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Saturday, March 12, 2005

Under Lenin's banner for the second Five Year Plan!

Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production.

This winter, Washington has been roiled by revelations that a handful of columnists wrote in support of administration policies without disclosing they had accepted payments from the government. But the administration's efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source.

Federal agencies are forthright with broadcasters about the origin of the news segments they distribute. The reports themselves, though, are designed to fit seamlessly into the typical local news broadcast. In most cases, the "reporters" are careful not to state in the segment that they work for the government. Their reports generally avoid overt ideological appeals. Instead, the government's news-making apparatus has produced a quiet drumbeat of broadcasts describing a vigilant and compassionate administration.

Some reports were produced to support the administration's most cherished policy objectives, like regime change in Iraq or Medicare reform. Others focused on less prominent matters, like the administration's efforts to offer free after-school tutoring, its campaign to curb childhood obesity, its initiatives to preserve forests and wetlands, its plans to fight computer viruses, even its attempts to fight holiday drunken driving. They often feature "interviews" with senior administration officials in which questions are scripted and answers rehearsed. Critics, though, are excluded, as are any hints of mismanagement, waste or controversy.


In interviews, though, press officers for several federal agencies said the president's prohibition did not apply to government-made television news segments, also known as video news releases. They described the segments as factual, politically neutral and useful to viewers. They insisted that there was no similarity to the case of Armstrong Williams, a conservative columnist who promoted the administration's chief education initiative, the No Child Left Behind Act, without disclosing $240,000 in payments from the Education Department.

What is more, these officials argued, it is the responsibility of television news directors to inform viewers that a segment about the government was in fact written by the government. "Talk to the television stations that ran it without attribution," said William A. Pierce, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services. "This is not our problem. We can't be held responsible for their actions."

Yet in three separate opinions in the past year, the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress that studies the federal government and its expenditures, has held that government-made news segments may constitute improper "covert propaganda" even if their origin is made clear to the television stations. The point, the office said, is whether viewers know the origin. Last month, in its most recent finding, the G.A.O. said federal agencies may not produce prepackaged news reports "that conceal or do not clearly identify for the television viewing audience that the agency was the source of those materials."

It is not certain, though, whether the office's pronouncements will have much practical effect. Although a few federal agencies have stopped making television news segments, others continue. And on Friday, the Justice Department and the Office of Management and Budget circulated a memorandum instructing all executive branch agencies to ignore the G.A.O. findings. The memorandum said the G.A.O. failed to distinguish between covert propaganda and "purely informational" news segments made by the government. Such informational segments are legal, the memorandum said, whether or not an agency's role in producing them is disclosed to viewers.

And Comrade Gonzales serves the Party once more.

Talking Big

Daniel Munz sitting in over at Ezra Klein's place takes issue with Matt Welch's post in which he says:

There's a better and arguably more attractive ideological option than being anti–"pro–free market," and it's sitting right in front of the Democrats' noses. When the party you despise controls most of the levers of government, it's an excellent time to run against government.

Disparate threads of limited-government rhetoric have begun to pop through the seams of the New Old Left unity. In the wake of the gay marriage wipeout and unpopular federal laws concerning the environment and medical marijuana, many Blue Staters are rediscovering the joys of federalism. "Fiscal responsibility" has cemented itself as boilerplate Democratic rhetoric, and not just as an excuse to jack up tax rates: Rising Democratic star Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico, has been drawing praise from Cato for slashing his state's income taxes, and pushing his fellow Democratic governors to follow his lead.

Munz disagrees entirely saying:

Unless we're willing to abandon things like Medicare, Social Security, and good public education, we'll never be able to take the argument to its logical conclusion. Opponents will say we're half-assing an ideological commitment because it polls well. And if we adopt any strategy that garners Megadittoes from the guys at Cato, they'll be right. More importantly, it's not who we are. Liberals don't dislike government. To many liberals, Reagan's declaration that "government is the problem" amounted to political hate speech. I still bristle at Clinton's "era of big government" schtick.

Just to make it confusing, I'll agree and disagree with both of them.

I think Muntz is right that any tack to the right on "big government" will just further enable the wingnuts. We've gone as fur as we can go. (Richardson, in my opinion, is further degrading the liberal philosophy with his harping on more tax cuts.) Munz offers "We are the party of Real Solutions That Help Real People," as a slogan. It's not bad but I think liberalism is a lot bigger than that and we can make a much more compelling case.

Liberal beliefs are rooted in a belief in civil liberties and the American ideals of justice, fairness and equality, which offer a bit more inspiration than just saying that government helps people. American liberalism holds that democratic government is the only institution that can guarantee those ideals. Our concept of social justice follows from that. I think it's important that we continuously marry these concepts together so the principles are entwined in people minds along with the practical result. People need to feel that their politics are tied to big ideas, even if it's really just "freedom plus groceries" as Matt Yglesias so prosaically summed it up. And, in fact, liberalism is tied to big principles that we should constantly reinforce in our rhetoric. One of the reasons our politicians sound dull as dishwater is our laundry list style of communication.

In a practical sense, however, I think that Welch is right to say that there are some attractive ideological options presenting themselves but they have nothing to do with the specific issues he discusses. They are interesting in that they come from a slightly different direction than the usual liberal agenda, but they are representative of liberal first principles and give us a fresh opportunity to talk about our beliefs in a bigger sense. (Some of you are aware that I'm intrigued by the idea of forming a privacy/civil liberties coalition within the party to work on splitting off certain western MYOB types from the southern conservative evangelical base of the GOP and I think this might be helful to that end as well.)

This Choice Point scandal, for instance, is just the tip of the iceberg regarding corporate intrusion into people's personal business without their knowledge and then selling the information to anyone who asks for it. This is a huge unregulated business that illustrates once again how dangerous the market can be to the individual when there is no government oversight. This issue represents an opportunity for us to make an affirmative case for regulation and consumer rights, pulling our belief in a personal right to privacy into the argument.

It also dovetails with the Republican assault on the Bill of Rights (the second amendment excepted, of course.) Liberals have a long and illustrious history of fighting for civil liberties. Freedom is not a word that traditionally belongs to conservatives except when it comes to property. As we see them willing to justify shredding the 4th amendment with a sweeping redefinition of executive branch power, I think we have every right to question whether their alleged commitment to liberty as expressed in the Bill of Rights, and the principles they represent, is anything more than an elaborate marketing scheme.

Whether or not there is any practical point in appealing to certain libertarian impulses in the American character is debatable but I think it is incumbent that we bring our big principles into the argument in some way. The bible isn't the only source of "values" symbols and I would argue that liberals actually have a greater claim to the shared American symbols of the founding documents.

Here's a little insight into how the GOP plans to "market" liberty from Frank Luntz:

As you are well aware, communication does not exist solely in our words, either written or spoken. Americans draw upon a shared well of symbols, images that evoke concepts fundamental to our country. As our politics are produced with these concepts in mind — freedom, liberty, opportunity — there are timeless American images that match them. Communicating policies within that context and harnessing these symbols to match their principles is perhaps the most powerful form of communication there is.

When you speak of the 2005 legislative agenda, do not be afraid to wax poetic about this link between American icons of freedom and opportunity and the very legislation that you are discussing. It will not seem trite. It will not appear sordid. Indeed, will resonate with a power that cannot match that of your words and phrases. Language is your base. Symbols knock it out of the park.

He's right. But rather than being cheap and manipulative and trying to finesse words like fairness to mean "equality of opportunity" let's just tell it like it is. I'll give it a stab.

The case for responsive government that provides services to the people and keeps the market functioning in a healthy way springs from the liberal belief in justice, equality and liberty. The bill of rights is the founding document of American liberalism.

We believe that while property rights are fundamental to American law, liberty means more than property rights only. There is a reason that Thomas Jefferson wrote "life liberty and the pursuit of happiness" instead of the more familiar (at the time) "life liberty and property" in the declaration. Even then, America was about more than this cramped view that freedom is nothing more than freedom from taxes. Freedom is also the inherant right of each individual to dominion over his or her identity, body and mind.

