Saturday, May 09, 2009

White Correspondents Dinner Still Boring

The White House Correspondents Dinner is till boring despite the fact that Barack Obama is president and Huffington Post is giving it the full court press. It's not like White House correspondents are that significant anymore anyway.

Too Bad About Chuck Daley

Chuck Daly, former coach of the Detroit Pistons, died yesterday at 78. I lived in Michigan most of the time Daly was coaching and he definitely wasn't your usual screaming petty tyrant. That was definitely a plus. But what I remember most about Daly's teams was that they represented a second route to the guard-dominated of the current NBA The other route was Michael Jordan's Bulls. The stars of Daly's teams were Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, reserve Vinnie Johnson and Adrian Dantley/Mark Aguirre. Rick Mahorn, Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, and John Salley were all colorful characters but they basically played tough defense and filled in the gaps while the guards and scoring small forward did the heavy lifting on offense. If the team didn't have such a colorful "Bad Boy" image, they would have been as dull as Pat Riley's Knicks or Jeff Vandy's teams.

What's Up with the Monday Hissy

It's been a slow news weekend. I wonder what the Republicans are going to do for their usual Monday hissy fit.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Sports Shorts

Basketball--Kobe Bryant is A-Rod in baggy shorts and the Lakers are the Yankees of basketball--over-rated, undertalented, and seemingly confused. But Rajon Rondo is for real and might be able to squeak the under-manned Celtics by Orlando.

I like watching super-talented guys dominate with their abilities and hate guys who try to make up for their lack of talent by hustling too much, thugging it up, or being such coach creatures that they might as well have been created in a coaching lab. So watching Lebron James and the Cavs will be great this spring.

Football--ESPN just made themselves a laughingstock by hiring Matt Millen as a football analyst. Millen is the worst general manager in the history of professional sports. Who's going to care about his opinion as a football analyst?

I have to admit that I follow the NFL offseason much more closely than I should. It's been a bad year for "personality" players like T. O. and Plaxico Burress, the kinds of guys who can really play without being zombie-like, yes-men like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.

Speaking of zombies, Brett Favre is once again waffling on whether he wants to be bored out of his gourd in rural Louisiana or playing football for several million dollars. I know what I would do and I'd be surprised if Favre didn't keep trying to make comebacks until he either moves to a more interesting part of the country or his arm falls off.

Baseball--Baseball is a minor sport on the high school and college level. People shouldn't give it so much attention on the professional level either. Good television for insomniacs though--"there's the pitch--ball one" could put anyone to sleep. Actually, Vin Scully always does a good job of conveying the sleepy aesthetic of a baseball game.

Hard to believe my favorite baseball player Manny Rodriguez was discovered using forbidden substances. If a wily and extremely wealthy veteran like Manny was caught with his pants down taking growth hormones, the sports cops really must be catching up to the sports druggies.

Too bad there isn't an Italian baseball league. Manny would have been great playing for Roma, Milano, Torino, or any of the cities I want to move to after I win the lottery.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Talk About Losers

Here's right-wing law professor William Jacobson hot on the trail of Obama's mustard. I wonder when we're going to hear about Obama fluffing his pillow.

Yes, Virginia! The Republicans Have More Than Tax Cuts

I don't know what someone like Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) is talking about when he says the Republicans are just the party of tax cuts:

Representative Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, a conservative who keeps a bust of Reagan on his desk, surprised me by declaring that the Reagan era is over. "Marginal tax rates are the lowest they've been in generations, and all we can talk about is tax cuts," he said. "The people's desires have changed, but we're still stuck in our old issue set."
That's so 1990's.

Now, the Republicans are the party of torture. The Republicans used to talk about taxes, gay sex, and terrorism, but now it's "total torture talk"--"the triple t"-- all the time. Last week, it was Karl Rove explaining that everybody tortured people, but that only "banana republics" prosecuted their torturers. He was joined by Condoleeza Rice who explained to Stanford undergrads that George Bush was right to say that torture was legal because he went to both Yale (undergrad) and Harvard (MBA).

Apparently, Stanford has a big inferiority complex when it comes to Ivy League colleges.

Ok, I exaggerate.

There's also been a steady drip, drip of GOP torture talk this week. Yesterday, it was Ann Coulter and John Bolton. Bolton seemed to be concerned that Spanish judges would be using Inquisition torture techniques on American torturers to gain confessions. Coulter showed a little conservative "manpride" by calling American torturers "wussified" for not coming up to the level of the Japanese torturers we executed after WWII.

