Saturday, September 29, 2007

Smearkrieg No. 9--Why the Right Slanders the Military

How to respond to Rush Limbaugh's abuse of soldiers against the war as "phony soldiers?" Or Fox military expert Col. David Hunt's call for American generals to be court-martialed and imprisoned for their efforts to enforce military law?

Specifically, why is the right seeming to focus on attacking the military at a point when the conservative media is fully mobilized around the "Betray-Us" controversy? Is Greenwald right when he ridicules the Fox call for the arrest of American generals as hypocrisy?

What I've noticed is that right-wing figures like Ann Coulter really exult in attacking war hero types like John Kerry and John Murtha. Because the Democrats assumed that Kerry's heroism in battle and Murtha's medals would give them credibility as opponents of the Iraq War, the smear artists of the right took special pleasure in blowing up that credibility.

There's a logic to that. Warmongering is an important part of right-wing politics and it is very important for the right that they be associated with military power, military service, and military symbols. It is also important to the right that the military be seen as supporting conservative policies.

Going a little further, the cultural association between the American right and the U. S. military helps relieve the right's sense of cultural isolation. The right is intensely alienated from American intellectual and cultural life, hostile to American cities (especially those on the coast), and beginning to become suspicious of big business icons like Walt Disney and their growing tolerance for gays. As a result, the right-wing is associated primarily with an evangelical Protestantism, rural life, and the military.

And of those three, the military is the most prestigious.

But they also have to worry about the military. The military's far from being above suspicion. They've gone a considerable way toward integrating women into the military structure. The right-wing doesn't like that. After Vietnam, the military has also become relatively serious about prosecuting military abuses of Iraqi civilians. As David Hunt's article indicates, the right doesn't like that either. Moreover, having 160,000 troops in Iraq means that there are thousands of possibilities for infantry soldiers, officers, generals, and other military personnel to get "off message" and otherwise betray the political interests of the right.

As a result, the right believes that it needs to use all of their influence to ensure that they remain allied with the military.

That's whwere the smearing comes in.

Because the symbiosis with the military is so important to the right, conservative media figures are willing, even eager, to fight when they sense the connection being threatened. The right takes special pleasure in smearing former veterans who are speaking in opposition to the war or running for office as Democratic candidates. The same goes for Republican veterans who oppose conservative policies or anointed conservative candidates as well. The right loved attacking Max Cleland, John Kerry, John McCain, and John Murtha. And they're gleeful when they demean all the retired generals who've come out against the war.

Smearing feels good in these cases because it's a way for the right to defend their cultural and political territory.

And it feels especially good to the right because they have so little territory left to defend.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Smearkrieg no. 8: The Beginning of Hillary-Smearing Season

It looks like Hillary-Smearing Season is going to begin at about the same time as hunting season this year. According to Eric Kleefield at TPM:
A Republican group called Stop Her now is vowing to raise and spend between $500,000 and $600,000 in an all-out effort to derail Hillary's Presidential candidacy between now and February. "We expect we'll be much more intense in our efforts between now and Feb. 28," said Texas businessman Richard Collins, a leading organizer of the group. Among their efforts will be adding more mainstream humor — not just the right-wing kind — to their Web site and other efforts. In addition, another group called Citizens United is producing an anti-Hillary documentary, which backers intend to serve the same role as the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth campaign against John Kerry in 2004.

Generally speaking, the right-wing limits "Smearing Season" to the six to eight months between the springtime and election day during a presidential election year.

But it looks like Hillary-Smearing is going to start early this year.

Here's why:

1. THE EARLY LEADER. There's been a great deal of publicity about Hillary Clinton becoming the Democratic nominee over the last couple of weeks. Confident that they won't have to smear Barack Obama or John Edwards, the right-wing smear activists like Richard Collins have decided to attack Hillary early. These guys would have launched smear campaigns against any Democratic nominee. It just looks like Hillary's their girl at this point. Still, you have to wonder what the right would have done to "swift boat" Barack Obama.

