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Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Big Argument

Ezra Klein has written a rousing defense of liberalism and wonders why the Democrats aren't using this social security battle to help illustrate our philosophy of government:

Now that Republicans are reeling from running into the brick wall of the foundational Democratic program, wouldn't it make sense to toss their ideology an anvil? Half our number seems to think we need to close the Social Security battle now while the other half wants to draw it out and win it closer to midterms. What about widening our attack so the counteroffensive takes some time and does larger damage? How about using the "crisis" language and the fact that Bush's Medicare pperversion is a much larger economic fiasco to propose fight for changes that'd make it more cost-effective, more progressive, and force Bush's promised veto? How about forcing Bush to roll back his tax cuts to fix Social Security's shortfall, and demand that he not starve government to satisfy his radical ideology?

I'm all for using this rhetoric, but needless to say we can't actually force Bush to roll back tax cuts and we can't actually force him to veto anything because we can't pass anything. As the minority party we are certainly in the position, however, to take some chances and at least start setting the terms of the debate in our favor.

I think this deserves some real discussion in Democratic circles. It is past time for a passionate defense of liberalism for liberalism's sake. That is to say its philosophy and meaning as it applies to both our opposition to the Republicans and the affirmative case for progressive policy. For instance, I was very disappointed that we didn't draw the philosophical parallel between social security privatization and this bankruptcy bill. Essentially, the Republicans are saying in both cases that people must assume all the risk in their lives and that there are no second chances. (Interestingly, these are the same people who constantly screw up and claim that they have been redeemed by a belief in God. See Gannon, James and Bush, George W.) They are actively using the power of the government to make average people's lives more insecure. That we aren't standing fully in the path of legislating usury into law, especially in the current climate where people are clinging to the side of a mountain of debt with their fingernails, is just stupid. If we were smart at all we would have been talking about that right along with the social security mess at our all-star town meetings. It's all part of the same thing.

I realize that there has been a full generation of brainwashing about how the government is always bad and that everyone will get rich, rich, rich if the government just gets off their backs. But I have a sense that the force of this argument is getting stale. The assault on social security may just be the thing that opens people's minds to what their philosophy really means. And it may just open a window to allow the idea back in to the minds of the citizens that government programs can be an affirmative good. Social Security works. It's more efficient, more fair and more inexpensive than any of the alternatives. People apparently instinctively know this. Since the Republicans decided to bring this to the forefront we should take credit for it and piggyback our new progressive ideas on its back. It's been so long since anyone had the nerve to do it, that it sounds downright fresh.

Ezra quotes FDR in 1936 as an example of full throated liberalism at its peak. We aren't struggling through the Great Depression and we aren't in power, but the political argument still stands. The more things change and all that:

For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair! Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent.

For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace...business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me --- and I welcome their hatred.


But they are guilty of more than deceit. When they imply that the reserves thus created against both these policies will be stolen by some future Congress, diverted to some wholly foreign purpose, they attack the integrity and honor of American Government itself. Those who suggest that, are already aliens to the spirit of American democracy. Let them emigrate and try their lot under some foreign flag in which they have more confidence.

When the Republicans said that future congresses would steal the reserves, they were simply stating what they intended to do. And yes, attacking the honor and integrity of the US Government is always a winner as long as it's a Republican who is attacking it. If a Democrat deigns to attack even a Republican administration, it's treason. (I am reminded again that throughout the 90's it was considered perfectly acceptable for GOP representatives to call the FBI "jack-booted thugs.")

Clearly, they have never really believed in American democratic government. They cover their belief with bromides about "the market" selling it to the public like a magic pill, when it's clear that the market is insufficient to do anything but efficiently allocate goods and services. Despite what that jittery romance novelist Ayn Rand told Uncle Alan Greenspan and a whole host of breast heaving, dewy eyed privateers, there is no morality intrinsic to capitalism. It's an economic system, nothing more and nothing less. Anyone who believes in the words of our Declaration of Independence must also realize that government's purpose is not just to protect property and defend the nation against its enemies. It also exists to level the playing field, keep the powerful from gaining more advantage than they already have and mitigate the harsh effects of the market so that we can live in a decent and moral society.

Just as in the 1930's the Republicans of today simply don't believe in the idea of a moral and decent society. Their policy is to align themselves with powerful moneyed forces to tilt the playing field in their favor and let everybody else fend for themselves. That's the essence of the argument and one that I think we can win if we care to wage it.

Update: I received an e-mail admonishing me for not acknowledging the part of liberalism that defends civil rights. I hereby issue a full disclaimer that every argument I make along this line does not mean to be inclusive of every policy and position of the democratic party. However,let the word go forth that I am a huge proponent of civil rights and civil liberties (including privacy) and there is an analagous argument that can and must be made that a moral and decent society depends upon our commitment to upholding those things as well. Indeed, the civil liberties argument is, in my mind, sorely underappreciated as a liberal issue.

Update II: Check out Kevin Drum's analysis of the Bankruptcy Bill.


1.) It has come to my attention that I have been given credit for the term "Manchurian Beefcake" and while I admit to having the excellent taste to use it repeatedly, sadly I did not come up with it myself. That little morsel of descriptive genius came from God, aka James Wolcott. Long may he reign.

2) I have upgraded the haloscan account so you should all be able to pontificate at length from now on. Just remember that all rhetorical brilliance is owned by this site and yours will be stolen and recyled often.

3) Go give some change to David Neiwert for his fundraising drive. His insights are more necessary by the day.

Mr Positive

"I like doing this, by the way - I like going around the country, saying, 'Folks, we have got a problem.'"

One proposal in circulation would allow individuals to invest in personal retirement accounts on top of their current payroll taxes, as an "add-on," rather than diverting payments from the existing system. Mr. Bush has been cool to the "add-on," approach, but he used that very phrase on Friday to describe his vision for the plan. Under his proposal, Mr. Bush said, income from a private account "goes to supplement the Social Security check that you're going to get from the federal government."

"See, personal accounts is an add-on to that which the government is going to pay you," he said. "It doesn't replace the Social Security system."

In fact, the personal accounts would offset a portion of the existing Social Security benefit and, its proponents argue, enhance it. Mr. Bush has proposed letting younger workers divert up to 4 percent of their taxable income into personal accounts - a move that detractors say would cost trillions in transition costs and ruin the underpinnings of the system.

Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said Mr. Bush was not embracing the alternate plan, which he said would amount to creating an entirely new program outside Social Security. Instead, Mr. Duffy said the president used the term "add-on" to describe his own proposal. "Social Security is facing its own problems and the president's mission is to save Social Security," Mr. Duffy said.

Is there some reason that the NY Times can't just make it clear that the president and his spokeman are outright misrepresenting their plan? Unless there is a plan in place that says you get to keep all the same scheduled benefits on top of your new "private account" makes, then this is not an "add-on" it is a "replace." Indeed, that is the whole point.

I think real add-on savings plans are fine. Since big business has abdicated its traditional responsibility to provide pensions (and people are forced to change jobs frequently), we are now reduced to encouraging people to save for a liveable retirement with various market based plans. But, it should be noted that one of the things that makes it possible for middle and working class people to take the risk of putting their retirement savings into the stock market is knowing that they have a guaranteed floor that they can count on --- backed by the full faith and credit of the US government --- in case something goes wrong.

But if Bush is going to pretend that his privatization plan is actually an add-on that will "save" social security then we should scrap the idea of any new add-ons, for now. If the allegedly liberal press is unwilling to state in clear and unambiguous language that the president is outright lying about this, then we will end up twisting ourselves into a pretzel trying to untangle the different meanings of "add-on" and "personal" and some fainthearted Democrats are going to get rolled.

I still maintain that whenever somebody says that we must present an alternative, we should say "We have presented the alternative. It's called "Social Security". It works very, very well and Democrats are damned proud to have created it."

I also think it might be useful for Democrats to say, "the president likes to say that he enjoys going around the country and saying 'Folks, we have got a problem.' But this problem, if it even is a problem, won't become evident for another 40 years. Meanwhile we've got a lot of problems right now in this country that the president doesn't want to talk about like ...."

I think one of the things that is hurting Bush is the fact that he's putting so much energy into something so abstract and far away. He's supposed to be the dude who deals with bad guys, not some social engineer who's trying to fix some complicated future problem that isn't evidently broken. It's weird. It doesn't fit. We should go on the offensive and accuse him of ignoring real problems while he holds useless town meetings trying to convince people to fix a problem that won't even present itself for forty years, if at all. I think people already kind of feel this and we need to articulate it for them. With all the problems we have in this world, does it make sense that the Republicans are so weirdly fixated on this?

