Saturday, November 24, 2007

Hillary Doing Well in Kentucky

A recent Survey USA poll has Hillary ahead of Giuliani by 4 in Kentucky. That sounds about right. Kentucky Republicans are in the dumps as a result of Republican governor Ernie Fletcher's big re-election loss and the generally low opinion of George Bush. Giuliani also rubs religious conservatives the wrong way as a result of his pro-choice views.

As a result, Hillary looks pretty good.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Hillary Punching Bag Meme

It looks like the mainstream media game has switched to one-upping Tim Russert. Now that Russert has "gotten" to Hillary Clinton with his immigrant driver's license question in the Philadelphia debate, media figures are now rushing to figure out ways to "get" to Hillary Clinton.

It seems like the hot new strategy for tearing at Hillary Clinton is to portray her as a washed-up punching bag.

Here's Thomas Schaller of the Baltimore Sun:
So which political victories, exactly, is Hillary Clinton touting? Has 15 years of ending off Republican attacks made her a powerful, partisan heavyweight or a beleaguered punching bag? John Edwards and Sen. Barack Obama dare only to flirt with such questions.

Actually, Schaller's only flirting with the question as well. He certainly makes no argument concerning how Hillary has been "beleaguered" or how she's been a punching bag. Hillary's case for fighting the Republicans is that she was an integral part of the team that brought the Clinton administration back from the dead after the 1994 debacle and that she emerged as a stronger figure as a result of the impeachment controversy. Schaller's tries to deny Hillary any credit for the Clinton administration's defeat of Gingrich and the Republican revolutionaries by claiming that the Clinton's won as a result of Republican over-reaching than anything else. But that's absurd. Given that the Republicans over-reach as a matter of principle, every Democratic victory of the last 13 years has come against Republican over-reaching.

Schaller also has nothing to say about the unique alchemy by which Hillary became a more appealing figure as a result of the impeachment scandal. Not only did Hillary's approval numbers soar, but it was as a result of impeachment that she started to look like a possible presidential candidate. Far from being a punching bag, Hillary Clinton's combination of policy expertise, tenacity, determination, temper, and ability to both dish out and take a punch started to look "presidential" when people saw that she was a "stand-up woman."

But none of this is significant to Schaller. He doesn't care any more about whether Hillary actually is a punching bag than Russert cared about immigrant driver's licenses. The point is to find the theme around which the mainstream media can rally in their efforts to "get at" the Hillary Clinton candidacy.

John Ellis does another permutation of the Hillary as sad-sack by creating an analogy between Hillary and Richard Nixon.

Like Nixon, Senator Clinton is widely disliked. Like Nixon, she cannot be made warm, even by a modern-day Roger Ailes. Like Nixon, she is a politician whose resentments are always close to the surface. And like Nixon, she is a politician about whom her peers have real doubts. But also like Nixon, she is intelligent and diligent and determined and tough and she has been through hell and back . . . . She knows that it's like to get her head kicked in every day, day after day after day, for months and years on end. She endures.

That was the whole point of the 1968 Nixon campaign narrative. He wasn't perfect by any means, but he was formidable and he endured. It's a narrative that fits Senator Clinton's campaign like a glove. For reasons either right or wrong, Americans will elect their first female president only when they are convinced that she is the tougher of the two (or three) choices. She won't be inevitable until we believe she is as formidable as Tricky Dick.

Talk about terrible advice. Who would portray themselves or their candidate as someone who "knows what it's like to get her head kicked in every day, day after day after day, for months and years on end." But Hillary Clinton is smarter and better than that. If people attacked me like the right-wing attacked Hillary, my head might have gotten kicked in. In the final analysis, my skin isn't thick enough for politics. Hillary was more like the powerhouse tailback who is stronger in the fourth quarter after 25 or 30 carries. Despite taking a pounding, she's ready to overpower the opposition rather than cave in herself. This is what the debates have shown. Hillary Clinton has considerable personal warmth, lots of savvy, and an ability to take the heat and come out looking better as a result. That's why her lead was getting up to thirty points before she stumbled in Philadelphia.

The "Hillary as punching bag" idea is the latest in a long line of themes employed by the media to derail Hillary Clinton's candidacy. There was the Hillary and the baggage of "the Clinton era," Hillary as "unelectable," Hillary as "polarizing," Hillary as being "too unpopular on the left," and Hillary as overly "dynastic." Hillary Clinton has falsified these stereotypes by turning in solid performance after solid performance during the Democratic debates. My bet is that Hillary's performance will keep the "Hillary as punching bag" theme from gaining traction as well.