2. SMEARING IS CRUCIAL. Given the tremendous handicaps of the leading Republican candidates for president, the Republicans are going to have to rely extra-heavily on their smear campaign against Hillary. Whether it's the Bush albatross, Giuliani's awful family life, or the problems Hard-Working Fred Thompson applying himself, the Republicans are going to have an uphill battle against someone as intelligent, hard-working and thorough as Hillary Clinton. As a result, they're going to have to smear Hillary overtime as a way to create a more level playing field.

3. OVERCOMING SMEAR IMMUNITIES. Another problem for the GOP is that the previous fifteen years of smearing Hillary have made her somewhat immune to the usual smearing tactics. She's already been accused of sleeping with Vince Foster, killing Vince Foster, staying with Bill Clinton solely out of a lust for power, being too hard-boiled, being too soft, being a lesbian, and being a hundred other things I'm not aware of. But none of this smearing has kept her from growing in popularity. As a result, Republicans are going to have to go well beyond their usual smear tactics. They'll have to engage in the equivalent of "nuclear smearing" if they expect any of their accusations to stick. In that context, GOP smear artists will have to start working early on their new, improved smears if they expect any of their smears to work.

Deer hunters will be bitterly disappointed that Hillary-Smearing Season is going to last a lot longer than dear season this year. But who knows? Maybe the smear artists will accuse Hillary of shooting Bambi's mom as well.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rush Limbaugh's Phony Soldiers

TPM has a couple of reports of Rush Limbaugh calling soldiers who oppose the war "phony soldiers." All of the Democratic reactions run par for the course by calling Limbaugh a "chicken hawk" and demanding that he "apologize."

Here's Chris Van Hollen from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee:
“Rush Limbaugh’s personal attack on our men and women in uniform is reprehensible. It minimizes the sacrifice our troops in Iraq and their families are making and has no place in the public discourse. Rush Limbaugh owes our military and their families an apology for his hurtful comments that minimize their service to our country.”

And here's John Kerry.
"This disgusting attack from Rush Limbaugh, cheerleader for the Chicken Hawk wing of the far right, is an insult to American troops. In a single moment on his show, Limbaugh managed to question the patriotism of men and women in uniform who have put their lives on the line and many who died for his right to sit safely in his air conditioned studio peddling hate. On August 19th, The New York Times published an op-ed by seven members of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division critical of George Bush's Iraq policy. Two of those soldiers were killed earlier this month in Baghdad. Does Mr. Limbaugh dare assert that these heroes were 'phony soldiers'? Mr. Limbaugh owes an apology to everyone who has ever worn the uniform of our country, and an apology to the families of every soldier buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He is an embarrassment to his Party, and I expect the Republicans who flock to his microphone will now condemn this indefensible statement."

What a lack of imagination. The Democrats seem to believe that people won't get the message until you say "chicken-hawk" 100,000 times in a row--or more. This is a mistake. Although literally true, the "chicken-hawk" characterization works better if it's associated with other reflections on Limbaugh. Here's some examples.

1. The pathetic weeniness that leads Limbaugh into macho posturing with cigars, flags, and tough-guy talk while he's basically afraid to come out of his room. There's lots of criticism of right-wing masculinity by left-wing bloggers. Use some of it.

2. Stress Limbaugh's perfect willingness to play warmonger for ratings and pile up the big bucks while soldiers and the families of soldiers suffer.

3. Connect Limbaugh's bigotry to dissenting soldiers to his racism and his misogyny

4. Find a synonym for chicken-hawk

The Democrats could also emphasize that had the guts to pick on a four-star general at the height of his celebrity. Limbaugh's attack on privates is a good illustration of how gutless he is.

Finally, Limbaugh is obviously using the MoveOn controversy as cover for his attack on common soldiers.

But if the Democrats are smart, they shouldn't demand that Limbaugh be fired from his radio gig. Limbaugh's almost as big an asset for the Democrats as Dick Cheney and George Bush. He has tons of listeners on the right but he's just hated by about all the moderates I know.

Unfortunately, I expect to see stories about demands for Limbaugh's firing as soon as I wake up tomorrow.