Listening To Liberals

Atrios links to Peter Beinart's comment in this liberal roundtable in the NY Times in which he says:

I think one of the great problems in the debates about abortion and gay rights is the perception that liberals are illiberal and nondemocratic. It's remarkable to me how many people still mention the fact that [the anti-abortion Pennsylvania governor] Bob Casey was denied the right to speak at the 1992 Democratic convention. That was an illiberal thing the party did. And there is an important debate for liberals to have about the role of the courts in pushing social change. Finally, I don't think you can separate these questions from people's larger concerns about the culture. Liberals should believe in free speech, of course, but there is no reason that liberals need to believe that everything that comes out of an unregulated free market is good culturally.

Atrios rightly points out that Beinert is helpfully pushing Republican talking points here, as so many Democrats do, and specifically corrects the record as to Casey, who was not allowed to speak because he refused to endorse the Democratic ticket, not because he was anti-choice.

And here is one liberal who doesn't believe that everything that comes out of the unregulated free market is good culturally. For instance, I think that right wing talk radio is the biggest cultural pollutant in our society. I can't conceive of anything more pernicious than hours and hours of eliminationist rhetoric, lies and propaganda being pumped into people's cars, offices and homes throughout the country. Somehow, I just can't get as worked up about fictional cable television shows that feature nudity and profanity when real live Americans spend the day listening to people talk about me in ways that sound an awful lot like they'd like to kill me.

Now, I would imagine that "conservatives" would scream bloody murder if I were to suggest that these voices be silenced. And I wouldn't suggest it. But if Beinert asks me if I think that there are culturally dangerous examples of free speech going on today, I'd have to say I think Limbaugh and Savage will take this country down a helluva lot faster than some obscure college professor, MTV or Janet Jackson's nipple.

Sadly, Beinert wasn't the only liberal in this conversation who sounds like the right wing noise machine has replaced a part of his brain. Michael Tomasky is parroting right wing talking points, too:

TOMASKY. First, terrorism is a threat. It threatened our shores more directly than the Soviet Union ever did. And it must be the focus of a foreign policy. We need alliances, yes. But alliances are a means. The end is the isolation of terrorists and the states that harbor them. The end is the control of nuclear proliferation, an extremely serious issue that the Bush administration sort of ignores. And the end is bringing liberty to the places of the world where it doesn't exist.

Yes, terrorism is a threat. But if blowing up a couple of buildings is more threatening than aiming thousands and thousands of nuclear weapons at every citizen of the United States and then waiting decades for someone to blink, then my sense of existential danger is sadly confused.

Here's the scenario under which we lived for more than 40 years:

The idea that any nuclear conflict would eventually escalate into MAD was a challenge for military strategists. This challenge was particularly severe for the United States and its NATO allies because it was believed until the 1970s that a Soviet tank invasion of Western Europe would quickly overwhelm NATO conventional forces, leading to the necessity of escalating to theater nuclear weapons.

A number of interesting concepts were developed. Early ICBMs were inaccurate which led to the concept of counter-city strikes -- attacks directly on the enemy population leading to a collapse of the enemy's will to fight, although it appears that this was the American interpretation of the Soviet stance while the Soviet strategy was never clearly anti-population. During the Cold War the USSR invested in extensive protected civilian infrastructure such as large nuclear proof bunkers and non-perishable food stores. In the US, by comparison, little to no preparations were made for civilians at all, except for the occasional backyard fallout shelter built by private individuals. This was part of a deliberate strategy on the Americans' part that stressed the difference between first and second strike strategies. By leaving their population largely exposed, this gave the impression that the US had no intention of launching a first strike nuclear war, as their cities would clearly be decimated in the retaliation.

The US also made a point during this period of targeting their missiles on Russian population centers rather than military targets. This was intended to reinforce the second strike pose. If the Soviets attacked first, then there would be no point in destroying empty missile silos that had already launched; the only thing left to hit would be cities. By contrast, if America had gone to great lengths to protect their citizens and targeted the enemy's silos, that might have led the Russians to believe the US was planning a first strike, where they would eliminate Soviet missiles while still in their silos and be able to survive a weakened counter attack in their reinforced bunkers. In this way, both sides were (theoretically) assured that the other would not strike first, and a war without a first strike will not occur.

This strategy had one major and very possibly critical flaw, soon realised by military analysts but highly underplayed by the US military: Conventional NATO forces in the European theatre of war were considered to be outnumbered by similar Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces, and while the western countries invested heavily in high-tech conventional weapons to counter this (partly perceived) imbalance, it was assumed that in case of a major Soviet attack (commonly perceived as the 'red tanks rolling towards the North Sea' scenario) that NATO, in the face of conventional defeat, would soon have no other choice but to resort to tactical nuclear weapons. Most analysts agreed that once the first nuclear exchange had occurred, escalation to global nuclear war would become almost inevitable.

So, while official US policy was a clearly stated 'non first-use policy', never to strike first with nuclear weapons, the reality was that the lack of strength of conventional NATO forces would force the US to either abandon Western Europe or use nuclear weapons in its defense. Even though after Soviet collapse investigations by historians and military analysts revealed that the effectiveness of Warsaw Pact forces was rated far higher than they really were, official NATO doctrine had been critically flawed from the onset and global thermonuclear war would have been a very real possibility had actual conflict occurred.

I guess because we all went about our lives and lived as if the threat didn't exist that it wasn't a direct threat. Or something. But all it would have taken was one miscalculation --- and it almost happened in 1962. The threat was clear and we managed, through a foreign policy that was realistic and vigilant, to get through it and come out victorious. Part of what kept us from blowing ourselves and half the planet up was that we didn't listen to crazy people on the subject who insisted that we invade Russia, many of whom are now in charge of American foreign policy.

Liberals are in a bind on this, as we always are, because unless we strike the proper pose of panicked bellicosity we are called treasonous and cowardly. And to be fair, Tomasky does hold the threat of nuclear proliferation as the number one threat, which is correct. However, I still think it behooves liberals to be precise in our language and not enable the other side with loose talk about what kind of threat we are facing with "terrorism" and Islamic fundamentalism. It may be that this country gets off on the idea that we are under seige by some Satanic force, but somebody's got to keep their heads.

(And if we all now have to pay lip service to Bush's little fantasy that the US is "bringing freedom" all around the world --- well, to the oil producing world anyway --- then I give up. It's bad enough having to listen to sanctimonious Republican phonies pretend to be morally superior, but if everyone now has to fall over themselves to proclaim that the United States is on a worldwide freedom crusade then we have truly entered the twilight zone.)

Finally, I don't know why we should listen to anyone who says something like this:

BEINART. I think that the base needs to be engaged, absolutely, and I certainly think that Washington and Washington political consultants should not be the only people who set the direction for the party. But I also think it's important to remember the base was enormously engaged in this election. The Democratic Party still lost. The party has to have a listening tour within its own base but also a listening tour among swing constituencies that are moving away: Hispanics, Jews, the military in particular. The Democratic Party needs a strategy with military voters not simply because of their numbers, but because military voters will give the Democratic Party credibility with nonmilitary voters who are concerned the Democratic Party is not tough enough. One cannot forget the central fact that the Democratic Party has lost every election since the 9/11 era, in which national security has been predominant. That is an enormous, enormous problem.

Sigh. 9/11 happened in 2001. We had a midterm election in 2002 in which the senate would have remained in Democratic hands if 100,000 votes had moved the other way. The president, who was hailed as a conquering hero throughout the country, at that time stood at a 70+ approval rating and campaigned vigorously. In 2004 that president won by 60,001 votes in a state that hasn't voted Democratic in decades. This has all happened in a period of 3 short years after the country was attacked and we have launched two wars. The Republican party, long seen as the party of national security, came extremely close to losing.

It's a fucking miracle we weren't creamed and it's a testament to the tenacity of the base of the Democratic Party which valiantly resisted the temptation to join in the the war party. George W. Bush barely won the last election (outside his base in the South it was nip and tuck) and it was largely a result of the natural advantage of GOP incumbency during wartime that got him under the wire.

Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. Democrats have a lot of work to do, but we are most definitely not in the wilderness. "Reaching out" to military families and swing voters is a very nice idea and I think we should do it. But it is sheer naivete to think that doing so will balance the effect of Rush Limbaugh and his pals on the psyche of those who are inclined to listen and absorb his message. We are in a period of hand to hand political combat now, up close and personal, and the key is the willingness of Democrats to articulate their vision clearly and without apology and to fight like hell when the other side goes after us.