We believe in free speech and freedom of religion with almost no exceptions because no individual can be trusted to make such distinctions without prejudice. We believe in the right to a fair trial and we believe that those who represent the government must be held to a very high standard due to the natural temptations the government's awesome judicial and police power can present. We cannot have a free society where government does not adhere to the rule of law.

We have fought for universal suffrage, labor laws, civil rights and the right to privacy among many other things because we believe in fairness, equality and social justice. We believe those principles require a society such as ours to ensure that all people can live a decent and dignified life. We think that democratic government, being directly accountable to the people, is the best institution through which those pinciples can be successfully translated into action. We are always on the side of progress, looking forward, stepping into the future.

The founding fathers were liberals. Our tradition is as American as apple pie.


Friday, March 11, 2005

Talking Ids

The Atlantic features a fascinating article this month about talk radio in which the author goes behind the scenes of a popular radio show here in LA. He examines the entire ethos of the business while focusing on one right wing talk show host named John Zeigler.

A couple of things about the business itself stuck out at me. Evidently, they really do make the case that it isn't right wing politics that make them successful; it's the "stimulating" nature of their format:

KFI management's explanation of "stimulating" is apposite, if a bit slippery. Following is an excerpted transcript of a May 25 Q & A with Ms. Robin Bertolucci, the station's intelligent, highly successful, and sort of hypnotically intimidating Program Director. (The haphazard start is because the interviewing skills behind the Q parts are marginal; the excerpt gets more interesting as it goes along.)
Q: Is there some compact way to describe KFI's programming philosophy?
A: "What we call ourselves is 'More Stimulating Talk Radio.'"
Q: Pretty much got that part already.
A: "That is the slogan that we try to express every minute on the air. Of being stimulating. Being informative, being entertaining, being energetic, being dynamic … The way we do it is a marriage of information and stimulating entertainment."
Q: What exactly is it that makes information entertaining?
A: "It's attitudinal, it's emotional."
Q: Can you explain this attitudinal component?
A: "I think 'stimulating' really sums it up. It's what we really try to do."
Q: [strangled frustration noises]
A: "Look, our station logo is in orange and black, and white—it's a stark, aggressive look. I think that typifies it. The attitude. A little in-your-face. We're not … stodgy."

Ok, she's a bozo, but probably less of a bozo than she sounds. The article doesn't go there, but I strongly suspect that when you have an 800 pound elephant like Rush as your drive time cash cow, you'd better stimulate in a very particular way, if you know what I mean. She just can't say that. This is particularly true in a business that is monopolized by a very few companies:

Radio has become a more lucrative business than most people know. Throughout most of the past decade, the industry's revenues have increased by more than 10 percent a year. The average cash-flow margin for major radio companies is 40 percent, compared with more like 15 percent for large TV networks; and the mean price paid for a radio station has gone from eight to more than thirteen times cash flow. Some of this extreme profitability, and thus the structure of the industry, is due to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which allows radio companies to acquire up to eight stations in a given market and to control as much as 35 percent of a market's total ad revenues. The emergence of huge, dominant radio conglomerates like Clear Channel and Infinity is a direct consequence of the '96 Act (which the FCC, aided by the very conservative D.C. Court of Appeals, has lately tried to make even more permissive). And these radio conglomerates enjoy not just substantial economies of scale but almost unprecedented degrees of business integration.

Example: Clear Channel Communications Inc. now owns KFI AM-640, plus two other AM stations and five FMs in the Los Angeles market. It also owns Premiere Radio Networks. It also owns the Airwatch subscription news/traffic service. And it designs and manufactures Prophet, KFI's operating system, which is state-of-the-art and much too expensive for most independent stations. All told, Clear Channel currently owns some 1,200 radio stations nationwide.

The article goes on to discuss just how specious the ratings system really is and how much it depends on guesswork to determine who is listening and in what numbers:

An abiding question: Who exactly listens to political talk radio? Arbitron Inc. and some of its satellites can help measure how many are listening for how long and when, and they provide some rough age data and demographic specs. A lot of the rest is guesswork, and Program Directors don't like to talk about it.

These big companies control as much as 35% of a market's total ad revenue and they set the prices for these ads based mostly on "guess work." Deregulation is credited with creating these big companies and enabling the economies of scale that are bringing them such huge profits. And the political view that dominates almost all talk radio station in the nation is Republican, the party that supports deregulation. A coincidence I'm sure.

The article looks closely at this guy John Ziegler who may or may not be typical of right wing radio hosts. His self righteous sense of victimization sounds so typical, however, that I think he may be fairly indicative of what makes people like this get up in the morning. He's certainly a misfit. His main beef (although there are endless beefs) is that political correctness has cost him a decent life. He said something that people called racist and he thinks it was unfair. He said some things that people called sexist he feels put upon. The author of the piece is inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt but I see the problem entirely differently.

He used the word "nigger". Speaking of "the Arab world" he says, "We're not perfect, we suck a lot of the time, but we are better as a people, as a culture, and as a society than they are, and we need to recognize that, so that we can possibly even begin to deal with the evil that we are facing." And he goes absolutely nuts when people say that he is racist for saying these things.

What wingnuts like him don't understand about this is that when they openly embrace the party of Strom Thurmond and Phyllis Schlaffley and Jesse Helms, they carry their extra baggage and they need to choose their words more carefully than others. The context in which he said those things could show that he wasn't a racist but when you are a card carrying right winger don't be surprised if people jump to conclusions.

They certainly have no trouble applying this standard to members of the party of alleged traitors like Michael Moore when they do not carefully choose their words on the subjects of terrorism and war. For some reason conservatives believe that the scourge of "political correctness" only goes one way when it is clear that they are enforcing speech codes just as rigid as anything seen on an ivy league campus. Instead, when they are called on their insensitive and racist remarks they immediately retreat into a whining mass of self pity (while they sit in the corner sputtering that liberals must disavow Ward Churchill's every utterance.) As Thomas Frank so convincingly proved in "What's The Matter With Kansas" this sense of grievance is simply what makes guys like him tick. In fact, there seems to be an abiding sense of grievance in parts of the American character that has manifested itself successfully in the right wing talk format.

I urge you to read this whole article if you can. It's a fascinating look into a world that is as unglamorous as you can get and still be called media. (Well, except for blogging.) Talk radio is more than entertainment. Way more. It's the conservative id.

High School Confidential

Hudson over at Daily Kos has posted a provocative piece about a Republican tactic he calls "fencing." He accurately describes this process of ritual humiliation that's become a standard part of the Republican playbook over the last few years, the purpose of which is to "fence off" voters from feeling comfortable identifying with the Democrats and candidates who are widely seen as socially marginalized objects of derision --- effeminate geeks. I suspect this tactic works particularly well with certain sub-sets of white males whose identity is wrapped up in machismo and high school jock style social hierarchies ---- and the women who buy into those simple heuristic methods of determining leadership capability.(Old Mudcat pretty much came right out and said it. "It's a macho thing.")

Clearly, this tactic has been used to great effect in the last two presidential elections and I think it plays particularly well into the existing stereotypes of the two parties with respect to national security. Of course, one of the reasons this works so well is that it is partially designed to appeal to the media's puerile sense of bitchy good fun, as well. It would not be nearly as effective if the MSM could resist the immature temptation to side with those they perceive as "real guys" and help them deride Democrats as weirdos and sissies.

Bob Sommerby has meticulously detailed the media's heinous treatment of Al Gore in 2000. Here's just one example:


Washington (June 14)—As Al Gore kicks off his presidential campaign on the front porch of his family’s hobby farm near Carthage, Tennessee, Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson will lead credentialed reporters on a tour of the real Gore homestead—the 8th floor hotel rooms that used to be the Gore suite of the former Ritz Carlton on Washington’s Embassy Row…

Nicholson will arrive at the hotel (now known as the Westin Fairfax and previously called the Ritz Carlton) in a mule-drawn carriage at 10:30, and will then hold a news conference at the hotel’s “Terrace Room” before giving reporters a tour of the former Gore suite.

