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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

I'd like to address this meeting of the Harper Valley P.T.A.

Apparently, some people are still upset that certain liberals have the temerity to suggest that the moral values voters the media believe decided the election might just be the teeniest bit hypocrital. We are petty elitists, and intellectual lightweights to boot.

I have to say that this critique is driving me nuts coming from sophisticated thinkers like Somerby. He claims, ridiculously, that Frank Rich was misleading when he said that nobody complained about the "Desperate Housewives" skit until political groups got them all riled up, using the fact that a spokesman says he didn't get any calls at home. Clearly the spokesman means that nobody from the network called him to let him know there was an uproar, which is what would normally happen. This argument is beneath Somerby. Rich made a very good case that this was a ginned up controversy.

The bigger issue is that Somerby and others claim that those of us who find all this moralizing a bit suspect are using the fallacy of composition --- we are applying the hypocrisy of some moralizers to all red state morals voters. But that criticism ignores the fact that this entire discussion is taking place within a broader "culture war" as defined by those who have decided to wage it. The "Desperate Housewives" flap didn't happen in a vacuum. Of course voters are individuals and there are certainly some who sincerely believe that the skit in question crossed the line. But the real subject of this conversation is this false construct of the Republican Real Americans appalled at the horrible values of the Democratic libertine cosmopolitans. It is not a stretch to use the "Desperate Housewives" flap as an example of hypocrisy on the part of the moralizers considering that it is an immensely popular mass market television show among the very Real Americans who are alleged to be so moral.

Via Sommerby (who takes a different lesson from these quotes) here's an example of what we are dealing with:

MR. RUSSERT: Two interesting developments over the last month or so. A report came out that the state with the lowest level of divorce is Massachusetts. The states with the highest level are the so-called Bible Belt in the South.


REV. SHARPTON: That's because they watch "Desperate Housewives."

MR. RUSSERT: Also "Desperate Housewives"...

REV. SHARPTON: That's right.

MR. RUSSERT: ...a widely viewed television series, particularly in the South.

REV. SHARPTON: Because...

MR. RUSSERT: Why is it that the red states...

DR. FALWELL: Because the South doesn't belong to the New Testament Church anymore than the North.


DR. FALWELL: We have a responsibility to preach the Gospel. But I would take that poll a little further. Among born-again, Bible-believing Christians who take the Bible as the word of God, you'll find those stats are non...

MR. RUSSERT: They don't watch "Desperate Housewives"?

DR. FALWELL: I hope they don't.

REV. SHARPTON: You don't know. Look, Brother Russert, Brother Russert...

DR. LAND: I don't...

DR. FALWELL: I have never watched it and I've...

DR. FALWELL: I have never watched it and I've...

DR. LAND: We're in church on Sunday night. The point is--you know, look. He said we shouldn't impose values on others. Look, when a mother has an abortion, she is imposing her values on an unborn child. And it is always a fatal imposition because the baby dies.

DR. FALWELL: Amen. Amen.

REV. SHARPTON: Brother Russert, I'll tell you that people...

MR. RUSSERT: On "Desperate Housewives," Newsweek says that the creator of "Desperate Housewives" is a conservative, gay Republican.

REV. SHARPTON: That's what I was going to say. Do you find that...

DR. FALWELL: Well, the fact that he's a gay Republican means he should join the Democratic Party.

What I would give to be able to sit down in a living room somewhere and watch that unbelievable Sunday sideshow with Mark Twain, Sinclair Lewis, John O'Hara, Theodore Dreiser, Willa Cather, Erskine Caldwell, Flannery O'Connor and about a dozen other great American writers. If there is a greater All American, mom and apple pie, flagwaving tradition in the great country of ours than deflating pompous gasbags like those guys, I don't know what is.

Exposing the phony piety of middle American life goes back a long, long way. In fact we could say that our earliest literary superstar, Nathaniel Hawthorne, made his name with the subject of the preacher and small town sin. The greatest American writer ever (imo) Mark Twain, wrote:

We are discreet sheep; we wait to see how the drove is going, and then go with the drove. We have two opinions: one private, which we are afraid to express; and another one - the one we use - which we force ourselves to wear to please Mrs. Grundy, until habit makes us comfortable in it, and the custom of defending it presently makes us love it, adore it, and forget how pitifully we came by it.

The progressive movement was inspired and energized by novels and stories that laid bare the twofaced nature of bourgouis American morality. Sinclair Lewis wrote "Main Street" in 1920:

The doctor asserted, 'Sure religion is a fine influence - got to have it to keep the lower classes in order - fact, it's the only thing that appeals to a lot of these fellows and makes 'em respect the rights of property. And I guess this theology is O.K.; lot of wise old coots figured it out, and they knew more about it than we do. He believed in the Christian religion, and never thought about it; he believed in the church, and seldom went near it; he was shocked by Carol's lack of faith, and wasn't quite sure what was the nature of the faith that she lacked.

In 1927 he wroteElmer Gantry:

"He had, in fact, got everything from the church and Sunday School, except, perhaps, any longing whatever for decency and kindness and reason."

Just last year, Rick Perlstein visited Ronald Reagan's home town and found, you guessed it, quite a bit of shall we say ... cultural dissonance among the pillars of the community.

I could go on and on. There is nothing new about questioning the sincerity of public people who preach private morality. Politicians may believe that they need to preach morality for strategic reasons. Fine. But that does not require writers and social observers to pretend that we live in a country in which the natural course of human nature has been suspended in certain more "moral" regions or that it is disrespectful to question why Viagra commercials and close-up Cheerleader crotch shots do not elicit the same shocked moral outrage from NFL fans like Rush Limbaugh as the blond's naked back in the arms of a leering black football player.

