Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Tooth Hippo Comes Out of Retirement

That's right. I thought my career as the "tooth hippo" was over. Mildly bored after living for more than 40 years with the tooth fairy myth, I decided that my girls would get money from a "tooth hippo" instead. Why not? Hippos are big, fun-loving animals with prominent teeth and they're related to whales and dolphins. Why couldn't there be a tooth hippo to pay off my daughters for losing their teeth?

And so it went for about seven years of delivering $2 for each tooth. Over time, I got a little careless about it all and sometimes the tooth hippo took two nights to get the job done. But it did get done. Also, my daughters were incredibly slow about getting their adult teeth. Miss Teen RSI still has a tooth descending and she's almost 14. Anyway, I thought the tooth hippo had gone into permanent retirement, but then Miss Tween RSI found an old, unrewarded tooth and reminded me that I was the tooth hippo and that I had a job to do tonight.

Kids are so cynical.

As one can imagine, it was a fiasco. The kid didn't go to bed until after 11 and then she slept right on top of the pillow so I couldn't grab the tooth.

But I did give her the money.

Something tells me that will be the main point.

And now the tooth hippo needs some rest.

Tasing for Kicks?

One of the signal contributions of the African-American blogs has been their efforts to follow the story of taser abuse by American police.

Today, African-American Political Pundit carries a story about the death of Barron Scooter Collins in Louisiana as a result of multiple taser hits. Heading his post with "They Could Not Get The Jena 6 So They KilledThe Cousin, AAPP notes that Collins was the first cousin of Mychal Bell who was at the center of the Jena Six controversy and that his death was listed as a "homicide" on the death certification. Unsurprisingly, the police officers involved haven't been subject to any disciple or seemingly any investigation.

On Tasered While Black, there's an account of a man who died as a result of being tased for riding without proper lighting on his bike.

Tasered While Black reports that a nationwide effort to more strongly regulate the use of tasers by police. That's an effort well-worth supporting. It's also important to come to an understanding of the extent to which the availability of tasers has created more opportunities for police abuses.

The Favre Crisis: I Blame the Sportswriters

Brett Favre is playing out the Great American Sports Opera about the Retiring Great--the ICON. That's the legendary athlete who can feel his time running out and wants to get out on top. So he tries to retire but can't quite get himself to stay retired and ultimately has to be dragged out of the area just like everyone else.

Michael Jordan lived that story. So did Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran, and a zillion other boxing greats. Why the hell is Roy Jones still fighting?

What's interesting about Favre is that he's wanted to retire at the "right time" for years but just can't pull the trigger on getting out of the game for good. Certainly, I can understand Favre's reluctance to go. Favre seems to really like football and he's plays the game at an extremely high level.

There has to be something satisfying about that.

Favre also gets paid millions of dollars in salary and big bundles of endorsement money beyond that. Moreover, millions of fans and thousands of sports writers idolize him so much that I wonder if he's ever actually paid for a meal.

Sure, the NFL is a super-tough league and the mental and physical grind and the injuries wear people down.

But Favre seems to have been living a pretty decent life as a pro athlete despite all of that.

So why the big deal about retiring at the right time or "going out on top" that seems to be at he root of the problem?

I think it's sportswriters.

For some reason, journalists of all kinds yearn for certain kinds of special personalities or events. For political journalists, the ideal is the guy (and I emphasize guy) who has several seemingly incompatible qualities. He is principled and irreverent, hard driving and not obvious about his ambition, and totally available to the media without appearing to pander. The reason the media likes John McCain so much is that he comes close achieving that ideal.

The "right retirement" seems to be the holy grail of sportswriters.

Here's Mark Kriegel of FoxSports swooning about Brett Favres retirement announcement last March.

Brett Favre's tearful farewell should have been regarded as an instructional video for American icons wanting to say goodbye.

Under the most trying of circumstances, he again demonstrated his virtues, plain-spoken-ness and grace under pressure being two of them. Even the weeping seemed raw and authentic, and in a world of canned sentiments, ennobling.

If Favre's struggle was evident, then so was his hard-won realization. He wouldn't con himself or those who believed in him. "Will I find something to do that's equal to throwing a touchdown pass at Lambeau Field?" he asked. "I doubt it."