Here's how Time magazine dealt with the charming little stunt:

Meet Al-oise

Al Gore's childhood is the stuff of classics. Specifically, the children's classic Eloise, by Kay Thompson. Both Al and Eloise lived in a hotel, both were born in the late '40s, both had busy parents, both have had to wage wars on boredom. And this month, the Eloise licensing campaign heats up with dolls, furniture and collectibles.

I won't bore you with all the reasons that was such a nasty little piece of work but it doesn't take a genius to see that the mention of Gore with dolls, boredom, rich parents and a spoiled little girl was no accident. Suffice to say that the press corps snorted in derisive delight and never looked back.

However, this ritual humiliation goes all the way back to Dukakis, at least, with the tank picture. Clinton was a little more difficult to paint with this stuff because he was a known womanizer and they weren't able to turn him into a sexless geek or a cartoon pansy, even with the allegedly ballbusting wife. In the end they were reduced to calling him a pervert for liking blow jobs which didn't work all that well, for obvious reasons. Kerry, however, was the subject of constant derision along this line. As Hudson points out:

In the Bush-Kerry campaign, "fencing" mostly took the form of playground insults and other humiliations:

Kerry looks French. Kerry spends a fortune on haircuts. Kerry is vain and pompous. Kerry has funny hair. Kerry's voice is funny. Kerry reminds people of Lerch on The Munsters. Kerry wears Lycra--fluorescent-striped Lycra. Kerry rides a fancy European bike. Kerry looks fruity when he windsurfs. Kerry wears expensive suits, ties, sunglasses, shoes and belts. Kerry asks for French mustard when he orders a hot dog...

They didn't exactly make a secret of it.

Karl Rove telegraphs a punch: "the GOP convention will portray Kerry as "an object of humor and calculated derision." Meanwhile, Senator Trent Lott throws a haymaker at a 'French-speaking socialist'

The convention, of course, famously featured those cute little band-aids. Dirty trickster Morton Blackwell took the heat before the press for it, but clearly it was planned at a much higher level. Perversely, this playground bully humor actually plays better if some "grownups" wag their fingers and show their disapproval. Mudcat's macho guys just roar off in their fast cars spraying gravel in everybody's faces while their sycophants cheer wildly on the sidelines. They actually gain currency when people tut-tut their nasty little jokes.

While talk radio is a purely macho power game, I think it's interesting that in the mainstream media so many of the right wing pundits and their allegedly objective colleagues characterize a slightly different version of high school power structure --- the snotty Heathers. Tucker Carlson, Robert Novak and chief dominatrix Ann Coulter personify the nasty tone and rigid hierarchy of the "popular girls." Perhaps it is because guys like Tucker and Rich Lowry and Jonah Goldberg simply cannot credibly be seen as macho so this is the best they can do. (Coulter is in a class by herself.)But regardless of whether they are the macho jocks in the fast cars or the mean girl Queen Bees, they all smoothly work together to inflict the same adolescent ritual humiliation.

All of this is to say that there has long been a campaign to emasculate Democrats. (I suspect that there is a corollary in the defeminization of Democratic women as well.) This is powerful stuff and we'd best admit that it is going on so that we can formulate a response that actually works. Right now, we either try to out-manly them or we laugh it off, neither of which are working. (The worst advice that Paul Begala ever took was when Tucker Carlson told him to laugh when these kind of insults are hurled. He often sounds like a nervous hyena they come so fast and furiously and it has the effect of making him appear slightly unhinged.)

I think this tactic plays into many people's anxiety about changing social and gender roles in our fast moving society. A lot of folks out there are genuinely freaked out by the rapid pace of change and because of it are very susceptible to rigid stereotypes. They just feel more comfortable on the side of the fence where the macho high school boys and the girls who love them are. It's very hard to even get them to peek over and see what's on the other side.

And all people refuse vote for someone whom they think of as weak. It goes to the very essence of what leadership is. Half the country is obviously able to see past this little high school game and evaluate the strength of a candidates on the basis of something other than image and macho rhetoric. The other half is clearly in thrall to the manufactured Hollywood image of manly leadership.

I'm not entirely sure what to do about this, but I think dealing with it is far more important than any single stand we take on foreign policy. The people who Peter Beinart thinks to reach are not going to be impressed with historical references to faceless "fighting liberals" of the 50's. This aversion to voting for Democrats on the basis of national security is much more primal than that and it needs to be dealt with in the same way.

Any ideas?

Wajda Expect?

Here is the problem when you put a person known as a war criminal back into a war zone in a position of responsibility. When stuff likethis happens it looks really, really, bad.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. troops who mistakenly killed an Italian intelligence agent last week on the road to Baghdad's airport were part of extra security provided by the U.S. Army to protect U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, a U.S. official said Thursday.

Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari was killed March 4 when U.S. troops opened fire on a car carrying him and Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who had just been freed from insurgents.

"The mobile patrol was there to enhance security because Ambassador Negroponte was expected through," U.S. Embassy spokesman Robert Callahan said, confirming reports in Italian media. The newspaper La Repubblica reported Wednesday that the checkpoint had been "set up to protect the passage of Ambassador Negroponte."

It was not known if Negroponte, who was nominated last month by President Bush to be the new director of national intelligence, had already passed through the checkpoint.

When you have a guy with a reputation for enabling death squads involved in something like this you tend not to get the benefit of the doubt. Not that we care, apparently. Still, it's just a tad embarrassing for the United States of Spreading Democracy to have to even try to explain to the world why once again John Negroponte is right smack in the middle of another hugely controversial shooting of innocent people. I know democracy is untidy and all, but this is ridiculous.

If this is true it defies belief that the government hasn't known that this was the case since the first day. I wonder why they forgot to mention it?


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Of The Party,By The Party, For The Party

The next time a wingnut (or anybody) scolds you for being hyperbolic when you call the Republicans undemocratic authoritarians send them here. This report outlines the jackboot tactics of these legislators as they pretty much shut down any form of debate in the congress and govern by one party rule. Their hypocrisy, as always, is astonishing.

For those of you who don't remember the early 90's, there was an incessant whine and beating of breasts about the unfairness of the Democratic leadership and how they were elitists whose terms had to be limited in order to bring back the founders' dream of a citizen legislator who put the people before themselves and the good of all before their party. I think people finally voted them into power in 1994 just to make them shut their mewling gobs as much as anything. And waddaya know? Once in power they are far, far worse than anything the Democrats ever dreamed of. What are the odds?

I realize that the concept of hypocrisy had been retired so there is no point in pursuing this line of thinking. But when you come across the occasional wingnut who says "the Democrats were worse" it would be handy to have read this report in detail so you can slap the supercilious smirk off his face.

Time To Step Up

Ezra has been trying to find a way to accomodate the DLC in this polarized political world, and I appreciate his efforts to think it through. Today, however, he lost all patience with them. And he points out something that is very important. The DLC is always pushing the leadership to defy the shibboleths and toss aside interest groups to prove that they are the not captive of tired old fashioned thinking. Well, the DLC needs to take a page out of its own blueprint and defy the corporate establishment on the bankruptcy bill. It is the most heinous piece of legislation to come out of the republican congress so far and it is a potent symbol of the worst kind of special interest manipulation in that it blatantly hurts middle americans while protecting the interests of the rich and big business. They need to step up and do a little Sistah-Soljah on their ass.

