Saturday, September 01, 2007

Too Pessimistic By Half

The American Political Science Association is meeting in Chicago and it's much more interesting than usual according to Robert Farley of Lawyers, Guns, and Money. Farley has an especially interesting summary of a pessimistic presentation about the situation in Iraq by John Mersheimer.
John Mearsheimer was very direct and deeply pessimistic. Ten years ago, I doubt I would have believed that Mearsheimer's critique of US foreign policy would essentially mirror a standard leftist perspective. There are differences, of course, but on Iraq Mearsheimer is making an argument that would fit very comfortably into the netroots. Mearsheimer argued that Iraq has been and will continue to be a disaster, but that because of domestic politics and institutional dynamics we'll still be there in five years and beyond. The stab-in-the-back narrative that's being prepared by the Republican Party will succeed in scaring a Democratic president and Democratic congress from taking any decisive steps to end the war. At the same time, the senior theater leadership in the armed forces are committed to not losing, due to their perception of the institutional disaster that resulted from the Vietnam War.

That's too pessimistic by half. Although it is true that the Democratic leadership begs to be underestimated, Mearsheimer still underestimates them. When Reid and Pelosi caved into Bush last spring, they didn't fall apart just because the Republicans generated a "stab in the back" narrative. They caved because they were afraid of the power of the "stab in the back narrative" in the context of a constitutional showdown between themselves and President Bush over setting a deadline for withdrawal. Specifically, they were afraid that their own caucuses wouldn't back them in such a showdown.

The situation will be very different if a Barack or Hillary administration is working with a Democratic Congress in 2009. Given that there's a consensus among Democratic heavyweights to either reduce American troop levels to 70,000 or redeploy to Kuwait, there will be no constitutional crisis over passing any of the needed legislation. The right-wing attack media and the military in Iraq might object, but there is no reason to think that the right will be able to set the agenda after the Republicans lose the presidency and lose more ground in Congress in 2008.

Mearsheimer is pessimistic because Hillary, Obama, Reid, and Pelosi are all relatively cautious leaders who try to avoid big stakes confrontations.

But withdrawal from Iraq is not going to require a huge confrontation. Consequently, the Democrats are a good bet to get it done when they take over in 2009.

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Fluff Right on Gay Marriage and Tradition

Tradition is a tough nut for conservatives. The American right is defined by its ferocious resistance to any effort to move away from the cultural traditions connected with segregation, male-headed households, exclusively male workplaces, and the stigmatizing of gay people. But the traditions themselves have been rejected by most of the American public and the bigoted attitudes that fueled those traditions are no longer socially respectable. As a result, the right has to thread the needle of disavowing racism, misogyny, and homophobia while continuing to campaign against any initiative by black people, feminists, or gay rights activists.

That's especially true for figures on "the fluff right" like Jeff Goldstein and Dan Collins of the Protein Wisdom blog. Their main idea is to appear as cool, hip, and fashionable as they can while pursuing a conservative political agenda of continuing the war in Iraq, campaigning against affirmative action, and opposing gay marriage. Consequently, Goldstein and Collins (who is the better blogger these days) use a lot of literary and pop culture references while avoiding much mention of George Bush, Dick Cheney, or right-wing politicians. They also disavow any association with the homophobia of the religious right and Ted Nugent, the race-baiting of people like Lee Atwater, and standard misogynistic Hillary-hatred.

But it doesn't work.

Conservatives have justified their rear-guard actions against contemporary civil rights activists and feminists by claiming that Martin Luther King and "classical feminists" were closer to conservative positions today. I've recently shown that such a claim doesn't stand up in relation to King. I'm sure the same is true of 19th century feminists as well.

However, there are no "original" or "classical" gay rights activists who conservatives can plausibly claim as their own.

