Saturday, October 06, 2007

We'd Pay to NOT SEE Them

Signs of a forthcoming Republican apocalypse keep appearing. The religious right is thinking of running a third party candidate. Republican politicians are retiring like lemmings and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are drowning in money.

Right now, the smart money is on a Hillary presidency, 57 Democrats in the Senate, and a very healthy Democratic majority in the House.

So what happened to the Republicans? Speculation is rife. David Brooks thinks it's because the Republicans abandoned something called Burkean "dispositional" conservatism for "creedal conservativism."
But suburban, Midwestern and many business voters are dispositional conservatives more than creedal conservatives. They care about order, prudence and balanced budgets more than transformational leadership and perpetual tax cuts. It is among these groups that G.O.P. support is collapsing.

But that doesn't make sense. A lot of "suburban, Midwestern, and business voters" are no longer conservative at all on social issues like gay rights, women's rights, race relations, and abortion. That's much of the reason why suburban voters in the North went for Gore by 20 points and why the inner suburbs around cities like Philadelphia have become Democratic enclaves.

The current "progress" of conservativism hasn't helped the Republican Party either. With conservatives becoming "anti-science" on evolution, and global warming, "anti-medicine" in cases like Terry Schiavo, and generally "anti-competence," the Democrats are looking like the party of knowledge, progress, and sanity to suburban voters.

This is what former Republican John Cole of Balloon Juice (via Glenn Greenwald) is picking up on.
Seriously- what does the current Republican party stand for? Permanent war, fear, the nanny state, big spending, torture, execution on demand, complete paranoia regarding the media, control over your body, denial of evolution and outright rejection of science, AND ZOMG THEY ARE GONNA MAKE US WEAR BURKHAS, all the while demanding that in order to be a good American I have to spend most of
every damned day condemning half my fellow Americans as terrorist appeasers.

But Cole ignores the failure of the war in Iraq. As long as the right-wing could use the war in Iraq to promote an image of themselves as the party of masculinity and toughness, they could trick voters into forgiving them for their many peculiarities and vote Republican.

With the failure of the war, the Republicans also lost the benefit of the doubt on social and economic issues. Where swing voters, independents, and moderates might once have tolerated the social bigotries, hypocrisies, corruption, and general weirdness of the right, now these kinds of voters are openly contemptuous of conservatives and conservatism.

How contemptuous?

John Cole gives us a good idea.
The threat of higher taxes in the short term isn’t enough to keep me from voting out crazy people and voting for sane people with whom I merely disagree regarding policy. Hillarycare doesn’t scare me as much as Frank Gaffney having a line to the person with the nuclear football or Dobson and company crafting domestic policy.
Cole's comment on taxes is the flip side of the old line where somone says that "I'd pay to see them play" in relation to sports teams and bands. In the case of the Republicans, Cole and other moderates and swing voters are willing to pay higher taxes if that means getting the Republicans out of office.

In other words, many moderates and swing voters are willing to "pay their own money" to not see the Republicans any more.

Is there a higher form of insult?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Our Future Inheritance

Yesterday, the New York Times revealed that the Bush administration approved secret memorandums justifying torture techniques (waterboarding, extreme sensory deprivation, etc.) that they had renounced in 2004.
. . . soon after Alberto R. Gonzales’s arrival as attorney general in February 2005, the Justice Dpartment issued another opinion, this one in secret. It was . . . an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency. The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.

The New York Times dug up this information in relation to the controversy about the Bush administration's use of illegal torture techniques on terror suspects. This is an extremely important issue and Glen Greenwald has a typically excellent post on the pervasive lawbreaking of the Bush administration in relation to interrogation policy here.

But the point I want to make is that the secret memos on torture are unlikely to be the end of the story. It's most likely that lots of confidential memos have been written to justify the illegal, corrupt, or inept practices of Bush administration appointees. For better or worse, there's no reason to think Bush appointees have been any more interested in following the law or adhering to their own procedures in managing the Department of Homeland Security or the EPA than the Justice Department. Little bombs like the secret torture memos unearthed by the Times may be set to go off all over the federal government.

As bad as the situation looks now, it's probably going to look a lot worse after a more complete picture of the Bush administration emerges.

And that more complete picture will begin to emerge if Bush is replaced by a Demcratic president in 2008.