I'm all for the big tent, but there is no excuse for the DLC not to understand how fundamental this kind of corporate racketeering is to average Americans. It goes against everything Democrats believe in. At some point you've got to pick a side. This is one. Social Security is another. These aren't abstractions about the global economy or deregulation. This is about real, red blooded American people who are going to be hurt at the expense of greedy corporations and radical ideology. That is where the line must be drawn. The DLC could do a lot for its credibility with the rank and file if it would acknowledge this and make an effort to distinguish itself from horrors like this bankruptcy legislation. There is no good reason for them not to.

The Vig

Atrios helpfully links to a freeper thread (so I don't have to) in which they just discover that the bankruptcy bill is an abomination. My favorite quote is, "Conservatism must mean something more than simply doing what pleases big business." There's some serious cognitive dissonence going on over there.

Here's the nurse now with a quick Kool-aid injection:

The administration supports the passage of bankruptcy reform because ultimately this will lead to more accessibility to credit for more Americans, particularly lower-income workers," said Trent D. Duffy, a deputy White House spokesman. "The fact that the Senate was able to set aside those issues and move toward passage shows it's another bipartisan accomplishment.

I won't go into why the Senate "Useful Idiot" Club felt they had to enable Dear Leader to once again claim a bipartisan victory. I hope that they will hear from their contituents loud and clear, however. From the reaction in the blogosphere, anyway, there is some serious bipartisan shock and disgust at this bill.

I had thought that this bill was a bit of kabuki to placate the credit card companies. I never bought that the abortion amendment was really enough to keep the bill from passing the house if Tom Delay wanted it to pass. My reasoning was that nobody wanted to shut down the gravy train of consumer spending that was propping up this economy. And I figured that even if they felt they had to pass the bankruptcy provisions this time that they would use the opportunity to set a cap on these interest rates in order to keep the party going for a while. But, as with every other piece of domestic legislation, there isn't even a single thought given anymore to the health of the economy as a whole. It's just ad hoc pay-offs dependent on how much a particular special interest has slipped into the pockets of certain senators.

I certainly hope that anyone running against a Republican in '06 (or incumbent Dem who voted with the pigs yesterday) makes hay out of this, and not just the bankruptcy bill itself, but the way that they enabled the credit card companies to continue charging usury rates of 30-40-50% interest while preventing people from declaring bankruptcy when they get caught in that increasing spiral. Everyday Americans know about credit card bills. Many people are finding out the hard way that if they are late with one bill all their credit card interest rates can very unexpectedly rise to a ridiculous level and compound a reasonable amount of debt into an unaffordable one. Or they are finding that their credit score drops when they take on a certain level of debt for a large purchase or an unexpected emergency like medical bills, thus triggering another huge rise in their interest rates across the board. Average, hard working folks I know in real life have been complaining about suddenly finding that their minimum payment has doubled from one month to the next because of completely unforseen circumstances. That the credit card companies are making record profits at the time they are whining about bankruptcy proves that this is just pure, unadulterated greed. It's a racket and these pigs in congress just put their personal USDA stamp of approval on it. It is an outrage.

We are seeing the outlines of a potent broadside against the Republicans in 2006 if we are only bold enough to take it. Social Security privatization and this bankruptcy bill are full throated attacks on the middle and working class in this country. They are asking working Americans to take on more and more risk in order to enrich and protect big business. They want to cut your taxes by a couple of bucks and then force you to put thousands more into the hands of their friends on wall street and the big banks.

You can tell that the White House is aware of this by their typically orwellian formulation of the bill:

ultimately this will lead to more accessibility to credit for more Americans, particularly lower-income workers.

Has there ever been an administration with more gall? Low income workers already have access to loan sharks. The vig is the same, either way. Maybe next year they'll pass legislation allowing the credit card companies to break your legs if you are unable to pay. It works for Tony Soprano, why not the Republican Mob?

I dearly hope that the Democrats are planning to nationalize these midterms and go after this administration with a fiery populist message.The time is ripe and this hits people right where they live. Even if we do not gain any seats, it's imperative that we begin to make the argument that the Republicans own the government and that they are using their power corruptly. When the shit comes down, and it will, we must have very carefully laid out the case that this abdication of all common sense and concern for average Americans defines this corrupt Republican establishment.


Monday, March 07, 2005

Tears Of A Klein

It turns out that Joe Klein is even thicker that I took him for. Josh Marshall put out a call to find cases where Klein explained his bizarre theory that social security would have to be privatized because we have moved from an industrial age to an information age.

Google has oodles of cites and none of them make any damned sense whatsoever. Here are a couple you might enjoy:

Joe Klein

Oh, it changed dramatically. Welfare, the Welfare Reform Programme, which I was opposed to, I was wrong, it has been a tremendous success and I'll tell you why. Because Clinton had a coherent governing philosophy, which Tony Blair shares to a certain extent, which is that in the Information Age, you don't deliver public services the same way you did in the Industrial Age. You don't rule out huge bureaucracies, what you do is give targeted cash payments. He gave targeted cash payments to the working poor, so that if you were a mother on welfare, after, you know, after eight years of Clinton, you got $5,000 more a year, you kept your health benefit and your children got health benefits. That was no small thing. If you were middle class or below, you got college tuition tax credits, 10 million Americans take advantage of this. This is a social programme on a scale that dwarfs the GI Bill of Rights, which everybody speaks of as one of the great American social triumphs.

Charles Wheeler: Doesn't dwarf the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson does it?

Joe Klein: The Great Society was an utter failure because it helped to contribute to social irresponsibility at the very bottom.

Oh my, I'll bet that started a clatter of teaspoons in Georgtown, didn't it? What a ballsy, no-nonsense, manly statement, and him a tried and true liberal, don't you know. (And after he wrote that nasty book about Clinton and the black women, too.)

Yet, for some reason I still don't quite understand why exactly in the information age you don't deliver public services the same way you did in the industrial age. If he's talking about automatic deposit and e-filing your taxes, then I guess he's right. But I still don't see what these targeted cash payments or tuition tax credits have to do with the information age or why they are so superior and don't contribute to the social irresponsibility among the darkies ... er ... I mean "those at the very bottom." (And is it even slightly believable that it dwarfs the GI Bill? is he talking about unadjusted 1953 dollars?)

Here he takes another stab at it:

Clinton did come to the presidency with a coherent, long term political philosophy and purpose. To a very great extent--a surprising extent--he lived up to it. I know because I was there and I was one of those who was involved in the formulating of this new philosophy, which has been called The Third Way. There was a general understanding that the Democratic Party had gone off the deep end and needed to come back. Clinton once told me that when he was hoping to be Mario Cuomo's vice president, the job of the next president is going to be to move us from the Industrial Age to the Information Age.

Government was, and very much still remains, the last of our major institutions that stuck in the Industrial Age, where the paradigm is top-down, centralized command and control, assembly line, standardization, and one size fits all.

In the Information Age, Clinton knew that the paradigm was the computer, that the government had to be more decentralized, that bureaucracies had to become more flexible, and that our social safety net had to reflect that--the fact that people had more information and have to have more choices about where they get their health care, where their money for their retirement is held, and so on.

The government has to be more like a computer. Bureaucracies have to be more flexible and our social safety net has to reflect that because people have more information so they have to have more choices about where they get their health care and where they put their retirement money. Huh?

I can't find anywhere where Klein actually explains why we need to have all these choices about our safety net or why having more information compels it. Indeed, as Josh Marshall pointed out earlier, it is counterintuitive. In a world in which people are asked to take many more chances in their careers, where pensions really are a relic of the past, where health care can be yanked from beneath you in a moments notice, it seems to me that government guarantees of basic security are more important than ever.

Klein's DLC catechism has all the markings of someone who jumped on a sexy trend when he was younger and hasn't realized the fashion has changed. There is no there, there. He's like one of those e-venture capitalists of the late 90's spewing fast talking bullshit about "new organizational paradigms where knowledge is defined in terms of potential for action as distinguished from information and its more intimate link with performance." In other words, gibberish.

