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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Flame On High

I've been having some major Adelphia cable problems so posting is sporadic and I apologize. It's been a rough couple of days for me anyway. Seeing Ann Coulter feted on the cover of Time magazine as a mainstream political figure instead of the deranged, murderous extremist she actually is was quite a shock. And then a friend sent me the links to the Free Republic thread discussing the death of Marla Ruzicka, which made me so nauseous that I had to shut down for a while.

It has become clear to me that we are frogs being slowly boiled to death. And the media are enjoying the hot tub party so much that they are helping to turn up the heat.

Ann Coulter is not, as Howie Kurtz asserts today, the equivalent of Michael Moore. Michael Moore is is not advocating the murder of conservatives. He just isn't. For instance, he doesn't say that Eric Rudolph should be killed so that other conservatives will learn that they can be killed too. He doesn't say that he wishes that Tim McVeigh had blown up the Washington Times Bldg. He doesn't say that conservatives routinely commit the capital offense of treason. He certainly doesn't put up pictures of the fucking snoopy dance because one of his political opponents was killed. He doesn't, in other words, issue calls for violence and repression against his political enemies. That is what Ann Coulter does, in the most coarse, vulgar, reprehensible way possible.

Moore says conservatives are liars and they are corrupt and they are wrong. But he is not saying that they should die. There is a distinction. And it's a distinction that Time magazine and Howard Kurtz apparently cannot see.

I have long felt that it was important not to minimize the impact of this sick shit. For years my friends and others in the online communities would say that it was a waste of time to worry about Rush because there are real issues to worry about. Likewise Coulter. Everytime I write something about her there is always someone chastizing me for wasting their time. Yet, here she is, being given the impramatur of a mainstream publication of record in a whitwash of epic proportions. Slowly, slowly the water is heating up.

It's kind of funny that I and others spent last week arguing whether Democrats ought to be encouraging Hollywood to stop selling sex, (which even David Brooks agrees doesn't seem to correlate to any real negative change in the way kids behave.) But, here we have a real problem, a real coarsening of the discourse which has resulted in our politics becoming so polarized and rhetorically violent that it's as if we live on two different planets.

While Ann Coulter makes the cover of Time for writing that liberals have a "preternatural gift for striking a position on the side of treason," her followers actually side with Iraqi insurgents against an American charity worker. At freeperland and elsewhere they laughed and clapped and enjoyed the fruits of the enemy's labor. This is because if you listen to Ann and Rush and Sean and Savage and all the rest of these people you know that there is no greater enemy on the planet than the American liberal. That's what Ann Coulter and her ilk are selling and that is what Time magazine celebrated with their cover girl this week.

I'm not going to argue with my fellow Democrats any more about how Janet Jackson's nipple and Desperate Housewives' double ententres are coarsening American media culture. This is not because American media culture isn't being coarsened. But T&A is clearly not the problem. It's the sick, depraved fucks who are selling liberal death fantasies to the public and being aided by idiots in the mainstream press who are so in the (ever heating) tank that they have lost all sense of perspective.

The recently annointed GOP saint, Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was the one who coined the phrase "defining deviancy down" and I think he's been validated. When a deranged, flamthrowing fascist like Ann Coulter is called "amusing" and "entertaining", deviancy has definitely been redefined.


Saturday, April 16, 2005

Swallowing Their Pride

Tom Delay's supporters are awfully upset about having things forced down their throats and would like Tom to ram something down the Democrats' throats instead:

Josh, You have to tell the whole story of anything or you are not credible. I never take anything democrats say because in the last 10 years the Minority is trying to force everything down our throats. You speak in such disrespect about Delay, the bug man, that I have suggested to many senators by email, that Delay should quit and start running or the presidency. He is just what we need. With his style we could ram down your throats.

Lotta forcing and ramming going on there. Of course,the big man himself likes to turn a colorful phrase in this regard only he prefers "stuffing" over "ramming." Here's a classic :

Americans "have been tolerant of homosexuality for years, but now it's being stuffed down their throats and they don't like it." DeLay said.

Tom DeLay's vivid rhetoric (like that of his biggest fan) apparently just burst out despite his best efforts to contain it. That'll happen.


Friday, April 15, 2005

Doing Our Part

I have written in the past that I would love to watch the Sunday gasbag shows with some of America's incisive social critics of the past. I can only imagine what Mark Twain or HL Mencken would say at the spectacle of Tim Russert and five pompadoured members of the clergy disgorging scripture with all the unctuous insincerity of a South Carolina push poller. You know it would be wicked.

This article by Richard Byrne in The American Prospect discusses Sinclair Lewis, one of the greats, and specifically notes just how relevant Elmer Gantry is today. (Considering the Big Tent Revival Senator Frist and the Dogbeater Dobson are putting on the Sunday, it's almost eerie.)

It has been almost 80 years since novelist Sinclair Lewis set his most iconic ?ctional creation, a hell-raiser turned hell?re preacher named Elmer Gantry, loose on an unsuspecting America. For a clergyman in his 70s, Gantry has proven to be remarkably hale and hearty. Op-ed writers and columnists lean continually on Lewis’ parson to represent a uniquely American type: the fundamentalist hypocrite serving up corn pone and brimstone to promulgate a strict public morality.

The type was on its way to the margins in Lewis’ day; the 1920s were when modernity won, if not in fact in the great heartland, at least in the larger self-image of a nation gorging itself on jazz, burlesque, motorcars, and bathtub gin. But the type -- the living, breathing Gantry, as it were -- is now back with a vengeance.

And social critics of our day must not be afraid to expose rank hypocrisy wherever we can. In our party's quest to clean up popular culture I've decided that my personal mission is to take on the country music business.

Country Music star Gretchen Wilson:

Well I'm an eight ball shooting double fisted drinking son of a gun
I wear My jeans a little tight
Just to watch the little boys come undone
Im here for the beer and the ball busting band
Gonna get a little crazy just because I can

You know im here for the party
And I aint leavin til they throw me out
Gonna have a little fun
gonna get me some

I may not be a ten but the boys say I clean up good
And if I gave em half a chance for some rowdy romance you know they would

I've been waiting all week just to have a good time
So bring on them cowboys and their pick up lines

Dont want no purple hooter shooter just some jack on the rocks
Dont mind me if i start that trashy talk

You know im here for the party
And I aint leavin til they throw me out
Gonna have a little fun
gonna get me some

Mothers all over the heartland must be beside themselves over this kind of cultural pollution. How can they explain it to their kids? (What does "get me some" mean, mommie?)

James Wolcott
notices another shocking example of daytime radio sexual innuendo.

Where will it end?


I wrote this short little piece for In These Times about the difference between the right and left blogosphere. It is a very superficial sketch of how the two spheres operate differently. It evoked the expected furious response from the usual suspects because I quoted from Garance Franke-Ruta's investigative piece on the right wing blogosphere.

The first thing that seems to bother people is my description of what I believe to be the main difference between the right and the left blogospheres --- which is that the right is a fully engaged part of the Republican party infrastructure while the left is a unique political constituency. But, except for the fact that Republicans are indulging in dirty tricks like the Thune bloggers (and it looks like others coming down the pike) I'm not really making a value judgment about those differences. Indeed, I have my doubts about both systems and wonder if the Democrats wouldn't benefit from a bit more message discipline.

Be that as it may, let me answer some of Mike Krempasky's specific criticisms. First he comments that I have the FEC controversy completely bass ackwards when I say this:

Because of these successes, some progressives believed that the recent efforts by Republican members of the Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) to regulate blogs as paid political speech may have been motivated by partisanship. As it turns out, the new proposed FEC rule changes, still subject to public comment, continue to exempt blogs from regulation.

With all of the potential for fundraising, “guerilla activism” and massaging, perhaps neither party wants to unduly inhibit their sector of the blogosphere.

First of all, I was incorrect in my characterization that Republicans wanted to regulate blogs, (although not wrong in stating that liberal bloggers believed that.) What Republicans wanted to do was give the impression that they had to regulate blogs. It is a small but important distinction and I should have been more precise. However, I stand by my assertion that this entire controversy was perceived to have been a partisan move and indeed, I think it was. The Republican commissioners who were so verklempt about the Democrats' failure to appeal the decision are the same Republicans who want to take another bite out of McCain Feingold and this was an opportunity to do that.

The whole thing began with this interview with Republican commissioner Bradley Smith on C-Net called "The Coming Crackdown on Blogging". He claimed that because the Democrats on the panel refused to appeal a judicial ruling that said that the internet had to be addressed under McCain Feingold, the sky was falling. It was a hysterical and overblown interview coming from a guy who does not believe in the FEC to begin with. Via Waldo-Jacquith here's this about our intrepid blogging advocate, commissioner Bradley Smith:

Brad Smith, a law professor at Capital University Law School, has devoted his career to denouncing the FEC and the laws it is entrusted to enforce in precisely those strident terms. He believes that virtually the entire body of the nation's campaign finance law is fundamentally flawed and unworkable "indeed, unconstitutional." He has forcefully advocated deregulation of the system. And, if the James Watt of campaign finance had his way, the FEC, and its state counterparts, would do little more than serve as a file drawer for disclosure reports.