Give me a break. Kriegel writes like he'd been waiting for years, maybe decades, to witness just the right kind of icon retirement. It's actually kind of sickening as if the intense longing of Kriegel and other sportswriters for the perfect icon retirement was one of the things pushing Favre to retire the way he did. But Favre isn't the sports version of a character from a romance novel. Given the fact that he had a very good year last year, the chances of Favre un-retiring were always pretty high and he started regretting his decision almost immediately.

But now that Favre is unretiring, writers like Kriegel are sounding so betrayed that you'd think they were falling out of the love they had for Favre--a love that was pretty weird and misplaced in the first place. Here's Kriegel again.
But Favre's legacy is of great concern, not just for the Packers, but for football fans everywhere. People don't want their memories tampered with. I keep hearing talk about Willie Mays stumbling in the outfield at Shea or Joe Namath hobbling through his final season with the Rams . . . What diminishes Favre is the lingering suspicion of his own making. He hasn't been straight up. Did the tough guy shed crocodile tears? I don't think so, but I know this story deserves a more honorable ending. Instead, you are left to wonder: Did Brett Favre con his fans — or himself?

It seems more likely to me that Favre himself was conned into an overly early retirement that he changed his mind about almost immediately but didn't want to go back on because he knew he had achieved such a big "icon moment." In other words, the problem wasn't the man so much as the twisted ideal of the "icon moment."

Maybe sportswriters should start looking for another grail.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Jesse Helms Legacy--Post Under Construction

THE POLITICAL BODY OF JESSE HELMS. Much as the Greeks and Trojans fought over the bodies of fallen warriors, American liberals and conservatives are battling over the meaning of recently deceased conservative Republican Jesse Helms. By and large, liberals view Jesse Helms as the last lion of segregationist politics in the South and have condemned Helms for his both his racism and his bigotry toward gay people. Conservatives have danced around Helms' attitudes racial attitudes with some offering mild condemnations (Jonah Goldberg) and others mild defenses (Jeff Jacoby). But conservatives view Helms as a pioneering practitioner of what the right now calls Reagan conservatism. For the right, what was crucial about Helms was his pioneering use of direct mail fundraising, his refusal to compromise with liberals on even the smallest issues, and his folksy of liberal institutions and personalities. From the conservative view, Helms should be viewed as an icon who inspired the highly combative political style that the right has adopted during the Bush years.

HELMS AS THE ARCHITECT OF THE CURRENT ECONOMY? Michael Lind argues in Salon that the key to understanding Jesse Helms was that demogogues like Helms functioned primarily to serve the interests of Southern business elites.

"Like other faux-homespun Southern conservatives, [Helms] employed rhetorical populism against blacks, homosexuals, liberals, professors, modern artists and "common-ists" in the service of his business backers, most noticeably North Carolina's tobacco industry.

According to Lind, conservative Southern elites maintained themselves in power by corrupting state government, deploying various kinds of surveillance systems, and promoting demagogues like Helms to oppose any attempt at reform. Segregation was a system in which southern elites suppressed the political influence of poor whites and African-Americans as a way to secure their continued exploitation of the region's natural resources and human population.

Lind further argues that Helms helped forge a political agenda for advancing the interests of large-scale business against the middle and lower-class. But the influence of Jesse Helms was not primarily economic. Helms was not a very big mover in the Reagan-era economic policies Lind alludes to. Helms didn't have nearly as much influence as Jack Kemp, David Stockman, and others on Reagan-era tax cuts, deregulation, or breaking the air traffic control union. Pro-business perspectives had been gaining momentum throughout the Carter years as a result of the proliferation of business lobbies, founding of a variety of conservative think tanks, and general atmosphere of frustration with the stagflating economy. Helms was in the pro-business camp, but he wasn't one of the main people who brought the business agenda to fruition during the first year of the Reagan administration.

HELMS AND BUSH ADMINISTRATION LAWLESSNESS. Instead, the legacy of Jesse Helms was to bring the segregationist mentality into the heart of the Republican approach to competing with the Democratic and liberal opposition. Several characteristics of segregation are relevant here. The segregationists did not view themselves as sharing a common humanity with African-Americans (or poor whites). Segregationists did not believe that African-Americans were citizens and therefore did not recognize that African-Americans had rights that "a white man might recognize." Finally, segregationists refused to be limited by any law in their dealings with racial issues. The segregationists believed that they had a right to exclude African-Americans from voting, office-holding, and juries, dispossess African-Americans of their property and freedom, beat African-Americans to a pulp when they had a whim to do so, and finally to murder African-Americans. The segregationists did not believe that the white liberals who supported civil rights as also being black and did not believe they had any rights either (as witnessed by the killing of the civil rights activists in Mississippi).