I do not watch "Desperate Housewives." In fact I watch almost no network television at all. I don't defend any of popular culture on aesthetic or moral grounds. I'm sure that traversing the shoals of modern life is very difficult for those with young children. If I had young kids I probably would severely restrict their viewing. But, I'm not going to listen to anyone tell me that that "Hollywood" and "New York" values are infecting any region of this country against its will because every corner of this land is filled with people who eat that stuff up.

Parents should probably use the V-Chip that Clinton pushed through to give parents a tool to keep their kids from seeing things they don't want them to see, use TiVo to screen programs or better yet, turn off the TV. I have a feeling that as unpopular as that might be, it might just be for the best. Having TV executives hold a seance to figure out what Michael Powell and his cronies believe should be on television just doesn't seem to me to be much of a solution in a free society.

And one more thing: Somerby approvingly quotes President Clinton numerous times saying that the Pentecostals deserved respect because even though they didn't believe in a right to abortion they took in unwanted babies and gave them a home. He uses this as an example of how liberals should talk about fundamentalist Christians. Falwell repeated on Press the Meat that his church sponsored adoptions.

It's a nice story, but it would be a lot more meanigful if it weren't for this:

African-American babies are going to parents overseas even as US couples adopt children from other countries

Adrian, Emma, and Elisa have more in common than their charm and being the apple of their parents' eyes. All are black children born in the United States and adopted as infants by parents in other countries.

They also are representatives of a little-known trend: At the same time the US is "importing" increasing numbers of adoptive children from Russia, China, and Guatemala, it is "exporting" black babies to be adopted in other countries.


The majority of [american] couples seeking to adopt are white, but there aren't nearly enough Caucasian babies available in the US to meet the demand. Although exceptions certainly exist, American parents generally prefer babies to toddlers, girls to boys, and Caucasians to African-Americans, adoption professionals report. Other ethnicities fall in between, depending on their skin color. African-American boys are at the bottom of this "ranking" system, they say, which is why they're harder to place.

"We have to work much harder to find homes for our African-American babies," says Robert Springer of Christian Homes, an adoption agency in Texas.

No one is equating babies with commodities, but the principles of supply and demand apply. Adoption costs and waiting times in the US vary depending on a baby's ranking in the "desirability list."

The children who are in the greatest demand are also in the shortest supply. Those who want to adopt healthy white babies in the US may wait as long as five years, agencies say. In contrast, they add, the waiting for African-Americans is often measured in weeks and months, especially for baby boys.

Now I realize that not every pentecostal who opposes abortion would refuse to adopt a black child. But, the evidence shows that while the fundamentalists may be willing to adopt unwanted babies in theory, in practice they only want to adopt certain unwanted babies. I don't know why that deserves any special respect.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Commies and Patriots

I have to agree with Boarshead Tavern that this WorldNet Daily story about kids wearing Commie Che shirts is chilling. The man, after all, justified many horrible actions in the name of his revolution with no regard for universal ethics or morals:

Guevara was proud of the fact that he personally put bullets in the backs of the heads of many he considered counter-revolutionary.

Once again, in rallying his guerrillas in Angola, he wrote: "Blind hate against the enemy creates a forceful impulse that cracks the boundaries of natural human limitations, transforming the soldier in an effective, selective and cold killing machine. A people without hate cannot triumph against the adversary."


Now this on the other hand is a stocking stuffer for the whole family:

Support our Marine

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.

Printed on high quality superheavyweight, preshrunk cotton (6.1oz)

Via Crooks and Liars and The Daou Report

Friday, November 26, 2004

Crack A Book

Some people need to read some history before they get snippy:

Here's my post, from Polipundit.com, on the jaw-dropping liberal self-parody of the day. What planet, exactly, are these people from?

Far-left Democratic Congresswoman, Zoe Lofgren, of the San Francisco Bay Area, plans to introduce a prospective Constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College.

Cute, huh?

Incidentally, this will not be Ms. Lofgren’s “15 minutes,” so to speak.

Last March, a woman who had worked for Lofgren as a Congressional aide, back in 2002, was arrested by the F.B.I., on charges that she had served as a “paid agent” for the Iraqi Intelligence Services, both prior, and subsequent, to the U.S.-led military assault to take down Saddam Hussein’s government.

And in a final bit of liberal irony, Congresswoman Lofgren’s former aide began her political career as a reporter for the Pravda-like Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Um, could you have scripted all that for an uproarious political satire?

Um, not intentionally. You see, there have been many, many calls to abolish the electoral college, going back to James Madison and Andrew Jackson. In the last 35 years alone there have been dozens of proposals to eliminate it or change it, many of them coming from Republicans. Yep, even Republican president Nixon and Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole and respected Republican senator (and Reagan chief of staff) Howard Baker were in favor of abolishing it. And guess what? Public opinion polls have repeatedly shown that the public favors abolition of the electoral college too.

Imagine that:: In a 1968 Gallup survey, 81% of Americans favored a direct popular vote, 12% favored retention, and 7% had no opinion. In 1992, pollsters asked Americans this question, 'If Perot runs, there is a chance that no presidential candidate will get enough electoral votes to win. If that happens, the Constitution gives the House of Representatives the power to decide who will be the next President. Do you think that is a fair way to choose the President, or should the Constitution be changed?' 31% said it was a fair way, and 61% said the Constitution should be changed.