These are not stray and ill-considered comments. Rather, Brad Smith has become the single most aggressive advocate for deregulation of campaign finance in the academy today. Ask any scholar of campaign finance who has spilt the most ink denouncing our current campaign finance laws; the answer will be Brad Smith. Ask any enemy of campaign finance laws to identify the most sought-after witness to make the case to Congress; Brad Smith, will be the top answer.

Now, I have no idea if Bradley Smith truly believes that blogs have an absolute right to free speech. I give him the benefit of the doubt and say he probably does. However, it seems pretty clear to me that his zeal to appeal that lower court's ruling was primarily because he wants to whittle away at McCain-Feingold if he can. There was no reason to assume that you couldn't get where he wanted to go through new regulations or legislation that clarifies the issue.

As for whether the new proposed rules, which are still in the comment stage, specifically exempt blogs, well, I'll leave that to the lawyers. But at the time I wrote this article, the press certainly seemed to think that the proposed rules exempted bloggers. Certain well known right wing blogs also indicated that the situation was not dire.

The Democracy Project wrote this headline:

FEC Draft Rule Looks Good for [Non Corporate] Bloggers

Wizbang wrote:

Today the members of The Online Coalition received the FEC's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking [PDF - Word], which we're still looking through. The mood is cautiously optimistic.

Election law expert Richard Hazen said:

At first glance, the Federal Election Commission’s draft proposal for regulating Internet-based election activity is good news for the blogosphere.

Professor Bainbridge praised Hazen's analysis.

Eugene Volokh had said earlier:

It would be good to clarify FECA to make clear that Weblogs and online magazines are exempted. But I think that, properly -- even literally -- interpreted, "other periodical publication" already includes blogs (except perhaps ones that publish intermittently and very rarely).

Pardon me for concluding that the proposed rules were not, in fact, going to end blogging as we know it.

To Mike Krempansky, however, they apparently are. And he seems to be making progress in creating an ongoing furor, based partially on a leaked early draft (to him, conveniently)of the proposed rules which are supposed to show the draconian Democratic attempt to have government shut down free speech on the internet. Luckily, the blogging masses, with a heads up from Bradley Smith, came to the rescue of America once again and saved the day. God bless bloggers.

"We are not the speech police," said FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat. "The FEC does not tell private citizens what they can or can't say on the Internet or elsewhere." FEC Commissioner Danny McDonald, another Democrat, said: "I've never seen so much ado about nothing at this stage of the process."

Among bloggers and political commentators, the reaction to the FEC's proposed regulations ... was mixed. Mike Krempasky, a contributor to conservative Web site RedState.org who attended the meeting, said: "Don't believe Ellen Weintraub when she repeats her mantra of 'Bloggers, chill out!'" Krempasky said the draft rules, if finalized, would create a "regulatory minefield" because they give individuals greater leeway than corporations.

I do not quarrel with the fact that there exists a regulatory minefield --- a topic which could not possibly be dealt with in a short 700 word essay. But it is clear that the intent was that the average blogger be exempted from the proposed regulations.

For the record, I'm not in favor of regulating speech on the internet in any way. I'm a free speech absolutist. But I also see the brave new world of right wing "guerilla internet activism" as a very handy way to conduct their patented dirty tricks and funnel big corporate and individual money into campaigns, thus thwarting the McCain Feingold rules. But, it was ever thus. Money is like water in politics. It will always find a way in. The internet is too unknown and growing in too many different directions to know as yet whether it will corrupt the political system more than it enhances it. I say leave it alone and if that means that congress should write a law specifically exempting it, then I'm for it.

As for throwing my lot in with Mike Krempasky, however, I think not. I believe that he is sincere in his work on this issue, but he is a right wing political operative trained by slime-meister Morton Blackwell. He's not just another libertarian, open source internet kinda guy. Somehow, I don't think he has my best interest at heart. Caveat emptor, bloggers.

Oh, and as far as Krempasky's little fit of the giggles that I said Morton Blackwell is finding the blogosphere "useful" I can only link to this web page from Blackwell's "Leadership Institute" that advertises its "Internet Activist School."

Apparently, Krempasky teaches some of these classes:

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.

Call me crazy, but that seems like something that would be "useful" to the Republican Party, which Morton Blackwell has devoted his life and career to advancing. I never said he was a blogger. But he sure as hell is a legendary political operative and I have little doubt that his Leadership Institute is quite "useful" to the cause in many ways.

Again, I am not agitating against all this. But the thrust of my piece was simply that there is nothing like this on the left. There are no operatives running "blog schools" to teach people how to be activists. There is no rich partisan left wing media infrastructure that can pay for bloggers to write books and hit the lecture circuit and live off of nice sincures at think tanks.

Commenters at ITT claimed that Kos and Atrios fit that category, but that is patently not true. Their blog activism long preceded any involvement with the party and their clout today stems from their massive readership and ability to deliver money and votes to the party. They are the leaders of a constituency that operates as a pressure group and a grassroots organizing operation. None of them worked as political operatives before they became bloggers. The blogging came first.

There are some like Yglesias, Drum and others who also write for liberal magazines. But none of them can be guaranteed a book deal or a radio show or a fellowship to support them, because no network exists that trains and supports lefty writers, thinkers and public relations specialists in Democratic politics. It just isn't there.

But hey, I never said we shouldn't have such a thing or that it was wrong to do it. Indeed, I think we should. But that does not change the fact that we don't have it yet. (I do draw the line at dirty tricks schools, though. Not a good way to go.)

I hope, however, that the leftwing netroots maintain their activist independence to at least some extent. It's a valuable source of energy, new ideas and organization. As we are out of power and fighting for our political lives, keeping close contact with the people, even if the netroots are representative of only a small activist faction, is important.

I suspect the right would like to have some of that too which is why guys like Mike Krempasky are teaching conservatives how to be spontaneous grassroots activists. (Their people tend to respond best to direction from authority which is why the churches are so effective.) It's going to take a little bit more work for them to create a vital netroots. But they will probably do it. They take this stuff seriously. Luckily, we are beginning to do the same.

The Limits Of Politics

For your daily pop culture diatribe, I cannot recommend this post by Matt Yglesias highly enough.

Any worldview that can't stand up in the midst of a vibrant cultural ocean needs to rethink itself more than it needs to try and dragoon political forces into supporting it. I often feel that America's religious traditionalists ought to engage in more self-congratulation. Despite -- or, I would argue, because of -- its inability to entrench itself as a European-style official religion, certain strains of American Protestantism have established themselves as far and away the most robust and viable religious force in the developed world. Traditionalists are perfectly capable of doing as I suggest -- fighting the fight in the background society, contesting secular culture in the cultural domain. There's all this stuff out there. Let it fight, let's argue, write, sing, film, etc. But preserving that sort of vibrancy -- the integrity, one might say, of America's various communities -- requires us not to subordinate the value of everything to the values of politics, and not to try and turn everything into the subject of collective political decision-making.

That's it exactly. Politics can't do everything. And everything isn't politics. Democrats can offer real solutions to real people's problems, but not all of them. We can help mitigate the risk of the free market and provide some protection from the more predatory aspects of capitalism. We can guarantee that every person be treated equally under the law and we can ensure our civil liberties. But politics cannot dictate culture and everytime it tries it creates far more problems than it solves. In fact, the liberal should be in favor of an unfettered market in one thing --- ideas. It is only through that, that we can guarantee our freedom. Our Bill of Rights, properly protected, will do that. But, we have to protect it.

Bravo to Matt for finding the nub of this argument. Culture is a different sphere than politics and one that is just as essential, in its own right, to a free society as democracy is or freedom to practice religion. Politics is a very crude instrument to arbitrate something as delicate and ephemeral as ideas, art, love, personal meaning --- the whole sphere of life that culture encompasses.

And yet there is a political danger lurking of which we should be aware. One of my many brilliant commenters in that fine thread below points this out:

Today in the US, all the bases are belonging to the radical right, except a few.

They've got the think-tanks, but they haven't got academia.

They've got the executive and the legislative branches, but they haven't got the judiciary.

They've got the MSM stitched up along with the commentariat. They haven't got the entertainment industry quite where they'd like, though. Documentaries, in particular, can be a source of information and criticism that can cause a Rove or a Luntz to break a sweat.

Now look at all the "cultural" kerfuffles they've kicked up since the beginning of this year. American education is supposedly threatened by leftist professors, and conservatives are denied their rightful place on campus. New rules are needed to protect poor Young Republican students from their liberal professors, it seems. The Schiavo case shows that the judiciary needs kicking into shape (DeLay just said it again). The entertainment industry is putting out the Wrong Stuff, and what's needed is censorship. (Hey, blogs too.)

So let's go and pitch into the great "debate" about these subjects, and let's not see that, in each case, the radical right is proposing to legislate and even strangle essential constitutional precepts like freedom of speech and the separation of powers. Let's not notice that what they are trying to do is browbeat and bend to their will the last zones of influence in American life that are capable of being an obstacle in their path, and let's forget that their path is toward a new form of totalitarianism harnessing religion as the Nazis harnessed nationalism.