Obviously, Jesse Helms brought the racism, homophobia and other social attitudes of the segregation era into the U. S. Senate. Helms' race-bating re-election campaigns, the fact that he refered to all black people as "Fred," and his filibustering of the MLK birthday holiday are evidence of his constant racism. But Helms also carried forward the general segregationist rejection of the notion of a legitimate opposition. As a United States Senator, Jesse Helms was famous for obstructing legislation and appointments with which he disagreed. Helms never negotiated with his Democratic and liberal opponents, never compromised his positions, and fought every battle to the bitter end. The reason why Helms refused to negotiate or compromise with his Democratic and liberal opponents was that he never recognized them as having legitimate views, representing legitimate interests, or having a contribution to make. In this sense, Helms was carrying the segregationist view of African-Americans and their white liberal supporters into the Senate as his fundamental attitude for dealing with his Democratic and liberal opponents.

It was Helms' refusal to recognize liberals as having legitimate views that made his procedural obstructionism exciting to conservative activists and fired their imaginations during the 1970's and 1980's. The sense of privilege and superiority underlying Helms intransigence was far more compelling to the right than the willingness of Main Street Republicans like Bob Michel. Even Barry Goldwater was far more willing to countenance the Democrats than Helms. That's why the conservative movement became much more of a Helms movement than a Goldwater movement.

After the Republican sweep of 1994, the Republican leadership gradually adapted Jesse Helms' refusal to countenance the Democratic opposition as it's general policy. The initial attempt at confrontation was the 1995 budget battle which the Gingrich leadership lost badly. After Gingrich was pushed out and Tom DeLay became majority leader, the Republicans refused to negotiate with the Democratic leadership as a matter of principle and recruited Democratic votes one-by-one by offering pork-barrel projects for home districts. The same was true with the Bush administration which actually sought to formulate legislation in ways that would force the Democrats into opposition. That was especially the case with the bill to create the Department of Homeland Security in 2002.

The Bush administration

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Barack Obama--Black Parent to the Nation?

One of the "shocking" revelations about the Obama campaign is the fact that there are entire spheres of black life with which most white people have almost no familiarity.

Really! How many white people knew that black professionals have to use different sets of skills when they are working with whites as opposed to blacks. How many whites knew that black beauty shops in South Carolina would be a must stop for any Democrat who wanted to be president? Likewise, how many knew there was a "black church" or that preachers in black churches were damning the United States for its legacy of white supremacy?

Not very many, and I wasn't one of them.

But I might do better now that it looks like Obama is introducing "black parenting" to the nation. There's been lots of reaction to Obama's saying that American children needed to learn foreign languages. Obama certainly affirmed that Hispanic children needed to learn English. But Obama also went on to lecture his audience about the need for all American children needed to learn Spanish and other languages and compared Americans unfavorably to Europeans in terms of language.

Obama was even tougher in talking about staying in school to a largely black audience in Georgia. Obama had this message for all the black kids who think they'll be the next Kobe Bryant or the next big rapper.
"You are probably not that good a rapper. Maybe you are the next Lil' Wayne, but probably not, in which case you need to stay in school . . . "

Obama also deflated a lot of hoop dreams. "Obama said he knows some young men think they can't find a job unless they are a really good basketball player. "Which most of you brothas are not," Obama . . . said jokingly. "I know you think you are, but you're not. You are over-rated in your own mind. You will not play in the NBA."

Slate magazine's conservative blogger Mickey Kaus thinks that Obama's moralizing is "arrogant and condescending." But Obama was being too pointed and sarcastic to be "condescending" which sounds upper crust like Obama had gone to Andover prep school like George Bush.

"Imperious" is a better word and it's a good word to characterize a lot of black parenting styles.

I've had enough black friends and ridden enough public transportation in Philly to know that black parents are imperious and tough-minded. Unlike me and my soft-as-downy-pillows white friends, black parents assume they know what's good for children, have no hesitation about reminding children of their many shortcomings, and don't mind adding an extra dash of sarcastic putdowns. Black mothers especially have a reputation for letting their children know exactly what they think and not sparing their feelings in any way.