And that's not all. Today, Dick Cheney was on North Dakota talk radio saying that American interrogators only torture as a last resort when they got really bored. People say Dick Cheney looks bad with his crooked mouth and Voldemort Avada Kedavra stare, but Cheney looks a lot better than Arlen Specter when he talks about making "Torture today . . . Torture tomorrow . . . Torture forever" the catchy new slogan of the Republican Party.

Ok, I'm still exaggerating.

But these exaggerations come close to capturing how momentously weird and stupid the compulsive GOP defense of torture is beginning to sound.

Identifying yourselves as the "party of torture" is one of the surest ways to lose elections in any kind of democratic country. You can almost feel people start to cover their mouths in fear when Republicans go on and on about waterboarding.

Ultimately, I think Patrick McHenry is wrong. The Republicans should stick to cutting taxes. It's better to sound simple-minded and out of date than to come off as monsters.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Conservatives Have Empathy Too

Jennifer Rubin of the right-wing magazine Commentary argues that Obama's emphasis on empathy for Supreme Court justices means that
'[h]e wants “empathy” to guide the justice in reaching outcomes which favor the down-and-out, minorities, women, employees, and criminal defendants.
Not quite.

As a long-time leftist, I am the kind of person who would like to see court decisions that outright favor the down-and-out, minorities, employees, and criminal defendants.

That's the change I hope for.

Of course, conservatives like Rubin reserve all of their "empathy" for elites, white racists, big business, employers, and the police. In fact, that's a pretty good definition of conservatism right there. Right-wingers would like to see a balance in which the people on top get 95-100% and the people on the bottom get somewhere between absolute zero and 5%.

What does President Obama want? I would say that Obama's version of "hope" and "change" is something like a 70-30 balance favoring all of the people on top. That gives people on the bottom a better deal than they have now.

But not all that much.

That way, Obama can "change" things while still being "pragmatic" enough to not drive the white middle-class back into the arms of the conservative movement.

It's not exactly "change I can believe in," but it is "change I can live with."

Townhall's Darling Ann Coulter

Townhall has a profile of Ann Coulter by the heroine-worshipping Lisa dePasquale. I'm not sure whether dePasquale's essay is "fawning," "gushing," or paid for by Ann Coulter, but only aides to the pope are so blandly worshipful in real life.
Several months ago, Ann and I were in the same city for two weeks and finally connected the day before I left. We spent the evening drinking chardonnay, eating stale potato chips while talking about boys, the election and “CPAC gossip,” as she put it. At one point she said, “What time do you think it is?” I guessed it was probably 2 a.m. I was wrong. We had been blabbering and getting eaten up by mosquitoes until 5 a.m. Like millions of others, I have read Ann Coulter’s books and columns, seen her on TV, heard her on the radio, witnessed raucous speeches on college campuses and enjoyed her numerous appearances at CPAC—yet I’ll still stay up until five in the morning to hear what she’ll say next.
Interesting that they were talking about "boys." Coulter's well into her forties but doesn't have enough attachment to traditional values to have even a bad marriage to her credit. Maybe Bill O'Reilly should check her out for pedophilia.

This is a good place to note that Coulter's actually been off her game and out of the limelight for most of the last year. Guilty may have sold, but it didn't really make the same kind of waves as Coulter's previous books. She still delivers the punch lines, but they just don't have the same zing they used to have.

Who knows why? Maybe Coulter's getting stale. Maybe the audience is jaded. Maybe she's burdened by guilt over dating Penthouse heir Bob Guccione, jr. Maybe she's sad over the deaths of her parents.

But Ann Coulter's not the force she used to be.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

GOP Leaders Fear Palin--You Betcha

Republican leaders fear lot of things these days--Barack Obama, just about Democrat they're running against, the Club for Growth, and primary opponents among them.

I also imagine they fear the collapse of their investments. How many GOP leaders had their money with Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford anyway.

Maybe swine flu too. I hear Mitt Romney has a runny nose.

Rush Limbaugh's probably right that the Republican leadership fears Sarah Palin as well.
"Something else you have to understand is these people hate Palin too," the conservative radio host said Monday. "They despise Sarah Palin, they fear Sarah Palin, they don't like her either. She's, according to them, she's embarrassing. McCain said, 'I was there with Ronald Reagan'…. No Reagan voter ever believed McCain was a Reaganite.