The Bottom Line on Safety and Security

Troubled Torturers. Yesterday's article in the NY Times about the Bush administration's torture shenanigans prompted President Bush to make another one of his Orwellian "we do not torture" statements. It seems that the Bush administration engages in "humanitarian" waterboarding, extreme sensory deprivation, and extraordinary rendition to countries where suspects will be subjected to even more humanitarian treatment.

But the debate over torture brings us to a bottom line over the Bush administration in relation to national security. Here's Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto speaking today.
It's troubling . . . I've had the awful responsibility to have to work with the New York Times and other news organizations on stories that involve the release of classified information. And I can tell you that every time I've dealt with any of these stories, I have felt that we have chipped away at the safety and security of America with the publication of this kind of information.

Like Fratto, I reflect on the ways in which "the safety and security of America" is being compromised every time I see these stories. But I view the Bush administration and the right-wing as the ones who are chipping away at American security. The Bush administration's war in Iraq, refusal to cooperate with other American political institutions, and relentless defiance of American and international law have all served to strengthen global terrorism and weaken American capacities for dealing with global terror.

At the same time, the political fights over the Bush administration's conduct of the war on terror have revealed that the right-wing is more of a threat to American society than the global jihadis. What has emerged is that the right-wing has little respect for American democracy and that major figures on the right like Newt Gingrich and Thomas Sowell are thinking about how democracy can be overthrown in this country. With their ideas of creating military tribunals for trying and imprisoning war opponents, activists on the right have even worked out a "constitutional" mechanism for ending American democracy as we know it.

It's impossible to separate the Bush administration from the right-wing. Efforts by the Bush administration to nullify laws against torture show the same contempt for American democracy that's shown by the chatter on the right about military tribunals, one-man rule in this country, or curtailing the First Amendment. They represent an effort to chip away at the democratic character of Amerian government and society.

And it strikes me that the Bush administration's and the right's efforts to strike at democracy represent a greater threat to this country than global terrorism.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bad News for Hillary Supporters: Hillary at 53%

Yesterday, a Washington Post/ABC poll came out with Hillary at 53% and Obama at 20%. Most of the time, political candidates consider it to be really good news if they make that kind of big leap in the polls.

But I think 53% is more Trojan horse than gift horse for the Hillary campaign.

Of course, the Post/ABC poll might be an outlying poll. Hillary might still actually be in the low 40's. That's still a very strong lead even if it's not overwhelming.

If the numbers are real, they might be a sign that Hillary is peaking too soon. That's especially because Hillary's going to become more of a target for negative media coverage and right-wing smears the farther ahead she gets.

If Democrats start listening to the negativity, the numbers will go back down.

Being so far ahead also creates the likelihood of complacency, decreasing creativity, and lower energies as candidates and their staffs sit on their huge leads.

That can also bring the numbers back down.

Even worse, a huge lead in the Democratic primaries means that Hillary might not fully prepared for everything the Republicans are going to throw at her in the general election. Obama's failure to fight now means that Hillary's not going to be in fighting trim next July.

Given the stakes in the 2008 presidentiail election, that's very unfortunate.

Cutting a Better Deal for Soldier Heroes

My good friends at Protein Wisdom insist on the value of right-wing irony. A good example of that kind of irony comes from the enthusiastic war-monger Robert Kaplan in today's Wall Street Journal online. What Kaplan is complaining about is the tendency of the media to "pity" American soldiers rather than lionize them as heroes.
As one battalion commander complained to me, in words repeated by other soldiers and marines: "Has anyone noticed that we now have a volunteer Army? I'm a warrior. It's my job to fight." Every journalist has a different network of military contacts. Mine come at me with the following theme: We want to be admired for our technical proficiency--for what we do, not for what we suffer. We are not victims. We are privileged.

I can see the battalion commander's complaint. In fact, there's relatively little coverage of day to day operations in Iraq outside ludicrous war-romantics like Michael Yon and his "al-Ameriki" schtick. When American troops are engaged with an enemy, they fight hard, fight effectively, and are almost always victorious. But the embedded reporters are gone, the romanticizing of military technology played out a long time ago, and most people became suspicious of heroism stories after the military lied about Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch.

It's really too bad.

But Kaplan's engaged in a pity story himself. He's essentially asking people to feel sorry for soldiers because they are not being treated as heroes.

What an irony!

If the U. S. were a better society, we indeed would be treating soldiers as heroes. Everyday American soldiers are doing remarkably well despite the campaign of deception that brought the U. S. into Iraq, the incompetence of the Bush administration, and the overall failure of the mission.