By some counts, there have been over seven hundred proposed amendments to the Constitution to change, or abolish, the electoral college. In 1969, in the wake of an election where a third party candidate almost sent the election to the House of Representatives, an amendment to do away with the electoral college passed the House of Representatives with 83% of the vote, 338-70. Richard Nixon favored the amendment, and so did three-quarters of state legislatures, Republican Senator Howard Baker denounced the electoral college with 'Any system which favors one citizen over another or one state over another is ... inconsistent with the most fundamental concept of a democratic society.' Predictably, the amendment failed in the Senate; however, it was not small states who blocked the reform but rather Southern states, who saw the electoral college as part of states' rights. Also, because the Senate itself is an institution which gives each state an equal say in the formation of laws; a body which helps to protect the small states from their more populous analogues.

I know it's great fun for people to get all snotty and snide over things about which they apparently know nothing. But it's also a good way to make a fool of yourself on the internets.

Via The Daou Report

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Puritan To Yankee and back again

In responding to my post below Kidding On The Square writes a very nice treatise on the life of the Puritans, a subject so relevant today....for so many reasons. He quotes from Richard Bushman's book From Puritan to Yankee

No attempt to trace the history of liberty can deal with the detached individual in isolation. Freedom is a condition not of the single man alone but of man in relationship to a community. The group protects him against the misuse of the power of others and provides the setting within which he can advantageously exercise his own powers. Therefore, changes in the nature of the community, which necessarily either increase or restrain the capacity of the individual to act, affect his liberty.

Particulary significant in the analysis of the process by which the Puritans became Yankeees is the light it throws on the relationship between society and individual personality. The description of the forces in the community that gave birth to the wish to be free, among men brought up in a closed order, illuminates an important, and neglected, facet of the history of liberty in the United States.

Happy Turkee Day.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Rolling Their Eyes Maybe

Via Peter Daou I see that the right wing bloggers are all atwitter about this article in which a teacher is reported to be suing his principal for allegedly refusing to let him teach the Declaration of Independence because it mentions God.(Well, technically it mentions a Creator.) According to these furious Republicans, the founders are rolling in their graves:

Steven Williams, a fifth-grade teacher at Stevens Creek School in the San Francisco Bay area suburb of Cupertino, sued for discrimination on Monday, claiming he had been singled out for censorship by principal Patricia Vidmar because he is a Christian.

"It's a fact of American history that our founders were religious men, and to hide this fact from young fifth-graders in the name of political correctness is outrageous and shameful," said Williams' attorney, Terry Thompson.

"Williams wants to teach his students the true history of our country," he said. "There is nothing in the Establishment Clause (of the U.S. Constitution) that prohibits a teacher from showing students the Declaration of Independence."

Vidmar could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit, which was filed on Monday in U.S. District Court in San Jose and claims violations of Williams rights to free speech under the First Amendment.

Phyllis Vogel, assistant superintendent for Cupertino Unified School District, said the lawsuit had been forwarded to a staff attorney. She declined to comment further.

Perhaps the facts are just as the lawsuit alleges in which case the principal has some explaining to do. But before we make that judgment it might be worth our while to find out if what this teacher is saying IS ACTUALLY TRUE. Nobody from the other side has commented and nobody knows the whole story. Anybody can file a lawsuit and call the press. It doesn't make it a fact. Indeed, somebody really ought to ask themselves if an attorney making the statement "there is nothing in the Establishment Clause (of the U.S. Constitution) that prohibits a teacher from showing students the Declaration of Independence," isn't just a little bit too cute.

Certainly, it's a stretch to evoke the founding fathers on this religiosity issue, particularly Jefferson. He wasn't a Christian, he was a Deist. I know that's inconvenient, but it's true. Back in those days you didn't have to pass a religious test to be in government like you do today. Why, they even put it in the constitution.

". . . Some books against Deism fell into my hands. . . It happened that they wrought an effect on my quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist."


"... I am not afraid of priests. They have tried upon me all their various batteries of pious whining, hypocritical canting, lying and slandering. I have contemplated their order from the Magi of the East to the Saints of the West and I have found no difference of character, but of more or less caution, in proportion to their information or ignorance on whom their interested duperies were to be played off. Their sway in New England is indeed formidable. No mind beyond mediocrity dares there to develop itself."


What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not."


. . . Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind."


The 1796 treaty with Tripoli, negotiations begun under Washington and signed by Adams states:

[As] the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion

Please spare us the rewiting of history. There were Christians, Deists and atheists among the founders. But they were all products of the Enlightenment which the current Christians seem determined to reject. The founders are rolling in their graves, all right.

Update: Seeing The Forest informs me that this is one of those tiresome bogus lawsuits brought forth by the Alliance Defense Fund whose founders are:

Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ

Larry Burkett, founder of Christian Financial Concepts

Rev. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family

Rev. D. James Kennedy, founder of Coral Ridge Ministries

Marlin Maddoux, President of International Christian Media

Don Wildmon, founder of American Family Association
(And 25+ other ministries)

That's the best case for lawsuit reform I've ever heard, right there.

STF points out that this is coordinated to come out the day before Thanksgiving so that they can pound it over the holiday week-end without anybody being able to properly respond. These precious little stories are becoming commonplace these days. I remember the one about the teacher who was allegedly discriminated against because she put a picture of Bush on the bulletin board. It turned out that she had a fucking shrine up there and was insulting 12 year old kids whose parents were voting for Kerry. All the wingnuts keened and wailed about the unfairness of it all, always being the first to claim victimhood. As each tale is debunked they just move to the next.

These little personal stories are a very effective way to spread propaganda. We need to figure out a way to deal with this stuff.

Preznit Give APEC Turkee

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Honor, Dignity and Civility

Mr. Daschle is the first Senate party leader in more than half a century to lose a re-election campaign. His emotional talk, in which he also urged his colleagues to find "common ground," was attended by nearly all of the Senate's Democrats, who gathered him in their arms and hugged him afterward.

But only a few Republicans showed up, and Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, who broke with Senate tradition to campaign against Mr. Daschle in his home state, South Dakota, did not appear until after Mr. Daschle finished speaking.