What Romney, Jeb Bush, and John McCain fear with Sarah Palin is the thought of her being nominated as the Republican Party's presidential candidate in 2012.

That's because Palin would lose by something like 65-35. It would be a brutal beatdown and Palin would drag a lot of other Republicans with her.

Republican leaders have so many problems they could start writing country songs about themselves like this classic from Hee Haw.

Gloom, Despair, and Agony on me
Deep dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all
Gloom, Despair, and Agony on me

They certainly don't need a Palin candidacy to make things even worse.

Joe the Plumber--Talk About Homophobia

The "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher interview in Christianity Today reminded me of Dick Cheney on Fox--all right-wing id all the time. In case anyone wondered about the right being homophobic, here's Joe on gay people:
In the last month, same-sex marriage has become legal in Iowa and Vermont. What do you think about same-sex marriage at a state level?
At a state level, it's up to them. I don't want it to be a federal thing. I personally still think it's wrong. People don't understand the dictionary—it's called queer. Queer means strange and unusual. It's not like a slur, like you would call a white person a
honky or something like that. You know, God is pretty explicit in what we're supposed to do—what man and woman are for. Now, at the same time, we're supposed to love everybody and accept people, and preach against the sins. I've had some friends that are actually homosexual. And, I mean, they know where I stand, and they know that I wouldn't have them anywhere near my children. But at the same time, they're people, and they're going to do their thing.
I think it's important to remember what makes this homophobic. There are two dimensions of homophobia here. First, Joe claims that not only gay marriage but homosexuality in general is "wrong"--"I personally still think it's wrong"--which he seems to mean something like "going against God's will" in the sense that homosexuality is a "sin." At the same time, Joe seems to view homosexuality as an especially bad category of sin in the sense that gay people are defying God's creation of man and woman as heterosexual--"what man and woman are for." Thus, Joe appears to condemn gay people as "abominations" in the sense of being a "mistake of nature" like vampires or werewolves and therefore being "repulsive" or "abhorrent." This is what I take from Joe's reference to being queer as being "strange" or "unusual."

The second element of homophobia connects with Joe statement that he would not let his gay friends "anywhere near my children." Here, Joe is assuming either that all gays are pedophiles and therefore threats to molest or otherwise sexually assault his children or that gay people are somehow attempting to convert children to homosexuality through some form of seduction. To the extent that Americans view the sexual manipulation of children as "repulsive" and "abhorrent," Joe the Plumber is portraying gay people once again as an abomination. He keeps gay people away from his children and implies that you should keep them away from yours.

But Joe also has some awareness that he's playing a game in which it's not only gay people who are stigmatized for their sexuality but people like the Joe the Plumber who become marked or stigmatized for their bigotry and hatred. Joe shows this awareness of this problem when he emphasizes that he's not slurring gay people or that he's had some friends who are "actually homosexual." But these are such weak ways for Joe to avoid the problem of being stigmatized as a bigot that he makes the problem worse. In fact, Joe sounds exactly like all the racists who claim that "some of their best friends are black," or cue their racist statements by saying "we should all be color-blind." In a certain way, these kinds of statements seek to invite the listener or reader to see that someone like Joe the Plumber is "really not such a bad guy." But Joe is doing so in such a transparent way that he's making his bigotry even more obvious.

"Joe the Plumber" strikes me as a smart enough guy that he's aware of all this and purposefully frames his statements to be "provocative" or "outrageous" to people with conventionally liberal sentiments on tolerance--in other words the majority of the American public. This is the kind of thing that conservative media figures do all the time as a way to confirm or enhance their authenticity among conservatives. Rush Limbaugh's playing "Barack the Magic Negro" is probably the most prominent recent example of this.

This is the conundrum in which conservative media figures and writers like Joe the Plumber find themselves. To advertise themselves as "real conservatives," conservatives need to continually figure out new ways to pose themselves as disdaining black people, gays, working women, single mothers, hispanics, liberals and other populations who defy conservative norms. In other words, a good deal of American conservatism is an exercise in creative bigotry.

