of vacation a year. Designating a three-week patriotic vacation period would make everybody a little happier, a little saner, a little more energetic, and probably a little more productive for the rest of the year.

Let's make Juneteenth a big part of the Celebrate America holidays. It's the least we can do to recognize the importance of Emancipation in American history and the least we can do to introduce enjoy the liberty that so many of our ancestors fought for.

Strangers in the Village

I'm staying in a bed and breakfast on Clinton Street almost in the middle of Center City. The population of Philadelphia is 1.5 million but I've always had the impression that Philadelphia was a collection of relatively small towns. That's not the case with this part of Center City. Piled pretty tightly on top of each other, people encounter a lot of strangers as they go about the business of shopping, walking their dogs, and exercising. And they don't like people looking at them. The people working in the crowded stores are friendly, but one suspects that most folks find their "villages" among their friends and families but not on the streets of their city.

In some ways, this is the exact opposite of Morehead, Ky. In Morehead, people are expected to look at each other because they're expected to make some gesture of friendliness. Whether you know it or not, you may be connected to them through family, schooling, or some community activity. Nobody is ever more than one or two degrees of separation from anybody else. In fact, someone like Mrs RSI can't really walk around town in any kind of expeditious way because she stops and talks to so many people.

But I think it's more the situation than the people. In a place like Morehead, the institutional interconnectedness is so thick that people hardly ever see a real stranger. So, they're friendly with everyone. In Center City, most people are strangers. Consequently, people develop ways to distance themselves mentally from the eyes and voices of people they'll never know. If more people were strangers in Morehead, everyone would live at a greater distance.

Hillary Borrows Campaign Song From Guantanamo Play-List

The Hillary Clinton campaign has been running a contest for a campaign song. Evidently, the only people voting were Limbaugh ditto-heads because they chose Celine Dion's "You and I."

Actually, Dion does have the kind of soaring power of positive thinking/romantic stuff that political campaigns can use. But "You and I" is just painfully bad.

How bad?

So bad, it would be a good torture song at Guantanomo.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Dan Gerstein's Disappeared Liberal Self

Continuing my exchange with consultant and Democratic strategist Dan Gerstein:

As any regular readers of Red State Impressions and my MyDD diary know, I have been engaged in a discussion with Dan Gerstein, a Democratic political strategist and consultant, about whether Gerstein is a conservative or not. Gerstein made his name working for Joe Lieberman and as a critic of liberal bloggers. He's now writing for The Politico and appearing occasionally on Fox as well as doing his consulting work. I'm a government professor at Morehead State University in Kentucky. In my opinion, the main significance of this discussion is that it gives Gerstein a chance to connect with the liberal blogging community in a non-antagonistic though still critical forum. My response to Gerstein's post denying that he is a conservative is below.

Dear Dan,

Unfortunately, I'm still sick although not in a major way even though I have a blanket over my legs to keep me warm. But my mother-in-law's 90th birthday was one of the happiest and most loving events I've ever attended and my drive to Philadelphia was uneventful and pleasant. I even got some work done on a book proposal today.

Hopefully, I'll be able to keep this reply relatively short. Nevertheless, I did read all of your blog posts and your linked op-ed pieces for 2007. I still very much see you as a center-right kind of person. From my perspective and my type of liberal-left perspective has become part of the political landscape since the Iraq invasion, that makes you a conservative. At the same time, I also believe that most people with Democratic Party perspectives would look on you as a conservative.

Here's my thinking.

The Disappeared Liberal. In your last reply, you list 20 bullet points concerning views that are consistent with liberalism or the left and opposed to conservatism. Fair enough. I'll gladly concede that you have a liberal heart or a liberal self. But outside gay rights and general (and very brief) references to Bush's "botched handling of the war" (Jan.12), almost none of that appears in your blog or your op-ed writing. I don't see anything on abortion, anything on government regulation of business, or anything on safety net. You have a couple of notices on gay rights and gay marriage, but I wonder if you would have stuck up for such "risky" liberal issues if your mother and sister weren't gay. In general, you seem to have "disappeared" your liberal self. Maybe your liberal self was sent to prison in my original home region of Upstate New York. There's lots of state prisons there. Maybe it was subject to extraordinary rendition. Or maybe you just left your liberal self at a campaign event. Whatever happened, your liberal self is almost entirely gone from your blog and other writing.