It was fashionable for one brief period to think that turning government into a collection of kewl, outsourced, totally, like, stand alone pods of individualized data collection and service modules, but most people sobered up sometime in early 2000. It was always crap.

Clinton did what he could to survive, reframe the Democratic image and move the country forward while under monumental pressure from the opposition. I do not blame him for doing what he did. But I have never understood that this discredited e-commerce comic book version of government was his vision. If it was, I imagine his enthusiasm has cooled by this time. Crashing stock markets and huge crony capitalist boondoggles generally make intelligent people think twice about utopian capitalist wet dreams. Klein doesn't seem to have gotten the memo.

And, by the way, who knew that Joe Klein was personally involved in formulating the "third way?" Funny, I thought he was just a bad journalist and a worse novelist. I had no idea he was such an open Democratic partisan. Frankly, I think he would have been more helpful to the cause if he'd simply shut his gossiping, moralizing, judgmental trap during the administration.

Do What You Can

Democrats.com has a nice form to e-mail your Senators to filibuster the bankruptcy bill. They are scheduled to vote tomorrow. This is a seriously egregious bill that no Democrat (Joe Biden) should back under any circumstances, but it looks like it will pass this time unless somebody filibusters.

The most amazing thing about this is that while they are drastically reducing the ability of people to get a fresh start and seize more of their assets, they are also going to allow the credit card companies to charge usury rates to these very same people. It's like something out of Dickens.

Click here if you have a few minutes, or make a call if you have more than a few minutes and make your wishes known.

Update: Julia at Sisyphus Shrugged pointed me to No More Mr Nice Blog's interesting insight into Charles "Let 'Em Eat Pancakes" Grassley's view toward Christian charity:

Grassley now:

A national group of Christian lawyers is appealing to church leaders to join them in lobbying against the bankruptcy reform bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Ia.

The lawyers say the legislation runs contrary to the forgiveness of debt and charity required by the Bible....

In response, Grassley said Congress could not be bound by biblical mandates because "the Constitution does not provide for a theocracy."

"I can't listen to Christian lawyers because I would be imposing the Bible on a diverse population," Grassley said.

--Des Moines Register, 3/4/05


Grassley then:

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: ... It's odd that one of those -- there has been some condemnation of him because of his religious beliefs. It's a sad commentary that John Ashcroft's Christian religious beliefs can't be considered an asset in the same vein that Joseph Lieberman's religious faith was considered an asset during the last election.

--discussing the pending confirmation of John Ashcroft, PBS NewsHour, 1/18/01

On Friday, June 19, 1998, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Protection Act, S.1244. The new law will protect tithing and charitable giving under the federal bankruptcy code.

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa introduced the legislation last year....

In addition to protecting from federal bankruptcy courts the donations made to a church through tithing or to a tax-exempt charity through an established pattern of giving, the Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Protection Act also restores the right of debtors to tithe and give charitably after declaring bankruptcy under Chapter 13....

--Grassley press release

On June 12, 1995, the Senate initiated debate on the CDA [Communications Decency Act]...

The entire Senate debate, spearheaded by Senator Exon and Republicans Dan Coats and Charles Grassley, was informed by the sensibilities of the religious right. The Senators read letters from the Christian Coalition and from Bruce Taylor [of the National Law Center for Children and Families] into the record....

--"The Religious Right and Internet Censorship" by Jonathan Wallace

Read This

Garance Franke-Ruta has a wonderful, must read piece up about the ways in which the left and right blogosphere work. When it comes to scalp hunting, the right is (as always) professional and funded. And once again the usual suspects are present:

Scratch the surface and the same names turn up in each scandal, revealing the events of mid-February to have been part of an ongoing and coordinated proxy war by Republican political operatives on the so-called liberal media, conducted through the vast, unmonitored loophole of the Internet.


But success bred change. Along has come a new group of bloggers who aren’t mere “citizens” at all. On the left side, some of these became deeply enmeshed with political parties, “527s,” and campaign advocacy groups -- and are now a new generation of no-holds-barred partisans and major party fund-raisers, the liberal equivalent of George W. Bush’s “Rangers” and “Pioneers.”

On the right, a number of these bloggers were already political operatives or worked at long-standing movement institutions before taking up residence online. They are, at best, the intellectual heirs of L. Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center and Reed Irvine, who founded the ultraconservative, media-hounding nonprofit organization Accuracy In Media (AIM) in 1969 as part of the first generation of post–Barry Goldwater right-wing institutions. At worst, they're the protégés of conservative fund-raiser Richard Viguerie and dirty-tricks master Morton Blackwell, who has tutored conservative activists since 1965, most recently mocking John Kerry at the Republican national convention by distributing Band-Aids with purple hearts on them.

Which brings us back to Jordan. He was brought down not by outraged citizen-bloggers but by a mix of GOP operatives and military conservatives. Easongate.com, the blog that served as the clearinghouse for the attack on CNN, was helped along by Virginia-based Republican operative Mike Krempasky. From May 1999 through August 2003, Krempasky worked for Blackwell as the graduate development director of the Leadership Institute, an Arlington, Virginia–based school for conservative leaders founded by Blackwell in 1979. The institute is the organization that had provided “Gannon” with his sole media credential before he became a White House correspondent. It also now operates “Internet Activist Schools” designed to teach conservatives how to engage in “guerilla Internet activism.”

Indeed, Krempasky could be found teaching this Internet activism course one recent February weekend to about 30 young conservatives at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington. “He advocated that people write from their experience -- and not necessarily as conservatives,” a Democratic consultant who attended the seminar incognito told me. For example, Krempasky told “a conservative firefighter” that he should write about firefighting because that would be of interest to readers. Using that angle, he could build an audience. And if push ever came to shove, he could respond to an online dogfight from the unassailable position of being a firefighter -- and not as just another conservative ideologue. Krempasky then offered to help all the attendees set up their own blogs. “We’re definitely in serious trouble,” said the Democratic attendee.

The tactics Krempasky promotes are directly descended from those advocated by the late Reed Irvine of AIM, whose major funder was, for the past two decades, Richard Mellon Scaife. “Many bloggers and blog readers might not even know who Reed Irvine was, nor understand the debt we owe him as conservatives,” Krempasky wrote upon Irvine’s passing last year. “But that debt is tremendous.” In the late ’80s, Irvine had started the campaign to “Can Dan” Rather, coining the phrase “Rather Biased.” Last fall, Krempasky was operating the main anti-Rather site, Rathergate.com, and using Irvine’s slogan as a rallying cry to organize a vast letter-writing and e-mailing campaign “to contact CBS and express themselves,” as he put it in an interview with Bobby Eberle of GOPUSA, an activist Web site founded by Texas Republicans and now owned by Bruce Eberle (no relation), the proprietor of a conservative direct-mail firm. “Conservatives have operated through alternative media for 40 years, direct mail being the first one,” Krempasky told me, sitting in the food court of the Ronald Reagan International Building as the CPAC wound down. “As far as the Internet goes, conservatives have largely been ahead of the left.”

Also part of the Easongate.com team was La Shawn Barber, who writes a biweekly column for -- again, the name pops up -- GOPUSA and has written for AIM about “the Bush-bashing media.” Working alongside Krempasky and Barber was another site, RedState.org, “a Republican community weblog” registered with the Federal Election Commission as a 527. Krempasky helped found that site along with Senate staffer Ben Domenech, the chief speechwriter for Bush ally and Texas Senator John Cornyn; and former U.S. Army officer Josh Trevino, a conservative blogger who used to write under the name “Tacitus.” The goal of RedState.org? “[T]o unite … voices from government, politics, activism, civil society, and journalism” in service of the “construction of a Republican majority.”

Just read the whole thing. And then come back and we'll get Zephyr Teachout on the horn and get on that blogging ethics thing right away. I feel very confident that the right is going to be very happy to sign on. And then we can all sing Kumbaya and play Yahtzee.