Barack Obama didn't have a black mother, but it looks like he's picked up a black parenting style as he tells American children what's best for them. The presidency has been a bully pulpit at least since the administration of Teddy Roosevelt. Perhaps one of the things Obama would do with that bully pulpit is become the nation's first black parent.

A Valentine--Only Five Months Late

One of the little quirks of life is figuring out the significance of all the music in my head.

Over the last few days it's been the swelling last refrain of "You Make Me So Very Happy Baby" in the old Blood, Sweat, and Tears hit.

Realizing the obvious for once in my life, I played it off the computer for Mrs. RSI.

It was a good moment.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Dismembering Obama

JESSE JACKSON CAUGHT OFF-COLOR. I guess we can scratch off another Obama surrogate. Wesley Clark decided he needed a break after attacking John McCain a little more harshly than the media expected. Now, Jesse Jackson has been caught on an open mic saying that he wanted to "cut Obama's nuts off" because of Obama's lectures on single fathers, support for faith-based charities, and remarks on late term abortions. Actually, I don't see the big problem. Jackson was angry at some of Obama's statements and used a colorful expression to characterize that anger when he thought the mic was off. Needless to say, Jackson apologized all over himself as soon as he could. But my opinion is that people who disagree with Obama's emerging position need to be able to vent their anger and disappointment. Of course, maybe they shouldn't be venting while they're being interviewed as Obama surrogates like Jackson.

PROGRESSIVES WITH LONG KNIVES. Jessie Jackson isn't the only person on the left who wants to lop off one or two of Obama's body parts. Over at the progressive web magazine, Salon, editor Joan Walsh characterizes Obama's flip-flop on the FISA bill as "unforgivable" and "craven." According to Salon uber-blogger Glenn Greenwald, Obama and the Democratic leadership are covering up the Bush administration's criminal behavior. Obama certain did flip-flop on FISA and the issue of telecom immunity. Last year, Obama clearly stated that he would filibuster any FISA bill that included immunity for telecom compnaies that had illegally participated in the Bush administration's surveillance program. Today, Obama just as clearly reversed himself.

But then a question arises concerning the point where Obama caved. Did he cave into the Democratic leadership and fear of Republican attacks in going along with telecom immunity? Or was did Obama's real "cave-in" come in his original statements stirring statements in opposition to the Bush administration surveillance program. In other words, is there a chance that Obama was originally caving into the left when he opposed Bush surveillance strategies and that he's now turning back to his "true" compromising, finding common ground, commitment. If that turns out to be true, there's going to be a lot of progressive venting about cutting off Obama's body parts.

OBAMA WINNING THE WAR FOR PROGRESSIVES. Obama and his campaign are either condescendingly telling progressives that he still agrees with them on most things or mocking them by asking them if they're going to vote for McCain. Needless to say, that's another reason for progressives to be angry. At the same time, there's reason to think progressives will have the last laugh. Thanks to the all-around repulsiveness of the Bush administration, public opinion has been shifting significantly to the left and Obama's victory over Hillary Clinton should be thought of as evidence of that shift. Much of the reason Obama won was because he was perceived as further left than Hillary as a result of his early opposition to the war and soaring rhetoric on issues like the Bush administration's surveillance program. As a result, an Obama victory over McCain would amount to locking in the progressive tilt in public opinion even if Obama didn't turn out to be much of a progressive himself. Perhaps President Obama would find himself on the conservative side of public opinion and forced to compromise with the left more than the right. I imagine a lot of progressives are looking forward to that possibility.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Will Pseudo-Success in Iraq Destroy McCain?

The John McCain campaign has always been a vulnerable operation--one bimbo eruption, temper tantrum, or egregious gaffe away from turning Obama's six-point lead into a fifteen point lead.

But now it appears that McCain might be done in by Iraq as well.

McCain's problem is that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has called for the U. S. and Iraq to agree to a "memorandum of understanding" that includes a timeline for American troop withdrawals.

That puts McCain in a tricky kind of box. To accept Maliki's position is bad because it means agreeing with the Democrats that it's now time for the Iraqis to handle their own military affairs. But rejecting al-Maliki's position would be even more damaging. It would mean that McCain wants to maintain American troops in Iraq against the wishes of Iraq's government and the Iraqi public. Al-Maliki wants the Iraqi government to be the sole military authority in Iraq and withdrawing American troops seems to be part of his plan.