We are definitely seeing a frontal assault on the remaining spheres of social influence that are not organized around or willingly complicit with the Republican agenda. This is not an accident. They, of course, see all obstacles as "liberal" which in the classical sense, I suppose they are. But these social influences of the judiciary, academia and popular culture are not explicitly partisan. In fact, they are largely independent spheres that resist co-option by partisan politics.

So, it's not that liberals want to protect smut and Ward Churchill because we enjoy it or agree with it. And it's not solely because we don't trust that anybody could make decisions about such things that we could live with. It's because we are trying to preserve a society in which culture and intellectual freedom can even continue to exist.

The assaults on culture, academia and the judiciary are not criticisms or even strident disagreements with their products or outcomes. These assaults are legal, legislative and regulatory attempts to pull these independent spheres under governmental authority.

It's not our political agenda we're protecting. Not should we allow ourselves to be conned into thinking that we are helping the working mom so it is a good thing anyway. The stakes are much higher than that even if people don't choose to see it. We must ensure that our entire society, political, cultural and intellectual, isn't subsumed by the Republican agenda. There's a distinction there and a very important one. Without a vibrant culture, an independent judiciary and a free intellectial sphere that operates outside the political decision making process, we become, by default, totalitarian.

Suicide Pact

I am edified to learn that Dr Bill Frist, cat slayer, and Dr James Dobson, dauchshund beater, are joining hands to kill the independent judiciary. (As I have said before, while it's true that not all animal abusers become serial killers, it is true that the vast majority of serial killers were once animal abusers. Not that I'm saying that Frist and Dobson are serial killers ... let's just say that they are in some pretty disgusting company.)

As the Senate heads toward a showdown over the rules governing judicial confirmations, Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, has agreed to join a handful of prominent Christian conservatives in a telecast portraying Democrats as "against people of faith" for blocking President Bush's nominees.

Fliers for the telecast, organized by the Family Research Council and scheduled to originate at a Kentucky megachurch the evening of April 24, call the day "Justice Sunday" and depict a young man holding a Bible in one hand and a gavel in the other. The flier does not name participants, but under the heading "the filibuster against people of faith," it reads: "The filibuster was once abused to protect racial bias, and it is now being used against people of faith."

The filibuster is being used against people of faith? Man, these wingnuts are feeling their oats.

Gawd I hope that the liberal media feel it is their duty to cover this telecast in great depth --- to show that they are not hostile to religion, of course. This would be a wonderful way for them to prove once and for all that they are fair and balanced and believe that these religious issues should be well covered in the press. I think we need to write to all the networks and demand that they cover this important story. We need to tell them that the people have a right to hear what their leaders are saying.

I cannot stress enough how important I think it is to draw the contrasts between the Democrats and Republicans right now. Their ducky president looks lamer and lamer by the day and both GOP leaders of the congress are overreaching badly with this public soul kissing of the extremist religious right. (Giving them any cover for this wacky morals crusade is just dumb. Don't go there, please.)

All we need to do is say we are defending the constitution. Most people may know nothing about civics in this country anymore, but they know damned well that disembowling one branch of government is not business as usual. This is a case where the Republicans have not done the spadework and spent years preparing the public with relentless soothing rhetoric meant to give the impression that this is a natural and inevitable political evolution that will disrupt nothing. Instead their rhetoric is uncharacteristically shrill and nervous. They are lurching around now, reacting to their riled up constituency and making mistakes.

They are leading the Senate to a big dramatic showdown and the stakes couldn't be higher. But we should not flinch. They are the ones in the spotlight, they are the ones who look hysterical, they are the ones who have the stink of desperation all over them, not us. Tone will be important, here. We should make sure that in the debate we are defending the constitution and tradition and we should do it in modest language with common sense rhetoric. The media will cover this and it will be a perfect chance for us to persuade the public through our temperate but unyielding approach that we are operating from principle and committment. The other side is going to work itself into a frenzy. We need to be calm and cool and united.

The media will trivialize the Democrats' position but we have to remember that this is also the kind of conflict they love so they'll cover it and give Democrats some time to make their case. We should be preparing right now for that opportunity with a set of strong and persuasive talking points that we stick with throughout the controversy. According to this widely reported recent WSJ poll, people are already nervous. They want the Democrats to act as a backstop for this wild nonsense. And that was before Schiavo. We should be prepared to say over and over again that we feel it is our duty to prevent the Republicans from radically altering our way of governance. Do you suppose that most people agree with this?:

I blame Congress over the last 50 to 100 years for not standing up and taking its responsibility given to it by the Constitution. The reason the judiciary has been able to impose a separation of church and state that's nowhere in the Constitution is that Congress didn't stop them. The reason we had judicial review is because Congress didn't stop them. The reason we had a right to privacy is because Congress didn't stop them.

That's the most powerful man in the US House of Representatives saying that, not some no-name preacher from Arkansas.

Luckily it seems the Harry Reid has the smarts and the cojones to realize that this is as much a defining issue for us as is social security and he's not going to flinch:

Alexander said Democrats "are badly misreading this politically" if they think the public would blame Republicans for a Senate breakdown orchestrated by Democrats. GOP aides say Frist has drawn the same conclusion. Nonetheless, Senate Democrats are vowing a scorched-earth response, noting that a single senator can dramatically slow down the chamber's work by insisting on time-consuming procedures that are normally bypassed by "unanimous consent."

They also are portraying Frist as a tool of GOP extremists. Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), asked this week if the radical right is driving Frist and his lieutenants, replied: "If they decide to do this, which it appears they are going to, the answer is unequivocally -- underlined, underscored -- yes."

Frist's political instincts are not very good as he has proven over and over again and it seems to have precipitated this showdown too:

"I think Senator Frist has backed himself into a corner where I don't see how he can avoid pulling the nuclear trigger," said Charlie Cook, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. In terms of a presidential race, Cook said, "it hurts if he doesn't come up with the votes. But it also hurts him if the Senate comes to a grinding halt and can't get anything done. I think the guy's in a real jam."

I think Reid has the argument here and I think we will prevail. Just as newt failed to realize that it was his intemperate over-the-top rhetoric during the government shutdown that turned the people against him, these guys don't understand that allying themselves with the most extremist wing of the religious right is bound to do the same thing. Bubbles breed hubris and I think these people spend way too much time talking to each other.

Update: Does anyone out there know of any examples of moderate Republican religious types who have publicly come out against these recent extremist moves? I know that the polls indicate that a large number of them disagreed with the Schiavo matter, but I'm not aware of any of the people for whom morals are a voting issue moving away from the GOP because of it. Where I'm seeing the movement is in the libertarian, scientific and professional factions of the party.

For instance, I have not seen any full throated repudiations of the GOP by Republican religious moderates such as this from Bush voter, John Cole. My hunch is that people who vote on "morals" issues aren't actually moderates so they aren't disturbed in the least by what they are seeing. Therefore, posturing about the issue won't get us anywhere. But, who knows? It sure seems to me that the way to win is to go where the votes are up for grabs --- which seems to me to be among the people who really don't want James Dobson and Pat Robertson running the country.

Sissy Assassins

I'm awfully touched that so many Republicans have gone all Claud Raines over these mean Tom Delay and George Bush t-shirts. Indeed, they are so shocked and appalled that according to Crooks and Liars, they are even issuing death threats to Cafe Press, the outfit that distributes the offending items.

The liberal left is completely out of hand. (Michelle Malkin calls us the "pro-assassination" left which is something I'm hearing more of lately and wonder just when this latest delusion seized the wingnuts and what it means. Usually this sort of thing is projection which is a bit alarming.) In any case it appears that we liberals are now not only a bunch of sissies, we are also ruthless killers. Which is interesting, if incoherent.

For instance, it must be liberals who are selling the "Deep Six" campaign through cafe press, which consists of headstones with the names and pictures of Democratic Senators.

You can even get a tee shirt for your baby with that nice picture on it.

And this classic from the right wing shopmetrospy.com never gets old. The price has been discounted so stock up for gifts!:

It's interesting that when I first posted this back in November during the earlier "Che" t-shirt vapors, the caption said:

The Marine who killed the wounded insurgent in Fallujah deserves our praise and admiration. In a split second decision, he acted valiantly.

On the otherhand, Kevin Sites of NBC is a traitor. Beheading civilians, booby-trapped bodies, suicide bombers?? Sorry hippie, American lives come first. Terrorists don't deserve the benefit of the doubt. This Marine deserves a medal and Kevin Sites, you deserve a punch in the mouth.

Now it's toned down just a little bit.

But I think what really makes the point most clearly about the liberal penchant for violence, crudity and coarseness is this one, entitled "Irrigate Hillary" which shows a soldier urinating into Mrs. Clinton's mouth:

(Click on the link for the full panoply of just one guy's hate Hillary items available through cafe press. Sadly, the "Irrigate Hillary" campaign doesn't offer an apron or a baby shirt. Luckily, it does come on a coffee cup. Which is presumably empty.)