Has there ever been a group of more graceless winners in history?

The scant Republican showing provoked Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, to speak out. "I don't know why, why in the closing days, some element of comity, some element of grace, some element of respect for a human being, could not have gotten some of our friends out of their offices," Mr. Lautenberg said.

Because they are assholes, all of them.

The Real American people have spoken. These fuckers represent them. They are going to lecture me about values and I'm supposed to respect them and believe them when they tell me they are concerned about their children. God help this misbegotten country.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Pandering To Hypocrisy

There seems to be something of a scold mentality emerging about those of us who question the sincerity of those who are up in arms about the libertine ways of the liberal elite. I had perceived this as saying that the Red States are just as "immoral" as the Blue States. But some, like Bob Sommerby, see it as a case of liberals claiming moral superiority. To the extent that honesty is more moral than hypocrisy, then I suppose he may be right.

We could argue this all day, but the crux of this is Sommerby's assertion that Democrats would win if we used Bill Clinton's formula and respected the views of these citizens with whom we disagree. Well, yes. As a general rule we should always be respectful of others. But, that does not necessarily mean that those who disagree with us are sincere or that we will win by being respectful of them.

The problem is that the evidence suggests that those who are sincerely shocked by what they saw on MNF are not representative of the vast majority of the so-called Real American voter. How can we explain, for instance, how those NFL fans who complained about the "Desperate Housewives" skit on MNF were shocked by the brazen sexuality of it but have never before raised hell about the tittilating beer commercials that have been shown on that same broadcast for years? And, we can pretend that the sexy show the skit was was advertising isn't hugely popular in the states that voted en masse for George Bush, but that doesn't change the fact that it is:

Many Who Voted for 'Values' Still Like Their Television Sin

The results of the presidential election are still being parsed for what they say about the electorate's supposed closer embrace of traditional cultural values, but for the network television executives charged with finding programs that speak to tastes across the nation, one lesson is clear.

The supposed cultural divide is more like a cultural mind meld.

In interviews, representatives of the four big broadcast networks as well as Hollywood production studios said the nightly television ratings bore little relation to the message apparently sent by a significant percentage of voters.

The choices of viewers, whether in Los Angeles or Salt Lake City, New York or Birmingham, Ala., are remarkably similar. And that means the election will have little impact on which shows they decide to put on television, these executives say.


"Desperate Housewives" on ABC is the big new hit of the television season, ranked second over all in the country, behind only "C.S.I." on CBS. This satire of suburbia and modern relationships features, among other morally challenged characters, a married woman in her 30's having an affair with a high-school-age gardener, and has prompted several advertisers, including Lowe's, to pull their advertisements.

In the greater Atlanta market, reaching more than two million households, "Desperate Housewives" is the top-rated show. Nearly 58 percent of the voters in those counties voted for President Bush.

And in the Salt Lake City market, which takes in the whole state of Utah and parts of Nevada, Idaho and Wyoming, "Desperate Housewives" is fourth, after two editions of "C.S.I." and NBC's "E.R."; Mr. Bush rolled up 72.6 percent of the vote there.

This doesn't mean, of course, that those fans who complained about the MNF sketch watch "Desperate Housewives." (It's that the blatantly sexy beer commercials and close-up crotch shots and cleavage of the cheerleaders on MNF for years have not provoked a similar outcry from fans that speaks to their hypocrisy.) But these ratings do suggest that contrary to the emerging myth about Bush voter outrage at libertine Blue State immorality, somebody isn't being entirely truthful about their attitudes toward popular culture. After all, according to E&P the
"top three states for readership of Playboy magazine are Iowa, Wyoming, North Dakota ... and they all top heathen New York by 2-1 margins." Of course, they read it for the same reasons. The articles on stereo equipment.

Sommerby complains about Jeff Greenfield saying that the NFL fans who complained were the same ones who lied to their wives and went to strip clubs. A correspondent wrote in:

And to make sure the shocked fathers and mothers associate the descent of sexual morality with liberal Democrats, you tell me that Jeff Greenfield thinks that we fathers who complain about TV trash are hypocrites who "lie to their wives and drive to a topless bar". He's been watching The Sopranos too much; most of us family men don't do that. Chances are, those who do that would agree with Jeff that everyone complaining about Hollywood and TV immorality is a lying hypocrite.

By the way, I'm a long-time Democrat living in the Philadelphia suburbs, and I was shocked by that sexual introduction to a football game. And we wonder why more middle class Catholic and Evangelical voters keep shifting from Democratic to Republican.

I'm not going to defend Greenfield's comment because I have no way of knowing who is going to strip clubs and neither does this guy. It's possible that married football fans are not primary among those who frequent these places. There are an awful lot of them, however, all through the country, many in the heartland. Somebody's going to them.

But, what is relevant in his comment isn't family men going to strip clubs, anyway. It's family men who obviously watch the Sopranos complaining about the so-called immorality coming from Hollywood and implying that the Democratic party is responsible for it.

Does that guy in the Philly suburbs use the V-Chip? I don't know. But I do know that Democrat Bill Clinton championed them and pushed through legislation that mandated them but only 7% or so of family men who have them use them. Evidently, he watches the NFL with all those sexy beer commercials and big pom pom waving babes. Does he shoo his kids away from the TV when they come on? Maybe. Does he keep his kids from watching "The Sopranos?" I certainly hope so. But hewatches it, that's clear. (He sure seems to know about the Bada-Bing.) So, it's a complicated situation, isn't it? Lots and lots of things for parents to be concerned with. I understand that. But, considering what we can surmise about his viewing habits, you'll have to excuse me if I'm not entirely moved by his Claude Raines act.