But that doesn't mean the MSM won't try again.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Simple Gifts and the Sweet Life

Today, my family and I spent Thanksgiving with Mrs. RSI's brother Tom and his family down the street from us in Morehead, KY. Our two children were there along with Tom and Molly's four children who had come from Minnesota, Lexington KY, and New York City. Mrs. RSI's cousin Laura and her daughter Nina were also down from New Hampshire with a son and his girlfriend coming in from Cincinnati as well. Bucking the trend toward focusing on Christmas, Halloween, and Valentine's Day, Mrs. RSI's family have made Thanksgiving their favorite holiday and wanted to share it as widely as they could.

As was the case with most American families, Tom and Molly don't make much overt reference to God in their holiday festivities, but they do make a point of singing the following Shaker song.

Simple Gifts

'Tis a gift to be simple
'Tis a gift to be free
'Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be
And when we find ourselves in the place
just right
We'll be in the Valley of love and delight

When true simplicity is gained
To bow and to bend we will not be ashamed
To turn turn will be our delight
'Til by turning, turning we come 'round right

Repeat refrain

Ah! Liberals! Have to love them for their goodness. Tom and Molly also asked everybody to write down something that they were particularly grateful for.

I wrote "the sweet life." My colleague Greg's health is deteriorating and its a horrible thing. But I can also see the warmth and good will of all the people who are helping to care for him. In fact, the beauty of the group that's formed around Greg's care is even more striking than the destructiveness of the cancer. I can't think of a place where the sweetness of life is more evident than the Goldey house in Winchester.

Despite the sorrows involved in Greg's illness and Noelle N'Diaye's arrest for wanton child endangerment, working at Morehead State is also a wonderful thing. Recently, I told one of my students that life was sweet for people who could figure out ways to make a living for coming up with new ideas. Afterwards, I realized I was right. Being a college professor is a great thing for me because I can make a living out of the ideas I develop.

And I come up with new ideas all the time.

Finally, the person who most makes for a good life is Mrs. RSI. When someone you love and respect is also a huge turn-on, life with them is about as sweet as can be.

I could go on, but I am very grateful for the sweetness of life on this Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"Giuliani Time" Starts for Whites

When New York police officers rammed a plunger up the rectum of Haitian immigrant Albert Louima in August 1997, they crowed to Louima that "this is Giuliani time . . ." I was reminded of the Giuliani cops when I saw a video of a Utah police officer "tasing" a quarrelsome white driver named Jared Massey he had pulled over for speeding. When the guy decided to argue about speeding rather than sign his citation, the police officer made him get out of the car and then poured 50,000 volts into him with his taser. What makes the officer Giuliani-like is that he believed he had a right to torture the driver because he thought the man was annoying. The Giuliani police in NYC thought they had a right to torture anybody like Albert Louima for any reason they wanted. The same is the case with this police officer in Utah.

The other Giuliani element was the vaunting over the guy he had tortured. When a second officer arrived on the scene, the original cop laughed that the man "took a ride with the Taser" while the second officer put in his sadistic two cents by adding "painful isn't it." The boasting is important. In Rudy Giuliani's world where power, strength, and masculinity are established through military attacks, torture, and threats vaunting over opponents is an important way to represent the distance between your strength and their weakness. In the case of the cops and Albert Louima, their bragging represented the distance between their power as police officers and white men and Louima's powerlessness as a Haitian immigrant. The Utah cops were sharing their sense of power when they laughed about the guy who was tased.

Liberal blogger Digby formulates the incident in terms of the erosion of constitutional rights.

Police in the country are now allowed to torture speeders by the side of the highway in order to get them to comply. The only difference between this officer slugging the speeder in the stomach and putting 50,0000 volts of electricity in him is that the latter doesn't leave any marks. The intent, the pain and the goose-stepping authoritarian message are exactly the same.

Word to the wise. Do not ever question the police, no matter whether they are violating your rights, ignoring the constitution or breaking the law. It is perfectly legal for them to torture you on the spot if you do.

I'm feeling so free I can hardly breathe.