It's sad that we liberals, with our penchant for assasination and disgusting crudity, have lowered the discourse to such a degree that even Tom DeLay is being villified with mean t-shirts. But we may have gone too far this time. Republicans have stepped up and put liberals on notice that they will no longer tolerate our reprehensible rhetoric. Children are listening ... and wearing the t-shirts.


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Believe It

This whole argument about pop culture reminds me of a conversation I had in 1977. I was sitting around with my friends and somebody put "God Save the Queen" by the Sex Pistols on the stereo. Afterwards, I said I thought it wasn't really music --- to which a friend of mine replied that I sounded just like his parents when he first played the Beatles. I was only 21 at the time, so this hit me pretty hard. I never forgot it.

This "kids today" stuff has been going on for a long, long time. Anybody who was a kid in the 60's like I was, remembers endless sermons and lectures and handwringing about how the world was coming to an end because the boys were growing their hair long and the girls weren't shaving their armpits and marijuana was going to fry your brain like an egg. Before that, in 1956, there was the fear of "juvenile delinquents":

Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke,
You gotta understand,
It's just our bringin' up-ke
That gets us out of hand.
Our mothers all are junkies,
Our fathers all are drunks.
Golly Moses, natcherly we're punks!

Gee, Officer Krupke, we're very upset;
We never had the love that ev'ry child oughta get.
We ain't no delinquents,
We're misunderstood.
Deep down inside us there is good!

Dear kindly Judge, your Honor,
My parents treat me rough.
With all their marijuana,
They won't give me a puff.
They didn't wanna have me,
But somehow I was had.
Leapin' lizards! That's why I'm so bad!

Officer Krupke, you're really a square;
This boy don't need a judge, he needs an analyst's care!
It's just his neurosis that oughta be curbed.
He's psychologic'ly disturbed!

My father is a bastard,
My ma's an S.O.B.
My grandpa's always plastered,
My grandma pushes tea.
My sister wears a mustache,
My brother wears a dress.
Goodness gracious, that's why I'm a mess!

Officer Krupke, you're really a slob.
This boy don't need a doctor, just a good honest job.
Society's played him a terrible trick,
And sociologic'ly he's sick!

Gee, Officer Krupke,
We're down on our knees,
'Cause no one wants a fellow with a social disease.
Gee, Officer Krupke,
What are we to do?
Gee, Officer Krupke,
Krup you!

And that was in the golden age of "Leave It To Beaver" and "I Love Lucy."

All these people who are so afraid of what their kids are doing and thinking are just like my parents were. Afraid of the new world they'd built and were leaving behind for their kids. And so it goes.

Ed Kilgore writes today on the subject:

If there's a problem, and at least some sorts of tangible public-policy solutions, then the argument that this is "all about politics" loses some of its sting. But of course, you "can't take the politics out of politics," so yeah, Democrats should look at this politically as well. And Amy is absolutely right that Democrats tend to view "cultural issues" as limited to abortion and gay marriage and other Republican-dictated agenda items, and Gerstein is absolutely right that such issues are often just the ways voters use to figure out whether politicians actually believe (a) there are principles more important than politics, and (b) there is such a thing as right and wrong.

The whole hep Democratic world right now, from Howard Dean to George Lackoff to Bill Bradley right over to the DLC, says it's important that Democrats clearly identify "what they believe" and "where they stand" and "what values they cherish." If all the evidence--some scientific, some anecdotal or intuitive--suggesting that parents believe they are fighting an unequal battle with powerful cultural forces over the upbringing of their children is at all correct, then we have to take a stand there, too. It may matter a whole lot, if you look at the Democratic vote among marrieds-with-children--steadily dropping from a Clinton win in 1996 to an eighteen-point loss in 2004, a disproportionately large swing

Yes, the public does wonder what we stand for. And in this debate it seems we can either stand for better V chips and Terri Schiavo's mother-in-law, or we can stand for this:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

I don't know about you, but that sounds like it actually means something. Even has a bit of a ring to it.

Look, I don't care if we legislate for "better" V-chips. (From what I have read people aren't using the one we have available, not because it's too hard, but because they just don't want to be bothered. But whatever.) We can express our empathy for how difficult it is to parent in this environment. We can bemoan the coarsening of the culture and try shame people to stop selling useless consumer items to children. None of those things are particularly dangerous in themselves. But neither are they going to be politically advantageous.

Everytime we try to move in this "moderate" cultural direction that we think people will choose over the GOP vision, the more we appear to be a large puddle of lukewarm water. Because, let's face it. If you really think that the government should do something about popular culture because it's harmful then you really should step up to the plate and admit that you think censorship in some form or another would be a good thing. Because that's the only thing that government can really do to make a difference --- compel people to stop saying and selling and watching and buying.

And that's what the conservatives have to offer. Clear, simple, straightforward. They believe that this swill is harming society and they want it taken care of. They don't play around with studies and "oh I understand what you are going through." They offer a real solution. Censor the garbage. Impeach the judges. Fix the damn problem. The bully in their pulpit sounds a hell of a lot more competent than ours.

And, conversely, they have won the gun issue by being rigid absolutists about the second amendment and giving no quarter. In fact, I think that their rhetoric has been so widespread and so successful that we would benefit from making our argument explicitly about the first amendment in much the same way. Some people may just wonder why, if the second is sacred, the first shouldn't be also.

Now, I don't think that any Democrats really want censorship. They want magic. They want people to stop wanting what they want. And if that doesn't work, they want the manufacturers and producers to feel bad about what they are doing and stop providing what the people want. This is an unrealistic political goal. (It seems much more suited to religion than government and it makes me wonder, if religion is sweeping the nation in a new Great Awakening, why it is having so little effect?)

And there is the truly serious problem that these culture war issues are exploited by the right for the very reason that they are willing to offer these simple solutions to issues that we necessarily find complicated. They tie us in knots with this stuff. That's why we shouldn't walk into their trap time after time after time by trying to split the difference. It isn't working.

Kilgore says:

Gerstein is absolutely right that such issues are often just the ways voters use to figure out whether politicians actually believe (a) there are principles more important than politics, and (b) there is such a thing as right and wrong.

Why do we have to play the game on their "culture war" turf? Why can't we say that the principle of free speech is more important than politics (which I actually believe has the virtue of being true.) Why can't we say that it is wrong for people to impose their religious views on others? Are these not principles worth fighting for? Do they not have the ring of clear common sense? These seem like first principles to me.

Why people continue to believe that we can convince people that we "believe in something" by validating the GOP's calumnious rhetoric about deviant liberal culture I will never understand. I think we convince people that we believe in something by well ... believing in something. How about the constitution, for a starter?

Update: Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money makes a number of exceptional insights into this issue (read the whole post) but I think this one is particularly apt:

There's an additional problem evident in the way Sullivan frames the debate. One might ask why so many people are obsessed with culture, when the evidence for the influences attributed to it are so weak. Could it be that politicians and pundits like Sullivan continually tell parents that they should be obsessed with culture? This isn't just harmless misdirection, either. The national political agenda can only be focused on a fraction of the policy solutions being advocated. The more people are convinced that TV is causing certain social pathologies, the less likely they are to agitate for solutions that might actually be relevant to the problem (which, of course, is why the cultural conservative agenda is so effective for Republicans.) I would like liberals to point out that other liberal democracies have lower rates of violence and teen pregnancy despite their children being exposed to similar cultural influences, which suggests that other factors may be more relevant that pop culture. But according to Sullivan, you're not even allowed to point this out, because if parents believe what politicians tell them you're not allowed to say anything different.

It's the old Cokie Roberts line "It doesn't matter if it's true. It's out there."

And frankly, I'm not ever sure it is. Is there any hard data, other than the fact that married women are voting more Republican, that this culture clash is a voting issue? And even if it is, I think Lemiuex's observation is likely correct. Republicans are laughing themselves silly everytime we validate their winning misdirection strategy.

Comment of the week

On the Vast Left Wing Conspiracy:

An open Letter to David Horowitz:

April 13, 2005
Dear Mr. Horowitz:

I see that your list is a tad short of 1000 so I would like to nominate myself for inclusion. You probably have never heard of me (unless you followed the Boston Symphony where I played for 27 years). I feel my political mojo has faded with my aging and I fear encroaching irrelevance (remember the good old days!) so I’m hoping you will help me out, since I can claim many points of contact, some of them admittedly rather casual, with people on your list, to wit:

I went to a summer music camp with Carol Gilligan (she was Carol Friedman then) and have remained in contact with her ever since. Another fairly regular presence at this camp was Pete Seeger, which should tell you all you need to know. Some years later, I taught at the place and in varying years had in my choruses both Arlo Guthrie (who really belongs in your list) and Frank Rich, although he was only thirteen at the time.

I lived in New York City in 1968 and became acquainted with Harold Ickes Jr. when he was a boy genius and I was a foot-soldier in the Eugene McCarthy campaign. Dennis Kucunich is my mother’s Congressman, and my brother who lives in Seattle is a supporter of Patty Murray. I even had an uncle named Joe Miller, although he is not the same as your guy. Still….