As a result, Goldstein is forced to embrace "tradition" as his key argument in opposing the recognition of the right to same-sex marriage. Needless to say, Goldstein arranges a number of cutesy but specious fluff ideas around his advocacy of tradition. For example, he claims that:
Still, even if marriage is seen as a fundamental right, there is nothing prohibiting homosexuals from marrying. They just can’t “marry” someone of the same sex, because that arrangement does not fit within the traditional and culturally-defined idea of “marriage.”

Obviously, this is meant to be funny and hip. Even on a surface level, however, it is easy to see that this is a gesture of smirking hostility to gay people who want to marry people of their own sex because they have the sense of love and commitment toward one another. That ideal of mutual commitment gradually succeeded the intergenerational transfer of family property as the main motivation for marriage in the West between the 17th and 20th centuries. Goldstein is cynically telling gay people that they can marry any person of the opposite sex whether they love or have a commitment to them or not. It's just that Goldstein does not want gay people to be able to marry the people they love.

Goldstein makes a more general statement about tradition in relation to gay marriage as well.
Instead, the argument is that the kind of arrangement the same sex couple is engaging in is different from marriage as it is traditionally defined, and so it makes sense to call this new arrangement something other than marriage. It is, of course, easy (and correct, I should add) to note that once we allow same-sex unions to be called marriage, we will have effectively changed the definition of marriage, making same-sex couplings “marriage” by dint of broadening the definition to accommodate the new arrangement . . . when dealing with a tradition as sacrosanct to many as the marriage bond, the government and the judiciary should tread lightly.

But Goldstein's efforts to articulate a "really, cool guy" opposition to gay marriage founders on the nature of "tradition" in relation to gay people. Gay people have been "traditionally" excluded from marriage because homosexuality was "traditionally" viewed as damned by God, unnatural, perverse, morally sick, and abominable. Excluding gay people from marriage was an integral part of the whole "traditional" package of prosecuting and punishing people (including executions) for gay sex, hounding any kind of regular meeting places for gays bars, firing anybody from employment who was revealed to be gay, and stigmatizing gay people in families, schools, workplaces, the military, and other institutions.

In other words, the traditional exclusion of gays from marriage was tightly bound with the intense homophobic bigotry of Western and other civilizations. By resting his case for continuing to ban gay marriage on the "sacrosantness" of tradition, Goldstein is arguing in effect that the homophobia of the past and present should continue to exclude gay people from the highest conventional expressions of their love and treat them as second class citizens. Goldstein is also valuing the homophobic bigots of the present over gay people seeking to express their love and live as normal people with jobs, marriages, the choice of having kids or not, and overly short vacations. Whether Goldstein is himself an active homophobe or just a fellow-traveler of the religious right whose too much of a snob to admit it is immaterial.

In fact, he's pursuing a politics of homophobia.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Win for Gay Marriage in Iowa

STREET PREACHER PROLEGOMENA. There's been a street preacher on our campus for the last three days and much of his act is condemning gay people to damnation. Having always been fascinated by street preachers, I've been surprised and bemused with the high level of student hostility. However, my bemusement was wrong. As one of my gay colleagues informed me, gay students don't see a kind of pathetic, amusingly bigoted kind of guy in the street preacher. What many gay students at Morehead State see is someone who is replaying all the bigoted hostility they experienced from preachers, teachers, parents, and friends while they grew up in Eastern Kentucky. He's also forcing them to replay all of the pain from those fire and brimstone accusations. Bell hooks writes in "Killing Rage" that racism hurts black people like her. The same is the case with homophobia and gays.

I'm embarrassed to say that I hadn't realized that earlier.

READING THE IOWA DECISION. I've always supported gay marriage. Marriage is one of the fundamental goods in American society and I've always thought that gay people should have just as much right to be married as people like me. As a liberally inclined person, I would have supported gay marriage even if I had never met a gay person (and in fact I didn't meet any openly gay people until after graduating from college--one of the perils of rural existence during the seventies). However, I have had gay friends and colleagues almost continuously since my two-year stint working in a gay bar during the 1980's. As a result, I don't view gay marriage solely as an issue for gay people as a group or social category, but also see gay marriage as an issue for people I know, like, admire, and appreciate as well as a couple of people I've fallen out with. In other words--real people.