This is a place where Digby and I disagree. In fact, being able to count on not being arbitrarily arrested, being framed for crimes, or tortured has always been a privilege of white people, and fairly respectable white people at that. This is something I realized when I had an incident where a local University police officer pulled me over for running a stop sign. The original charge was bogus because the stop sign was a new sign. Then, the officer started adding on charges for not wearing a seat belt, not having registration, proof of insurance, and threatened to put me in jail for those even though none of them would even result in a fine. On top of that, he wrote up my court date for an hour before court even started.

In the end, the stop sign charge was diverted and I got my paper-work in order which meant that all the other charges were dismissed.

But I also had an epiphany when I asked myself what would have happened if I had been black? Or a poor man? Or a student? And the obvious answer is that it would have been worse, perhaps a lot worse if I had been a black guy. When the prominent African-American writer Cornel West was arrested for driving in the wrong neighborhood and protested that he was a theology professor, the cops baited him with the n-word. I'm sure they would have been harsher than that with a black guy in Morehead.

That's the significance of the Utah case. What's changed is that the police have expanded "Giuliani time" to well-dressed white guys with nice wives and little babies.

The police have never hesitated to refuse to recognize rights, defy the Constitution, or break the law when dealing with large parts of the American population. Now, they're extending their abuses to nice white people as well.

"When did God Come into Thanksgiving?"

That's what Mrs. RSI asked when I told her about the conservative effort to "bring God back into Thanksgiving.

As always, Mrs. RSI is right.

Newt Gingrich argues that "historically, Thanksgiving is about renewing the bond between Americans and their Creator. It's a time when we are reminded that our rights come from God and that we have responsibilities to God as free citizens." (Gingrich, Winning the Future, Nov. 20, 2007)

Given the association of Thanksgiving with the harvest, it would probably be more accurate to say that Thanksgiving used to be about forgiving god more than thanking him. It's the same with harvest festivals all over the world. Of course, there is the conventional "thanking" of god for the blessings of the harvest. Who doesn't know the religious routines of their societies? But people were primarily congratulating themselves for bringing in the harvest after long summers and autumns of backbreaking labor and constant struggling against the droughts, insects, parasites, floods, frost, and heat.

And who brought about all of those difficulties? God!!! For sincere Christians like the Pilgrims, the difficulty of producing food begins with the expulsion from the Garden of Eden in Genesis and it's always been believed that god punished human sin by bringing about the natural disasters that traditionally made farming so difficult.

That's why harvest festivals like Thanksgiving always feature a big banquet. Much of what Thanksgiving dinner celebrates is the triumph of people over god or the gods and humankind's reconciliation with divinity at the moment of their triumph over nature.

Much of what Thanksgiving was about the generosity of spirit in sharing food and other bounties of the season, and part of that generosity is extended to god as well.

It's kind of touching in a way.

Of course, now that the United States is no longer an agricultural society, the holiday of Thanksgiving is even less connected with gratitude toward the Christian god than it ever was. Mrs. RSI and I are in our fifties and neither of us have heard about god in relation to Thanksgiving outside the forgettable conventions of saying grace. Thanksgiving was always about taking time off from work, relaxing, enjoying family and getting ready for the even bigger holiday blow-out of Christmas.

And that's the way it should be.

As for god, I don't believe in a god or any other kind of divine presence. But if there is anything divine in the world, I'll be in a very forgiving mood after dinner.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Soft Edges of the Second Civil War

There have been times when I've thought that the United States is in either a pre-civil war state or a kind of low-level second civil war. Having rejected much of American society, the right-wing is engaged in a series of cultural and political wars against black people, Hispanics, gays, popular culture, public schools, higher education, science, and liberal whites.

Oh, and I forgot Muslims.

It's not like the rest of society hasn't responded either. The response from the rest of society has not been as cohesive and determined as the right-wing "war on America," but the level of activism against the right is rising. The left blogosphere has risen as a significant locus of liberal activism. Suburban voters around cities like Philadelphia have changed their political allegiance from the Republican to the Democratic Party in reaction against social conservatism. Personal animosities toward conservatives are also hardening. I've seen surveys indicating that the number of atheists is growing as a result of hostility to the religious right. Likewise, there are reports of scientists being blackballed for supporting creationist viewes. Battle lines are hardening and the American social and political system is becoming more brittle as a result.