Clearly the right blogosphere is more professional and more sophisticated than the left. They have fully incorporated it into their noise machine and added it to their bag of dirty tricks. We, on the other hand, are becoming adept internet detectives and clearing houses for citizen action. They are top down, we are grassroots. They are party apparatchiks, we are a vibrant political constituency in our own right. I'll put my money on us for the long term. Like their Leninist mentors, their edifice will fall of its own weight.

But in the meantime, I wonder how much more of these phony blogs are out there? Maybe this is a job for DKOS-CSI.

Seinfeld Reruns

I missed Press The Meat yesterday because it was interrupted for the LA marathon, so I didn't have the dubious pleasure of seeing Joe Klein make my point about the DLC being an anachronism --- or have the real pleasure of seeing Paul Krugman agree with me. Not that Klein is necessarily DLC but he represents the ossified views that took hold in the 90's. When he starts using tech boom jargon, you know that he's still lost in a haze of Monica's thong and Pets.com.

MR. JOE KLEIN: Well, it's kind of amazing and somewhat amusing to see the Republicans so much on the defensive on this issue right now. It's an unusual circumstance. I agree with Paul in that private accounts have nothing to do with solvency and solvency is the issue. I disagree with Paul because I think private accounts a terrific policy and that in the information age, you're going to need different kinds of structures in the entitlement area than you had in the industrial age. But it is very hard to do that kind of change under these political circumstances where you have the parties at such loggerheads.

I'd love to know what the logic is for his statement that we should have private accounts because we are in the information age as opposed to the industrial age. What, because we can get our account statements by e-mail? That is nothing but warmed over techno-babble you would have heard at Comdex circa 1997. He's badly in need of an upgrade.

I wrote below about the DLC, but Klein shows that many in the elite media are probably suffering from the same problem. Obviously, Paul Krugman sees the real issue:

MR. KRUGMAN: I think it's just wildly up in the air. I mean, you know, there's enormous turmoil on the Democratic side trying to figure out--there's a lot of unity but there's a lot of turmoil about what the party stands for. And I just don't know. I mean, I can't--I dread the prospect of a Clinton run just because I think that would be--it would be an attempt to recreate the politics of the '90s when you had Bill Clinton, who was a president who managed to sort of triangulate. And I think we ought to have an election that's really about what what kind of country we're going to be and we won't have that if it's Hillary Clinton running.


MR. KLEIN: Paul, I have a question for you: What was it about the peace and prosperity of the eight years of the Clinton administration that you didn't like?

MR. KRUGMAN: No, I liked the way the country ran.

MR. KLEIN: I think that he had a real governing philosophy. It wasn't triangulation. It was moving us from the industrial age to the information age, and that's where the Democratic Party is going to have to move...

MR. KRUGMAN: There's a radical right...

MR. KLEIN: ...if it wants to have any role in American politics.

MR. KRUGMAN: There's a radical right challenge to America as we know it that's under way, and I think the Democrats--I mean, maybe Hillary Clinton can do this. I'm actually not opposed to her, right? But they need to make clear that they are going to turn back that tide, not blur it.

MR. KLEIN: The answer to a radical right challenge isn't a reactionary left response.

No the answer is to keep making the same mistakes over and over again, apparently.

This is the essence of the argument within the Democratic Party right now. We either acknowledge the nature of the opposition and gather our courage to fight it with an affirmative defense of our beliefs and a willingness to take the fight to the Republicans or we continue with a constant tweaking of issues and small bore accomodation in the hopes that we can eke out a tiny win election to election, the latter of which I would find a dubious proposition what with the questionable "wins" we keep seeing in states run by Republicans.

Here's the problem. The other side is waging a battle for total political dominance. They are willing to do anything to achieve it from cheating at elections to government propaganda to spending billions on a travelling political spectacle to entertain the folks. We will not defeat them with pocket protector arguments about the information age (although if anyone were qualified to make such an argument it would be Paul Krugman, the quintessential economist geek.) I suspect the fact that Krugman sees the big picture while Klein is still floating on a cloud of Seinfeldian nostalgia speaks more to the fact that Krugman famously does not hob knob with the in crowd while Klein famously lives for it.

As Ari Berman points out in his article in The Nation, the DLC and the allegedly liberal media are one big circle jerk.

Update: Josh Marshall is also curious about Klein's bizarre statement that private accounts are required for this new information age. He's scouting for some evidence that Klein wasn't just blowing smoke because he didn't have a clue about the subject. I'm pretty sure he won't find it.

Our New UN Ambassador

At a 1994 panel discussion sponsored by the World Federalist Association Bolton claimed "there's no such thing as the United Nations," and stated ''if the UN secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.''

Bolton on China/Taiwan: "...diplomatic recognition of Taiwan would be just the kind of demonstration of U.S. leadership that the region needs and that many of its people hope for. The notion that China would actually respond with force is a fantasy."AEI web site, 8/9/99

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: "The Senate vote on the CTBT actually marks the beginning of a new realism on the issue of weapons of mass destruction and their global proliferation... the Senate vote is also an unmistakable signal that America rejects the illusionary protections of unenforceable treaties." The Jerusalem Post, 10/18/99

North Korea: "A sounder U.S. policy would start by making it clear to the North that we are indifferent to whether we ever have "normal" diplomatic relations with it, and that achieving that goal is entirely in their interests, not ours. We should also make clear that diplomatic normalization with the U.S. is only going to come when North Korea becomes a normal country." Los Angeles Times, 09/22/99

Sen. Jesse Helms on John Bolton: "John Bolton is the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon." Speech at American Enterprise Institute, 01/11/01

Past Scandals: As a young lawyer Bolton in 1978 Bolton helped Sen. Helms' National Congressional Club form Jefferson Marketing "as a vehicle to supply candidates with such services as advertising and direct mail without having to worry about the federal laws preventing PACs, like the Congressional Club, from contributing more than $5,000 per election to any one candidate's campaign committee" (Legal Times). He later defended the club against charges from the FEC that led to a $10,000 fine in 1986. As a reward for his service Sen. Helms "helped the career of John Bolton" by supporting him for his Department of Justice and State positions (Legal Times).

At the Justice Department, Bolton acted as the Department's "no man" refusing to provide congressional committees documents on Supreme Court nominees William Renquist, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy. He also refused to provide information, including his personal notes regarding the Iran-Contra scandal, and aided congressional Republicans who attempted to stop investigations of Contra drug smuggling.

After leaving the State Department under the first Bush Administration, Bolton headed the National Policy Forum which "reportedly pursued money from overseas" for the RNC (Los Angeles Times). The NPF defaulted on a $1.3 billion loan guaranteed by Hong Kong businessman Ambrous Young, whose lawyer claimed his willingness to absorb the debt was "contingent upon Mr. Young getting something in return," namely "business opportunities." The Taiwanese government "served as an intermediary for a $25,000 contribution" to the NPF(Washington Post). At his confirmation hearing Bolton acknowledged that he had received $30,000 from the Taiwanese government for writing a series of papers.

At his confirmation hearing Bolton defended his ability to separate his personal beliefs from his professional duties: "Of all the different jobs I've had in government, I've never had any allegations that I wasn't following the policies that were set." Actually, Bolton ignored administration policy while in the Reagan Justice Department when he held an unauthorized press conference lashing out at special prosecutors. His comments drew sharp criticism from the White House when spokesman Marlin Fitzwater called Bolton "intemperate and contentious."

I think an intemperate and contentious UN Ambassador (who believes there is no such thing as the UN) is just what the doctor ordered, don't you? Another excellent choice. I'm only sorry that Ted Bundy isn't available to head up the FBI. I understand he was a Republican.


Sunday, March 06, 2005

Crybaby Casey

Kevin Drum takes issue with the assertion that Bob Casey was denied his speaking spot because he refused to endorse the ticket as Atrios and I both posted yesterday. I think he's wrong.