Hillary Being Presidential?

I caught the last twenty minutes of the Democratic debate. Tim Grieve of Salon thought Hillary was acting presidential because she wasn't taking any guff from Tim Russert. I'll add that she looked very relaxed and comfortable up there as well. One of the things you have to like about Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate is that she's getting better at it all the time.

Needed: Master of Fluffness for Presidential Debates

At the end of the Democratic debate last night, somebody embarrassed herself by asking a question about the Red Sox vs the Yankees.

As if anybody outside the Beltway cared.

But that gave me an idea. Why not humanize the debates by having an inconsequential but mildly amusing fluff question at the end of every presidential debate. That way, everybody could be in a good mood as they turn to something else.

And I know who could come up with the questions-- the right-wing master of fluff himself--Jeff Goldstein of Protein Wisdom.

Nobody does fluff better than Jeff.

The First Month of Christmas

Last year, Christmas decorations went up at our local Krogers on Sept. 30. We're eager to see if that's going to be a pattern.
In the first month of Christmas
My true love sent to me
A saxophone that I can call home

Maybe I might need a better last line there.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Bedrock in Hillary's Front-Runner Status

The "big story" over the last couple of weeks has been Hillary Clinton moving further ahead of Barack Obama in the national polls. Now that Hillary's leading Obama by up to 20 points, the media is asking a lot of Hillary questions. How she got so far in front? Is she the presumed Democratic nominee? What do the other Democratic candidates have do to beat her, and how does she stack up against the Republicans.

Here, I want to briefly argue that Hillary's lead is real. Jay Cost of Real Clear Politics argues the opposite. Cost believes that the real campaign is only going to begin when Obama and Hillary spend their 60 mill on political advertising and that current public opinion is driven by the chatter from the media and political pros rather than the hardened opinions of voters. From this perspective, the voters won't make their decision until later.

But Cost underestimates the depth of Hillary Clinton's appeal. I don't have any polling data here, but I believe that the core of Hillary's appeal is the respect that people developed for her as a result of her conduct during the Lewinsky scandal and impeachment confrontation. Unlike some opinion, I don't think the Lewinsky scandal "humanized" or "softened" Hillary. Instead, Hillary came off as someone who was morally strong and self-respecting even while in the depths of intense personal crisis. For a lot of people, it was that perception of moral strength then began to make Hillary Clinton's widely acknowledged intelligence, policy knowledge, and political acumen look "presidential." Because of that bedrock perception, Hilalry was getting more than 40% support among everyday Democrats as early as spring 2005 while the media and political elites were still viewing her as suspiciously "polarizing" and likely to lose a general election.

What's happening is that Hillary Clinton's performance during the debates is reenforcing the bedrock perception that she would be the kind of strong, effective president that's now needed after our disastrous eight-year experiment in right-wing government. By referring to Hillary as the "best" or "best prepared" of the Democratic candidates, the media is beginning to catch up with popular opinion about Hillary.

But Hillary's ahead because of popular opinion rather than the media.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Interesting News from Alabama

The Republicans can't even get good news from Alabama.

According to a Rasmussen Poll listed in Talking Points Memo, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson are ahead of Hillary by 53-36 in Alabama.

That sounds like a safe margin.

But, George Bush beat John Kerry by 63 to 37 in Alabama in 2004. As a result, Giuliani and Thompson are ten points behind Bush's 2004 margin.

Perhaps the Republican nominee will clean up the whole 11% undecided vote. But he'll still be starting more than 10 points behind where Bush finished.

The American Right Tutors Ahmadinejad

According to Anne Applebaum, a conservative columnist for Slate, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accepted the invitation to speak at Columbia as a way to promote his idea that he is more of a democrat than his opponents in the West.

It's pretty obvious that Ahmadinejad got this idea from the American right. Maybe one of Karl
Rove's proteges is working for him as a consultant. That's because the right is always trying to argue that they are more liberal than liberals. The best-known gambit along these lines is William Bennett quoting MLK's "I Have a Dream Speech" and claiming with almost a straight face against almost any government action that would benefit African-Americans.