In fact, however, we in the United States don't value people who aren't being successful RIGHT NOW and the military mission in Iraq has been a failure for at least three years. As a result, American soldiers are stuck in the same "pity" rut as single black mothers working multiple jobs, cancer patients, students getting through college despite working 40-50 hours a week, and people successfully fighting off depression, anxiety disorders, and other mental health problems.

I see lots of these folks in my job as a college professor and I'm sometimes so awestuck by the energy, talent, and commitment of some of my students that I end up hero-worshipping them even as I'm supposed to be acting as a role-model.

Another irony!

But the best that any of these kinds of folks can do in the mainstream media is to be portrayed as "victims" and pitied. Oh, maybe there's some token stories about "everyday heroes," but the the overwhelming focus of the media is on the wealthy, celebrities, rock stars, and the titans of business. People who have to be heroic to either get by or move one step forward are lucky to avoid being stigmatized as failures, losers, whores, and rednecks.

That's the pitiable reality.

American soldiers in Iraq want more respect from the media.

And that's fine.

But it's unfortunate that they'll only get that respect if America becomes a better society at home.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Dominatrix Right--Exploring A Conservative Fantasy

What would a right-wing life be without fear? Of course, the primary conservative fear used to be fear of blacks and black skin, black diseases, black sexuality, and black talk. But the right has branched out over the years to luxuriate in the fear of gays, women, Hispanics, crime, pedophiles, their kids being kidnapped, secular humanism, communism, Saddam Hussein, Ahmadinejad, and Hillary Clinton.

It goes without saying that fear is what makes life worth living for people on the right.

In fact, if the right has any kind of practical dictum at all, it's that "we have nothing to enjoy but our wonderful fears. "

This brings us to the fear du jour--fear of radical Islam--the idea, even the conviction, that radical muslims will be taking over the United States and introduce sharia law, make everybody convert to Islam, force everybody pray five times a day, and make "our women" wear burkas whenever they left the house.

The pervasive fear of radical Islam seems to derive from some statements that Osama bin Laden has made about destroying the West and forcing everyone to convert.

There seems to be an operant conditioning principle at work here: Osama speaks, conservatives fear.

Not that it takes the right much to be "afraid, very afraid" anyway.

Glenn Greenwald printed a stunning example of this kind of fear in his Salon blog yesterday. I'll quote at length.

Glenn -- just read your post about how we're all over-reacting to Islamic fundamentalism. How refreshing! I had no idea that our fears were so ill-founded. There I was, all set to actually believe the rhetoric of Al Qaeda and Iran and the countless video tapes of suicide bombers, not to mention the actual language of the Quran. In fact, I'd even begun to believe this poll, which says that quite a few American Muslims think that there is justification or strapping a bomb to yourself and walking into a mall . . . But who needs polls when I have Glenn Greenwald! Thank heavens we have you to balance all this with an argument that can basically be summed up as, "well none of these people who mocked Islam have been killed, so you all need to relax, OK?"

I picture this moment, Glenn, and it brings me a little chuckle. It's you, begging some terrorist for your life, pointing out all the wonderful things you wrote that undermined America's resolve to fight against Islamic terrorism. "Look," you say, pulling articles out of your pockets with shaking hands, "I have served you! Clearly this means that I deserve to be spared!" I won't tell you how it ends, Glenn.

I imagine this scenario brought Greenwald's correspondent more than a little pleasure. This person's imagined "terrorist" sounds more like a dominatrix than anything else as he holds a knife to Greenwald and makes him beg "to be spared" before slitting his throat. This kind of terrorism porn even has a connection to reality because it's fairly close to what happened to Danny Pearl when he was murdered in Pakistan.

When conservatives conjure up the "Coming Muslim Take-Over of America," they essentially envision terrorists holding a knife to the throat of all Americans and making us do their will. For some reason, they find this to be a really fascinating and exciting vision of their future.

But it's essentially a dominatrix-style pornography in which conservatives enjoy the thought of themselves and their fellow Americans being punished by our terrorist doms. We've been such bad boys and girls not to have supported the Bush administration.

Maybe this is why Ann Coulter is so popular on the right.

The next time you see a conservative, ask them if they're part of the "Dominatrix Right."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Jonah Goldberg on Clarence Thomas

Jonah Goldberg has this notable passage on Clarence Thomas in an article entitled "Clarence Thomas' Great American Story" at RealClearPolitics.
Thomas survived, of course, and if his opponents had been able to read this book
they would have known he would. My Grandfather’s Son is a tale of pride, determination and independence — from the constraints of discrimination and the deadening influence of group-think.