Kevin cites a number of Democrats at the time who vaguely implied that Casey was axed because of his pro-life views, but none (except that clown Bob Beckel) that come out and say so. He concludes that it wasn't because of his pro-life view per se, but because he wanted to deliver a pro-life speech.

The truth is that Bob Casey was the biggest crybaby the Party has ever known and he personally perpetuated this story for his own purposes. This story was settled long ago by Michael Crowley who investigated this a lot closer to the time these events actually happened (1996) and put the story to rest. The Republicans have kept it going because it's such a nice example of Democratic intolerance. But it just ain't so.

You'll recall that Casey, a Democrat, was denied a speaking slot at his party's 1992 convention, allegedly, as The New York Times reported as recently as August 25, "because of his opposition to abortion rights." Now, as both parties bid up the stakes in the tolerance wars, the GOP has been using the purported muzzling of Casey to bludgeon the Democrats--and getting a free pass from the news media. "This is not like the Democratic convention in 1992, where the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, one of the biggest states in the nation, was prevented from speaking because he's pro-life," Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour said of his party's tightly controlled show in San Diego.

Since leaving office in 1995, Casey himself has rehearsed the tale ad nauseam. "The raging national debate about tolerance on the issue of abortion was ignited," Casey wrote in the August 23 Wall Street Journal, when "the party denied me ... the right to speak because I am pro-life and planned to say so from the convention podium." In Chicago, Casey delivered an impassioned pro-life speech Monday, railing against his party's imposed conformity.

But the story is not so simple. According to those who actually doled out the 1992 convention speaking slots, Casey was denied a turn for one simple reason: his refusal to endorse the Clinton-Gore ticket. "It's just not factual!" stammers James Carville, apoplectic over Casey's claims. "You'd have to be idiotic to give a speaking role to a person who hadn't even endorsed you." "Why are you doing this to me?" moans Paul Begala, who, with Carville, managed two Casey campaigns before joining Clinton's team in 1992. "I love Bob Casey, but my understanding was that the dispute was not about his right-to-life views, it was about the Clinton-Gore ticket."

The man best able to explain the decision was the late Ron Brown. He addressed the topic during a roundtable discussion of Clinton campaign veterans (published as Campaign for President: The Managers Look at '92). He explained:

We decided the convention would be totally geared towards the general election campaign, towards promoting our nominee and that everybody who had the microphone would have endorsed our nominee. That was a rule, everybody understood it, from Jesse Jackson to Jerry Brown.... The press reported incorrectly that Casey was denied access to the microphone because he was not pro-choice. He was denied access to the microphone because he had not endorsed Bill Clinton. I believe that Governor Casey knew that. I had made it clear to everybody. And yet it still got played as if it had to do with some ideological split. It had nothing to do with that.

Indeed, the more one examines the version offered by the Democratic hacks, the more compelling it seems. Casey's claims to a speaking slot were tenuous from the outset. He was about to retire from politics, and convention speeches are usually allotted to those running for re-election. "It wasn't like he was going to be on there and they said, `Well, you're off now,' or something," Carville says. Besides, Casey repeatedly bashed Clinton during the primaries, calling Clinton's success "very tragic." Less than three months before the '92 convention, he urged, "Convention rules provide for the selection of an alternative candidate. Let's pick a winner." Why would Clinton invite him to speak?

Casey doesn't dispute that he refused to endorse Clinton. Instead, he notes that Jerry Brown and his sister, Kathleen, also did not endorse, yet were both allowed to speak. Theirs, however, were special cases: Jerry Brown had won several hundred delegates in the primaries, and under convention rules was allowed to speak because his name was placed in nomination. Kathleen Brown, then a candidate for governor of California, was one of the party's highest-profile women (and, though she didn't endorse Clinton, she didn't endorse her own brother, either). Even a reluctant Jesse Jackson was coaxed into backing Clinton in exchange for his speaking slot. Furthermore, a slew of pro-life Democrats, including Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley Jr., Senators John Breaux and Howell Heflin, and five governors, did address the delegates in 1992. Though the speakers didn't dwell on abortion, party officials say they weren't barred from mentioning the issue.

Casey, for his part, offers little evidence for his version beyond his unswayable conviction that the party is out to get him. "I'm sure they were chagrined that I didn't endorse the ticket," he says. "But the overriding reason was that I was going to go up there and make the pro-life case." As he tells it, on July 2, 1992, he wrote to Ron Brown, then the party chairman, and on July 13 to Ann Richards, the chairwoman of the delegation, asking to give a pro-life speech at the convention. He never heard from either one.

Casey also sought to speak against the platform when it was presented for a vote. This wouldn't have entailed a prime-time speech. But in response all he received was a copy of a letter sent by the convention's general counsel to its parliamentarian, explaining that, according to platform committee rules, his request was "out of order." Casey found the perfunctory dismissal demeaning. He calls it "the kind of letter they might have sent Lyndon LaRouche."

Casey's claim that he fell victim to an orchestrated campaign to silence his pro-life views has never been proven and, based on the available evidence, isn't very persuasive. Its currency stems mostly from his indefatigable promulgation of it. Yet the media have accepted the story at face value. At the very least they should be aware that, in so doing, they are playing into Casey's--and the Republicans'--hands.

Here's what Bill Clinton had to say in "My Life" about the incident:

Governor Bob Casey, whom I admired for his tenacity in running three times before he won, had been very critical of me. He was strongly anti-abortion. As he struggled with his own life-threatening health problems, the issue became more and more important to him and he had a hard time supporting pro-choice candidates.


There was [also] a minor flap when Ron brown refused to let governor Bob Casey speak to the convention, not because he wanted to speak against abortion but because he wouldn't agree to endorse me. I was inclined to let Casey talk, because I liked him, respected the convictins of pro-life Democrats, and thought we could get alot of them to vote for us on other issues and on my pledge to make abortion "safe, legal and rare." But Ron was adamant. We could disagree on issues, he said, but no one should get the microphone who whasn't committed to victory in November. I respected the discipline with which he had built the party, and I deferred to his judgment.

It's clear to me that rather than being denied a speaking slot because he wanted to talk about abortion, Bob Casey (Zell Miller Jr) was denied a speaking spot because he refused to endorse a pro-choice candidate for the Democratic nomination. Who is the intolerant one here? And it sounds to me as if Clinton was ready to do a little Sistah Soljah-ing with a Casey speech but since Casey had been extremely unsupportive, Brown decided to pull his chain. I see no reason to disbelieve this. Casey was behaving like a spoiled ass and they decided not to reward him for it. Good for them. It was the most successful convention we ever had.

Just Say No

Atrios wisely points out that all this babble about cutting a deal to pre-fund social security even without the private accounts is nonsense. Holy Joe was on late Edition this morning moaning dolefully about how we must Do Something because, oh my, social security was in terrible trouble. And last night on Chris Matthews everyone very smugly agreed that the Democrats had to eventually come together with Republicans and craft a compromise that Bush (that clever devil) would then take credit for as he, in his awesome shrewd brilliance, always does. Norah O'Donnell was veritably gushing at how perfectly Bush will have played it. (He's so hot!)

I call bullshit on all of this. Atrios also links to Max Sawicky who also calls bullshit by pointing out what should be evident to any sentient being on the planet by now. THERE IS NO MARGIN IN COMPROMISING WITH REPUBLICANS!!! They lie. They cheat. And for everyone but Joementum a big old smooch on the lips isn't going to be enough to cover up the inevitable stab in the back.

I sincerely hope that any talk right now about compromise is merely poker playing because if it isn't we are well and truly screwed. It is key that all of us on the left keep up the pressure. We have to balance out the pressure from the business interests that are going to be putting the big squeeze on these people. Gotta let 'em know which side their bread is buttered on.

Someday, when crazy people aren't in charge, we will revisit the possible social security shortfall in 2042. Right now, we should just shut this bastard down. It's our best chance in decades to take the momentum away from these people and we should not flinch.