Beinert and the DLC boys are anachronisms. They continue to believe that we are out of step with the country, as we all thought was true back in the 80's when we were losing big. But times have changed. The truth is that we are out of step with half the country.

But that means the Republicans are too.

Correction: Clinton won Ohio in both 92 and 96. It's probably worth noting, however, that Perot got 21% in Ohio in 1992 and almost 11% in 1996.


Thursday, March 03, 2005

Kill Chill

Via Ezra Klein I see that we have uncovered another hideous atrocity from Afghanistan, from yet another of our infamous "prisons":

In November 2002, a newly minted CIA case officer in charge of a secret prison just north of Kabul allegedly ordered guards to strip naked an uncooperative young Afghan detainee, chain him to the concrete floor and leave him there overnight without blankets, according to four U.S. government officials aware of the case.

The Afghan guards -- paid by the CIA and working under CIA supervision in an abandoned warehouse code-named the Salt Pit -- dragged their captive around on the concrete floor, bruising and scraping his skin, before putting him in his cell, two of the officials said.

As night fell, so, predictably, did the temperature.

By morning, the Afghan man had frozen to death.

After a quick autopsy by a CIA medic -- "hypothermia" was listed as the cause of death -- the guards buried the Afghan, who was in his twenties, in an unmarked, unacknowledged cemetery used by Afghan forces, officials said. The captive's family has never been notified; his remains have never been returned for burial. He is on no one's registry of captives, not even as a "ghost detainee," the term for CIA captives held in military prisons but not registered on the books, they said.


The Afghan detainee had been captured in Pakistan along with a group of other Afghans. His connection to al Qaeda or the value of his intelligence was never established before he died. "He was probably associated with people who were associated with al Qaeda," one U.S. government official said.


The fact that the Salt Pit case has remained secret for more than two years reflects how little is known about the CIA's treatment of detainees and its handling of allegations of abuse. The public airing of abuse at Abu Ghraib prompted the Pentagon to undertake and release scathing reports about conduct by military personnel, to revise rules for handling prisoners, and to prosecute soldiers accused of wrongdoing. There has been no comparable public scrutiny of the CIA, whose operations and briefings to Congress are kept classified by the administration.

Ho Hum. War is hell and all that, what?

This story reminds me that we've never gotten to the bottom of yet another purported war crime (scroll down) in the early days of the Afghanistan invasion:

Nobody knows exactly how many Taliban prisoners were secretly interred in this mass grave, a short distance from the main road. But there is now substantial evidence that the worst atrocity of last year's war in Afghanistan took place here; most controversially, during an operation masterminded by US special forces.

A 10-minute drive away is Shiberghan prison, where about 800 Taliban fighters who surrendered late last November at the town of Kunduz are held. The Afghan warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum controls the prison; his mansion is nearby.

It was his commanders who transported the Taliban captives to Shiberghan. "It was awful. They crammed us into sealed shipping containers," a 24-year-old survivor, Irfan Azgar Ali, told the Guardian. "We had no water for 20 hours. We banged on the side of the container. There was no air and it was very hot.

"There were 300 of us in my container. By the time we arrived in Shiberghan, only 10 of us were still alive."

The prisoners still in Shiberghan - half of them Afghans, and half Pakistanis - estimate that about 400 people suffocated to death during the journey. Other sources say the figure is between 900 and 1,000. The Physicians for Human Rights group from Boston, which identified the mass grave earlier this year and later sent out a forensic scientist to carry out further tests, suggests that 2,000-3,000 of the 8,000 prisoners taken to Shiberghan died on the way.


Some of the first Taliban fighters to surrender made the initial part of the journey in open lorries, their faces caked with dust. When they reached Mazar-i-Sharif, 90 miles from Kunduz, they were taken to Qala Zaini, a mud-walled fortified compound on the outskirts of the city. There Gen Dostum's soldiers crammed them into shipping containers. When they protested that they could not breathe, the soldiers told them to duck down, then fired several Kalashnikov rounds into the containers.

"I saw blood coming out of the holes," an eyewitness who refuses to be identified said.

A driver who made four trips to Dasht-i-Leili said not all the prisoners in his lorry were dead when they arrived: some were merely unconscious or gravely injured. The guards laid the dead and the still living out on the desert. "They raked them all with bullets to make sure they were dead," the driver said. "Then they buried them."


The Pentagon said last week that the US troops had reported that they were unaware what had happened to the prisoners. But the evidence suggests that they were so close to Gen Dostum's soldiers that they may have been informed.

The general has been on the US payroll for nearly a year. According to Newsweek magazine, an elite team from the Fifth Special Forces Group first met up with Gen Dostum last October, when its members were dropped by Chinook helicopter at his mountain base.

They coordinated the Northern Alliance's dramatic assault on Mazar-i-Sharif, which fell on November 6, and then pursued the Taliban's northern army to Kunduz, where it remained trapped for more than two weeks. During this bloody period the US special forces unit, the 595 A-team, paid repeated visits to Shiberghan prison - plucking the American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh, for example, from his cell hours after his detention.

I admit that I've always been intrigued by this little bit of information that nobody has ever bothered to follow up. From my post on this subject last May:

These ODA 595 Special Forces guys freely admitted being very close to General Dostum and his troops. But, they had to leave right after the massacre at Mazer al Sharif:

Yeah we eh, we were ordered out quite rapidly and without General Dostum's knowledge. He was out of town and we got word that we were to be quickly ex-filled, to brief Mr. Rumsfeld.

Quite the honor, I'm sure.

It may be that our troops were unaware of this massacre, but it doesn't seem likely. Our guys were right there and Dostum was our man. It is more and more clear as time goes on that we hit Afghanistan and just went nuts.

There are many, many questionable deaths and not in the field of battle. Junior's ill advised edict to "take the gloves off" resulted in unknown numbers of innocent or only mariginally involved people being killed, tortured and imprisoned. It seems that every day new evidence emerges that troops were ordered to behave like animals in the pursuit of this enemy and for no real purpose except indulging a barbaric bloodlust.

That's ok, apparently, because according to writers like Andrew Mccarthy,(and the entire keyboarder brigade) we are facing an enemy like no enemy the world has ever known and absolutely anything is justified as a result:

Today’s marketplace of ideas, for example, has been notably reluctant to engage even the subject of Islamofascism and the threat it poses to our institutions and our liberties. Nor does that marketplace strike one as a very effective weapon for bringing suicide murderers to heel, let alone for militating against electronically beamed fatwas capable of unleashing weapons of untold destructive power before other ideas have a meaningful opportunity to compete and persuade.

His piece was aimed at limiting the first amendment, but the overarching theme of abject panic at the threat of "Islamofascism" applies to all aspects of the Republican approach to the "GWOT."

From the minute the WTC was attacked their immediate response was to say that this threat is completely unprecedented. Therefore there are absolutely no limits to how much pain and suffering we are allowed to inflict and no limit to the freedoms we are allowed to restrict because this is the worst thing that ever happened to any nation or people in the history of the world. And anyone who doesn't agree is nothing more than a treasonous girly man.

The only problem is, it just isn't true. These guys were nothing but quivering hysterical panic artists. Why they are considered to be such tough guys, I will never know. Grace under pressure certainly isn't their strong suit, that's for sure.

The damage they have done to this country's sense of itself as a moral force for good, however, cannot be papered over with soaring speeches about freedom and liberty. Leaving that naked prisoner (so many naked prisoners!) to die of the cold that night is just one of the many ways in which these puerile egotists sold this country down the river one simple minded atrocity at a time.

Huntin' Immagrants

Burnt Orange Report reports on the lovely little game those funloving scamps down in Texas have come up with:

Numerous NT students exchanged heated arguments Wednesday during the "Capture the Illegal Immigrant Game," put on by NT's chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas. The purpose of the game was to show the organization's opposition to President Bush's temporary worker plan

Yes those crazy kids are just full 'o wacky hijinks, aren't they? But, it's not just the kids. There is a rather large group of adults preparing to play the game for real:

Civilians from all walks of life - patrolling the border day and night -- even with the threat of violence. It's called the Minuteman Project. Their goal is stop the flow of illegal immigration through the Arizona-Mexico border.

With nearly 500 volunteers from across the nation these self-proclaimed "guardian vigilantes" are preparing to head south.

From his Orange County home, Jim Gilchrist is planning a mission. His tools are a computer, an atlas and an army of volunteers.

"I struck the mother load of nationalism. I thought I would be lucky to get 12 volunteers. In six months, I've gotten almost 500," Gilchrist told NBC4.