But in advertising themselves as authentic conservatives, right-wing media figures knowingly expose themselves to being stigmatized by the larger American population as racists, sexists, misogynists, homophobes, neanderthals, bigots, idiots, and morons. The result is that conservative figures like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Joe the Plumber become targets forth kind of intense forms of ridicule, abuse, and knee-jerk hostility that are associated with social stigmatization. This doesn't mean that people ignore conservatives. Lots of people with conventionally liberal social sentiments like my 75 year old father watch conservative media figures and pay attention to them but they increasingly listen to Limbaugh or watch Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly for the "train wreck" effect caused by their various "controversial" statements. There's a definite "freak show" dimension to media conservatism today.

Figures like O'Reilly and Limbaugh are aware of the mechanisms by which they are stigmatized as bigots and talk about those mechanisms often enough that they sometimes sound like they have martyr complexes.

The same can be said for Michael Savage who often sounds like a guy crying in his beer.

That brings us back to what "Joe the Plumber" is trying to accomplish with yesterday's venture into crude forms of anti-gay bigotry.

It looks to me like he's angling to be a long-running act in the conservative freak show.

Monday, May 04, 2009

GOP Down with Moses: Carville Says 40 Years in Wilderness

Democratic media maven James Carville is starting to promote a new book that claims the Republicans will be out of power for up to forty years.
. . . Carville argues that history proves those cycles are generally longer. "Forty-year cycles are pretty typical in American politics," he said. "If you start and look at 1896 to 1932, that was a very Republican era. You only had one Democratic president. From '32 to '68 was real Democratic dominance, the only Republican president was Eisenhower. Then in '68 to 2008 that was a real cycle for Republicans: 28 years for Republicans and 12 for Democrats. Just look at the charts."

But, I'd be surprised if the Republicans ever make their way back to majority status. They have a lot going against them and many of their structural problems were on display for the rest of the country to see today.

The structural problems of the Republicans can be broken down into four areas--demographics, constituencies, communication, and leadership.

Demographics. The bottom line is that the growing vote demographics identify with the Democrats; the shrinking demographics with the GOP. These include Hispanics, African-Americans, urban/suburban voters, women, and the college/grad school educated. Obama got 75% of the combined minority vote of Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asian-Americans. He also got 73% of the gay vote. McCain still got a majority of the white vote, but the white vote is shrinking as a percentage of the total as states like California and Texas become "majority minority" and more cities become globalized multi-racial entities. Even with the white vote, McCain only won in rural areas which are in some cases (say the Great Plains states) shrinking.

The Republicans are on the wrong side of the America's demographic divides. Whites are a steadily decreasing majority with the U. S. slated to achieve majority/minority status around 2050. The Republican Party's rural white constituents are leaving for urban areas where the Democrats dominate. The Republicans do better among older voters and men than younger voters and women. But their older constituents will inevitably die off while the younger generation will vote at higher rates. Likewise, women have come to vote at significantly higher rates than men. The Democrats are also doing increasingly well among the well-educated in a society that's under a lot of pressure to become better educated.

However one slices the data, the democraphic picture is a major millstone for the Republicans.

Constituencies. One could argue for a cyclical thesis that the Republicans will capture another younger generation of white voters while whites are still a majority and that minority voters will return to the Republican Party in large enough numbers (say 15% for African-Americans, 40% for Hispanics) for the Republicans to win presidential elections. Same with educated voters.

But I don't think this will be the case.

The activist conservative base of the Republican Party is determined that Republicans be a nativist party opposed to Mexican immigration and the establishment of Hispanic culture in a multi-cultural U. S. Republican office holders and conservative activists routinely make calls to deport the 11 million illegal aliens, impose "English Only" in schools, commercial functions, and government paperwork, close the Mexican border in response to swine flu, and resist the trends toward multi-culturalism that can especially be seen in the cities. George Bush got 45% of the Hispanic vote in 2004, but every time someone like Mike Gallagher calls for closing the borders with Mexico, the Hispanic vote gets further entrenched in the Democratic camp.

The same is the case with the youth and college-educated vote. The Republican Party is a party of the religious right, but young and college-educated voters are becoming more accepting of homosexuality and more positive toward gay marriage. This is partly because the media, business, and education all unite in promoting toleration across various kinds of cultural lines. Likewise, young people and college educated people are also exposed to the basics of science and the importance of evolutionary theory for science.

As long as the Republican Party is the party of the religious right (and nativism), it's difficult for me to see how they are going to recapture young voters and college-educated constituencies. It seems more likely that their percentages will drop rather than increase.