As I stated in my last post, there are good reasons for empathy towards Thomas. Much as someone should ask "how would I do in battle" before condemning soldiers, we should ask "how would I have done during the heat of desegregation" before condemning Thomas.

But the story of Clarence Thomas is the farthest thing from "a tale of pride, determination, and independence." I see a lot more self-pity than "pride" or "determination" in Thomas' story

I also wonder about Thomas' purported "independence" from the "deadening influence of group-think."

What was the "group-think" that Thomas liberated himself from? In the final analysis, the idea that Thomas rejected was the hundred-year struggle for racial integration by generation on generation of African-Americans. Far from being deadening "group think," the struggle for racial equality had an overwhelming rightness and nobility to it. Thomas rejects "the grand theorists" of the Civil Rights Movement like MLK and Thurgood Marshall and also rejects the thousands of African-American activists whose courage and daring finally succeeded in opening all of American society to the talent and energy of black people. For Thomas, what the Civil Rights Movement largely meant was that he was impelled to become a pioneer of integration at places like Yale Law School. In fact, the success of civil rights activism created the imperative that young black men and women perform the very painful chore of taking up all the new opportunities within a larger American society that was still hostile to black people.

And Clarence Thomas hated the burden of desegregation, hated that he had been led to take up that burden, and has resented the Civil Rights Movement and the relentless black push for desegregation ever since.

Ultimately, Thomas turned his back on "the Great American Story" of his generation for the very "deadening" world of carping about integration and being a black poster boy for conservative opposition to the black community. He's been called an "Uncle Tom" but that's an overly-generous term for what Thomas became.

I haven't walked in Clarence Thomas' shoes. So I don't know how I would have responded to the same pressures. Who knows? Maybe I would have done the same thing.

One thing's for sure though. Clarence Thomas was on the wrong side of history, political morality, and common decency when he turned against the century-long struggle of African-Americans for civil rights.

And anybody else who would have made that turn would have been just as wrong-headed as Thomas.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Clarence Thomas: Preliminary

I would read Clarence Thomas' memoir if I had time but know I'm not going to have the time this semester.

But I think I'm going to do a couple of posts on it anyway.

One of my conservative students did a senior seminar paper last semester comparing Clarence Thomas to Thurgood Marshall. It was obvious from the student's materials that Marshall was an even greater man than I had been lead to believe while Thomas is a self-pitying, bitter kind of guy.

Certainly Thomas did not measure up to Marshall.

Having said that, I think it would be absurd to blame Thomas for not being a great man. How many great men or great women are there anyway? I have a considerable amount of self-esteem but I wouldn't measure up to Thurgood Marshall either.

And I don't particularly blame him for being a self-pitying, bitter kind of guy. From his long interview with ABC News, it seemed that Clarence Thomas' main problem was the integration era and the fact that he was one of the black people moving forward to integrate schools, colleges, offices, and political institutions.

Thomas was not the kind of guy who was suited to being a pioneer, to being the only black person or one of the only two black people in high school, college, and work settings. Being "stared at," being the target of racist insults, and being painfully self-conscious all the time about what people were thinking about him were enormous burdens.

And Thomas found no solace with other black people because he was just as painfully self-conscious about what wealthier or lighter-skinned black people thought of him.

As the black feminist bell hooks once wrote, "racism hurts." And for Clarence Thomas, every dimension of the American racial system hurt.

And the people that Thomas blamed for the pervasive pain he felt were the "grand theorists" of integration who took him and others like him out of the segregated communities--people like Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernethy, the liberal judges who pushed desegregation, and the white social elites who supported them.

They were all great men and Clarence Thomas believed that their schemes demanded much too much of bright but not extraordinary young men and women, men like Clarence Thomas.

Thomas would find the conservatives who were suspicious of integration for other reasons to be much more congenial than the people who had pushed him into the cannon's mouth of integration.

But my impression is that Clarence Thomas was pretty much a broken man for a several years before he was nominated for the Supreme Court.

Ann Coulter: A Liberal's Best Friend

Ann Coulter has a passage in her new book where she gloats about the inability of liberals to destroy her career.

Uttering lines that send liberals into paroxysms of rage, otherwise known as “citing facts,” is the spice of life. When I see the hot spittle flying from their mouths and the veins bulging and pulsing above their eyes, well, that’s when I feel truly alive. This happens, I dearly hope, once a week when my column is released. But the public gnashing of teeth that I incite occurs approximately every six to eight months, which is rather peculiar, since I believe I annoy liberals much more often than that.