Yes, we may be in different tribes. But vast numbers of people from both tribes are watching the same "trash" on television and getting divorced and having children out of wedlock and all the other horrible outgrowths of a society that is evidently in horrible decline. The difference is that one of the tribes seems to like to consume this crap and then pretend not only that they don't, but that the other tribe is forcing it on them.

Perhaps pandering to this is the way to win votes. Our politicians have certainly made an effort to do it now for years. But as I have discussed elsewhere, it doesn't seem to be working. But sure, we can keep pretending that that swathe of red America is really offended by the popular culture that we blues evidently represent, even though most Americans are the same consumerist purple from sea to shining sea.

It just seems to me that if you incorrectly diagnose the problem, you probably won't prescribe the right cure. But, hey, words are cheap. Phony moralists have proved that from time immemorial. Except for the non-stop character assasination, Monica's big mouth and impeachment, being respectful of conservative values (and Ross Perot)worked like a charm for Bill Clinton.

So, by all means let's pander till we can't stand up. We'll all pretend to be duly chastised by our libertine ways and pay obeisance to those good heartland values that neither they nor we actually live by. Whatever. But, don't expect me to actually believe that George W. Bush's majority represents those things any more than we depraved liberals do. Politicians and preachers lie. Neilson ratings and product sales don't.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Pop Goes The Populism

David Niewert has written a very important post about Democrats and rural America that is worth reading and thinking about as we work out how we need to go forward. Ezra homes in on the point that young Democrats tend to leave rural America because there aren't many opportunities for those who are interested in progressive politics because the national party is concentrated in the urban areas. This is an important point and one that I hope party activists and organizers are thinking long and hard about. It isn't just the lack of direct political opportunity it's the lack of local opinion leaders in the media as well. Everybody listens better to their neighbors than to strangers. They have the better hand.

But, I think that Niewert has hit upon the essence of the problem when he says:

People listen to their radios a lot in rural America. Maybe it has something to do with the silence of the vast landscapes where many of them live; radios break that silence, and provide the succor of human voices.

If you drive through these landscapes, getting radio reception can sometimes be iffy at best, especially in the rural West. Often the best you can find on the dial are only one or two stations.

And the chances are that what you'll hear, at nearly any hour, in nearly any locale, is Rush Limbaugh. Or Michael Savage. Or maybe some Sean Hannity. Or maybe some more Limbaugh. Or, if you're really desperate, you can catch one of the many local mini-Limbaughs who populate what remains of the rural dial. In between, of course, there will be a country music station or two.

That's what people in rural areas have been listening to for the past 10 years and more. And nothing has been countering it.


It has to be understood that rural America is hurting, and has been for a couple of decades now. Visit any rural community now and it's palpable: The schools are run down, the roads are falling apart, the former downtowns have been gutted by the destruction of the local economies and their displacement by the new Wal-Mart economy.

People living in rural areas increasingly feel that they have become mere colonies of urban society, treated dismissively and ignored at best, the victims of an evil plot by wealthy liberal elites at worst.

Liberals, largely due to their increasing urban-centric approach to politics, have mostly ignored the problem. And conservatives have been busy exploiting it.

It's important to understand that they have been doing so not by offering any actual solutions. Indeed, Republican "solutions" like the 1995 "Freedom to Farm Act" have actually turned out to be real disasters for the nation's family farmers; the only people who have benefited from it have been in the boardrooms of corporate agribusiness, which of course bellied up first to the big federal trough offered by the law. Even conservatives admit it has been a disaster.

No, conservatives have instead employed a strategy of scapegoating. It isn't bad policy or the conservative captivity to agribusiness interests that has made life miserable in rural America -- it's liberals. Their lack of morals (especially embodied by Bill Clinton), their contempt for real, hard-working Americans, their selfish arrogance -- those are the reasons things are so bad.

These audiences are feeding on a steady diet of hate. And as with all such feedings, they never are sated, but only have their appetites whetted for more. So each day, people come back to get a fresh fill-up of hate.

People are hurting and they are told relentlessly day in and day out that liberals from big cities are the ones inflicting the pain. This would be funny if it weren't so tragic. This is the new American nativism. Minorities and immigrants have been joined by a blurry, indistinct non-American urbanite. (I suppose this is progress of a sort.)

I hear a lot about how Democrats need to stop with the so-called identity and rights based politics in favor of a populist message. It would certainly seem that that would be the way to reach these folks. They are getting the shaft from the very people for whom they are voting with a classic misdirection. It may be true that the liberal elites in the big cities don't care much about rural America, but it's the conservative elites who are actively and vigorously screwing them. But the Republicans have a way of dealing with that.

Via temple of democracy here's a classic dodge from Haley Barbour, good ole boy gazillionare lobbyist:

One of the most extensive national reports has been a New York Times Magazine piece headlined, "Mr. Washington goes to Mississippi." The story opens with Barbour getting kicked out of a cow auction, and quotes people who portray him as race-baiter, an expert schmoozer and a shrewd fund-raiser with "despicable clients."

Barbour, a Washington, D.C. lobbyist, quickly denounced the story.

"I am certainly never surprised when The New York Times attacks a Southern, conservative, pro-life, Christian Republican. Ask Charles Pickering," he said, referring to the Mississippi judge whose nomination to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was held up by Democrats who questioned the judge's record on civil rights.

"It's what I expected from The New York Times because they don't like guys like me."

And, therefore, they don't like guys like you.

Democrats will say that we need to let the red state voters know who the enemy really is. We need to stop talking about guns, god and gays (and race) and get to the meat of the matter. As Max Sawicky wrote in his article "Why a Right Winger can't be a populist,"

Culture and values, among other things, are highly contested. For the sake of this essay I put them aside to focus on Money.