One wonders if the Republicans have much of a chance to get back over 10% of the African-American vote. Barack Obama got 95-96% of the black vote, but would Hillary Clinton have gotten that much less if she had been the nominee. I don't think so. The government's poor response to Hurricane Katrina and the hostility of Republicans and conservative activists to African-American concerns over racial profiling, police violence, job discrimination, and vote supression all serve to lock in the African-American vote for the Democrats.

Communication. This hasn't been mentioned much in the media but I'm coming to the conclusion that the internet and 24 hour cable news are killing the Republican Party. The key factor here is the rise of the left-wing media. Before the Bush years, the Republicans used to be able to hide the racism, nativism, homophobia, and misogyny of many of their core constituencies. The television networks that dominated the media did relatively little reporting on religion, rural culture, conservative activist groups, and the like. Reporting on the Republicans focused on national political figures like Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford who were seeking to make national appeals.

The opening up of the media is killing the Republican Party through a kind of one-two punch. The first punch comes from conservatives themselves. With the proliferation of the media, conservative activists now control their own media outlets which means that Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, James Dobson, and Bill O'Reilly can embarrass the Republican Party with their opinions on a daily basis. For example, newly minted conservative spokesman Joe the Plumber came out with a statement today that he wouldn't let "queers" around his children. That kind of offensive homophobia damages the Republican Party with gay voters (about 4%), young voters (increasingly accepting of homosexuality), and educated voters (the same) and makes the Republican Party as a whole easy to stigmatize as bigoted and ignorant. In somewhat the same way, my impression is that Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and talk radio have generally been negatives for the Republican Party because of their clarity in promoting conservative views that the majority of the population does not like.

The second punch here is the rise of the left-wing media of HuffPost, the Daily Show, Talking Points Memo, and other outlets that have been very successful in highlighting the offensive and ridiculous elements of conservatism for the American public. For example, almost as soon as Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama was named as ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to replace Arlen Specter, media outlets on the left were running items and blog posts on Sessions' history of hostility to the civil rights movement and general racism. Because of the increasing influence of the left-wing media, it's become considerably more difficult for conservative activists or Republican political figures to gain the traction needed to make national appeals. Conservative activists and Republican political figures now find themselves in the position where making appeals to their core audience (think Ann Coulter disparaging John Edwards sexuality to CPAC) automatically subjects them to ridicule and effective criticism from the left-wing media.

From the Republican point of view, it's bad enough that the conservative media establishment keeps the hostility of conservative activists to immigration, African-Americans, gay people, science, and women before the American public. However, the left-wing media makes the situation for Republicans considerably worse by focusing so much attention on issues that make Republicans look bad.

Leadership. The Republicans are in a situation where they have relatively little national leadership and that leadership is so hemmed in by conservative activists that it can make little if any headway. (More later)

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Pecking Order in American Politics

There are a lot of ways to lie with numbers. But these crowd numbers tell some truth about where things stand in American politics.

At the top of the totem pole is Barack Obama.

Inauguration: 1,800,000
St. Louis and Kansas City, MO (Oct. 18, 2008) 175,000
Democratic Convention in Denver: 84,000
Portland, Oregon (May 18, 2008) 75,000

Considerably lower on the scale are the Tea Parties of April 15. The semi-official estimates were gathered together and published by Nate Silver of Although moderately successful, the tea parties were still dwarfed by Obama.

Largest crowd--Atlanta--15,000
Next Largest--Phoenix, Denver, Madison WI--5,000
Average crowd size per 346 sites--900
Total Attendance--311,000

However, the Tea Parties were an enormous success compared to the recent National Council for a New America event launched by Eric Cantor and featuring the Republican "elite leadership" of John McCain, Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal, and Jeb Bush.

Event in Arlington VA pizzeria--100
(May 2, 2009)

In other words, the Republican political leadership is far outranked by the Tea Parties in the pecking order of American politics. Qualifications--yes, there are a few. Most importantly, the Arlington event was designed to be a town hall event as part of a GOP leadership listening tour and thus had natural limits on the crowd size involved. However, it is also likely that attendance was boosted because the meeting was promoted on all the major mainstream media outlets.

It is a hard cruel fact that national Republican politicians are so low in the national political hierarchy that they can't be compared to a Fox News media event.

The bottom line is that there just isn't that much interest in them.

They don't know it, but the national Republican leadership is much closer to losing their party altogether than they are starting the process of regaining Congress or the Presidency.