Ron Brownstein has published a book entitled The Second Civil War to explore the conflict. A columnist for the LA Times, Brownstein is probably the most acute observer in the national pundit class. However, the excerpt from The Second Civil War in The National Journal is disappointing. Like Jonathan Chait, David Broder, and every other bubble-brain in the mainstream media, Brownstein postulates an equivalence between the political right, and liberal bloggers because both sides are 'highly partisan." For Brownstein, the right and left are locked in a death grip that will inevitably be salvaged by a "return to the center."

But the analogy is almost entirely specious. Brownstein focuses on Tom DeLay's 2006 resignation speech from the House of Representatives and the Yearly Kos convention in Las Vegas that year. However, Tom DeLay was a majority leader of the House of Representatives who was at the center of a vast web of political power, financial resources, and media clout. A blog with about 500,000 hits a day, Daily Kos is hardly comparable to DeLay. Daily Kos might still become the focal point for an expansion of left-wing activism. The right-to-life movement certainly served that purpose for the right during the 1970's. But the rise of Tom DeLay was an outcome of thirty years of conservative activism while the liberal blogs might represent the initial thrust of progressive activism that ultimately results in the liberal version of Tom DeLay in the 2020's. But progessive activism is still a long way from matching the institutional strength, integrated media structure, and political savvy of the the political right.

There may be a civil war developing in the United States, but the difference between Tom DeLay and Daily Kos indicates that most of the conflict is still being initiated from the right.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The End of Thanksgiving as We Know It

Conservative religious figures want to put the "thanks" to god back in Thanksgiving. But they don't understand that Thanksgiving is being swallowed up by Christmas and Halloween altogether.

Lots of commentators notice that the Christmas season gets longer and longer and that's very much the truth in Morehead, KY. Walmart's had their decorations up for weeks, people are setting up Christmas trees, and our town's Christmas lights were strung up last weekend.

But Halloween is getting longer as well. Pumpkins and scary costumes are now out as early as September 1. In fact, I spent years fighting with my ten year old about her desire to buy a pumpkin in early September and finally got her to wait until Oct. 1. That's more than four weeks before the actual holiday.

Christmas and Halloween seem to be converging as well. In fact, the major Christmas decorations started going up as soon as Halloween decorations were taken down.

To the contrary, I can't remember seeing any Thanksgiving displays at the local stores. It seems like Thanksgiving is getting squeezed out by the other holidays.

But why?

Obviously, it's money. As the biggest commercial event of the year, Christmas obviously outshines Thanksgiving at the cash register. But Thanksgiving turkeys can't match up with Halloween costumes, candy, and extravagant Halloween parties either. As the more profitable holidays expand in national awareness, Thanksgiving shrinks into a fairly empty warm-up for the Christmas season.

But there lies the problem. If the Rev. C. Albert Mohler and Congressman Roy Blunt want more God in Thanksgiving, they're going to have to figure out a way to inject a lot more mammon into the holiday. Who says God and mammon don't go together?

Hillary Takes No Crap From Rove

Unfortunately, I can't be part of the current left blogospheric re-evaluation of Hillary Clinton. I endorsed her last March. But Karl Rove has an article in Time that makes me feel even better about her candidacy. According to Rove, he inherited Hillary's old office when the Bush people moved in and told a story about Hillary's office containing the only full-length mirror in the White House.

Rove acts all innocent about this petty little incident, but it's evident that he told the story to score "condescension points" on Hillary as a women who (naturally) would be overly concerned with her appearance.

How did Hillary respond? Rove states that "the senator from New York confronted me shortly after and pointedly said she hadn't put the mirror there."

Of course, Rove tries to create "plausible deniability" by denying that he had said that Sen. Clinton had placed the mirror in the office. But who's he kidding? He knew what he was doing just as much as Hillary.

For Rove, this demonstrates that Hillary Clinton is "hard" and "brittle." But I have an alternative interpretation. What Hillary demonstrated was that she didn't like Rove and wasn't going to take any of his condescending crap about her as a women. The Democratic Party has too many people who are willing to be buddy-buddy with the Karl Roves and Mary Matalins of the world. If the Democrats need anything, they need more Hillary Clinton types who let him know exactly what kind of jerk they think he is.

Score one for Hillary.

Of course, none of that stopped Rove. He kept telling the story at Republican events and she reminded him once again that he was an asshole.
So a few weeks later, in another talk, I repeated the story about the mirror. And shortly thereafter, the junior senator saw me and, again, without a hint of humor or light in her voice, icily said she'd heard I'd repeated the story of the mirror and she … did … not … put … that mirror in the office.
I'm voting for Hillary anyway, but that's still the kind of thing I like to hear.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

O'Hanlon, Kagan, and Some Good Old Homoerotic Warmongering

"Hey! Loverboy! Isn't it time we invaded Pakistan?"