Obviously, al-Maliki could be derailed by a lot of contingencies. But if al-Maliki ends up insisting on a timeline for withdrawal, he'll be undercutting much of the rationale for John McCain's presidential campaign.

Does McCain Really Need Those Minders?

SHOULD MCCAIN REALLY NEED THOSE MINDERS? It's odd that John McCain travels so much with Sen. Joe Lieberman, Sen. Lindsey Graham, and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. I can't think of any other major presidential candidate who has wanted, or perhaps needed, to have his major political allies so much by his side. Obama didn't take people like Ted Kennedy on the plane and Hillary didn't have a political posse on her plane either. Neither does George Bush for that matter.

There's several possible explanations for this penchant of McCain's. Given the hectic schedule and isolation from family and friends, being a presidential candidate is probably even more isolating than being president. Perhaps McCain likes to have his friends around. Perhaps McCain's staff thinks that it looks "presidential" for McCain to have guys like Lieberman and Graham obviously defering to him as "the leader."

But if that's the case, why don't other major presidential candidates go for the same effect? In the final analysis, it seems more reasonable to think that McCain needs to be around people he respects in order to keep on an even emotional keel. Given that McCain is well-known to be a volatile, self-righteous, and bad-tempered guy, having heavy-hitters like Lieberman and Graham accompany him might be a way for McCain to keep control of himself as he campaigns. I doubt that Lieberman and Graham are telling McCain what to do or anything like that. But I would bet that McCain doesn't want to look bad in front of those guys either. Having them around helps him keep the lid on.

It's smart of McCain to have an effective guard against blowing his top. But I'm not sure it's that good of an idea to elect a president who needs minders.

Lucky He's Not A Democrat

LUCKY HE'S NOT A DEMOCRAT--It's a little advertised fact that John McCain is only 5 feet, 7 inches tall. And that might be stretching it a little. McCain's shortness doesn't usually register on television. That's because McCain's either sitting down to be interviewed or because the cameras are set up to make him look taller than he is. The television cameras also hid the fact that Alberto Gonzales, Tom DeLay, and Scooter Libby are tiny little guys as well.

This is one way in which McCain is lucky he's not a Democrat. If someone as short as McCain were running as the Democratic nominee, Republican hatchet people would have already come up with a couple of nicknames to ridicule his lack of height. GOP commentators began referring to Michael Dukakis (5' 9") as "The Shrimp" almost as soon as the 1988 campaign began. Coming to think of it, the GOP attack machine wouldn't be averse to ridiculing McCain's age either.

John McCain--Proud to be a Republican, Lucky to be a Republican!

Political Paralysis: McCain Style

THE UGLY SHAPE OF A MCCAIN ADMINISTRATION. If you think the Bush administration was torn apart by internal dissension, just wait to see what will happen if John McCain wins the election. If he's elected president, John McCain certainly will bring in his friends, allies, moderate Democrats (like Joe Lieberman), moderate Republicans (say former Sen. Lincoln Chaffee) and mavericks like Sarah Palin of Alaska. But McCain will also have to bring in a whole new wave of "movement conservatives" into the various cabinet departments and agencies like the FDA, FEMA, NASA, OSHA, and science advisory councils. These kinds of men and women don't respect McCain, don't agree with McCain, and wouldn't promote a McCain agenda. To the contrary, a lot of "McCain appointees" would be using their footholds in a McCain administration to advance right-wing positions and personalities that McCain and his top-level people would have to repudiate.

In fact, the infighting is already starting. William Kristol has a New York Times column out yesterday on the expectation that "McCain guy" Mike Murphy would soon join the McCain campaign as chief overall strategist while "Bush/Rove guy" Steve Schmidt ran the day to day operation at campaign headquarters. That sounds great except that the irreverent Murphy makes "no secret of his low opinion of the Bush-Rove political machine" that has provided so many of the high-level operatives for the McCain campaign. Murphy's already told reporters that “'the depressingly self-absorbed McCain campaign machine needs to get out of the way” of its candidate."