I once hoisted beers with Norman Mailer, although I’m sure he doesn’t remember me (or anything else from that evening in the Lion’s Head Tavern). I met Abbie Hoffman (also not on your list, strangely…he is as dead as Paul Robeson and a lot hipper) at a party while he was under indictment and encountered Alexander Cockburn ---also in the Lion’s Head –but I must admit that I didn’t like him very much. I shook hands with Muhammed Ali and was really excited. For a year in Cambridge I lived down the street from Bonny Raitt, and even performed on the same stage with her when she was a guest with the Boston Pops.

Although I agree with very little of what I says, I did teach for a while at Boston University at the same time that Howard Zinn was there. My son was once an intern in John Kerry’s Washington office and went to George Soros’ Central European University in Budapest for two years (although since he is now a corporate lawyer maybe this doesn’t count) and his wonderful wife worked for the Ford Foundation.

Lest you think I have slacked off, presently Michael Capuano is my Congressman and I actually live in Somerville, his birthplace. I admit it’s a bit of a stretch but it should count for something, and my poetry professor of last year married her same-sex partner. I’d guess that she would be thrilled to be included too.

Now since I don’t have a blog or an op-ed column, you may me dismiss me as a wannabe. But I hope you’ll consider that carefully, since I’m capable of the following sort of thing (and I’m really proud of it…four technically sound limericks on the same subject --- you --- is not at all easy to bring off)

David Horowitz

This Horowitz is a phenom
Who once railed against Vietnam
He fought his good fight
On the left not the right
O’er the Ramparts red glare with aplomb.

But things on the left were not jake
He skedaddled, a Long March did make
As Far Left as he’d been
He repented his sin
Went Far Right, made the same old mistake.

Though he moved to the opposite wing
And neocon hymns he may sing,
As he once lauded Mao
He’s right radical now
Not position, but style is the thing.

For the style of his dogmatic way
(I don’t doubt that it really does pay)
Is with passion extreme
To declaim, rant and scream
His great Absolute Truth (of today).

I would be happy to supply you with a bio if you would honor me with inclusion in your little list. I am yours truly

Jerome P. Rosen

PS I think John Bolton is an asshole, that Cheney and Richard Perle are evil, and that you are a nut-job. Does this help?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Smear Boats Are A Comin'

If anyone is wondering about this Hillary swift boat style smear book that Drudge is flacking on his site, be advised that the alleged liberal who wrote it is actually the right wing fuck who writes Walter Scott's Personality Parade -- a piece of Sunday morning trash I stopped reading when he wrote that Chelsea Clinton was an "apple that doesn't fall far from the tree" drunken party girl.

Apparently, Pengiun has joined the Regnery ranks. Nice.

Light Of Reason

Arthur Silber wades into the now legendary Horowitz Bérubé smackdown (which if you haven't read it is one of the most satisfying series of blog posts in blogdom) with characteristically interesting insights:

Given the statement in his own “Academic Bill of Rights,” on what grounds can Horowitz possibly maintain these blatantly irreconcilable positions? Whenever he accuses anyone of “shar[ing] negative views of the Bush Administration” with known terrorists (or more briefly, of “hating America”), one can simply reply: “But, Mr. Horowitz, you yourself believe that ‘there is no humanly accessible truth that is not in principle open to challenge.’ So how do you know that anyone hates America, or that the invasion of Iraq was legitimate, or that occupying Iraq was a wise move in the war against terrorism? In fact, given your own statements, how do you know anything at all?”

Given Horowitz’s approach (which inevitably and necessarily combines relativism, skepticism and subjectivism in one particularly nasty mix), he would have no answer—and in fact, he doesn’t know anything, not with certainty, by his own admission.

I've been meaning to write a little post directing my lovely readers to Arthur Silber's Light of Reason. His site is consistently interesting, well written and original. He's a libertarian, but not one of those annoying fake libertarians who pretend that they are libertarians because they are too embarrassed to be called Republicans (which I understand, but disdain.)

Anyway, Arthur's blog is one of the ways that we can keep some intellectual integrity in this fight with the crazed right wing. He makes arguments, he doesn't hurl epithets. You might learn something even when you disagree with him, which you will, if your politics are like mine.

He's a real humanoid who incidentally could use some financial help due to ill health. If you have it to spare, it would be a good place to do your good deed for the day.

Exploding Bandwagon

Noam Scheiber, who I often endorse wholeheartedly on other issues, explicitly lays out the divide in the Democratic party as I did, as being between "social libertarians" and "communitarians" which is, in my opinion, a weasel word for "kinda socially conservative" in this context.

He says that Democrats began losing because they were perceived as being immoral and licentious, going all the way back to 1972's "abortion, amnesty and acid." It was, in his opinion, only when Bill Clinton said that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare" that we began to lose that perception. But we've been backsliding ever since. Indeed, according to him, every election we have lost or won in the last 30 years has been because we are either perceived as moral or immoral to the moderates who swing elections.

I'll leave it to others to analyze the election statistics to prove whether or not that last is true, but I will say that while we are concerning ourselves with how we are perceived, let us not forget that we have also been perceived as weak on defense. Also the party of racial and gender preferences. And perhaps most importantly, we have been portrayed for decades as the party of big government, the "nanny state" who want to regulate and tax everyone out of existence and force you to hang around with people you hate, eat foods you don't like and quit smoking and drinking even though you hurt nobody but yourself. That's as much of a critique of "do-gooder" Democrats as it ever has been of "law and order" Republicans, who traditionally made their argument on the basis of rampant crime, not telling people what they should do for themselves.

It's always something, isn't it? Those republican scamps have a handy critique for everything we believe. So, I would imagine just as we become the "communitarian" party of love for the weak and defenseless, you'll be seeing a spirited defense of individual liberty coming from the other side. It's kind of the way these things work. Karl knows this.

The thing is that rarely have I seen in my lifetime a situation in which the Republicans have been so soundly criticized by even their own constituency for being too intrusive and imposing their own values on others as we saw in the Schiavo case. It would seem a natural that Democrats would, out of pragmatism if not principle, see this as a way to drive a wedge into the Republican coalition by capitalizing on public opinion and characterizing the Republicans as being in the grip of a mad faction that wants to impose its religious values on everyone.

Apparently not. Instead we are going to drive a wedge into our own, against the will of the majority of both Democrats and Republicans. It's an unusual strategy to say the least. Now is our chance to expose their extremism and it looks like we may just punt. How depressing:

When the Schiavo case began garnering national attention, Democrats' first reaction was to press their social libertarian line. "Congressional leaders have no business substituting their judgment for that of multiple state courts that have extensively considered the issues in this intensely personal family matter," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi complained. Liberals became increasingly confident as polls showed the public overwhelmingly concerned about federal intrusion into a private family matter. Once again, Democrats risked reinforcing the perception they lacked core values.

Something interesting, however, was beginning to happen: Voices within the Democratic Party were genuinely agonizing over whether congressional intervention in the Schiavo case was truly so egregious. Almost 50 House Democrats voted in favor of the legislation authorizing the additional judicial review--many of them Southern moderates, but several of them liberal members of the Congressional Black Caucus. It was dawning on the party that there was an affirmative statement of values to be made, not simply a libertarian attack on government intervention.

The case of Terri Schiavo is incredibly complex. But the question of a government obligation to the weak, the sick, and the disabled is not--at least for Democrats. So it was reassuring to learn this week that congressional Democrats like Tom Harkin and Barney Frank are closing ranks behind legislation that would allow federal courts to review cases in which end-of-life choices are murky and the family is divided. Considered alongside Hillary Clinton's efforts to reframe the pro-choice position as a communitarian belief that every child should be born into a loving, caring family, it looks as though we're seeing the beginning of a new Democratic Party. It's a party that appeals to core values, not one that allows itself to be caricatured by their absence. Let's hope that party is here to stay.

Yes, by all means, let's adopt the biggest political cock-up the Republicans have made in the last twenty years as our own. (And anybody who thinks that we can stop the Republicans from caricaturing us is fooling themselves. The key is for us to caricature them --- and they are making it easy for us to do it if we have the guts.)

I sincerely hope that we are not dumb enough to portray ourselves as the party of the do-gooder church lady just when they are in the process of proving to the entire country that they are the party of nosy mother-in-law. I do not believe that we will get one more vote for it in the south, and we will lose any hope of gaining back some of the western red states that might be persuaded that all this holy roller nonsense has gone too far.

This is terrible, terrible politics. I don't mind Hillary emphasizing birth control and sex education as a way to expose the religious right's real agenda. I think that makes sense. But that is far different than joining the most far right of the far right in allowing the federal courts to dabble in individual end of life issues. If we do this I hope we are also prepared to give the right its cover as they continue their assult on the allegedly runaway "activist" judiciary --- because that's the basis for this ridiculous federal power grab. There was no reason for the federal courts to get involved with Sciavo because the state courts did NOTHING wrong. My God. Are we really willing to go down this road?

