Saturday, November 03, 2007

"Showing Some Cod"

Liberal bloggers are answering the "Hillary plays the gender card" meme by replying that men have been playing the gender card for more than 200 years.
Playing the gender card? Yeah, it's been done, for every single President in history. I'm going to enjoy watching the male spasms of cowardice unleashed if Clinton wins, as she's sworn in and represents the more than half the population that is interrupted on a regular basis by men. It's probably the only part of the Clinton Presidency that I'll like, but it's not a small deal.
Digby has a pungent account of post-1980 gender politics as well.
So true. And now I will be eagerly looking forward to [Chris Matthews] and the rest of the commentators calling out the entire Republican field for also playing the "gender" card as they've been doing for the past few decades. Indeed, the entire Republican campaign strategy can be said to be one big gender card --- the only people they believe matter in this country are delicate, insecure creatures who are so sensitive that they have to be pampered and pandered to like a bunch of overfed princes who like to play cowboy and don't want to share their favorite binky.

Every presidential candidate, and most other politicians, since 1980, have been bowing and scraping before this constituency. But for some reason, the hunting trips and codpieces and brush clearing and all that metaphorical crotch measuring isn't considered playing "the gender card." It's just considered the normal political pander to an aggrieved minority vote: the poor white males who've been treated terribly by all those powerful women and minorities and gays. What could be wrong with that?
It's worthwhile to go a little deeper into the the whole idea of "codpiece" politics. It should be remembered that cod-pieces are not penises. To the contrary, a cod-piece is a clothing device that represents a man's penis as being larger than it would be otherwise. It's a fashion version of "male enhancement." Macho politics functions in the same way as a codpiece. What Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, George Bush, Rudy Giuliani, and countless other politicians have done is advertise their attitudes, accomplishments, or life in general as an enhanced maleness, or extremely large cod-piece. Instead of thinking of politics in terms of penis-size, it might be useful to think of politics in terms of inflatable codpieces or cods. The male candidate who can credibly inflate his own codpiece the most is the most manly man. That's why political campaigns are so much about all the candidates seeking to inflate their codpiece selves while deflating the cods of their opponents through negative advertising, rumor mongering, push polls, and other tactics.

Because it's so oriented toward symbolic display, contemporary macho politics is more about "showing some cod" than "metaphorical crotch measuring" as Digby suggests.

Dems Should Hire Benazir Bhutto's Writer

Benazir Bhutto had some tough words for Pervez Musharaff after he declared a state of emergency today in Pakistan.

“The extremists need a dictatorship, and dictatorship needs extremists.”

The Democrats in the United States should be so plain spoken.

Although the Bush administration can't be thought of as a dictatorship (at least not yet), they have the same kind of symbiotic relationship with al-Qaida as the Musharaff regime in Pakistan. Just as al-Qaida needs the war crimes of the Bush administration to justify its continued existence, the Bush administration needs al-Qaida and "Islamo-fascism" to justify its abuse of the Constitution and law in the United States.

The Bush administration needs global terrorism just as much as global terrorism needs the Bush administration.

How to Stump Ann Coulter

According to Chris Nelson of Pop and Politics, Ann Coulter was stumped by friendly questions from a conservative audience about how to define the "fascism" part of Islamo-fascism and what to do about Assyrian Christians in Iraq.
When asked “Why is it that the media and the president are turning a blind eye to the Assyrian population in Iraq?” The Assyrians are the indigenous Christians of Iraq. Coulter: “Oh yes, I’ve heard about this and I have no idea. I do not know what the answer is.”Asked twice by a reporter for the university newspaper to define fascism, she floundered. The first time she offered a roundabout response that mentioned Communism, Nazism, and nihilism, saying it was the “total control of people’s lives” and so in this respect “every government is to some extent fascist.” As unsatisfied as everyone else in the room, the reporter, reminding her that she was invited to speak for Islamo-Fascism week, pressed again for a definition. Visibly uncomfortable or perturbed, she told him to consult a dictionary.

Maybe the best way to stump Ann Coulter is to ask her seemingly puff-ball questions or offer her faux compliements that force her to reveal the empty cocktail dress behind her punch lines.