According to Adam Nagourney:
Senator John McCain’s campaigns have long been defined by internal squabbling and power plays, zigzagging lines of command and a penchant by the candidate for consulting with former advisers without alerting current ones, always a recipe for disquiet. After a period of relative calm on that score, it is becoming clear that his campaign is once again a swirl of competing spheres of influence, clusters of friends, consultants and media advisers who represent a matrix of clashing ambitions and festering feuds.
The McCain and Bush/Rove people have about as much respect for each other as the Hatfields and McCoys of Kentucky feud days. But the McCain faction of the Republican Party isn't big enough to manage a presidential campaign let alone the federal government. That's not to mention that the McCain faction itself is characterized by a number of "festering feuds" like the one between campaign manager Rick Davis and Mike Murphy. Consequently, McCain has to bring in a lot of Bush/Rove people to have any hope of making things work. But, that just magnifies the enormous amount of backbiting, infighting, and political paralysis.

Needless to say, it isn't too hard to project the squabbling to a McCain administration. According to Nagourney:
All of this intrigue breeds discouragement among even those former McCain associates who do not dispute the notion that voters now might be getting an early glimpse of the messy, unstructured way in which a McCain White House might be managed. They are hard-pressed to explain why Mr. McCain tolerates this — or encourages this — or why he has trouble cutting ties with people who have not served him well over the years.

John McCain: A stronger leader on television than he is in the office.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Rothenberg Gets It Wrong

Along with Charlie Cook, Stu Rothenberg is one of the two "go-to" guys for the conventional wisdom on elections and the current conventional wisdom is that the underlying trends point to an Obama victory.

The "fundamentals" are clear.

On McCain's side, there are Bush's poor approval ratings, the unpopularity of the war in Iraq, and an economy that is sliding into recession.

If that weren't trouble enough for McCain, Obama is going to have more money (bias alert: I've contributed to the Obama campaign), voters clearly prefer the Democrats, and the Democrats are more enthusiastic about the election than the Republicans. It's almost unfair to mention that Obama's a much better speaker than McCain.

For Rothenberg, this means that Obama "merely has to take advantage of the political current" in order to win the election.

But the conventional wisdom is wrong. Obama is not going to be able to just ride his advantages to victory. Obama has to go out and win the election.

The key number to consider here is that John McCain is viewed favorably by 55-60% of voters (depending on the poll). What that means in McCain's case is that he's a familiar and well-liked politician who voters are willing to support. If anything, McCain is better liked and trusted by independent voters and Democrats than he is by conservative Republicans. Most Republicans will vote for McCain because he's not a Democrat, but independent voters and some Democrats look on him favorably enough that he can be considered the "default" candidate, the candidate they know they can vote for if they decide they don't like or trust the opponent.

This is how McCain won the Republican nomination. GOP voters first tried on Rudy Giuliani, then Fred Thompson, and then Mitt Romney. When Republican voters decided that they weren't comfortable with these guys, they went back to McCain because they already knew him.
The same thing could happen in the general election even though so many "fundamentals" are going Obama's way.

In the final analysis, Obama has to prove himself in order to win and he has a lot to prove.

Obama has to prove that he has the resiliance, flexibility, and stamina needed to stand up to the Republican attack machine. Republican 527 groups are starting to roll out the attack ads. Obama needs to respond effectively. Voters of all ideological persuasions suspect the Democrats of being weak, indecisive, and unprincipled. How Obama responds to Republican attacks will go a long way toward overcoming that perception . . . or not.

Obama also has to show that he has what it takes to go toe to toe with McCain during debates, deal with McCain's caustic put-downs, and come out ahead. Obama rejected McCain's proposal for ten townhall debate. Still, Obama would be better off accepting a lot of debates whatever the format and then going after McCain once the debates start.

And Obama also has to prove that he can seize the initiative in defining public debate during the campaign. The Obama campaign did better this week because surrogates like Wesley Clark, James Webb, and John Kerry were tough on McCain's military background and judgment. But they need to keep up the momentum.

If Obama can prove himself, he'lll win handily. However, if Obama fails to define himself as a strong and decisive leader, enough voters will go back to John McCain as the default candidate that McCain can win a close election .

Of course, that assumes that McCain doesn't blow up his own campaign, something he's perfectly capable of doing.

Unless McCain self-destructs, the election is in Obama's hands.

The Fourth of July with Obama's White Nation

That's right. I spent the Fourth of July with Obama's White Nation. But it wasn't until the end of the Fifth that I knew my holiday had so much racial significance. That's when I noticed that a friend was fingering one of those Sigg water bottles that a lot of upper-middle class white people use to differentiate themselves from the masses and those polluting plastic water bottles.

As Christian Lander observes in his Salon interview, prosperous whites have made water bottles into a competitive field where they can rank each other's "whiteness."