I sincerely hope Scheiber is wrong on this because if he isn't it means that we are thinking of jumping on the right's exploding bandwagon just as it's careening off the edge of a cliff. I can't think of a more self-destructive act.


Go read this beautiful meditation and eulogy from the fine writer Meteor Blades at The Next Hurrah.

And by the way, Hugh Hewitt can once again kiss my ass.

This, I'm Worried About

Honestly, people are killing their children with diets of disguting food. I recognize their freedom to do this if they want to, but it is a real problem nonetheless. I'd be a lot more sympathetic to their complaints about how difficult it is to raise kids in popular culture if they cared as much about this very serious physical health issue. I'm not a purist in this way. I like a Big Mac and fries now and again myself. And I'm not suggesting that everyone serve tofu and green tea to their toddlers. But from what I see at the grocery store --- and the statistics on childhood obestity and diabetes bear this out -- childrens' health is becoming demonstrably compromised by the way they are eating and the sedentary lifestyle they are leading.

And the government could certainly help with this by forcing schools to limit the crap they serve kids at school, requiring physical exercize in the curriculum and instituting a major education initiative to get parents to feed their children correctly. This is a scientifically proveable problem, not some sort of vague unease about teen age sexuality (which, by the way, has had the older generation freaking out for my entire lifetime --- it's just that we are now the older generation.) The costs to society and to individuals of this health crisis, on the other hand, are going to be huge if something isn't done to reverse this trend.

So, here we a have real, tangible problem for parents and children in desperate need of a solution. But neither party can even go near it because it will be greeted with fury by corporate America and will be perceived my most Americans as an elitist attack on their lifestyle. Instead we're going to regulate cable TV shows because parents can't be bothered to figure out how to program their V Chip. How fucked up is that?

Picture Via Tom Moody

She Can Boast (lyingly)

Via DC Media Girl, I see that Ann Coulter has been named as one of TIME magazine's 100 most influential people:

In her books, Coulter can be erudite and persuasive, as when she exposes the left’s chronic softness on communism. But her signature is her gleeful willingness to taunt liberals and Democrats, to say out loud what some other conservatives dare only think--that Bill Clinton is a "horny hick," for example, and his wife "pond scum." It’s what makes Coulter irresistible and influential, whether you like it or not.

Here's the opening passage of Coulter's "erudite and persuasive" exposure of the left's chronic softness on communism in her influential book "Treason":

Liberals have a preternatural gift for striking a position on the side of treason. You could be talking about Scrabble and they would instantly leap to the anti-American position. Everyone says liberals love American, too. No they don't. Whenever the nation is under attack, from within or without, liberals side with the enemy. This is their essence. The Left’s obsession with the crimes of the West and their Rousseauian respect for Third World savages all flow from this subversive goal. If anyone has the gaucherie to point out the left's nearly unblemished record of rooting against American, liberals turn around and scream "McCarthyism!"

Liberals invented the myth of McCarthyism to delegitimize impertinent questions about their own patriotism. They boast (lyingly) about their superior stance on civil rights. But somehow their loyalty to the United States is off-limits as a subject of political debate. Why is the relative patriotism of the two parties the only issue that is out of bounds for discussion? Why can't we ask: Who is more patriotic --- Democrats or Republicans? You could win that case in court.

Fifty years ago, Senator Joe McCarthy said, "The loyal Democrats of this nation no longer have a Party." Since then the evidence had continued to pour in. Liberals mock Americans who love their country, calling them cowboys, warmongers, religious zealots and jingoists. By contrast, America's enemies are called "Uncle Joe," "Fidel," "agrarian reformers," and practitioners of a "religion of peace." Indeed, Communists and terrorists alike are said to be advocates of "peace."

That first sentence isn't a typo although when I first read it I thought for sure it was. It would make so much more sense if it said "Liberals have a preternatural gift for striking a position on the side of reason." But, no. She means it.

I suppose one could agree that it is erudite (and unbelievably awkward) to use the word "lyingly" the way she used it, along with the word "gaucherie."
But that's nit picking. Her erudition on the subject of McCarthy is well -- non-existent. She basically just made shit up. But, nonetheless it was apparently "irrestistable" to the great historical minds at Time magazine. They are evidently wingnut crackwhores over there.

Aside from her astonishing lack of historical knowledge, however, is it even remotely possible that anyone who isn't already a true believer can make any sense of that mess? For instance, what could possibly be persuasive in this paragraph?:

Liberals invented the myth of McCarthyism to delegitimize impertinent questions about their own patriotism. They boast (lyingly) about their superior stance on civil rights. But somehow their loyalty to the United States is off-limits as a subject of political debate. Why is the relative patriotism of the two parties the only issue that is out of bounds for discussion? Why can't we ask: Who is more patriotic --- Democrats or Republicans? You could win that case in court.

Liberals invented the myth of McCarthyism to keep the other side from questioning their patriotism. Which is, of course, what McCarthy actually did and was eventually disgraced for doing. But whatever. Liberals also boast about their superior stance on civil rights --- lyingly. How this related to the fact that we invented McCarthyism, I don't know. And yet we "somehow" (by boasting "lyingly" about civil rights?) have made made it impossible to question our loyalty to the United States.

But lest we forget, Coulter isn't actually talking about patriotism. She says that Democrats have a "preturnatural gift for striking a position on the side of treason," which is actually many degrees worse than calling somebody a "cowboy" or referring to castro as "Fidel." Indeed, it is a capital offense.

I guess this kind of intellectual incoherence is what makes Coulter so "irresistible" to TIME magazine which has decided to go back to its old 60's ways when it was widely known to be a tool for the political establishment. Between naming Powerline blog of the year, Joe Klein calling the Democrats "undemocratic" and this, I think it's fair to say that the Noise Machine has a proud new member --- or maybe it's actually a founding member that's just recently decided to wear its stripes more proudly. Good to know.

I'm reminded of this passage from Allen Ginsberg's great poem "America"

I'm addressing you.
Are you going to let our emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I'm obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It's always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie
producers are serious. Everybody's serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.

Prove It

Matt Yglesias and Atrios both got to this post by Amy Sullivan before I could, but since it's one of my hobby horses, I can't help but weigh in. Sullivan makes the case again that the Democrats could gain from bashing Hollywood because a lot of parents are uncomfortable with the sexual innuendo on "Friends". Or something like that.

After the election we all argued quite a bit about this sort of thing because the religious right jumped on an initial bit of analysis that said that "moral values" were the primary reason people voted for Republicans. It turned out to be a lot more complicated than that, but it set off a division in the party, I think, between those who believe that we can achieve a majority by competing for social conservative type votes through religious rhetoric, those who believe that we will win a majority by competing for libertarian type votes through appeals to individual liberty, and those who believe we will win through a muscular foreign policy message.

In order to gain a political majority in this country we need 51%. We have 49%. This question of where we are going to get that majority could be answered in any number of ways or any combination of ways. But, you have to settle on some sort of strategy and mine comes down on the second option. It reflects my personal values and I think it presents a stark, clear choice between the two parties now that the Republicans are being shackled by their image as the party of the religious right extremists. I think it's good policy and good politics both to embrace a "mind your own business" message in light of how far out the Republicans have become. Now is not the time, in my opinion, to blur the lines. It's time to draw them clearly. All those people who watched FOXnews in disgust during the Schiavo matter are open to the argument that the Republicans are trying to impose radical religious values on the country.

But, others disagree and think that social conservatism is where the votes are and that's where we should concentrate our efforts. I have serious doubts that attacking popular culture will be seen as anything more than pandering but there are ways to test this issue.

The fact is that if all these religious people stop watching these television shows they will be cancelled. The entertainment business is the most sensitive market in the world. They measure their product sales every single day and they will stop producing it if it isn't selling. If you don't like it, don't watch it, and if there are as many religious people in this country as we are told, Hollywood will respond. Immediately.

A bunch of pulpits and righteous religious people, who are said to be legion in this country, can get something like this done without doing anything more than just saying no. Because right now a lot of these religious people do watch all this crap. The numbers do not lie. They are buying Britney CD's and Grand Theft Auto for their kids. What they seem to want is for somebody else to make it easier for them to say no to their kids. I suggest that they say no first and popular culture will follow. If religion is as politically and culturally powerful as people keep saying it is, it should be able to persuade people to do this one simple thing.

Of course, there is the little problem that people lie about this stuff. They lie about going to church, and they tell pollsters they are unhappy with things on television --- the very things they continue to watch. I imagine that many people think they need to say these things even as they spend Sunday watching the football game and Sunday night glued to "Desperate Housewives". They refuse to use the V-chip that could keep their little kids from watching any channel they choose and they give their kids money to buy the junk that that they profess not to like. But I can't say as I blame them. Hypocrisy is a requirement of American citizenship these days. Pity the person who admits out loud to being secular or unconcerned with current sexual morality. Better to pay lip service to the morals police than bring down their provincial ire on your head.