The decision of the Iowa court to overturn the state marriage law banning same-sex marriage was interesting on several grounds. It was surprising that the court's decision was a summary judgment indicating that the county officials being sued did not meaningfully dispute the facts introduced by the couples suing over not being allowed to marry. I was also surprised that the county officials sought to introduce testimony from such a lame set of unqualified "marriage experts" who freely admitted that they hadn't read the relevant literature on gays and marriage. Finally, it was interesting that the judge argued that the courts needed to use "strict scrutiny" to evaluate the ban on gay marriage because of the fundamental nature of the right to marriage that had been established when the courts overturned the Virginia miscegenation statutes in 1967.

What was most surprising to me though was the long list of harms experienced by gay people as a result of being banned b gay marriage. Among other harms created by the harms of banning of gay marriage, the two most striking might have been the first mentioned by the court. Those were the devaluing of the relationships at the core of gay people's sexual identity and the badge of inferiority and second-class status that comes from being excluded from a pervasive institution like marriage. The court also highlighted the lack of access to what is generally recognized as the fullest expression of love and commitment in our society and went on to identify a large number of other harms.

It was all heart-breaking and eye-opening to read. I hadn't been aware of how pervasive the effect of the gay marriage ban was on gay people. The court overturned the ban on gay marriage because the law violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the Iowa Constitution. What I learned was just how pervasive the effects of ignoring due process and equal protection are for gay people.

So Sexy

Mrs. RSI is going in for carpal tunnel surgery on her hand in Lexington tomorrow. We have to leave before 6:00am. Oh, the burdens of rural life.

For her surgery prep, Mrs. RSI had to wash her hand with hand sanitizer then hold her hand up in the air for five minutes so it could dry in a sanitized manner.

If she hadn't been so sexy with her hand up in the air, I would have laughed even harder.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A New Job for Rove: Outing Republicans

OUT WITH THE OLD CRAIGS. It looks like the Republicans are going to drive Larry Craig out of the Senate before the drama over his resignation becomes two weeks of embarrassment. Of course, if they were that worried about embarrassment, they should be calling for impeachment proceedings against Bush and Cheney.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE NEW? What about the other Larry Craigs and Mark Foleys out there leading double lives just waiting to further embarrass the Republican Party and the Bush administration? If President Bush really thought his policies were important for national security and economic prosperity, he would do something about the sexual indiscretions of other Republican politicians as well.

PRE-EMPTIVE OUTINGS. Obviously, the best way to deal with Republican proclivities for speed-dialing prostitutes, flirting with pages, and bathroom boudoirs is for the Bush administration to "out" wayward Republican politicians before they get into trouble. Of course, I don't mean "outing" in terms of giving indiscretions broad publicity in the media. That would be counter-productive. What's needed are really confidential "outings" where investigators inform responsible figures that Staffer X, Senator Y, or Representative Z is engaged in embarrassing indiscretions and the administration informs those people that they need to spend more time with their families or fulfill their life-long ambitions to live in a kibbutz. Given that the Bush administration would view the sexuality of Republicans as a matter of national security, it goes without saying that these kinds of confidential outings would be classified as "national security outings" so they wouldn't be leaked to the media. Thus, the program would be called the "Pre-Emptive National Security Outing Program" or PENSOP for short.

A JOB FOR ROVE. But who would be the best person to lead the PENSOP program. Once again the answer is obvious. It has to be Karl Rove. He's loyal to the president, extremely bright, full of energy, and currently unemployed. One of Karl Rove's great contributions to Republican Party politics was the systematizing of opposition research. That means he would be the perfect person to investigate wayward Republicans as if they were the opposition. And Rove would probably enjoy the job. In fact, the mere prospect that Rove would be investigating them would be enough to convince a lot of indiscreet Republicans to change their ways. PENSOP would make the Republican Party a more moral party as well as a more effective political party. It's the only way to go.