But smaller fish like Christina Hoff Summers claims that they are the real feminists because they reject the feminism of the last forty years in the name of Victorian-era feminism. An even smaller fish, Jeff Goldstein of Protein Wisdom, claims to be "the real liberal" as he promotes the pointless war in Iraq, opposes feminism, opposes gay rights, and follows the William Bennett line on race.

In a way, you can't blame the right-wing for taking this approach. Given the close association of conservatism with slavery, segregation, opposition to voting rights for women, McCarthyism, the Scopes Trial, and many of the other shameful episodes of American history, it's no surprise that the right-wing is extremely quiet about their heritage as American conservatives.

But, if Bennett, Summers, and Goldstein are the real liberals, then Ahmadinejad is a real democrat.

A Brief Hillary

I don't think Hillary's the "inevitable" Democratic nominee. Almost any political candidate is only dumb comment away from losing a big lead. Hillary deserves the big lead she currently enjoys. She's the best of the Democratic candidates. But she's just as capable of blowing it with an off-hand comment or poorly calculated statement as anybody else.

But there is one sign of Hillary inevitability out there.

Conservatives like David Brooks and William Kristol have moved from wanting Hillary nominated because they think they can beat her to wanting her nominated because they think they can influence her.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Homecoming in Black and White

There's some good dancing from this Mid-South video from this high school band at a football game involving an African-American high school. In the South I guess.

It just so happens that I went to the homecoming football game at the local Rowan County High School in Kentucky last week. The football Vikings are bad enough that the players are said to bet on how badly they're going to get beaten. And they got beat 34-12 in a particularly dispiriting game.

My daughter is a percussionist in the band. In some ways, it was like the band at the African-American high school. The Rowan County Marching Band was in uniform, stationed in the far left of the bleachers, and sounding good.

No surprise there. Rowan County won the state high school band competition last year.

The Rowan County Marching Band didn't have the same kind of hard-driving dancers as the African-American band. In Rowan County's case, sexiness was limited to all the making-out that was going on while the band director was away.

Maybe I should have been in the band instead of playing football after all.

Celebrating Little Rock

INSPIRATION. I find myself inspired by the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine and have always been glad to see the iconizing of the Civil Rights Movement. If anything, I wish that additional figures beyond MLK, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and the Little Rock Nine were made into cultural/political icons. Why shouldn't Thurgood Marshall, Fred Shuttlesworth, the Freedom Riders, the students who did the lunch counter protests get the mythologizing treatment as well?

THE CIVIL RIGHTS LENS. The Civil Rights Movement is the most important modern window through which Americans can understand much of what's worthwhile in American history. By appropriately celebrating the Civil Rights Movement, we connect ourselves back to the fights over lynching, the work of the New England school marms celebrated by W. E. B. DuBois in The Souls of Black Folks, the abolitionist movement, Jacksonian Democracy, and the American Revolution. Because we still have a living connection to the civil rights era, we're still vitally linked to the expansions of civil and political freedom associated with the figures of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington.

REDEMPTION. I can't get the picture up yet, but I've always been fascinated by the famous picture of Elizabeth Eckford walking toward the school with the white woman barking racial insults in the background. The picture invites us to identify with the teen-age African-American girl and to view the white woman as a kind of moral monstrosity. Part of the horrible fascination of that image for me is that I have some female relatives who could have been that snarling white woman and most of my family would have sympathized much more with her than with the young black woman walking past her.