Confessions Of An Old New Democrat

Armando over on Kos has an interesting discussion going about the future of the DLC and why we can't just all get along. He cites Ari Berman's article in The Nation in which the DLC is portrayed as an organization that is more than a little bit frayed around the edges --- while the term “New Democrat” still provides some cover in regions that require some distance from "regular" Dems (e.g. latte swilling, volvo driving, NY Times reading assholes like me.) Except that until fairly recently I was a card carrying New Democrat myself.

I think perhaps that people have either blocked from their memories or were too young to remember the impetus for the DLC in the first place. By 1988, it really seemed as if the Democratic Party might not ever gain the presidency again, and it wasn't unreasonable to think so. We had had our asses kicked hugely every election since 1968, with the exception of Jimmy Carter who barely pulled out a win even after Richard Nixon had just been forced to resign in disgrace. And the congress was hardly a bastion of progressivism -- a large number of Senators and congressmen were old school Democrats who were far more in sync with the modern Republicans and many of them stayed with the party after 1968 simply to preserve their seniority and committee assignments. The Democrats had not been functioning as a majority party for quite some time and we were becoming desperate.

The DLC came along and started making interesting sounds about new strategies and market based policies that sounded fresh and interesting. I recall reading various articles in the late 80's in the usual places like TNR that seemed to me to be in the tradition of FDR-like experimentation. I was intrigued by the idea of trying out new ways to achieve our goals. Our rhetoric was stale and ineffective and I was longing for something different. The energy was all on the other side and I was willing to entertain new thinking to try to keep the Republicans from doing .... what they have done anyway. I thought the DLC was devilishly clever to do an end run around the Republicans and I was very interested in the prospect of co-opting their rhetoric and turning their own solutions back on them. I never bought their tactic of “distancing” themselves from Democratic interest groups but it was never very explicit in those days. It’s only recently that I’ve heard them making Stalinesque purge noises.

Mostly though, I resigned myself to continuing to lose for the foreseeable future. When a colleague said to me in 1991 that he thought Bush was out, I literally laughed in his face. It was unimaginable. If we were gong to lose anyway, I thought we might as well try to move in a new direction.

And then along came Clinton and the deck got scrambled big time. First and foremost, I think Democrats were simply dazzled to see a candidate garner such excitement after years and years of dull technocratic candidacies. We baby boomer Democrats had been waiting for our Jack Kennedy our whole lives, you see, and when they showed that film at the Democratic convention we couldn’t resist the supernatural thrill of seeing Jack reach out his hand from the past and anoint Bill. The unbelievable possibility that he might be able to unseat an incumbent Republican made everybody set aside all their differences and just enjoy the moment.

And Clinton was a bit of a Democratic Rorschach test. His history and baby boomer status led liberals to believe he was one of them and his openness to centrist and market based ideas made moderates think he was one of them. He had been president of the DLC but he had a way with African American voters and his wife was a feminist and on and on. In many ways he represented the whole baby boomer enchilada. We all saw in him what we wanted to see.

I saw him as an innovative, modern thinker who was willing to try new things. I bought into the DLC line that we could move toward the center of gravity and that would force the Republicans to move to the center as well. Indeed, the DLC strategy depended upon the Republicans acting in good will, out of principle and back in the day, they used to. Even in 1990 a deal to raise taxes was forged between centrist Dems and moderate Republicans. It wasn't exactly the Great Society, but it showed that some positive bipartisan action could be taken and I was willing to believe that a new coalition of moderates could work together to forge some positive programs. I thought it was a way to bring ourselves back from the brink.

Clinton survived an unprecedented onslaught of character assassination and managed to govern effectively under the circumstances. But he also exposed the great weakness in the DLC strategy. The modern Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, saw any accommodation for weakness and went for the jugular. They had no use for bi-partisanship and for every step we took toward the middle they simply moved the goalposts. They had declared political war and we still thought we were having a friendly intramural game. It took me much too long to understand the way the game was now being played and I was so distracted by the scandal mongering that I failed to see that governance and results were now beside the point. (I also mistook Clinton hating for the fact that the GOP base had finally coalesced into an angry anti-democratic tribe of talk radio-fed liberal haters) I'm embarrassed to have been so naive. It took me until the stolen election --- even after the bogus impeachment! --- to fully understand that we were in an entirely new ballgame and any lessons we learned from the 1980's were no longer relevant. This was a new era.

The DLC, however, seems to have over learned the lessons of the Reagan era and simply slept through the 90's. While they were consolidating their status as DC kingmakers and building their fabulous rolodexes, they forgot to do the basic job that we liberal empiricists are supposed to do and check to see whether their experiment actually worked. The results are not so good.

First, it failed the party. People are more reluctant to identify themselves as liberals or propgressives than they wre in 1988 and one of the reasons is that people like Al From and his boys helped the Republicans degrade the label to such an extent that people don't want to be associated with it. It is one thing to criticize your brothers; it's another to sully the family name. They continue to do this by talking about purging Michael Moore and Move-On and generally showing such a lack of respect for the grassroots that you wonder why they don't just call us all filthy rabble and tell us to eat cake. The lesson here is to never employ GOP rhetoric about the Democratic Party, ever. This is one thing that simply has got to stop.

Second, their strategy failed. With the modern GOP, blurring the lines is deadly, both as a matter of rhetoric and tactics. What I once thought was a clever way to muddy the waters in our favor has been a disaster. Clinton may have temporarily dispelled the myth that Democrats are nothing but tax and spenders but it doesn't matter if the Republicans run these scorched earth campaigns in which they can get away with saying that black is white and up is down. If domestic policy ever becomes the basis of another presidential campaign, and that is questionable, there is no doubt in my mind that nothing Clinton ever did on that score will accrue to any Democrat's benefit.

Third, their policies have never really evolved into exciting "third-way" approaches, as promised. Instead, they've simply softened standard GOP market wet-dreams. And as I've watched this process over the last twenty years I finally realized that this was just business school flim-flam. You either believe in an enlightened liberal democratic government or you don't. There has been enough history to show us that left to their own devices the purveyors of market ideology will make things worse for more people. It's just the way it works. The only institution that can even the playing field in a large, diverse society such as ours is government. And only government, bureaucratic as it may sometimes be, can deliver the basic services that guarantee a decent life for its citizens. We can argue about what services are needed to do that and we can argue about who should get them and how to deliver them, but never again should Democrats promote the idea that market competition is a substitute for democratic government action. We'll get screwed every time.

But that does not mean that the DLC or its less committed adherents were all wrong to try what they tried. Liberalism cares as much about scientific speculation, experimentation, innovation and reform as it cares about the welfare of citizens, civil liberties and social progress. There is always tension between government and the market and that is as it should be. It’s not surprising at all that Democrats would look in new directions for solutions to problems because that is basic to our ideology. But, we must also be willing to admit when our hypothesis has been disproved.

In this instance, the DLC banked on the idea that consensus politics of the old school could be recreated in a Republican era. They were wrong. The Republicans desire total political hegemony. And any innovation they propose must now be clearly seen for what it is --- the radical ideologues want to dismantle the New Deal and create a Randian paradise and the politicos want to further enrich their wealthy contributors. The rest of the rubes think that if the Republicans win they’ll get rich and go to heaven and the hated liberals will be vanquished from this earth. We cannot compromise with people like this. We must defeat them head on.

And we can do it. We shouldn’t throw out all common sense and run Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney in ’08. But we got very close this last time with a Massachusetts liberal up against a vicious smear machine and a wartime GOP incumbent. All this talk about white males and moral values and repositioning ourselves on abortion is outmoded political thinking in my view. This has come down to a classic philosophical fight between the two parties across the entire spectrum of issues. I don't think that the condition exists anymore for splitting the difference. And I think we'll win if we consistently talk about what we believe in instead of outlining a list of positions. In this era I think that's what people are looking for.

But then again, I've been wrong before, haven't I? :)


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?