Larry Craig's Moment in the Sun

Larry Craig Blames the Press. Let me get this straight. Larry Craig is blaming the Idaho Statesman for his guilty plea for lewd behavior in the Minneapolis airport. He might have done better if he'd just called his behavior "Western friendliness" or having a "special privacy rituals."
Craig and the Surge. Depending on how many other prominent Republicans get caught in "moral turpitude," the Larry Craig scandal won't have much of an impact by the time the general election campaign heats up in 2008. But it's still important. Craig's arrest and guilty plea has completely killled the momentum of the "Save the Surge" campaign by President Bush and the right. The reaction to last week's Vietnam analogy speech by President Bush was "electric" among conservatives. Today, Republicans like Scott Reed are despondent. Again.

Why is Bush Working So Hard to Save the Surge? It's not like the Republicans have to fight that hard to maintain American troop levels in Iraq at 160,000 through spring and summer 2008 anyway. President Bush can still veto any appropriation legislation that gives him anything besides "no strings" funding on the war in Iraq. Likewise, it's clear that Republicans in Congress would support Bush in any veto showdown and that Democrats have no stomach for a long showdown with the White House headed into 2008.

In other words, it looks like Bush has already won the September battle over Iraq. So why is he taking so much time out of his daily exercise routine to travel around the country giving speeches in support of the surge?

My Guess is that the White House is either aware of some news or some potential Democratic strategy that would be a threat to the surge policy or that President Bush is just trying to rally the Republican base so that Congressional Republicans won't be so skittish in September. If it's the latter, Larry Craig has made things a lot more difficult for the President. Right now, the only way to drive the Craig scandal out of the media would be for Craig to resign quickly.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Conservative Face of Evil

Dennis Prager argues that "the Achilles Heel" of liberals is their "desire to be loved." According to Prager, that's why liberals have been reluctant to describe the Soviet Union as an "evil empire," discipline their children, and are so sensitive to the damage that George Bush has done to America's global reputation. Conservatives view the left as reluctant to judge, overly worried about thinking about politics in moral terms, and consequently too cautious in their pursuit of American interest.

To put the matter crudely, conservatives view people on the left as effete, effeminate and ineffective.

But times have changed.

People on the left have redoubled our identification with the heritage of constitutional liberty, learned to make the harshest kind of moral judgments, and started to use the language of good vs evil.

And we have our conservative friends to thank for that.

Certainly that's been the case with American legal rights. The Bush administration has raised awareness of American rights in a lot of ways. By kidnapping and torturing those accused of terrorism, denying them legal rights, and flushing them into Guantanamo, Bush has reminded liberals of the preciousness of legal rights and the vigilance needed to maintain them. In this context, liberal bloggers like Glenn Greenwald identify the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights as the essence of the United States as a nation and readily label Bush and his supporters as "un-American," "corrupt," "morally bankrupt," and "cynical."

Contrary to Praeger, neither Greenwald nor any of the other major liberal bloggers care the least about being loved by the Bush administration, the media, or the "establishment" they view as aiding and abetting the abuses of the Bush years. In relation to the moral failings of the Bush administration, liberals are as judgmental as any Puritan, abolitionist, or sixties feminist.

But I doubt Praeger would be comforted by that thought.

But the moral judgmentalism of liberals extends farther than that. Liberals condemn the swaggering arrogance, personal intolerance, and sense of entitlement on the right and everyday liberals refer to people on the right as "arrogant assholes" to such an extent that I've encountered conservatives who have internalized the insult. Liberals also condemn conservatives like Ted Haggard, Mark Foley, David Vitter, and Larry Craig as fantastic moral hypocrites but also believe that conservatives in general share in the outsized hypocrisy of these men. Finally, liberals view the right as racist, misogynist, homophobic, and animated by religious bigotry because of conservative resistance to the Civil Rights movement, feminism, gay rights, and freedom of religion.

That's an enormous amount of moral condemnation. In some ways, I wonder what Praeger had in mind when he accused liberals of not being judgmental enough.