And it should be remembered that even if Democratic politicans could benefit from bashing Susan Sarandon and Janeane Garofolo, all of this pressure would likely go awry and we'd be seeing halter tops on the Venus de Milo. Neither politicans nor bureaucrats are capable of telling the difference between art and pornography and they will always err on the side of tight assed stupidity. Like this. And voluntary censorship is worse than government censorship. At least you can vote the censors out of office. If you leave it up to the corporations somebody's mentally challenged nephew will be deciding that the word "but" is dirty.

And as Yglesias points out in his piece, this is all being done in an environment in which pregnancy rates are going down, youth violence is going down and a whole host of other youth pathologies are showing every sign of dissipating. Yet, the one thing that parents could really do to help their children --- get them off the fucking couch in the first place and feed them some real, nutritious food --- they evidently aren't eager to do. Instead, I suspect that many of those who aren't just saying what they think people expect, simply want politicians to make them feel that they are good parents by expressing their faux outrage for them --- while they munch on their super-sized big macs and eagerly watch women metaphorically scratch each others eyes out competing for some zero in a hot tub on "The Bachelor."

But like I said, all that needs to change things here is that these vast numbers of priests, pastors and preachers tell their tens of millions of obedient flocks to stop watching the bad stuff. The bad stuff will disappear if they do it, guaranteed. Take this message to the churches, not the politicians. If we are to believe that this country is awash in religiosity and that religious people make up the constituency that can make or break any political party, then I say prove it. Here's your issue. Get your followers to stop watching all the shows on television that are allegedly polluting our culture and you will have shown once and for all that social conservatism is a majority position in America.

Update: For the record, I do not disagree that we should be addressing the needs of parents. The government can do many things to help people with this, from providing good schools to subsidising decent health care to dealing with as Yglesias calls it "the interesection of feminism and capitalism." As a liberal I think the government has a vital role to play in economic issues, particularly those that help the middle class. That's what we do.

But, by feeding into the myth that the biggest problem facing America is a decline in "values" --- a decline which is promulgated by liberal elites (who, yes work for corporate masters) --- we play into the the right wing's game plan. They have created a myth that liberal values are the prime cause of people's discontent instead of the very real pressures that people feel in the squeeze between work, family, consumerism, freedom and responsibility. Some of these things the government can help with, some of them they can't. But the problem with the current formulation is that the Right has convinced everyone that the government should interfere in the ways in which it is most clumsy and ill equipped and abdicate it's responsibility to do the things it can actually do pretty well.

Here's the thing. Everytime we expolicitly play into this "oh the country's values are going to hell in a handbasket" game, we are playing on GOP turf. I think Amy Sullivan is correct to say that we can use this issue as a way into the hearts and minds of overworked and worried parents. But not by joining with Joementum and condemning Hollywood or, as Amy Sullivan said, pulling a Sistah Soljah on Susan Sarandon. (And, why her? She won the Oscar playing a nun who fights against the death penalty. See what happens when you meddle in art and culture? The good gets all mixed in with the bad.)

The way you worm your way into this topic is by responding to people's concerns about popular culture with an empathetic, "well we live in a free country and apparently a lot of people like that stuff or it wouldn't be on. However, I think we should definitely try to find some ways for you to be able to spend more time with your kids so you can have at least as much influence as the television does."

What you don't do is allow their framing of the argument to stick. It only reinforces their message that liberalism is the cause of all evil. We just have to stop doing that. Whenever we find ourselves speaking in terms that could come out of a Republican's mouth we should ask ourselves if it's really common ground or just internalizing their criticisms of us. 90% of the time it's the latter.

Update II: Julia discusses the strange hippie, liberal phenomenon called ... parental responsibility.


Monday, April 11, 2005

Now It's A Democracy Not A Republic?

From Joe Klein to Ed Koch to every wingnut in the land, the meme of the week is that Democrats are undemocratic because we believe in an independent judiciary and will use the illegitimate minority cudgel of the filibuster to thwart the will of the people. Shame, shame on us.

Yes, we do desire that judicial nominees not be ideologically so removed from our way of thinking as to turn the country in a completely different direction --- like proclaim for the first time, for instance, that the government derives its authority from God rather than the governed. And yes, since the Republicans repealed all the tools they used to accomplished the same tempering of ideology when a Democrat was president, we have threatened to use the only tool at our disposal, the filibuster. This means we have no respect for the majority and are attempting to thwart the will of the electorate, who evidently voted en masse for a radical reform of the judiciary in the last election. Who knew?

Undemocratic. I wonder what one would call impeaching a twice elected president for a personal indiscretion would be? How about redrawing the electoral maps whenever it suits in order to establish a larger majority? Or how about staging a recall less than two years after a scheduled election just because the governor had hit a rough spot in public opinion? (The way Bush is going right now, I wish we had such a thing at the federal level. We could kick his unpopular ass out. But, surely that would be considered "undemocratic" wouldn't it --- if Democrats did it?)

The word "democracy" is sadly being bastardized to such a degree that it's losing its meaning. It's become like Jesus --- a code word for Republicans to bash Democrats. But with all this talk of the filibuster being undemocratic, and it is, it certainly is no more undemocratic than the Senate itself. The Republican party currently represents a majority of states in the Sernate, but the Democrats represent a majority of people. What's democratic about that?

Or how about that relic called the electoral college --- you know the little anachronism that got Junior his first term? Talk about undemocratic. If we are going to start going down the road to a pure democracy then I would suggest that we should probably eliminate both of those institutions.

But it's a funny thing. Whenever I've had conversations bemoaning the undemocratic streak in the GOP these last few years, what with its unprecedented blow job impeachments and recalls and district redrawings and the like, I'm always met with the standard wingnut line "the United States is a republic, not a democracy." Suddenly, we're hearing all this stuff about thwarting the majority. How convenient.

I get tired of pointing out the intellectual inconsistencies on the right. But it is so vast and fertile a subject that I come up against it again and again and again. This is way beyond something as prosaic as hypocrisy. They feel no shame in completely doing an intellectual 180 overnight when circumstances require it. They don't even betray a rueful shrug of the shoulders with a "well you know, it's politics." They argue with the same supercilious, ferocious rudeness on whatever side of the argument serves them at any moment, without ever acknowledging (even, I suspect, to themselves) that just yesterday they were on the other side. Very, very weird.

Poison Embrace

Busy, Busy, Busy has this great screenshot of an ad by the wingnut "Moving America Forward" featuring those great conservatives Oliver North, Ronald Reagan, John Bolton and ... Joe Lieberman.

It occurs to me that the Democrats should start doing the same thing to John McCain. If McCain runs in '08, it would be nice to have him saddled with being the Democrats favorite conservative. Why take the chance that he could get the nomination? Let's taint him.

Here's a good quote we can use:

"The politics of division and slander are not our values," McCain said in Virginia. "They are corrupting influences on religion and politics and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party and our country."

That's a message that could play well in the general election, where independents could go for him. Best make sure he doesn't get the nomination. Let's run some ads with McCain alongside Barbara Boxer and Hillary Clinton. That ought to finish him off.

As an aside, I don't know if the Republican establishment is as convinced of this as Republicans of my acquaintance, but the ones I know really think that Lieberman could win. Really. They think he's the only guy in the party who could get Republican votes. I think they are delusional. What Lieberman lacks in charisma he more than makes up for in lack of appeal. But these people really believe that Joementum is a threat.

Of course, he will never get the nomination, as we know. But we should ensure that McCain doesn't get it either. Democrats have to win.

Location Location Location

Kevin says something today that I think is odd:

It's one thing to stretch logic enough to conclude that a fertilized piece of DNA in the womb is a human life that deserves the full protection of the law, but it's quite another to conclude that a fertilized piece of DNA in a petri dish is a human life that deserves the full protection of the law. Especially when the petri dish version might hold the key to curing grandpa's Parkinson's.

I actually think the opposite is true. If one concludes that these scraps of DNA have the rights of personhood depending on where they are located, I would think that logic would force you to choose the one that doesn't conflict directly with the fully formed human being it's living within --- the woman. The controversy about abortion can be distilled to a conflict between what is, at the DNA scrap stage anyway, a "life" that is quite literally attached to and part of another life. If people want to decide that DNA scraps in petri dishes are full citizens with the right to vote and own condos in Miami, it's stupid, but far more logical than it is when you tell a woman that the scrap of DNA inside of her body has the same equal rights under the law as she does.

Personally, I see scraps of DNA in petri dishes and wombs simply as scraps of DNA which do not hold human rights at all. I'm all for curing grandpa's Parkinsons with the hundreds of thousands of discarded embryos from in vitro fertilization. That seems like common sense to me --- maybe even God's plan. But if we are going to go around bestowing human rights on DNA I think fully formed human beings should have at least a slightly superior claim to those rights than the microscopic scrap of DNA inside her body.


Friday, April 08, 2005

Eine Kleine Mock Music

Would it be terribly politically incorrect of me to wish that Joe Klein would just succumb to his impending persistent vegetative state? I promise to let the Schindlers adopt him and they can pump his feeding tube full of homemade butterscotch puddin' 24/7 if he will just shut his burbling piehole.