The problem is that we can't put them aside and concentrate on money because culture and values dictate what people think about money. And the culture and values of a large part of this country says that when it comes to money the government always gives it to the wrong people. We have a much more complicated problem on our hands than just moral values vs economics. And it goes all the way back to the beginning.

I wrote some things before (in response to the Dean campaign's insistence that you could appeal to guys with confederate flags on their pick-ups because they need health care too) about studies that show that Americans rejected the European style welfare state largely because a fair portion of our people have always believed that the government only helps the undeserving. This stems from the fact that most social programs were traditionally handled through churches and immigrant organizations which meant that the government mostly funded African American welfare programs because they didn't have the institutions or the money to do it for themselves. This led to a widely held belief in rural America that the government doesn't help the white working man and woman, it instead takes their tax dollars and gives it to blacks.

It is from this basis that modern Republicans have built their case against the liberal elites who allegedly hold Real Americans in contempt. It is the essence of the Southern Strategy and it's been highly successful for decades.

It's worth repeating that despite what Dean said in the primaries about putting the FDR coalition back together, there has never been a time when a majority of southern whites and blacks in the south voted for the same party. Blacks were not allowed to vote in the south in the 1930's. Indeed, it was only during the recent party realignment process that they overlapped at all. Let's not kid ourselves about why this is.

We cannot make a populist case to rural America as long as rural America continues to believe, as it has for centuries, that the government only takes their money and gives it to people they don't like. This belief is why people who should naturally support our programs instead vote for tax cuts. In the past, populists often shrewdly coupled their argument with nativist causes and were able to scapegoat either immigrants or blacks as part of their argument, thus partially nullifying this cultural resistence. Even FDR agreed to set aside the issue of civil rights for the duration. Needless to say, we aren't going to go down that path.

So, Democrats are left with a difficult problem of how to deal with a region that is in economic distress but whose culture traditionally believes that government only helps people unlike themselves.

Now, we could, of course, make a fetish of pointing out the awful truth --- that most federal transfers come from the blue states to the red states. But, that doesn't really address the problem, which comes down to attitudes about the big city poor (blacks) vs the rural poor (whites.) And all that is tied up with the monumental social changes of the last fifty years, which mostly benefit them but which Rush and Sean tell them is the cause of all their problems. Every day, all day, with relentless precision. The message is that liberals are taking their money, giving it to people they don't like and then forcing their decadent culture on them to the point where they ... cannot ... resist.

Yes, if people were rational about these things you could sit down and have a nice discussion with spreadsheets and diagrams showing that the rural red states benefit far more from federal redistributon of wealth than the metropolitan blue states. You could explain that many of the social changes that have happened have benefitted them in their own lives while acknowledging that there has been a cost and that changes of this magnitude can be frightening and destabilizing. You could show that the massive New Deal programs and the post war expansion benefitted primarily the middle class, not the poor. You could rally the people to the side of their own class instead of the corporations who benefit from the policies currently in place.

But, as we've seen, people are not rational. In fact, when it comes to modern American politics there seems to be a conscious embrace of the irrational, an epistomological relativism that renders such reasoned arguments completely inneffectual. People who listen to Rush or absorb his message through osmosis in their social group are operating on the basis of some very long standing tribal hueristics that have been very sophisticatedly manipulated by the real elites in this country. It will take more than fiery speeeches about sticking it to the man to penetrate this mindset.

Certainly, a populist message should work for the Democratic party. But, our populist message cannot obscure the fact that we represent blacks, urban dwellers and those who appear to be agents of rapid social change. And even if it could, the Republicans are hardly going to sit back and be quiet about it.

This problem needs some fresh thinking and I think that the article I posted about earlier about undecided voters provides us with some clues. The first is that we have to stop thinking in terms of issues or a combination of issues. People think in terms of worldview and tribal identity.

The next thing we need to recognise is that we are living in a post modern environment in which straight appeals to reason are not very effective. We have to begin to use symbols and semiotics more effectively. This means that we have to be more stylistic and sophisticated in our presentation. TV with the sound turned off.

But that won't be enough. We need to consider the American character and use it to shape our message. There is tremendous complexity in our national character and racial or social resentment is only a part of it. And there is a lot of tension, for instance between Equality/freedom --- Community/individualism. This tension has always been present and the line isn't drawn by region --- it's drawn within each person. We have to use some of these commonly understood and believed American values to illustrate our wordview in ways that people can understand hueristically instead of intellectually. We do this with a certain kind of candidate, a certain message and a certain kind of presentation. But we have to embrace this way of communicating before we can possible hope to use it to relate to Americans who are conditioned to buy and consume on the basis of their feelings not on the basis of their reason.

This is the world in which we live whether we like it or not. The Republicans are selling a vision and a sense of belonging to a certain tribe. We are selling an argument and a program. They are using 21st century tools to manipulate primal human needs and simplify the world. We are using 20th century methods to appeal to reason in a complicated way. They have the better hand.

Note: Over the past couple of weeks, I've written a few posts on this subject and others sort of tangentially related. A couple of readers asked me to put them all together in one place. Here they are.

TV With the Sound Turned Off

Heartland Values

A Very Old Story

It Won't Work

More Culture War


It's a Small Story...but it illustrates why so many of us not only support President Bush as a politician with whom we agree most of the time, but love and respect him as a man:

President Bush stepped into the middle of a confrontation and pulled his lead Secret Service agent away from Chilean security officials who barred his bodyguards from entering an elegant dinner for 21 world leaders Saturday night."

That's why everybody loves and respects him. He's a natural born hero. If the Democrats could find one of those, maybe they'd get some respect too.

On July 12, 1988, Hecht was attending a weekly Republican luncheon when a piece of apple lodged firmly in his throat.