In the final analysis though, I don't think liberals engage in quite enough moral condemnation of the right. There's a growing body of evidence that there is a body of opinion in the American right that favors the overthrow of American democracy and the establishment of a dictatorship. Yesterday a group called "Family Security Matters" published an article by Phillip Atkinson calling for George Bush to kill the Arab population of Iraq and then overthrow democracy in the United States.

If President Bush copied Julius Caesar by ordering his army to empty Iraq of Arabs and repopulate the country with Americans, he would achieve immediate results: popularity with his military; enrichment of America by converting an Arabian Iraq into an American Iraq (therefore turning it from a liability to an asset); and boost American prestiege while terrifying American enemies.

He could then follow Caesar's example and use his newfound popularity with the military to wield military power to become the first permanent president of America, and end the civil chaos caused by the continually squabbling Congress and the out-of-control Supreme Court.

It would be easy to condemn Philip Atkinson and "Family Security Matters" as a bunch of crackpots. But it doesn't work out that way. Even though "Family Security Matters" disavowed the Atkinson article, leaders and opinion-makers on the right have been calling for the end of democracy as we know it ever since the Democrats won control of Congress. For Newt Gingrich, the road to overturning democracy changing the first amendment to restrict political dissent and create military commissions to prosecute war dissenters. Frank Gaffney, the head of the Center for Security Policy that created "Family Security Matters," favors military tribunals for leading war opponents as well. Thomas Sowell is more in favor of a military coup while Harvey Mansfield likes one-man rule in general.

Perhaps more significantly, everyday right-wingers are starting to get the idea that shooting a few prominent liberals would be a good idea. According to Johann Hari, a fellow traveler on the National Review cruise offered up this tidbit.
When I hear her say, " Of course, we need to execute some of these people," I wake up. Who do we need to execute? She runs her fingers through the sand lazily. "A few of these prominent liberals who are trying to demoralise the country," she says. "Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that's what you'll get." She squints at the sun and smiles. " Then things'll change."
The Bush administration correctly characterizes Osama bin Laden as "evil" because he advocates the establishment of a harsh dictatorship and is willing to kill enormous numbers of human beings to accomplish his goal. It's becoming more and more evident that the American right shares that brand of evil. It goes without saying that right-wingers in the United States have had no problem with the deaths of more than one hundred thousand Iraqis over the last four years. Now that right-wing opinions in the United States is beginning to coalesce around the idea of overthrowing American democracy, it may be time to consider the right-wing as a real threat to the American way of life. Certainly, the American right is a much more powerful and scarcely less aggressive force than al-Qaeda. If a right-wing American government made a push to overthrow democratic institutions in the United States, it would certainly be more of a threat than al-Qaeda will ever be able to generate.

In that sense, the right-wing is becoming the most prominent source of evil now facing American society.

Monday, August 27, 2007

"It's Morning in America"--A Line for 2009

One of the most dishonest things about the right-wing is their claims to find precedents in Martin Luther King, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, and other figures reviled by conservatives of their own times.

But I can see liberals stealing a line from GOP saint Ronald Reagan when a Democratic president is installed in January 2009.

"It's morning in America."

That's how David Iglesias responded to the resignation of Alberto Gonzales. I t will be even more true when all the Bushies are removed from office.

Poor Al Gonzales

For some of the people leaving the Bush administration, their resignations are gateways to the big-time.

Among the recently resigned, Karl Rove can write his own ticket as a consultant super-star, campaign manager, big-time pundit, or big-money public speaker for even bigger money audiences. Throw in a few cushy appointments to corporate boards and perhaps some advice on how to make really profitable investments, and Rove will be coming into some "real money."

In fact, failure could be as profitable for Rove as it for a lot of corporate CEO's.

Well, maybe not that profitable.

Smaller fish like John Bolton can also cash in. Bolton is a right-wing martyr because of Democratic opposition to his nomination to be ambassador to the UN. Of course, Bolton got into the UN for awhile anyway but he probably resented every moment of his UN tenure because it delayed his ability to cash in on his conservative martyr status. Indeed, Bolton is an idiot if he isn't making six figures to speak to a big-money conservative group as this very moment.