According to authorities, violence along the Tucson sector has climbed to an all-time high. "Bringing untrained civilians into this border environment is a recipe for disaster," Adame told NBC4.

But that has not deterred many of the volunteers.

"It's absolutely a good idea," said a man who plans to volunteer as a pilot for the Minuteman Project. When asked why he thought is was a good idea, Adame[sic] told NBC4, "Because I've spent my whole life just about in the military to keep somebody from coming into this country so why not keep it up?"

He's part of what's known as the Minuteman Air Force, both plane and pilot, many of which are well past retirement. They actually plan to use about two dozen aircraft. The typical plane they intend to use down on the border is a small private three-seater aircraft. "I feel it's time the American people stood up and said enough is enough," one of the pilots told NBC4.

It's that mentality that the Minutemen hope will have government officials taking notice.

"This is a chess game. They move and we move and spot and report, and border patrol intercepts and apprehends," Gilchrist told NBC4.

But Gilchrist, who says he wants to work with border patrol, has yet to contact them. "They know what we are doing and I don't feel I have to ask permission to express myself under the first amendment," Gilchrist told NBC4.

Here we have people talking about silencing political bloggers while vigilantes strafing illegal immigrants from an airplane is just expressing yourself under the first amendment.

Is this a great country or what?

Finding The Consensus

There has been an interesting ongoing conversation on several excellent blogs about Rick Perlstein’s great book “Before The Storm” in which everyone is discussing whether the American consensus still holds. The American consensus was the mainstream majority belief in liberalism that held that the government should actively expand “to new frontiers” to promote the welfare of its citizens. Perlstein's new book, which is supposed to come out next year, is apparently a further examination of how this consensus was unmade. I look forward to reading it because this is key to understanding why we liberals continue to be so gobsmacked by the success of the right wing.

I understood this consensus in a very simple and personal way. In 1964, back before whatever happened to Kansas happened, we lived in Wichita. My grade school had the parents all dress their children as Goldwater or Johnson kids on election day. I was the only Goldwater kid in the third grade. This surprised me a great deal because in my home Barry Goldwater was a God. That was the first time I realized that my family was outside the mainstream. Goldwater represented a kind of “conservatism” that was radically different than what a large majority of Americans believed, Republican and Democrat alike. I happened to be from a family that had long adhered to right wing politics, but most people didn’t.

Perlstein sees the unmaking of the consensus beginning that year when Barry Goldwater ran his quixotic campaign against Lyndon Johnson --- a campaign in which he also managed to get tens of thousands of people to pay admission to his speeches, where he filled Dodger Stadium with swooning, adoring crowds a la Dubya, and which created a strong base of grassroots conservatives who began to lay the groundwork for long term political action.

The blogospheric argument seems to hinge on the idea that because Goldwater was soundly defeated and his ideas didn’t result in immediate repudiation of liberalism that the consensus still holds. But political movements are not armed revolutions. The country doesn’t turn on a dime and a consensus doesn’t completely unravel overnight. When an attractive alternative presents itself and enough people become interested it can gain currency over time until it eventually becomes mainstream itself.

Here is the kind of talk that was considered so radical and beyond the pale in 1964 that Barry Goldwater was defeated 61 to 38 percent in the popular vote:

[Some] have long since seen through the spurious suggestion that federal aid comes "free." They know that the money comes out of their own pockets, and that it is returned to them minus a broker's fee taken by the federal bureaucracy. They know, too, that the power to decide how that money shall be spent is withdrawn from them and exercised by some planning board deep in the caverns of one of the federal agencies. They understand this represents a great and perhaps irreparable loss--not only in their wealth, but in their priceless liberty.


The Constitution is what its authors intended it to be and said it was--not what the Supreme Court says it is. If we condone the practice of substituting our own intentions for those of the Constitution's framers, we reject, in effect, the principle of Constitutional Government: we endorse a rule of men, not of laws.
In order to achieve the widest possible distribution of political power, financial contributions to political campaigns should be made by individuals and individuals alone. I see no reason for labor unions--or corporations--to participate in politics. Both were created for economic purposes and their activities should be restricted accordingly.


And let us, by all means, remember the nation's interest in reducing taxes and spending. The need for "economic growth" that we hear so much about these days will be achieved, not by the government harnessing the nation's economic forces, but by emancipating them. By reducing taxes and spending we will not only return to the individual the means with which he can assert his freedom and dignity, but also guarantee to the nation the economic strength that will always be its ultimate defense against foreign foes.


A man may not immediately, or ever, comprehend the harm thus done to his character. Indeed, this is one of the great evils of Welfarism--that it transforms the individual from a dignified, industrious, self-reliant spiritual being into a dependent animal creature without his knowing it. There is no avoiding this damage to character under the Welfare State. Welfare programs cannot help but promote the idea that the government owes the benefits it confers on the individual.


No nation at war, employing an exclusively defensive strategy, can hope to survive for long. Like the boxer who refuses to throw a punch, the defense-bound nation will be cut down sooner or later. As long as every encounter with the enemy is fought on his initiative, on grounds of his choosing and with weapons of his choosing, we shall keep on losing the Cold War.


Is the perpetuation of an international debating forum, for its own sake, the primary objective of American policy? If so, there is much to be said for our past record of subordinating our national interest to that of the United Nations. If, on the other hand, our primary objective is victory over Communism, we will, as a matter of course, view such organizations as the UN as a possible means to that end. Once the question is asked--Does America's participation in the United Nations help or hinder her struggle against world Communism?--it becomes clear that our present commitment to the UN deserves re-examination.


We must realize that the captive peoples are our friends and potential allies-not their rulers. A truly offensive-minded strategy would recognize that the captive peoples are our strongest weapon in the war against Communism, and would encourage them to overthrow their captors.

There can be no doubt that Goldwater’s ideas are now mainstream. And there can be no doubt that what was once a national consensus that the government’s purpose was to deliver for its citizens is no longer operative. Instead we have a puny incrementalism that passes for liberalism, like the useless and expensive pharmaceutical company hand-out bill for which Democrats get “credit” merely because it is an expansion of government. If giving old people something that is considered a standard part of any insurance plan is considered to be a big liberal achievement then I think we can safely say that liberalism has lost its vision.

(Please don’t write me e-mails telling me all about how Bush is a fiscal disaster and that he’s expanded the government. I know he is. And I realize that Goldwater himself is turning in his grave. He did, at least, have integrity. I’m talking about what people believe not what the addicted-to-bullshit Republicans are actually doing.)

Like many of my generation, I adopted the politics of many of my peers and became a typical 70’s liberal. I thought for many years that my father’s politics were so completely out of fashion that they were entirely irrelevant. Even Reagan seemed to me to be an anomaly. As a Californian I understood his appeal and attributed it to personality and fame, counting on what I assumed to be the American consensus to mitigate the worst of his excesses until we could get a real president again.

I finally relinquished that illusion somewhere around 1990 when I had a discussion with a bright young woman who hated her job and liked to while away a few minutes chatting at the water cooler. She said that she’d been watching the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour the night before and had heard an economist who really seemed to get it. I asked what she meant by that and she said that his explanations had the ring of common sense to her, that he just sounded right. The economist was Milton Friedman.

I realized then that the default view had changed. Milton Friedman "just had the ring of common sense" to this woman not because she was a dyed in the wool conservative (she was a Democrat) but because Friedman’s views had become easily recognized as mainstream to those who weren’t conversant with the academic economic arguments. The American consensus had been in every way the opposite of Milton Friedman’s economic theories. He is a free market evangelist in the most extreme sense and yet this liberal Democrat thought he was talking sense.

So, here we are today with a re-elected Republican president, a radical Republican congress, a moderate to flaming right wing Supreme Court and we are actually trying to pretend that the American liberal consensus still exists. I have made this error myself. I clung to the idea that it exists because the Republicans are forced to use phony rhetoric to convince people that they really care about the average American and because people don’t want to lose what they already have. But I should have realized that the day the music finally died was the day that a Democratic president with a Democratic congress proposed a market based national health care plan.

The difference between Republicans and Democrats isn't about who cares more for the people. All politicians say they care about the people and the people are always justifiably skeptical. The difference between us is how we believe the good of the people is best achieved and liberals have a fundamentally different philosophy than the Republicans. Government is our preferred method to advance progressive ideals. Capitalism cannot substitute for a democratic government that answers to all the people. The invisible hand doesn’t give a shit if children starve or old people have to work until they are eighty or if half the country has to work at slave wages to support the other half. Only government can guarantee its citizens the equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We believe that progress toward that end requires that the government be active and engaged in delivering those things.