Coulter is an incredibly clever polemicist and provocateur and she's right when she claims that her writing sends liberals into "paroxysms of rage." And it reflects a weakness on the part of most liberals that they allow her to make them so angry.

But liberals really would be fools if they still wanted Ann Coulter to lose her writing gigs. After five books, hundreds of columns, and thousands of interviews, Ann Coulter has become an asset to political liberalism. That's because she really did go one step too far when she slandered the 9-11 widows in Godless.

As a result, public opinion has tipped against Coulter and she's become a living symbol of the right-wing's habitual venom and bigotry to mainstream America.

Now, Coulter's in the same league as Rush Limbaugh. When one of her outrages on Muslims, John Edwards, or the right of women to vote gets publicized, it's seen as an example of everything that's wrong with conservativism.

That makes Coulter a friend of the left. In fact, one of our best friends.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Visit with Greg Goldey

Today, my wife and I traveled bearing the gift of lasagna to Winchester, KY to visit with Greg Goldey. Greg had been sleeping on the couch but got up quickly and was in good spirits. We talked about how he was feeling, discussed some shop issues, and had a generally good time.

Avoiding Faux Pas. Greg is very thin, thin enough that his face looks Lincolnesque because his ears stick out. The last time we visited, I mentioned his resemblance to Lincoln as a kind of joke. But it turned out to be not funny at all. Goldey's father-in-law is a strong believer that Lincoln was a warmonger and a tyrant and that Gen. George McClellan was a much preferable figure. My luck to be calling somebody Lincolnesque in the only household in America where McClellan is a hero.

But today I managed to avoid that kind of embarressment by keeping my historical references to myself. Of course, Greg still looks Lincolnesque.

Getting Better. Greg is getting stronger but in somewhat of an ironic way. After his first dose of chemo, Greg slept constantly. Weeks later, he's now strong enough that he can throw up a lot. That's very promising. Greg is also up and around, talking about department business, and getting a little heated in discussing things. In other words, he's improved to the point where he can throw up and be more himself. That's progress. Soon, he'll be able to cope with underachieving students.

No Stomach for Stomach Cancer. Given that Greg's cancer is in his abdomen, he still can't eat regular food even though he's tried some fruit. It will be a very good sign when he can eat regular food again. Right now, he's still got no stomach for it.

Not Voting Republican. Goldey and I didn't get a chance to talk politics or sports. Not talking sports was probably a good idea. He got his Ph.D. from Oklahoma and Oklahoma was upset yesterday by Colorado. As for politics, I'm pretty sure Greg's not going to come out in favor of a Republican. He can barely stomach the Democrats.

The Presidency 2008--A Four Way Race?

According to Salon, some of the big wigs on the religious right have been meeting in Salt Lake City to lay the groundwork for a third party candidacy should Rudy Giuliani win the Republican nomination.

The bottom line for James Dobson, Gary Bauer, and their colleagues is abortion rights. Giuliani supports Roe v Wade and the leaders of the religious right find that intolerable. James Dobson, probably the no. 1 leader on the religious right is particularly adamant in his refusal to even vote for Giuliani (or Fred Thompson) let alone give him his full-throated support. As a result, he's thinking about picking up their marbles and getting out of the Republican Party game.

Some of this is the fault of conservative religious leaders themselves. Dobson and Bauer have refused to back social conservatives Mike Huckabee or Sam Brownback because they viewed these guys as losers. But the refusal of the conservative religious establishment to endorse one of the social conservatives has meant that they had absolutely no chance whatsoever.

The religious right couldn't find it within themselves to hold their noses and support Mitt Romney either.

So now they're nowhere in the Republican Party.

But a third-party campaign from the right would be more of a body shot than a knockout punch to a Giuliani candidacy. That's because people on the left will probably launch a fourth party campaign if Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee. It's not like anti-war activists and anti-corporate crusaders (with whom I agree on almost all substantive issues) have been sitting on their hands. They've been supporting Edwards and to a lesser extent Obama. But they aren't winning either.

A fourth party presidential campaign from the left wouldn't be as strong as a religious right campaign from the right (unless Gore or Edwards were running). The left just has less money and less institutional infrastructure than the religious right.

Ultimately then, a third party campaign would hurt Giuliani more than a fourth party effort would hurt Hillary. It just wouldn't be a knock-out punch.