Needless to say, that's not "real" money, but Bolton will be able to pay for a great house in a super-expensive neighborhood and buy some really nice tailored suits for meetings at the American Enterprise Institute where he's still a honcho.

No more off the rack for Bolton.

Which brings us to Alberto Gonzales. Given the fact that Gonzales became the face of Bush administration incompetence to conservatives as well as the rest of the country, Gonzales is not going to a right-wing martyr at all. That means that Gonzales is not going to become a human ATM like Karl Rove, won't get rich on the speaker's circuit like John Bolton, and won't be receiving a multi-million dollar advance for his memoirs. There won't be any cushy appointments at the American Enterprise Institute, Hudson Institute, or Hoover Institution for poor Al Gonzales.

Maybe the George W. Bush library at SMU will want Gonzales for its board, but that will probably be it.

It's kind of unfair. Why shouldn't Gonzales get to cash in on his incompetence and failures like other Bushies?

Isn't there any justice in the world?

Links later.

Cheney Country

Hillary Rosen has a little piece in Huffington Post about how Wyoming is no longer "Cheney Country" because four or five people she talked with while on vacation in Wyoming didn't like Cheney anymore. These kinds of "talking with the natives" pieces are always annoying and are even more annoying because I live in a place where filmmakers and reporters are always talking to the locals as if we had all just stepped out of a production of "Deliverance."

But Rosen is also mistaken if she thinks "Cheney Country" has just disappeared. It's just changed location from the physical space of the Wyoming he used to represent to the virtual space of the conservative talk shows and right-wing blogs.

Right-wing media space will be "Cheney Country" as long as there's a right-wing media.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Barack Obama in Lexington

Blogging Makes Me a Better Citizen. Before I started blogging, I had the low-grade contempt for politicians that's characteristic of most political scientists and avoided the political events of even those politicians in the Democratic Party I supported. But that's changed. Now that I'm reporting on politics I feel go to events and make myself better informed about the specifics of political campaigns. Initially, I went as a duty to my blog, but I'm starting to think of my blog and my duties as a dad as an opportunity to do what I should be doing as a citizen.

Obama in Lexington. It was in this civic frame of mind that I plunked down $125 for my family (two parents, two daughters, and mother-in-law) to go to Lexington, KY and hear Barack Obama speak today. There's a lot to say about Obama's speech and the event as a whole. But I'll limit myself to a few items here.

The Candidate and the Crowd. One of these days, I'm going to use my status as a blogger to get a press pass, but being out in the crowd was very much an advantage. Where the crowd at the John Edwards speech in Prestonsburg, KY wanted to be roused by Edwards, Obama's sold-out crowd of 1800 in a packed Heritage Hall was roused from the minute we took our seats. People were on edge and excited and excited about seeing Barack Obama speak. What the crowd wanted from Obama was a reason to feel their excitement was justified and the Obama campaign provided that even before the candidate came out. Reginald Smith jr. of the University of Kentucky did a version of the "Star-Spangled Banner" that was so incredible the campaign could have brought out the candidate without further introduction.

Then, Obama himself delivered the goods again and again by outlining a vision of a politics that expressed what many in the room already felt. Obama was inspiring to a racially mixed, progressive crowd because they were already inspired by his main themes. Whether it was waking up from the "long national nightmare" of the Bush administration or developing a politics of common purpose and mutual help, Obama kept hitting the right notes for the audience and the applause was often so loud that I couldn't hear him talk.

Who Deserves Credit. I've read several items about Obama peaking nationally, declining in early primary states, and falling further behind Hillary Clinton. Off Obama's rally, I'd have to say that Hillary Clinton's campaign is doing quite well to be inching further ahead. If the true measure of athletes is how they do against the best competition, Hillary Clinton must be running a very strong campaign to be maintaining their lead over Obama.