We are at parity, politically speaking, but liberalism is clinging by its fingernails to a vague definition of itself as a collection of policies favoring light regulation, balanced budgets, the last vestiges of the New Deal and certain individual rights. The American conservative consensus is not far away if we continue to abdicate our responsibility to forcefully articulate the role of government in a meaningful and understandable way and convey in no uncertain terms the danger to average Americans when they put their faith in free market evangelism and phony appeals to patriotism and religion. Laundry lists cannot substitute for inspiration.

There is no consensus right now about anything. In fact, we are engaged in a bloodless civil war. But the terms of the debate are being set by people who were not so long ago considered so outside the mainstream that they were nuts. We need to get back in the game with big ideas. I suspect that the ghost of the American consensus still wanders the country and that it won’t take much to bring it back to life. It is, after all, the consensus that oversaw the greatest period of economic and social progress in this country’s history.


Sunday, February 27, 2005

Southern Man

Kevin Drum features an interview with political strategist David “Mudcat” Saunders:

SouthNow: Why did the Democrats lose in 2004?

Mudcat: They can’t f***’n count. That’s the Democrats’ problem. You don’t get in the football game and punt on first down. You concede nothing. We condeded 20 states at first and then six more by Labor Day. That’s 227 electoral votes. Bush only needed 18 percent of the remaining electoral votes to win.

SouthNow: What’s the prescription for Democrats?

Mudcat: There’s only one precription and that’s tolerance. I’m a white, southern male who hunts. I’m a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which has two black members, by the way. I don’t know how many northern Democrats who have tolerance for my kind.

SouthNow: What’s your strategy for Southern progress?

Mudcat: We need to quit all this tap dancin’ around the truth....We need to stop tap dancin’ around the issues of guns, gays and God....We’ve lost the white male. We need to get ‘em back. We need to get through the cultural wall. It’s a wall of straw. Inside every rural Republican is a Democrat trying to get out.

Saunders, who has worked on the campaigns of Mark Warner, John Edwards, and Bob Graham, thinks that if Democrats ease up on the culture stuff they can win in the South: "We’ve got an affection for big guns and fast cars. It’s a macho thing. I’ve not seen any attempt by the Democrats to get into that culture."

Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Jimmy Carter were all southern white males, and we blue staters voted for them without a second thought. Before that, Lyndon Johnson won the blue states in a landslide. As I recall, we rather rather liked their southern roots. Let's just get this one thing straight. The theory that non-southerners are intolerant of "his kind" is undisputably wrong. We have happily voted for southern white males many times. It's southerners who refuse to vote for anyone who comes from anywhere else.

But, just being happy to vote for southern white males isn't good enough, is it? We don't properly get into macho, good ole boy culture. Ok. Let's try that. I have absolutely no problem with a born again, cowboy hat wearing president from a southern state who hunts and drives fast cars and even, dare I say it, engages in the most macho sport of all --- clearing brush. He can tie on a six gun and practice quick drawing in the rose garden for all I care. I am not offended by any of those things.

But again, that's the problem, isn't it? It is not enough to be tolerant. We must adopt both their style and their policies before they are happy. Everyone must be a NASCAR fan. If you are not, they will take it to mean that you disrespect their love of NASCAR. Everyone must hunt. If you don't, then you are being intolerant of their love of hunting. If you don't talk about religion the way they talk about it, you are not properly religious. Rappers must wear cowboy boots, hispanics must speak English, we all have to drive American trucks with confederate flags on the back and drink Jack and be exactly like these macho, southern white men before they will feel secure enough to vote with us.

And let's not pretend that we will not also have to tell the various constituencies in the party who find their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to be contingent on being allowed to control their own bodies, marry whom they choose and practice or not practice the religion of their choice that they are shit out of luck. That's part of the deal.

Let's face facts here. The answer to this problem is that in order to get the macho white southern male vote we all must become macho white southern males and that is just not humanly possible. We can certainly try to engage them with an attitude of intense interest in their culture if that's what it takes. But, I doubt it will make much of a difference.

Mudcat may look at a white southern male Republican and see a Democrat trying to get out, but I just see a bunch of insecure white guys who think everybody else ought to be just like them. And if you look at the leadership of the Republican party they've got exactly what they want. Why would they change?


Saturday, February 26, 2005

Kabuki Ethics

Perhaps I'm being obtuse. I had some dental work this week that was quite unpleasant so perhaps I accidentally spit my higher brain function down that cute little sink next to the torture chair. Am I reading correctly that the funniest man in the universe is obliquely scolding himself and the rest of us for flogging the Jeff Gannon story? Why yes, I believe he is and now that I think about it, it's a darned good idea.

He admits how difficult it is to resist the urge to giggle incessantly and point out every word in a Gannon piece that his inner Beavis finds suggestive, but he concludes that pursuing this story is the work of the devil and oh is he ever right. The Poorman isn't the only sharp guy to make the point that the Gannon story is somehow wrong, though. As this article in TAPPED points out, the major lefty magazines, with the exception of Salon (a bunch of "San Francisco liberals" ) have all tip-toed around this story very delicately. David Corn has wrestled with his demons in public however and gives un an insight into the problem:

Should the White House have handed a daily press pass to a reporter who turned tricks on the side? Was it hypocritical of the Bush White House to have done so? Was it a security lapse to let a pseudonymous fellow and possible felon close to the president? Gannon/Guckert and Talon ought to have been vetted more closely regarding their journalistic credentials. But I will not gripe if the White House press office decides it is not its job to investigate the personal lives and websites of those who apply for access to the press room. Some of Gannon/Guckert's critics have suggested that he was allowed into the White House due to some sort of gay connection. One site has used the Gannon/Guckert affair to float unsubstantiated rumors about the sex life of Scott McClellan. This is fair game--but only for journalistic investigation, not for throw-it-and-see-if-it-sticks postings. If there is evidence that McClellan is a gay GOP hypocrite or that Gannon/Guckert had an advantage because he was literally in bed with a White House official, that's a news story. Otherwise, it's smear-by-blogging. Last year, I spent months talking to a professional dominatrix who claimed she had been hired several times by a prominent Republican who does the family-values shtick. I examined her allegations the best I could. But I could not substantiate her claim, which I found credible. I had nothing to publish, nothing specific to blog.

It's certainly embarrassing to the Bush White House that its press operation accepted a reporter who was an actual or wannabe prostitute. But this is not the same as paying columnists to shill for the administration, producing pro-administration propaganda packaged as news reports, mounting fake town meetings, or restricting the number of press conferences. And to date there is no compelling evidence that the White House recruited or deployed Gannon/Guckert as a plant. It really had little cause to do so. Both Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan have demonstrated they can duck questions ably on their own.

This is what responsible journalism and ethical blogging are all about. We wouldn't want people to hear unsubstantiated gossip. That's why he writes that he refused to report or blog about the credible dominatrix who couldn't provide proof of her allegations that "she had been hired several times by a prominent Republican who does the family-values shtick." I would imagine that a certain "Virtues Czar” has been quaking in his leather chaps over this story and is mightily relieved that Corn has decided not to blog about it. I'm sure everyone will take Corn's ethical lead and refuse to give this story another moment's consideration. It wouldn't be right and I simply do not want to participate in such activity. I do plan to write a lot about this kind of good journalism, however, the kind where you don't report on stories about credible dominatrixes and disgraced moralizing gamblers without proof.

I think the press should continue to wring its collective hands about this story in just this way, over and over again. They should discuss its various ins and outs (hello, beavis) in great detail, just as Corn does.

Just how can it be that somebody would hire a male prostitute with no journalism experience to work for a vanity GOP web site who then lobbed softballs in the White House press room and transcribed press releases? Yet it happened. Should we cover that?

I think they should explore in great depth whether this reaches the level of scandal that the Armstrong Williams scandal does. They should compare them, calling attention to the fact that Williams was paid $250k in taxpayer money. Perhaps they should also publicly ponder whether they should cover the fact that Williams was sued for sexual harassment by a male employee and settled for an undisclosed sum.

Is that relevant? I just don't know. Let's discuss.

Is the fact that Gannon appears to have been only paid a "stipend" enough to wonder how he was getting paid all those months and should we follow up on why GOPUSA is taking down its web-site, scrubbing it's articles and appears to be funded with nothing but air?

Is that really a story? Gosh I'm so conflicted.

And I think it would be very therapeutic for the pundit class to publicly ponder whether the fact that the GOP has made a fetish (shut up beavis) out of subtly gay bashing the entire Democratic Party for a generation leaves them open to more questions than usual when it turns out that they are paying conservative gay columnists who also bash gays with taxpayer money and allowing fake marine male hookers into the White House under unusual circumstances.