It's all about ranking. It's essentially a contest. It used to be that bottled water was a status symbol. You drink Evian, or you drink Fiji, or what is the most expensive water. But advanced-level white people, the higher-ranking white people, realized that they were creating a lot of waste, and so they switched over to the Nalgene bottle. That also reminded them of going camping. So then they could take a stance of superiority over the people who were drinking bottled water. And then, that whole story came out about Nalgenes leaching I don't know what the exact toxin is [Bisphenol A]. So then super-advanced white people went even further and got those metal Sigg bottles, and now you have this really solid hierarchy and ranking of white people of commercial bottled water, Nalgene bottle and either the glass or metal, twist-top bottles.
That's the kind of people with whom I spent my Fourth of July and my Fifth of July, the people who are at the top of the rural Kentucky "whiteness" hierarchy of educated and prosperous professionals, business people, and teachers. All in all, the "super-advanced" white people here are nice people. They're socially aware, environmentally conscious, and sympathetic to most people around them. One guy founded a non-profit housing corporation. Another started a local coffee shop. As a group, they've been involved in food co-ops and recycling efforts. They're also up to their eyeballs in the arts and manage a storytelling festival and university folk art center as well as perform in barbershop quartets, Irish groups, jazz bands, and bluegrass groups.

There are also the markers of "advanced whiteness" that Lander talks about. The big sign of advanced whiteness in this area is little experiments in rural authenticity. "Highly advanced" white people get points for camping at the storytelling festival out at the lake. Some follow that up by traveling to other storytelling festivals and camping there as well. Others bake their own bread or learn how to play the fiddle or banjo. One guy I know brews his own beer. But the big points for rural authenticity are scored by building houses as far out in the country as possible and engaging in "toy farming" activities like keeping some chickens, taking care of "rescue dogs" from the local pound, or stabling a couple of horses. One guy started a winery. A couple people we know have combined buying houses out in the country, doing various "farm" activities, and home schooling their kids. That makes them the "whitest people of all."

These folks also get all their information from NPR. Terry Gross and Prairie Home Companion are big hits out here. The Capitol Steps too. When I point out that Prairie Home Companion is one long exercise in stereotyping rural people, my friends look like I just landed from another planet. People like to listen to classical music although they never talk about it. Several of them either no longer have television or use their tv's strictly for watching DVD's. They all have gay friends and several have black friends. As Christian Lander emphasizes, this is a way for "advanced" white people to experience their own superior tolerance and all-round ethics. With a black population of 1% however, there aren't enough black people for every advanced white person to have "one black friend."

This is what Obama's white nation, rural Kentucky style looks like. People in this group went for Obama early, held Obama get-togethers, and did some calling for Obama as well. I'm sure several kicked in some money to the Obama campaign and I saw several Obama stickers on cars and vans as we pulled into driveways and parking lots.

And we had a good time. On Friday the Fourth, Mrs. RSI and I went to a gathering at the house on Sugarloaf Mountain outside Morehead. The house was a large property that was owned by a doctor and was co-hosted by the physician, a professor at the university, and his wife. The signs of advanced whiteness were all there. The doctor is gay even though her partner wasn't there. Her property is a toy farm with a large house, a nice-looking guest house, chickens, and fifteen rescue dogs. She had a guinea fowl. The doctor herself is extremely friendly and so great with kids (she treated my daughter's broken arm once or twice) that Bill O'Reilly would probably accuse her of pedophilia. But then again, nobody like Bill O'Reilly was invited to the party.

The core of the party was the on-going music jamboree on the expansive front porch overlooking the pond. There were two or three terrific fiddlers and guitar players. A woman was on bass and they kept playing for nearly the whole time we were there. It was a highly proficient group. One of the fiddle players played a number of great solos and several people sang and sang well. But it was also an open group as a couple of less-skilled fiddle players joined in the rhythm section and the group developed a democratic feel that Barack Obama himself would have been proud of.

I think Obama would have been comfortable about the fact that nobody discussed politics. As a "post-partisan" politician, Obama believes that we all fundamentally share the same values as Americans. Certainly, the "advanced" white people at the Fourth of July gathering all shared the same values of inclusiveness, toleration, and a kind of rural authenticity. Another thing that I've noticed that is that white people in these kinds of groups are extremely averse to conflict or talking about anything "negative." Given that the war, politics, and the recession are all negatives, it feels almost rude to bring such things up in that particular company.