Personally, I've always wanted to congratulate Coulter on being a virgin. After all, Coulter is a conscientious Christian who's never been married. One has to assume that she's been saving her virginity for that "special man" when he comes along.

As they say, "true love waits."

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Rudy Giuliani: The Man They Thought George Bush Was

Given that Fred Thompson's campaign is a dud, Rudy Giuliani has to be considered a marginal favorite for the Republican presidential nomination.

The main theme of Giuliani's day to day tactics is to establish that he's the ubermacho guy in the Republican sense of the word. That means that Giuliani is working to project an aura of dominating the space around him--meeting every issue with a studied show of aggresive "will," formulating every issue as an ideological confrontation, and refusing to bend in the slightest to either friends or enemies. Giuliani's daily put-downs of Hillary Clinton--today Giuliani was after Hillary both for refusing to be pinned down on a position and being wrong about everything at the same time-- aren't just playing to the Republican base in terms of blasting their least-loved Democrat, it's about establishing domination over Hillary's political persona. The same is the case with Giuliani's threats to attack Iran, his attacks on European health care systems, and his defense of torture.

The point of all this manuevering isn't the right health policy or American national security. The for Giuliani point is to be as aggressive as he can be on a daily basis.

Of course, George Bush and Dick Cheney were trying to accomplish the same thing, failed miserably, and paved the way for a Democratic victory in 2006. But Rudy is portraying himself as the more manly man the current administration. Where Bush was a failed oilman before moving up the political ladder, Rudy Giuliani was a spectacularly successful prosecutor. Where Bush can't speak English without looking stupid, Rudy Giuliani can talk on the fly in a coherent and informed way. Where George Bush is studies in his ignorance, Rudy Giuliani reads magazines like City Journal in New York. Giuliani's spokesperson drove home the difference between Rudy and Bush in relation to Rudy's reading about health care issues.

The citation is an article in a highly respected intellectual journal written by an expert at a highly respected think tank which the mayor read because he is an
intellectually engaged human being."

In this sense, Rudy Giuliani is promising Republicans that he'll not only be as tough-talking a conservative as he can possibly be, but that he'll also be smart enough and competent enough to make conservatism work.

Needless to say, nobody's that smart.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bellying Up to the Political Bar

RUSSERT THE WEDGE SNIFFER. Everybody thought that the main theme of last night's Democratic debate was the attacks on Hillary Clinton. But nobody noticed that Tim Russert was really looking for wedge issues that would be difficult for any Democrat to answer. Russert's question about illegal immigrants getting driver's licenses was a classic. The Republicans could care less about governing and wouldn't give second thought to having tens of thousands of unlicensed illegal immigrants on the road. Only concerned about "looking tough," Republican candidates would reject any most non-law enforcement approaches to immigrant issues out of hand. For the Democrats, the symbolic issues are more complicated because of their identification with Hispanic voters. Likewise, they would want to "do something" about the governance issues related to the illegal immigrants who are already here. By posing the driver's license issue, Russert put the Democrats in a bind and he did that all night.

HILLARY SUPPORTER FOR ATTACKING HILLARY. Don't get me wrong. I'm glad Russert was sniffing out the wedge issues and I'm all for the attacks on Hillary by Obama and Edwards. Face it, Hillary needs the work. She needs to be able to respond to attacks in ways that defend her position, segue back to her main campaign themes, and take some shots at Rudy Giuliani. Last night, she didn't get those things done in the Philadelphia debate. She needs to get better before facing off with the Republican nominee and the only way she's going to get better is if she's forced to respond to attacks from her opponent. I support Hillary's candidacy, but it would help her campaign enormously if she was attacked more often and more forcefully by her opponents.