Is this a legitimate rap on the Republicans or not? I think a nice long New York Times magazine piece is in order don't you? Just to try to sort out the ethics involved.

And as far as Democratic political operatives are concerned, I would think they need to talk to anyone and everyone about their angst over exploiting this issue. Is it right for the Democrats to point out that the family values Republican elite are hob knobbing with gay hookers?

Gosh, I just don't know if it's right to point out that the very religious administration of George W. Bush doesn't practice what it preaches. Is that really ethical?

Yes, I think there is a serious ethical dilemma that must be worked out before we can proceed with this story. It's time for an open, cleansing dialog about whether the story of the male hooker/GOP activist/ White House reporter with the very graphic naked pictures he posted all over the internet should be pursued. I'd hate for the press to do something unethical with this.

Update: There was an excellent article back in January in the NYRB by Mark Danner called "Why Bush Really Won." I wrote a couple of posts about it at the time. Here are some letters to the editor regarding that piece that I think are very relevant to this GannonGuckert issue. I urge you to read the whole thing. One can certainly understand the moral dilemma of the press corps when you consider something like this:

On March 5, for example, The New York Times published a piece headlined "Bush Campaigns Amid a Furor over Ads," about a supposed controversy over the campaign's first television ads, which offered a glimpse of a dead fireman being carried out of the World Trade Center site. In the article the Times reporters revealed that the campaign was "scrambling to counter criticism that his first television commercials crassly politicized the tragedy of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks." Indeed, the controversy was so serious, according to the Times, that it had "complicated efforts by Republicans to seize the initiative after months in which Mr. Bush has often been on the defensive." Newsweek, for its part, in an article headlined "A 'Shocking' Stumble," reported that the ad controversy "threw campaign officials on the defensive—and raised questions about the Bush team's ability to effectively spend its massive $150 million war chest, some GOP insiders say."

Seven months later, and two weeks after the election, Newsweek published another and very different "inside account," this one based on exclusive access to the campaigns which was granted on the understanding that nothing from this reporting would be published until after the election.[*] Here is what Newsweek's writers now told us about what "two Bush strategists" really thought of their campaign's "shocking stumble":

McKinnon and Dowd were ecstatic. At a strategy meeting the next day—the same morning the Times headline appeared—they joked about how they could fan the flames. Controversy sells, they said. It meant lots of "free media"; the ads were shown over and over again on news shows, particularly on cable TV. The "visual" of the rubble at the World Trade Center was a powerful reminder of the nation's darkest hour—and Bush's finest, when he climbed on the rock pile with a bullhorn. What's more, the story eclipsed some grim economic news....

At that Saturday's Breakfast Club, they were still laughing about the ad flap.... Dowd told the group they had received $6 million to $7 million worth of free ad coverage. "Unfortunately, we've been talking about 9/11 and our ads for five days," Dowd deadpanned at a senior staff meeting. "We're going to try to pivot back to the economy as soon as we can."

There were chuckles all around.

So much for the "inside story." As so often in journalism, the source offered the reporter access and the scoop; in exchange, the reporter in effect granted the source— in this case, the Bush strategist—the power to shape the storyline. The reporter thus publishes a supposed "inside story" about "scrambling" within the campaign that is in effect a kind of "false bottom" constructed by the campaign itself and intended to "fan the flames" of what is in fact a largely bogus story. The deeper reality—in this case, the determination to focus relentlessly on September 11 and the President's "leadership" role in it ("the nation's darkest hour and Bush's finest") and thus to emphasize the "masculine" values of steadiness, forthrightness, and strength that this role exemplified—may have been plain to those political professionals who were looking closely but it was much less clear to voters relying on the press for the supposed "inside story" of the campaign. The Bush campaign's "shocking stumble" was, in Daniel Boorstin's term, a "pseudo-event"; indeed, our political campaigns are built largely of such pseudo-events and rely fundamentally on the press and the commentariat to play their necessary part in constructing them and conveying them to the public. Both sides are immersed in this language, of course, and it is hard to see, given the terms of the game, how Democrats could "challenge the Republican story directly"—or even what "directly," in this context, might actually mean.

One can certainly understand, after reading that, why so many in the press are worried about violating journalistic ethics by reporting about Gannon. It's not a real story.


Friday, February 25, 2005

The Resentment Tribe

The other day I rhetorically asked, "Why are they so angry?" and Matt Stoller replies :

As long as individuals can stand up outside of the tribe and claim Americanism as their own, the right is revealed as weak, because it is their own lies about themselves that they cannot stand. Proof in the form of our existence is enough to make them angry. This is why, as Digby wonders, they keep getting madder as they keep gaining power. They are not really after a conservative agenda in terms of policy; they are not even after power, really. They are after a complete and utter subjugation of the American consciousness to their tribal mentality. And they will not stop until they get it. Hence, the culture wars. And now, the real wars. And unfortunately, I don't think they are done.

They are far from done. In fact, it's so old and so familiar that we might as well prop open our eyelids with toothpicks and turn on "I Love Lucy" re-runs.

I wrote about this tribal divide sometime back and I agree with Matt’s analysis. This has its genesis in the original sin of slavery and is best illustrated by the fact that as the country has divides itself distinctly between the parties in a 50/50 fashion, the dividing line continues to fall along the same lines of the old confederacy. Once again, the best way to understand this is to go right to the heart of the beast and quote the first Republican president (who hailed from one of the bluest of blue states) Abraham Lincoln at the Cooper Union in New York in 1860:

And now, if they would listen - as I suppose they will not - I would address a few words to the Southern people.

I would say to them: - You consider yourselves a reasonable and a just people; and I consider that in the general qualities of reason and justice you are not inferior to any other people. Still, when you speak of us Republicans, you do so only to denounce us a reptiles, or, at the best, as no better than outlaws. You will grant a hearing to pirates or murderers, but nothing like it to "Black Republicans." In all your contentions with one another, each of you deems an unconditional condemnation of "Black Republicanism" as the first thing to be attended to. Indeed, such condemnation of us seems to be an indispensable prerequisite - license, so to speak - among you to be admitted or permitted to speak at all. Now, can you, or not, be prevailed upon to pause and to consider whether this is quite just to us, or even to yourselves? Bring forward your charges and specifications, and then be patient long enough to hear us deny or justify.


You charge that we stir up insurrections among your slaves. We deny it; and what is your proof? Harper's Ferry! John Brown!! John Brown was no Republican; and you have failed to implicate a single Republican in his Harper's Ferry enterprise. If any member of our party is guilty in that matter, you know it or you do not know it. If you do know it, you are inexcusable for not designating the man and proving the fact. If you do not know it, you are inexcusable for asserting it, and especially for persisting in the assertion after you have tried and failed to make the proof. You need to be told that persisting in a charge which one does not know to be true, is simply malicious slander.

Some of you admit that no Republican designedly aided or encouraged the Harper's Ferry affair, but still insist that our doctrines and declarations necessarily lead to such results. We do not believe it. We know we hold to no doctrine, and make no declaration, which were not held to and made by "our fathers who framed the Government under which we live." You never dealt fairly by us in relation to this affair. When it occurred, some important State elections were near at hand, and you were in evident glee with the belief that, by charging the blame upon us, you could get an advantage of us in those elections. The elections came, and your expectations were not quite fulfilled. Every Republican man knew that, as to himself at least, your charge was a slander, and he was not much inclined by it to cast his vote in your favor ... In your political contests among yourselves, each faction charges the other with sympathy with Black Republicanism; and then, to give point to the charge, defines Black Republicanism to simply be insurrection, blood and thunder among the slaves.


Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events.

This, plainly stated, is your language. Perhaps you will say the Supreme Court has decided the disputed Constitutional question in your favor. Not quite so. But waiving the lawyer's distinction between dictum and decision, the Court have decided the question for you in a sort of way. The Court have substantially said, it is your Constitutional right to take slaves into the federal territories, and to hold them there as property. When I say the decision was made in a sort of way, I mean it was made in a divided Court, by a bare majority of the Judges, and they not quite agreeing with one another in the reasons for making it; that it is so made as that its avowed supporters disagree with one another about its meaning, and that it was mainly based upon a mistaken statement of fact - the statement in the opinion that "the right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution."


Under all these circumstances, do you really feel yourselves justified to break up this Government unless such a court decision as yours is, shall be at once submitted to as a conclusive and final rule of political action?

But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, "Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!"