Not that I don't sometimes break that rule.

Besides the music, there was a tremendous amount of food--ribs, home-baked bread, salads, deserts. It was great. Mrs. RSI made her oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and there were strawberry and blueberry pies which literally looked like works of art. I get tears in my eyes just thinking about them because I'm so allergic to fruit and couldn't touch the stuff.

Mrs. RSI and I left the Fourth of July Party around 8:30 so she could study for a statistics test. But we weren't done with the holiday. Not at all. On Saturday, we went out to the country again for an event at a winery that was started by one of our friends. Mrs. RSI and I walked through the vinyard and had a moment of rural authenticity as we chased a little flock of turkeys away from the grapes. Many of the people who came to the wine store had also helped our friend pick grapes in the fall and work in the store gratis. They also purchase significant amounts of pretty good wine and we snatched up three bottles ourselves.

A local blues band started playing as the party got started. The band was way too loud for the old ears of most of the people there (including me) and almost everybody had to go outside to enjoy the covers of Elmore James and Allman Brothers songs. There weren't any complaints though. Most people there knew the parents of the guys in the band, were glad to see them thrashing away on their guitars and drums, and got nostalgic over hearing bands like that when they were kids. I know I was.

And finally it was over.

The Rowan County chapter of Obama's white nation was happy, well-fed, highly entertained, and ready for the rest of the summer.

Are You White Enough to Support Obama?

One of the poorly understood dimensions of American society is the complexity of the role of race in shaping American culture and politics. The media portrays race almost solely in terms of white racism and all its manifestations vs black grievance and all its manifestations. Of course, the media is right that there's plenty of racism among white and a strong sense of agreement among African-Americans. But America's legacy of slavery, segregation, white racism, and black resistance means that questions of who is a white or black person, how people define themselves as white or black, and what definitions of race are dominant within various white and black communities have a powerful role in shaping people's lives.

When Barack Obama started his campaign, writers like Debra Dickerson questioned whether he was "black enough" to be the first black president. But support for Obama is also a marker by which urban, upper-middle class whites show their "whiteness." According to Christian Lander of the "Stuff White People Like" blog, prosperous whites define themselves in a hierarchy of whiteness through objects like glasses, shoes, coffee, television programs, and politics. High level or "uber" white people wear chunky glasses, watch "The Wire," get all their information about the world from NPR. Here's how the hierarchy works in relation to bottled water.
It's all about ranking. It's essentially a contest. It used to be that bottled water was a status symbol. You drink Evian, or you drink Fiji, or what is the most expensive water. But advanced-level white people, the higher-ranking white people, realized that they were creating a lot of waste, and so they switched over to the Nalgene bottle. That also reminded them of going camping. So then they could take a stance of superiority over the people who were drinking bottled water. And then, that whole story came out about Nalgenes leaching I don't know what the exact toxin is [Bisphenol A]. So then super-advanced white people went even further and got those metal Sigg bottles, and now you have this really solid hierarchy and ranking of white people of commercial bottled water, Nalgene bottle and either the glass or metal, twist-top bottles.
How does this work for the 2008 election? "Stuff White People Like" lists Barack Obama as "something" that educated, left-wing, upper-middle class white people like. But they comment that high-ranking "white people are afraid that if they don’t like him that they will be called racist."

But that would be valid in only the very narrow sense that racists are viewed as so repugnant that they are either seen as the "least advanced" white people or as outside the hierarchy of whiteness altogether.

Obama appeals to those who are concerned about their rating on the whiteness scale for other reasons. Obama conveys a sense of being right and being detached that works very well in a left-leaning, upper-middle class white environment. Obama's black without conveying any sense of racial politics. That's good even though his connection with Jeremiah Wright probably led to doubts on that score. The fact that Obama's a Democrat is good because that means he's not a Republican and therefore not associated with "low-level whites" like George Bush, Dick Cheney, or the religious right. It's even better that Obama seemed at first to be detached from the other Democrats as well. Likewise, Obama's right on all the issues but right in the proper, detached kind of way that's popular with upper-middle class whites. In fact, it's easy to imagine Obama listening to NPR, watching the right television shows, and drinking the right kind of coffee.

Having supported Hillary during the primaries, I'm definitely not a high-order white person according to this scale. But it's important to emphasize that there are some white perspectives where being "really" white means really supporting Obama.