THE DEMS STILL DON'T GET IT WITH MUKASEY. There are times when one has to think that the Democratic leadership is not that sharp. The Democrats think the question over whether Mukasey is going to acknowledge that waterboarding is torture is primarily a question of enforcing the law. Is Mukasey going to enforce the law or is he going to accept all of the Bush administration's vacuous reasoning for avoiding the law. But there are other questions for the Bush administration, especially the question of legal jeopardy. If Mukasey acknowledges the criminality of waterboarding, everybody involved in the Bush administration's "enhanced interrogation techniques" from 9-12 2001 onward is vulnerable to prosecution. That includes the interrogators, their supervisors, anybody who consulted with them, and policy-makers all the way up the line and George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Alberto Gonzales in particular. Mukasey seems to recognize the issue.
MICHAEL MUKASEY, U.S. Attorney General-Designate: ... I'm sorry, I can't discuss, and I think it would be irresponsible of me to discuss particular techniques with which I am not familiar, when there are people who are using coercive techniques and who are being authorized to use coercive techniques, and for me to say something that is going to put their careers or freedom at risk simply because I want to be congenial. I don't think it would be responsible of me to do that.

But it seems that the Democrats don't see it. What the Dems need to do is "belly up to the bar" and get Mukasey to recognize that being the next Attorney General means investigating the Bush administration and the American military and intelligence apparatus for violations of the whole range of American and international laws forbidding torture. If Mukasey doesn't recognize his responsibility here, he shouldn't be confirmed.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Late Memo to Cheney's Racist Pals

Look out America. Dick Cheney went hunting again. Last week, the Clove Valley Gun and Rod Club in upstate Union Vale, NY released some of their pet pheasants so the Veep could get some easy kills last week. That way Cheney could feel like a real hunter without shooting other members of the hunting party.
. . . some Dutchess County residents blasted the vice president for taking part in what they called a canned hunt. Farm-bred pheasants were released on the preserve 24 hours before Cheney arrived, making them easy targets for the hunting party. "The way they hunt, I'm not fond of," said Linda Smith, 52, who runs a local preschool. "It's not what I would call a real sportsmanlike activity."
In Cheney's case, bird hunting is more an exercise in building self-esteem than hunting skills.

Not that there's anything wrong with building self-esteem. Needless to say, I'd prefer actual merit. But I'll take self-esteem over the macho preening of Dick Cheney and other right-wingers any day.

It seems, however, that the members of the Clove Valley Gun and Rod Club haven't gotten the latest memo on racist paraphernalia. It appears that some enterprising soul took down the Club's Confederate flag and put it in a shed before the Vice-President's visit. That would have been an embarrassment to the Vice-President even if it wasn't an embarrassment to the club itself.

Still, it's somewhat of a surprise that the club hasn't gotten the memo that Confederate flags have been replaced by nooses as the trendy symbol of white racism.

Perhaps they gave Cheney a noose as a going away present.

Poverty and Education in the South

With rising poverty rates, more than 50% of public school students in the South are now considered poor. In Kentucky, it's 50% on the nose.

So, what's being done about it? More early childhood education.
One Southern strategy gaining momentum is strengthening early-childhood education. In at at least 12 Southern states, including Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi, the number of 4-year-olds enrolled in state pre-K programs or Head
Start is greater than the number of 4-year-olds in poverty, according to the Southern Regional Education Board.
I just heard a story about Kentucky gubernatorial candidate Steve Breshear wanting to put an emphasis on pre-school education as well. That's good as far as it goes, but the positive affects of pre-school can be lost unless schools make education more appealing to poor children than the alternatives. From my experience in Kentucky, I have some observations about the disadvantages of poor kids compared to middle class and upper-middle class kids in relation to education. The parents of poor kids tend not to push their children to excel in school as much as higher-income parents. They also have less in the way of books, magazines, computers, musical diversity, and other "educational" items in their homes. Likewise, the parents of poor kids don't take the same advantage of local cultural events like the Cave Run Storytelling Festival in this area and don't take the same kinds of "educational" trips to museums and historical sites out of their states either.

But the rubber meets the road when children encounter alternative "anti-education" cultures in middle school. In my part of Kentucky, students encounter a variety of peer sub-cultures that oppose educational values. Those sub-cultures range include the sex and drug sub-culture, the local lake, cruising, and fishing and can also include sports and religion. The question is whether the family environment reinforces the cultural values of education or whether the family environment reinforces anti-education peer values. With poorer families in Kentucky, the overriding value on family solidarity often works in opposition to a focus on education. It also might be the case that poorer families don't have the credibility with their children required to counter-act the anti-educational thrust of many peer groups.