To be sure, what the robber demanded of me - my money - was my own; and I had a clear right to keep it; but it was no more my own than my vote is my own; and the threat of death to me, to extort my money, and the threat of destruction to the Union, to extort my vote, can scarcely be distinguished in principle.

A few words now to Republicans. It is exceedingly desirable that all parts of this great Confederacy shall be at peace, and in harmony, one with another...Judging by all they say and do, and by the subject and nature of their controversy with us, let us determine, if we can, what will satisfy them.

Will they be satisfied if the Territories be unconditionally surrendered to them? We know they will not. In all their present complaints against us, the Territories are scarcely mentioned. Invasions and insurrections are the rage now. Will it satisfy them, if, in the future, we have nothing to do with invasions and insurrections? We know it will not. We so know, because we know we never had anything to do with invasions and insurrections; and yet this total abstaining does not exempt us from the charge and the denunciation.

The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them, is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.

These natural, and apparently adequate means all failing, what will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly - done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated - we must place ourselves avowedly with them. Senator Douglas' new sedition law must be enacted and enforced, suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our Free State constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us.

Lincoln had a keen understanding of the problem and he logically framed it in moral terms regarding the subject at hand, slavery. As it turns out this was not simply about slavery. It was about a deep and abiding tribal divide in the country that was originally defined by slavery but metatisized into something far beyond it, even then. Southern “exceptionalism” was always justified by its culture, which was assumed to be unique and unprecedented.

You can apply Lincoln’s arguments to any number of current issues and come out the same. There is an incoherence of principle that we see in every section of the republican party, the willingness to call to State’s Rights (their old rallying cry) when it suits them and a complete abdication of the principle once they hold federal power --- while still insisting that they believe in limited government! They blatantly misconstrue the plain meaning of long standing constitutional principles and federal policies (such as Brit Hume’s abject intellectual whorishness in the matter of FDR’s beliefs about social security privatization) and show irrational, rabid anger at any disagreement. They see Democrats as “traitors” fighting for the other side, just as the Southerners of the 1850’s accused the “Black Republicans” of fomenting slave revolts. They brook no compromise and instead repay those who would reach out to them with furious perfidy unless they show absolute fealty to every facet of the program. It is loyalty to “the cause”, however it is defined and however it changes in principle from day to day, that matters.

It’s clear to me that during the first 70 years of the country’s existence, the old South and the slave territories that came later (as defined in that famous map from 1860) created a culture based largely on their sense of the rest of the country’s, and the world’s, disapprobation. Within it grew what Michael Lind describes as its “cavalier” culture, which created an outsized sense of masculine ego and “fighting” mentality (along with an exaggerated caricature of male and female social roles.) Resentment was a foundation of the culture as slavery was hotly debated from the very inception and the division was based on what was always perceived by many as a moral issue. The character and morality of the south had always had to be defended. Hence a defensive culture was born.

The civil war and Jim Crow deepened it and the Lost Cause mythology romanticized it. The civil rights movement crystallized it. A two hundred year old resentment has created a permanent cultural divide.

This explains why the dependence on hyper-religiosity (and the cloak of social protection it provides) along with the fervent embrace of "moral values" is so important despite the obvious fact that Republicans are no more "moral" in any sense of the word than any other group of humans. It explains the utopian martial nationalism. And although that map shows that the regional divide is still quite relevant (and why the slave states fought for the Electoral College at the convention) it explains why this culture has now manifested itself as a matter of political identity throughout much of the country. Wherever resentment resides in the human character it can find a home in the Republican Party. This anger and frustration stems from a long nurtured sense of cultural besiegement, which they are finding can never be dealt with through the attainment of power alone. They seek approval.

Lincoln concluded the speech at the Cooper Union with this and I think it's relevant today to those of us who believe that our side is, as Lincoln thought then, the side of enlightened, moral progress:

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.

This fight for the soul of America has been going on since the very beginning and it isn’t over yet. We can take heart in the fact that in every great battle thus far, the forces of equality and moral progress have won the day. It's never been easy.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Where's my Swag?

Thanks to all of you who voted for me. It's ridiculous, of course. The people who I allegedly "beat" are blogospheric godhead and I am quite disturbed that your standards have fallen so low. I worry about you people.

The Koufax awards are very dear to my heart. I won one for best commenter back in 2002 and it made me finally decide to go for it and get into this blogging thing on my own. (In those days everybody and his Jack Russell terrier didn't have a blog. It seemed like something serious then.) The Koufaxes were a nice little community affair that represented our commitment to each other and the cause in a sea of libertarian and conservative ranting and chestbeating after 9/11 and the '02 elections. It's true that our community may have grown exponentially, but it still has a nice feel of down home solidarity even though we have become much more than a rag tag bunch of bloggers and blog readers. We are a gen-you-ine political constituency, now. They talk about us on the teevee and everything.

Blogging is becoming its own literary form. People have always written diary entries, pamphlets, letters or simple observations and essays. But never before could you publish and within minutes have direct criticism on what you've just written by dozens of readers and fellow writers. As a writer, it's quite wonderful (and sometimes depressing) to know what your audience thinks right away. You aren't stuck waiting for some literary snob or political critic to make you or break you; your validation or rejection is immediate and obvious. So, it's really not the writer but the readership that makes this new format so innovative. They are as much a part of the piece as you are, critiquing, adding information, fine tuning the argument, helping you all along the way. In that sense, blogging is a collaborative writing medium which is very rare and very sweet. I appreciate "all four of my readers" more than you know.

Congrats to all the winners. If you haven't checked out all the blogs and posts that were nominated, do yourself a favor and read them. It will blow your mind. Send a little more scratch over to Wampum while you are at it. It was a big burden to do this project and they are really good people for doing it.

Check them out here.


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

It's Irresponsible Not To

WOODRUFF: As we reported a little while ago in our blog segment, the Internet is abuzz with reaction to comments by New York Democratic Congressman Maurice Hinchey. The congressman over the weekend shared his views about the now disputed CBS News report about President Bush's Air National Guard service. Representative Maurice Hinchey is with me now, he joins us from Albany, New York.

Congressman Hinchey, what exactly did you say on Saturday at this town meeting in Ithaca?

REP. MAURICE HINCHEY (D), NEW YORK: Well, Judy, what I said came in response to a question from one of my constituents. There were about 100 people there. And they asked some questions about media manipulation. They were concerned about the issue of Armstrong Williams, for example, people being hired by this administration to pretend that they were giving objective news and information but were really putting forth the point of view of the administration rather than doing it objectively. And also the issue with Mr. Gannon, who was admitted to the White House press corps but who was not a legitimate press person, and was there just to throw softballs to the president.

And then the issue of the CBS Dan Rather event came up, and I said that there were false documents or documents which were falsified and presented as being accurate and there was a question as to where those documents came from. And in the context of the discussion I suggested that -- my theory was that I wouldn't be surprised if it came from the White House political operation, headed up by Karl Rove.

WOODRUFF: Well, I'm reading here a transcript of what you said, you said: "I have my own beliefs about how that happened. It originated with Karl Rove in my belief in the White House." What do you know that you base that on?

HINCHEY: Well, I think there's a great deal of circumstantial information and factual information. Mr. Rove, for example, has been involved in a host of political dirty tricks that are traceable back -- all the way back to the 1970s, '80s, '90s, right on up to the present. The way in which he treated Senator McCain, for example, in the context of the 2000 election.

So it doesn't take an awful lot of imagination if you're thinking about who it is that might have produced these false documents to try to mislead people in this very cynical way. It would take someone very brilliant, very cynical, very Machiavellian, and it doesn't take a lot of imagination to come up with the name of Karl Rove as a possibility of having done that.

WOODRUFF: But, at this point, it is just imagination, is that correct?

HINCHEY: It's a possibility, yes. It's a possibility based upon circumstantial evidence and the history of his behavior over the course of several decades. WOODRUFF: Well, you know, there was an independent panel that CBS asked to look into this -- you know, to look into how CBS got these documents, what went wrong with the story that appears on "60 MINUTES." They were not able to conclude where these documents came from. They said, finally, they weren't even able to determine whether these documents were authentic or whether they were forged. So my question is, how are you in a position to know more than they or others who have investigated this now?

HINCHEY: Well, Judy, no one has come to any conclusions and that's the unfortunate thing. We need to get to the bottom of this. We need to get to the bottom of the whole business of manipulating the media that has gone on in the context of this administration.

I think that that's critically important. The essence of this democracy is really at stake. If people sitting back in their living rooms can't rely upon the information they're getting over the news channel or over the radio, then very important aspects of this Democratic system become eroded.