One of the interesting developments of the last few years is the enhanced homoeroticism of heterosexual guys. Straight college guys used to bond over football, beer, and fish stories of what they might have done with whatever "chick" they picked up the previous weekend. What made all of this "erotic" is that a lot of guys found that the primary pleasure of having sex with women was telling the "other guys" about it. It was the bond with their male friends that counted. As for the women involved, they were mostly thought of as sluts if they were remembered at all.

Now, the same kinds of college guys are taking the homoeroticism up several notches. No longer limiting themselves to the warm feelings of male companionship, they're simulating gay sex with each other when they aren't talking non-stop about masturbation or sharing porn stories. Movies are picking it up too. The recent hit Knocked Up has a scene where Ben responds to a phone call from a woman by simulating sex with his guy friends. Once again, the main point was the primacy of Ben's affective bond with the other guys with the sex serving as an affirmation of that bond.

I was reminded of simulated sex and homoeroticism more generally when I read today's New York Times op-ed by Michael O'Hanlon and Frederick Kagan. The whole article is about the manly bonds develop when liberal (O'Hanlon) and neo-conservative (Kaplan) foreign policy experts and discuss their deepest feelings about American military operations in Pakistan.

According to O'Hanlon and Kagan, it's necessary to send American troops to Pakistan now because the problem will be too big if Pakistan is allowed to collapse completely.
The task of stabilizing a collapsed Pakistan is beyond the means of the United States and its allies. Rule-of-thumb estimates suggest that a force of more than a million troops would be required for a country of this size. Thus, if we have any hope of success, we would have to act before a complete government collapse, and we would need the cooperation of moderate Pakistani forces.

Even though O'Hanlan and Kagan start modestly enough by proposing an American special forces operation to secure Pakistan's nuclear weapons. But the excitement of planning another American intervention into a Muslim country is so exciting that they eventually go orgasmic.

First, O'Hanlon and Kagan deploy the "crack international troops" at their fingertips:
For the United States, the safest bet would be shipping the material to someplace like New Mexico; but even pro-American Pakistanis would be unlikely to cooperate. More likely, we would have to settle for establishing a remote redoubt within Pakistan, with the nuclear technology guarded by elite Pakistani forces backed up (and watched over) by crack international troops. It is realistic to think that such a mission might be undertaken within days of a decision to act. The price for rapid action and secrecy, however, would probably be a very small international coalition.

Actually, neither the UN nor anyone else has international minutemen standing by their black helicopters waiting for orders that could bring them to Pakistan "within days of a decision to act." Consequently, the only way that this scheme makes sense is if one can imagine O'Hanlon and Kagan sharing the military fantasy in the same way that college guys go to strip clubs in groups or like to share Jenna Jameson sex toys. Even if they don't lead to orgasm, the sharing of military fantasies is a way for liberal and neo-conservative warmongers like these guys to bond together in a pleasurable and meaningful way.

But why let "crack international troops" have all the fun? Why not show the Pakistanis what real Americans are made of?
A second, broader option would involve supporting the core of the Pakistani armed forces as they sought to hold the country together in the face of an ineffective government, seceding border regions and Al Qaeda and Taliban assassination attempts against the leadership. This would require a sizable combat force — not only from the United States, but ideally also other Western powers and moderate Muslim nations.

Given that plausibility is not exactly high on O'Hanlon's and Kagan's list of priorities (exactly what Western powers or moderate Muslim nations would commit troops to this kind of operation?), one has to admit that they are deploying "a sizable combat force" mostly as a way to increase the pleasure of their partnership. Not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact, in the final analysis, O'Hanlon and Kagan should be congratulated for their restraint. The logical endpoint for these kinds of military fantasies is the orgasmic spasm of wiping out large sections of the Pakistani population. But O'Hanlan and Kagan limit themselves to controlling the major Pakistani cities in a surge-like strategy of securing the center before moving out to the periphery. And I'm sure the authors believe that it's precisely that kind of self-discipline that distinguishes foreign policy professionals from Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, and other ideologues.

Foreign policy might be about sex, but pros like O'Hanlon and Kagan know how to stop before the whole thing blows up.

At least they think they know.