What makes the civil rights movement so unique as a moral/political movement is that MLK and many others urge us both black and white to fully identify ourselves with both Elizabeth Eckford and fully forgive and extend a love to the snarling white woman behind her. Like the Freedom Rides, the lunch-counter sit-ins, and Rosa Park's refusal to move to the back of the bus, Elizabeth Eckford's walk represents a peak moment in American history that all of us should consider our own. But the redemption of that walk would not be complete until history extended a hand to all the snarling racists and they can somehow be represented as joining the walk towards an equal society. I've heard Joseph Lowery (still the head of the SCLC I believe) make this point in relation to the Ku Klux Klan in 1978 and I still believe there's a profound truth there.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Smearkrieg no. 7: Nuclear-Smearing Rudy Style

THE HORSERACE. I still think that Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson are the horses in the race for the Republican nomination. If campaigns won nominations, Giuliani would be the favorite. Right now, Giuliani is playing all of his essential arguments very well. He's maintaining his moderate stance on social issues, can compete with Hillary Clinton in several blue states, and has successfully positioned himself as a tough guy on Iraq, Iran, and Israel. The Giuliani campaign has also shown that it can go after Hillary Clinton in its recent Hillary/Move-On ad. That's a lot better than the Fred Thompson campaign which seems to be content with making sure their candidate gets up in the morning.

THE LOGIC OF NUCLEAR SMEARING. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times argues that showing he can slap around Hillary Clinton is pretty much the only thing Rudy can do to promote his candidacy.

Giuliani has decided that the best way to win his primary is to show he can beat the woman on the way to winning hers. He can't campaign on family values or the sanctity of marriage. He can't whip up any fears on abortion or gays. He can't campaign on his plan to get out of Iraq because he doesn't have one.

He can't campaign as the tough-guy heir to Bush because nobody likes Bush. He can't campaign on attacking Iran because he'll sound like crazy Dick Cheney. He can't campaign on the economy because he's W. redux, facing a possible recession because of the mortgage crisis.

That's not quite right. Rudy's campaigning on the premise that he'll be tougher than George Bush on terrorism and even more crazy than Dick Cheney on Iran and other pseudo-enemies. Up until now, Rudy's foreign policy imagery has been all about race. Having apparently shown that he can "handle" African-Americans in New York, Giuliani promises to do the same with the Iraqis, Iranians, and any other non-whites who get in our way.

With the Hillary/Moveon ad, it's now about gender as well. The American right fears and loathes (and loves) Hillary Clinton much more than they fear Ahmadinejad or Hezbollah. By "slapping" Hillary around, Giuliani is putting down a down payment on his aggression toward the other enemies the right wants to launch wars against.

But Giuliani is going to have to do a lot more than slap Hillary Clinton around a little. Dowd is wrong to think that Giuliani just has to avoid gay rights, abortion, family issues, and the war. In fact, Giuliani has to smear Hillary enough to compensate for his sins against everyone's sense of decency. Smearing Hillary is going to have to be Giuliani's answer for questions about his corrupt association with Bernard Kerik, his three marriages, his stance on social issues, and his love nest at the World Trade Center.

If Giuliani wins the nomination, he would have to go into "nuclear smearing" to compensate for the unpopularity of the Bush administration, the floundering war in Iraq, and the declining prestige of the United States in the world. He'll also have to compensate for his general weirdness.

Given that Rudy Giuliani wouldn't change very many of Bush's policies, he won't be able to just slap around Hillary Clinton with his current smears. Rudy will have to try to blow her up. He'll have to go nuclear.

The Affirmative Action Notre Dame Coach

At 0-4 and getting throttled every time they play, Notre Dame is a really lousy team. Michael Rosenberg of Fox Sports and the Detroit Free Press sums up the situation nicely.
Notre Dame is on the hook for another $20-some-million to an offensive genius who can't pick up a first down, let alone a win. They are dead last in the country in total offense by a wide margin. They are staring 0-8 in the face.

The "offensive genius" is head coach Charlie Weis who now seems to have ridden Brady Quinn's coattails to bowl games in his first two seasons.

Notre Dame is one of the impatient programs that tires of coaches who can't win championships, gets itchy trigger fingers with coaches who go 10-2 but loses the big rivalry game, and fires anybody who goes 6-5.

The others include Ohio State, Oklahoma, Nebraska, LSU, Alabama, and Auburn.

With Charlie Weis at 0-4 and the team looking pathetic, one has to wonder why he hasn't been fired already.

Maybe Notre Dame is keeping him out of affirmative action considerations.