If public schools in high-poverty areas like the South want to keep poorer kids on track, they need to figure out ways to better counter-act peer cultures. They need to hire better teachers, buy better educational materials, do more field trips, and in general work out strategies for making school activities more imperative. All of this takes a lot of money and well-spent money at that. Of course, there are charismatic teachers like Jaime Escalante who can work miracles on their own. Like most people, however, most teachers don't have that kind of talent, drive, and commitment. Ultimately, communities and states have to decide to invest the kinds of resources in education that are needed to induce poorer kids to keep up.

But this is where the South most fails it's children. Instead of spending more money on education than the wealthier states, the South spends less.
In 2000, Mississippi's highest per pupil expenditures were $5,631. Connecticut's lowest per pupil expenditure for the same year was $8,030.
This is the opposite of what it should be. The education of poor children will continue to lag in the South as long as the region is not spending significantly more per pupil than a wealthier state like Connecticut.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Rudy Unbound or Bound

THE RUDY CEILING? The current argument against Rudy Giuliani winning the Republican presidential nomination is that his support has peaked at 25-30%. From this perpsective, either Romney or Thompson will emerge as the sole candidate of social conservatives and grab a majority of convention delegates.

LITTLE SLIVERS OF HIS OWN. I'm not buying this argument though. As I've noted before, Giuliani is running the smartest of the Republican presidential campaigns. Today, he has a nice manuever in relation to Hillary Clinton idea of sending emissaries abroad after her election to let other countries know that the era of "cowboy democracy" is over. Instead of taking the "hard road" of defending Bush's foreign policy, Giuliani limited himself to the easily recognizable point that such an action would be inappropriate as long as George Bush was still president.

Given the savviness of the Giuliani campaign, it's more likely that he will pick up significant slivers of support from failed McCain and Huckabee campaigns that will push him up around 34-35%.

That's a number from which Giuliani can beat either Romney or Fred Thompson. The major threat to Giuliani is that Mitt Romney would develop a lot of momentum after wins in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Michigan. However, just as Giuliani's lack of social conservativism puts a ceiling on his appeal, Romney's phoniness will limit his ability to convert early victories into broad support. It's not that Romney is any more of a phoney than Ronald Reagan, the current George Bush, or any other presidential candidate. It's just that Romney doesn't have the actor's skill of projecting authenticity. As a result, it looks to me that Romney ultimately will cap out in the high twenties.

That leaves Fred Thompson. Thompson has always looked like a regional candidate from the South and he still looks like a regional candidate. There was a time when I thought that gave Thompson an edge because of the size of the Greater South including the Old Confederacy, the border states of Kentucky, Missouri, and West Virginia, Oklahoma, much of Indiana, and Southern Ohio.

But Thompson's presidential campaign hasn't shown enough in the way of planning, coherence, or energy to take advantage of Thompson's "natural" advantages. Southerners have a lot of regional loyalty, but not enough for a candidate as bad as Fred Thompson to hold the region.

The question then is who is going to pick up Thompson's support after Fred realizes that running for president isn't any more fun than being in the Senate.

In a lot of ways, it will be a toss-up. The conservativism of Southern Republicans has two sides, the social conservatism of the religious right and the militarism of the macho good-ole-boys, racists and warmongers. In a two-man contest, Romney will try to work the social conservatism while Giuliani plays up the militarism.

But right now, I would give Rudy an edge just because his campaign is better at seizing the initiative and taking advantage of small openings than Romney's.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Wrinkle in the Iran War Strategy

One of the likely permutations of a Bush/Cheney attack on Iran is that it would threaten the whole system of cooperation between the Bush administration and the al-Maliki government in Iraq.

But as this NYTimes article on the Iraqi government's reluctance to cooperate with American policy in Anbar province reminds us, the Bush administration and the al-Maliki government have not been in harmony since the beginning of the surge campaign.

Perhaps the Bushies might be willing to cut their ties with al-Maliki altogether.