Hecht stumbled out of the room, thinking he might vomit but not wanting to do it in front of his colleagues. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., thumped his back, but Hecht quickly passed out in the hallway.

Just then, Kerry stepped off an elevator, rushed to Hecht's side and gave him the Heimlich maneuver -- four times.

The lifesaving incident made international news, and Dr. Henry Heimlich, who invented the maneuver in 1974, called Hecht to say that had Kerry intervened just 30 seconds later Hecht might have been in a vegetative state for life.

"This man gave me my life," the 75-year-old Hecht said Thursday.

Yeah. A man who grabs his secret service guy's arm in a melee is worthy of your love and respect. A man who won the silver and bronze stars in combat and later saved a man's life with quick thinking while all around him were quaking with indecision is worthy of nothing but the most vile, personal contempt.

Oh, but I understand that Junior once said he felt bad for calling Al Hunt a fucking son of a bitch in front of his four year old. He is worthy of love and respect as a man in so many ways.

The Captain Of The Ship

"I'm very proud of the fact that we held the line and made Congress make choices and set priorities, because it follows our philosophy," Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said in House debate.


Also enacted during the postelection session was an $800 billion increase in the government's borrowing limit. The measure was yet another testament to record annual deficits, which reached $413 billion last year and are expected to climb indefinitely.

While the spending bill was one of the most austere in years, it had something for everybody...[including] a potential boon for Bush himself, $2 million for the government to try buying back the presidential yacht Sequoia. The boat was sold three decades ago, though its current owners say the yacht is not for sale.

Well, Junior is the true heir to Nixon and proud of it. Why shouldn't he asssociate himself with Nixon's iconic imperial toys. It's only fitting.

Saturday, November 20, 2004


Via The Daou Report, I see that those wacky Republicans are boldly trying to stick their noses into people's private business again. According to kd4dean over on Kos the Republicans tried to slip in another provision into the spending bill that would have allowed acouple of committee chairmen or their henchmen access to any American's tax returns for any reason. Somebody noticed.

"This is a serious situation," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. "Neither of us were aware that this had been inserted in this bill," he said, referring to himself and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Florida.

Questioned sharply by fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, Stevens pleaded with the Senate to approve the overall spending bill despite the tax returns language.

But Sen. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, said that wasn't good enough. "It becomes the law of the land on the signature of the president of the United States. That's wrong."

Conrad said the measure's presence in the spending bill was symptomatic of a broader problem -- Congress writing legislation hundreds of pages long and then giving lawmakers only a few hours to review it before having to vote on it.

Stevens, who repeatedly apologized for what he characterized as an error, took offense at Conrad's statement. "It's contrary to anything that I have seen happen in more than 30 years on this committee," he said.

Pounding on his desk, Stevens said he had given his word and so had Young that neither would use the authority to require the IRS to turn over individual or corporate tax returns to them. "I would hope that the Senate would take my word. I don't think I have ever broken my word to any member of the Senate."

"... Do I have to get down on my knees and beg," he said.

Both Young and Stevens will cede their chairmanships when the new Congress elected earlier this month takes office in January.

Some Democrats didn't accept the assertion that the provision was a mistake and demanded an investigation.

"We weren't born yesterday, we didn't come down with the first snow," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California. "This isn't poorly thought out, this was very deliberately thought out and it was done in the dead of night."

Members of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee now have limited access to tax returns, but there are severe criminal and civil penalties if the information is disclosed or misused.

Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said the measure will "bring us back to the doorstep to the days of President Nixon, President Truman and other dark days in our history when taxpayer information was used against political enemies."

We crossed that threshold some time ago, I'm afraid.

I do enjoy the fact that the guy who made the "error" was offended that nobody would take his word. That's what happens when your leadership tells people to go fuck themselves over and over again, Ted. It tends to erode trust.


Here's a nice personal piece about what it means to be a moderate liberal on ThatColoredFellasweblog. At the end of his post, he links to a number of online political quizzes, one of which defined my philosophy quite succinctly, and correctly I thought, the following way:

LIBERALS usually embrace freedom of choice in personal matters, but tend to support significant government control of the economy. They generally support a government-funded "safety net" to help the disadvantaged, and advocate strict regulation of business. Liberals tend to favor environmental regulations,defend civil liberties and free expression, support government action to promote equality, and tolerate diverse lifestyles.

Got a problem with that?


At the Republican governors' conference in New Orleans, Ken Mehlman, the Bush campaign manager, answered the question, Who's your daddy party? "If you drive a Volvo and you do yoga, you are pretty much a Democrat," he said. "If you drive a Lincoln or a BMW and you own a gun, you're voting for George Bush."

Those BMW driving gun owners are just fabulous.

Semper Falafel

O'Reilly understands that war is hell:

Having survived a combat situation in Argentina during the Falklands War, I know that life-and-death decisions are made in a flash. If that wounded insurgent had a grenade or other explosive device, the entire marine squad and the photographer could be dead right now. In a killing zone, one cannot afford the luxury of knowing what is certain.

As with all literary greats like Mailer, Jones and Heller, O'Reilly has memorialized his scorching experiences in his novel, "Those Who Trespass" a murder mystery set in Argentina during the hell on earth that was the Falklands war:

The policemen were clearly frightened. Their fascist powers were being brazenly challenged. Standing directly in front of the police were nearly ten thousand very angry Argentine citizens screaming curses and revolutionary slogans:

ALa gente unida venceramos!

AMuera la Junta!

AMuera Galtieri!