In spite of the fact that three quarters of the country were repelled by the Republican grandstanding in the Schiavo circus, Klein insists, as always, that it is the Democrats who have it wrong. We need to give "careful consideration to what thoughtful conservatives are saying about the role of the judiciary in our public life."

Which thoughtful conservatives should we be listening to Joe? The ones who are directly threatening conservative and liberal judges who believe their job is to interpret the laws or the ones who merely understand why someone would be moved to threaten conservative and liberal judges who believe their job is to interpret the laws? Or maybe it's this thoughtful conservative who heads the Coalition For A Fair Judiciary. Here's what she thoughtfully had to say today, (via Sam Rosenfeld on TAPPED):

My job is stand in the breach between the left and the president’s judicial nominations . . . You know who they are. You’ve seen them. The pro-abortion fanatics and the radical feminists, the atheists who file lawsuits attacking the pledge of allegiance and the ten commandments, the environmentalist tree-hugging animal-rights extremists, the one-world globalists who worship at the altar of the United Nations and international law, the militant homosexuals and the anti-military hippie pieceniks, the racial agitators who believe we are all created equal but some are a little more equal than others, the union bosses and the socialists posing as journalists and college professors, the government bureaucrats and the tax-and-spend junkies, the Hollywood elitists, the air-headed actors and singers who think that we actually care what they think, the pornographers who fund the leftists and who won’t be happy until every Bible in every child’s hands is replaced with the latest copy of Hustler magazine, and of course the gun-grabbing trial lawyers and their willing accomplices in the United States Senate who won’t be happy until they disarm every last citizen down to the last bee bee and paintball gun.

Yes, I agree that I need to listen more to flaming fuckwads like that. Right after I pull the hot needles from my eyeballs.

Joe says:

The Schiavo case has provoked a passionate American conversation, which is taking place on a more profound level than the simple yes and no answers of the polls. Yes, the vast majority disdain the politicians who chose to exploit the case. And yes, a solid majority would not want their own lives prolonged in a similar situation. But the questions that cut closest to home are the family issues. What would you do if Terri Schiavo were your daughter? Why couldn't Michael Schiavo just give custody over to the parents? What do we do about custody in a society where the parent-child bond is more durable than many marriages? The President's solution, to "err on the side of life," seems the only humane answer—if there is a dispute between parents and spouse, and the disabled person has left no clear instruction.

"The parent-child bond is more durable that many marriages?" And here I thought it was supposed to be the Democrats who infantilized adults. Or maybe it's really just the infantilization of men. The old rhyme used to say that a "son is a son 'til he takes a wife, a daughter's a daughter all of her life." Now a son is a daughter all of his life too. I guess that's a weird form of progress.

Klein's insistence that the polls don't acurately reflect the nation's feelings on the matter is reminiscent of official Washington's gobsmacked reaction to the public's take on the Lewinsky scandal. Here's how Klein himself explained it in "The Natural."

When it has all been digested, public opinion has shifted not a whit. The President's job approval ratings remained very high, in the 60 percent range --- he would leave office with the highest sustained job approval ratings of any President since John F. Kennedy. His personal approval ratings were lower, of course. It was difficult to imagine any civilian answering in the affirmative if asked, "Do you approve of the President's personal behavior?" Of course many secret sympathies were undoubtedly harbored, especially among those Clinton's age, who had navigated themselves --- shakily --- through the uncertain moral shoals of the late twentieth century.


The Republicans suffered grievously. They lost five seats in the congressional elections that fall, which was very rare for a midterm election during a President's sixth year in office. Newt Gingrich suffered and appropriately Jacobin fate, becoming as target of his own hotheads...His reign had lasted exactly four --- entirely disasterous --- years...A Harris poll showed that journalists were now held in the lowest public esteem of any professional group, lower even than lawyers.

This mystified Washington. William Bennett, the former Reagan education Secretary who had built a cottage industry out of books that compiles stories about "virtues" now hustled forth with a new book called "The Death of Outrage, and made a national tour lamenting the moral insensitivity of the American people. The editorial pages of both the New York Times and Washington Post had sounded, in the midst of the scandal every bit as intemperate as the editorial page of the Wall Street journal.


How then to explain the contrast between the intensity of outrage in Washington and the laissez-faire attitude toward the President's immorality among the citizens of the most religious of Western democracies? It seemed an inprecedented disparity, and quite fascinating. It was especially entertaining to watch the commentariat --- which had been predicting for months yhat the public would soon share its anti-Clinton obsession --- try to explain why that hadn't happened. Americans had judged the Lewinsky affair a delicious, disgraceful, exploitive and ultimately private act of consensual sex.

However you choose to characterize people's reactions, the only one that matters politically is that they believed it was a private act and that the government had overstepped its bounds. But "the uncertain moral shoals of the late twentieth century" (and early 21st century) aren't confined to whether middle aged men can keep it in their pants at the office. Lot's of uncertainty these days Joe, except for one thing --- nobody wants that moron George W. Bush defining what constitutes "erring on the side of life" any more than they wanted Ken Starr rifling through their panty drawers.

Speaking of the Democratic response he says:

...it was a curiously sterile pronouncement, bereft of the Congressman's usual raucous humanity. It exemplified the Democratic Party's recent overdependence on legal process, a culture of law that has supplanted legislative consideration of vexing social issues. This is democracy once removed.

Huh? The libertine left is now overly dependent on the rule of law? WTF? And who says that liberals are supplanting legislative consideration of vexing social issues? We are happy to pass laws on all these things. But, we just have a little expectation that these laws should be constitutional that's all. We're not in favor of inflicting particular religious doctine on those who don't believe and we don't think that the government should intrude on purely private matters. If that's a "culture of law" count me in.

There must be some kind of computer program you can buy in DC that scolds Democrats like a drunk and bitter stepmother no matter what the circumstances. If there isn't, I'm going to invent one so that Joe Klein can spend even more time kissing the flatulent asses of sanctimonious Republican gasbags who insist that James Dobson and his zombie nation represent "real" America

This month, Democrats may use procedural tricks to stop all Senate business and block a Republican effort to eliminate minority filibuster rights and jam through seven federal judges proposed by the President. The fight may be winnable, but it is a culture of law cul-de-sac. The Democrats will be shutting down the Senate over a matter of process rather than substance, a pinhead of principle most civilians will find difficult to understand. The Armageddon of confirmation battles—over the next Supreme Court Justice—will probably follow soon after, and it may cement a public impression of the Democrats as a party obsessed with the legal processes that preserve the status quo on issues such as abortion, gay rights and extreme secularism—and little else. The political damage may be considerable.

I'll take my chances. Klein was among those he now mocks for assuming for months that Clinton would be forced from office. He has the political instincts of a dead cat. This judicial fight could have turned out the way Klein presents it. But Schiavo changed all that. Klein's got it exactly backwards. The GOP let loose the hounds of hell and now they can't get them back under control. We are better positioned than we have been since 9/11 to win one.

It's not about Democrats being "obsessed with legal processes and little else." It's about a bunch of extremists pushing their agenda far beyond what the public is ready to accept. Nobody gives a shit what Barney Frank said about this matter. They haven't even heard it. It's what Bill Frist and Tom DeLay said that freaked them out.

Josh Marshall brought up an interesting point about this that hadn't occurred to me before:

Was there any clear point in the legal history of this case at which, purely on legal intepretation grounds, any significant question should have been judged in a different manner?

I raise this because one of this site's regular readers and correspondents just dropped me a note about some program he was watching on C-Span in which some staffer from the Hill was about to blow a fuse over unaccountable activist judges and how they all need to be impeached.

But if the answer to the question above is 'no', then isn't the real beef of all these Schiavo-hounds that these judges aren't activist enough in departing from the law to get results the hounds want?

Well that gets to Klein's newfound embrace of the democratic process for resolving all these pesky social issues instead of relying on that musty old "culture of law" (aka the constitution of the United States.) Yes, it's very easy for these "culture of life" zealots to complain, but it's a little bit more difficult for them to actually step up to the plate and pass these laws in the way that Klein believes we all should. That's because these ideas are unpopular, unconsitutional and completely out of the mainstream. (Here's an interesting article in the St Petersberg Times that shows the great democratic and deliberative process that brought about "Terri's law" --- which was rightly declared unconstitutional by 7-0 margin in the Florida Supreme court and rejected for review by the US Supreme Court. Maybe if these people wrote literate legislation they'd pass muster. But then, perhaps they really don't want to...)

It's not that these judges are "liberal activists" --- the main players in the Schiavo matter were conservative republicans, for God's sake. It's that the Republican legislatures both state and federal want to blame the judiciary for the fact that they cannot deliver on these repugnant, unamerican, demands from their extremist religious right constituency. They want something that both real "thoughtful" Republican judges and Democrats all agree is unconstitutional. They want to destroy an independent judiciary so they can pass unconstituional laws on a purely partisan basis with no review. Sorry, I just don't see what's so "thoughtful" about that.

Armando has a full detailed Klein take down in this post over on Kos. Check it out.