So, we need to get to the bottom of it, that's the point here. I'm quite surprised, frankly, that this has gotten all the attention that it has, but in a way I'm grateful that it has because it's important for us to be concerned about these things. Manipulating the media in this kind of a cynical way is antithetical to what we stand for as a nation, we need to find out who did it.

WOODRUFF: But some would say, listening to what you said and hearing your acknowledgment that you don't have any proof, that it's irresponsible or -- let me ask you, do you think it's responsible for you to say this without evidence?

HINCHEY: I think it's very responsible of me to speculate about where this manipulation is coming from. Yes. I think it's important to speculate about it, I think it's important to discuss it and I think it's important to try to stimulate the investigative agencies to look into this.

Unfortunately, the Congress is not doing its job. There are -- this is something that ought to be investigated by the Congress of the United States. But this Congress is not doing its job. It's not standing up for the American people the way it should. And, as a consequence, there is a certain amount of frustration out there and that frustration was voiced by the people who attended the meeting that I held last Saturday.

WOODRUFF: We're going to have to leave it there, Congressman Maurice Hinchey. And again, we did try to reach the White House to get their comment on all of this, we were not able to get a comment from them.

As Peggy Noonan so memorably wrote about the "little Elian" drama:

Was Mr. Clinton being blackmailed? The Starr report tells us of what the president said to Monica Lewinsky about their telephone sex: that there was reason to believe that they were monitored by a foreign intelligence service. Naturally the service would have taped the calls, to use in the blackmail of the president. Maybe it was Mr. Castro’s intelligence service, or that of a Castro friend.

Is it irresponsible to speculate? It is irresponsible not to.

We're playing by Clinton rules now. Sit back and enjoy it, fellas.


Monday, February 21, 2005

Swiftboat Liars Part II

I've been awfully impressed today with how the cosmopolitan MSM believes that the Preznit has been shown in these tapes to be such a truly decent guy on the gay rights issue.(Oooh. And he smoked pot, too!)

William Kristol on Fox news posited that he thought it must have been a Rove operation because it is so favorable to the president. The roundtable giggled and smirked delightedly.

One wonders what our tolerant moderate president will have to say about what his Swift Boat Scumbag friends are doing:

Look for the administration to launch into its Butterfly McQueen routine any day now, bemoaning these independent groups over which they have no control.

But, elderly people aren't stupid. What in the world does the AARP have to do with Iraq and gay marriage? It seems to me that they've got all the Dear Leader cultists on board already. Is there an additional group of elderly people out there who can be convinced that social security should be privatized or gay's will be allowed to marry? This seems like a reach.

One thing is crystal clear. If any of the fainthearted faction think that they will be able to buy a permanent get out of jail free card from the Republicans they are idiots. The AARP sold their members down the river with that ridiculous drug company giveaway last year and look what it bought them. Gay bashing and treason. There is ZERO margin in cooperation.

Our old friend hesiod reminded me by e-mail today that the man spearheading this son of swiftboat smear, Charles Jarvis, quit Gary Bauer's campaign because Bauer was allegedly behaving in a way that gave the appearance of impropriety. Gary Bauer.

The core idea of this rumor campaign is that I have violated the vows I made to my wife 27 years ago," Bauer said. "These rumors and character assassination are disgusting, outrageous, evil and sick. They are trash-can politics at its worst. . . . I have not violated my vows."

Bill Dal Col, Forbes's manager, denied the suggestion that the Forbes campaign was spreading rumors and said he would fire anyone who promoted allegations of sexual impropriety.

Instead of putting the issue to rest, Bauer's news conference prompted Jarvis and McDonald to go public with their concerns. In addition, sources said the boards of two organizations with strong ties to Bauer, the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, both warned the candidate that he should stop having extended closed-door meetings with his staff member and should not travel alone with her.


"As a pro-family and pro-life leader, Gary is held to a higher standard. Meeting hour after hour alone [with the deputy manager], as a married man, candidate and as a pro-family pro-life leader, he has no business creating that kind of appearance of impropriety," Jarvis said in a telephone interview.

Jarvis doesn't seem to have a problem with gay hookers plastering their naked erections all over the internet and hanging out in the white house with god knows who, though, does he? Apparently, that doesn't create the appearance of impropriety at all.

It is long past time that somebody got Bauer and Dobson on the record about this.

Poisonous Fruit

It is no wonder that the media thinks bloggers are a threat. When you hear TIME magazine's "Blogger of the year" Hinderocket say things like this you can't blame them:

By "the left" I'm including almost the entire Democratic Party, you can count the exceptions on your fingers, you can name them, Zell Miller, Joe Lieberman...The whole mainstream of the party is engaged in an effort that is a betrayal of America, what they care about is not winning the war on terror...I don't think they care about the danger to us as Americans or the danger to people in other countries. They care about power.

Via Kos, here's the video of the very calm and reasonable sounding Hinderocket speaking the words of a paranoid totalitarian. It's quite chilling.

I do not think that the majority of Republicans have partaken of this poisonous fruit. They do not believe that the Democratic Party is "engaged in an effort that is a betrayal of America." Clearly, they do not think this in the US Congress, even though the comity that once reigned has been snuffed. They know that the people they see every day are not traitors even if they hate their politics. They understand that the Democratic party disagrees with the Republicans as a matter of policy and philosophy but that we are all Americans and under the constitution dissent is protected in order to have a thriving, open democracy.

But the right wing echo chamber is increasingly made up of voices that sound both this "reasonable" and this crazy. The more people listen to talk radio and watch FoxNews and read wingnut blogs exclusively the more they are going to see the world this way. It's extremely dangerous.

What continues to fascinate me is that this sense of frustration seems to be growing despite the fact that the Democrats have less power than they've ever had before. TBOGG links to Hinderocket responding to a home state blogger's rather benign questioning on the Gannon matter with this:

You dumb shit, he didn't get access using a fake name, he used his real name. You lefties' concern for White House security is really touching, but you know what, you stupid asshole, I think the Secret Service has it covered. Go crawl back into your hole, you stupid left-wing shithead. And don't bother us anymore. You have to have an IQ over 50 to correspond with us. You don't qualify, you stupid shit.

Like I said before, there is something very strange going on in rightwingland. The more power they have the madder they get. Any psychologists out there care to weigh in on this strange psychosis?

Update: Orcinus has the definitive response to Powerline's silly notion that Jimmy Carter is "on the other side."

I don't mean to harp on this stuff, but I think that blogs need to publicize the fact that some of these alleged "mainstream" bloggers on the right are quite far out on the fringe. They will respond furiously that Atrios and Kos and others are America haters or "barking moonbats" but their own words speak for themselves. It's important that people see them, especially the mainstream media who are just beginnning to pay attention. They need to understand that Powerline is not just some nice lawyers and bankers who write about politics. They represent what Richard Hofsteder calls the paranoid strain in American politics. It's important that people begin to make distinctions.

Homewreckers Need Not Apply

If this is true, the White House has gone completely nuts:

GEORGE Bush has banned Camilla Parker Bowles from the White House - because she is a divorcee.

The unprecedented snub has effectively sabotaged Charles's plan to take his bride on a Royal tour of America later this year.

The trip would have been the pair's first official tour as a married couple.

But the US President - a notoriously right-wing Christian and reformed alcoholic - told aides it was "inappropriate" for him to be playing host to the newly-weds, who are both divorcees.

The decision was made even though the late President Ronald Reagan was divorced.

The trip would have been the pair's first official tour as a married couple.

But the US President - a notoriously right-wing Christian and reformed alcoholic - told aides it was "inappropriate" for him to be playing host to the newly-weds, who are both divorcees.

The decision was made even though the late President Ronald Reagan was divorced.

A Government insider said: "It was relayed to us from Washington that Mrs Parker Bowles would not be welcome at the White House.

"The Americans are aware that the visit will be subject to a lot of media attent ion and did not want the President drawn into what they view to be a public relations exercise.

"It's now uncertain if the visit will even go ahead."

Insiders point out that hosting a lavish Royal dinner for Charles and Camilla would be bad PR for President Bush because while Princess Diana is still much loved by many Americans, her ex-husband is seen and dull and aloof - and bothhe and Camilla are widely blamed for the break-up of his marriage.

The trip, which has been planned for three years, was being portrayed as a "trade mission" and Charles and Camilla were expected to dine with Mr Bush and his wife Laura at the White House.

I wonder if Charles would have been allowed if he came with a Talon News correspondent.

This has to be bunk. I suspect that they cancelled it because of the media circus, but it would be interesting to know if some dope actually did use the divorce angle as one of the reasons.

Are there no divorcees in the Bush White House? I can't believe there aren't.