If you want an idea of how little of your liberal self is present in your blog and op-ed writing, take a look at your bullet points again. Your disagreements with conservatives and criticism of the Bush administration in your reply to me far outweigh the whole sum of critical comments you made about them in all your published writing in 2007. Your May 18 and June 12 columns for the Politico are exceptions, but otherwise nobody would know that you are a partisan Democrat. There's no commentary on the war, little or nothing in the way of pithy little comments about Republican policies or personalities, and no shots at easy Bush administration targets like Dick Cheney or Condoleeza Rice.

I want to draw special attention to your writing on Rudy Giuliani. Your April 9 New York Post op-ed is so positive about Giuliani that it could have been written by Giuliani's own staff. In fact, it could have been published in as well. All of your criticism is reserved for liberal and netroots misperceptions. Indeed, you seem to find almost as much pleasure in Giuliani's victories over liberals in New York as Giuliani himself would. By way of contrast, when I post on Giuliani, I refer to him trying to sell a "race narrative" in which he's promising to control overseas non-whites in Iraq and Iran the same way he brought African-Americans under control in New York. In a discussion of Giuliani's personality at Matthew Yglesias' site, I (accurately) refer to Giuliani as a "super-asshole" for his treatment of Donna Hanover. Other liberal posters talk about Giuliani's dictatorial character, personal creepiness, and family problems at length. You let all of these things go because you like him as a "strong leader with a deep independent streak" (to paraphrase your March 30 post). You said in your reply that "I guess I just don’t think in those strictly partisan terms." What an understatement! Like I said, your liberal self has been disappeared.

The Real Enemy. I don't want to get too much further into your work with the Politico and appearances on Fox. You're right. You're appearances do nothing to change Fox. You're an extremely Republican-friendly Democratic commentator and I'm sure that's why both The Politico and Fox view you as attractive pundit material. You're their peculiar idea of "balance."

Instead, I want to talk about your "real enemy," the Netroots. If your blog and op-ed writing doesn't offer much criticism of the Republicans and conservatives, you certainly maintain a constant critique of progressive bloggers, the Netroots, liberals, and kossacks. Where the Republicans aren't subject to any kind of negative characterization (except for the two Politico articles), liberal bloggers are viewed as "myopic," "polarizing," "despising Republicans," as filled with hatred, or as containing a "Mao Meets McCarthy" atmosphere. In fact, it would be fair to say that you miss few opportunities to bait liberal bloggers in your blogging and journalistic work. They (more precisely "we") are your real enemy.

Why You're a Conservative. In your last reply, you claim that my argument that you're a conservative "hinges a lot on guilt by association, not on reason and logic." In fact, politics entails associations and much of the reason and logic of politics concerns associations. That's one of the reasons why Aristotle begins his Politics with a discussion of types of association rather than morality or logic. In terms of association, you're a center-right person who looks at Republican figures of the center-right with respect and affection. In a Jan. 11 post, you refer to the "sensible center-right" as a counter-point to Bush's disastrous policies and you like figures like McCain and Giuliani. That is what I was sensing when I asked about Susan Collins versus Maxine Waters. As a "very sensible" center-right senator, Susan Collins of Maine (bias alert--Susan Collins was a year ahead of me at St. Lawrence in Canton, NY and she's always made me proud as an alumni), you would like Susan Collins better than Maxine Waters. That's what makes you a conservative. When you look at people in the center-right or right, you see friends and allies, potential friends and allies, and now employers and potential employers. When you look at people on the left, you see enemies and potential enemies. You're basically the consultant version of Mickey Kaus at Slate. This is also what figures on the right see in you and that's why you're Fox's and The Politico's kind of Democrat.

Perhaps you're last reply to me and your recent Politico articles represent an effort to relocate your liberal self. If that's the case, good for you. From the evidence of your writing though, a relocation effort was necessary.

Sorry I didn't answer all your points, but I wanted to get to the heart of the issue as I saw it.



Who's Running the War?

General Petraeus was on Fox News Sunday saying that the the "'many, many challenges" would not be resolved "in a year or even two years." Similar counterinsurgency operations, he said, citing Britain's experience in Northern Ireland, "have gone at least nine or 10 years.'"

One measure of how badly the surge is going is that Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have to spend so much of their time as spinners for the Bush administration.

You have to wonder who's actually running the war.