GNN News Correspondent Shannon Michaels translated the chant and wrote it into his notebook: "The people, united, will never be defeated! Death to the Junta! Death to the dictator Galtieri!" Shannon and his video crew stood behind the police, five hundred strong crowded together in a massive show of force. Their assignment was to guard the presidential palace, called the Casa Rosada--the Pink House--and to protect President General Leopoldo Galtieri. But the crowd was getting more and more aggressive, pushing toward the large metal gate that provided access to the palatial grounds. Shannon saw that The Plaza de Mayo, the huge square in front of the Casa Rosada, was now filled to capacity. Something very ugly was going to happen, Shannon thought, and happen soon.

The sky was clear, but clouds were assembling in the west. Shannon ran his fingers through his thick mane of wavy brown hair. His teal blue eyes were locked on the agitated crowd. It was his eyes that most people noticed first--a very unusual color that some thought materialized from a contact lens case. But Shannon, the product of two Celtic parents, didn't go in for cosmetic enhancements. His 6' 4 frame was well toned by constant athletics, and his pale white skin was flawless--another genetic gift. Shannon's looks, which he thoroughly capitalized on, made him a natural for television.

As the mob continued its boisterous serenade, Shannon slowly shook his head. Most wars were foolish, he thought, but this one was unusually idiotic. The Argentine Junta, a group of military thugs led by General Galtieri, had ordered an invasion of the British-administered Falkland Islands on April Fool's Day, 1982. The government claim was that the islands, which the Argentines called the Malvinas, became a part of Argentina through a Papal declaration in 1493. The British disagreed. So, nearly five hundred years after the grant of land, the Argentine Army swarmed ashore, startling eighteen hundred British subjects and tens of thousands of bewildered sheep.


During his seven-year career as a TV news correspondent, Michaels had seen rank stupidity, but this moronic government strategy boggled the mind. Anyone who read a newspaper knew that the British Parliament, and especially Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, would never allow British honor to be besmirched. It took the Brits just three months to thoroughly humiliate the Junta, further angering the Argentine citizenry. No wonder they were now filling the streets in passionate demonstration against the Galtieri government.

Sends chills down your spine, doesn't it? Has anyone matched this kind of searing prose in the Falklands chronicles? I don't want to ruin the story by revealing the fiery hell that our blue eyed Celtic hero had to endure. Let's just say that that marine in Fallouja won't know what hell is until he's had to film a news story with his flawless white skin covered in dust and dirt. It just makes you sick to even think about it. The horror...

Via: BCF

Frame Up

Here's a re-frame for you, from a passionate young Deaniac in a libertarian Red State, Matthew Whitmyre:

Abolish the FCC

Why do we need a government censorship and moral regulation department? Sounds like those pointy-headed Washington types are trying to force their values on me. Damn conservative intelligentisia, living in their ivory towers, trying to impose their twisted values on a hard working Amurican like me. Shut those Washington Bureaucrats down!

Two can play at this game, you know.

Update: Jeff Jarvis has the same idea. And James Wolcott endorses it.

Damn Guvmint bureaucRATS.


Oliver Willis is a genius.

This is what I'm talking about. And here's why.

I don't know how many of you elitist limousine liberals listen to country music, but if you do, you know that all this disgust with blue state morality is something of a crock. Popular culture is much more indicative of what people do than what they say they do.

Check out this ditty by the king of country music, Bush supporter extraordinaire, Toby Keith:

His name was Steve, her name was Gina (You've never been here before have you?)
They met at a bar called the Cabo Wabo Cantina
He was an insurance salesman, from South Dakota
She was a 1st grade school teacher, Phoenix, Arizona
(No, my first time here)
They started dancin' and it got real hot, then it spilled over to the parkin' lot
One more tequilla, they were fallin' in love
One more's never enough

Don't bite off, more than you can chew
There's things down here the Devil himself wouldn't do
Just remember when you let it all go
What happens down in Mexico, stays in Mexico

He woke up in the mornin' and he made a little telephone call
To check on his wife and his kids back at home in Souix Falls (Hey babe, everything ok?)
She hopped right in the shower with a heavy, heavy mind (What am i doing?)
He knew it was the first time Gina'd ever crossed that line
They walked down to the beach and started drinkin' again
Jumped into the ocean for a dirty swim
One more margarita, they were fallin' in love
One more's never enough

Don't bite off, more than you can chew
There's things down here the Devil himself wouldn't do
Just remember when you let it all go
What happens down in Mexico, stays in Mexico
Oh, Mexico

Waitin' at the bar at the terminal gate
She said Steve i gotta go, i'm gonna miss my plane
He said one more tequilla 'fore you climb on up
She said one more's never enough

Don't bite off, more than you can chew
There's things down here the Devil himself wouldn't do
Just remember when you let it all go
What happens down in Mexico, stays in Mexico
Stays in Mexico, Stays in Mexico
Oh, Mexico

Whatever will we tell the children?

That song has been in the top five of the Country Billboard charts for 12 weeks. It's at number 5 right now.

Or how about this one:

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

You know I'm here, I'm here for the party

That song by Gretchen Wilson's been on the top 100 country radio playlist for 17 weeks. It's been in the top 10 Billboard country charts for the same amount of time, spending several weeks at number 1. It's at number 5 this week.

The last I heard, the country music capital of the United States isn't Hollywierd or New York City. It's Nashville, Tennessee. And a vast number of country radio stations that play this stuff are owned by Clear Channel. Are they getting complaints from the same distraught parents whose children saw the opening credits of Monday Night Football? I don't think so.

Country music dominates rural America. This stuff is everywhere and everybody is listening and singing along. You cannot tell me that Americans, both Real and Unreal don't share modern sexual attitudes because it's obvious that they do. (Gay rights is another thing and it's going to take some time. But, we're getting there too. Garth Brooks stood up for his gay sister and it didn't cost him any record sales.)

What we are dealing with is hypocrisy on the one hand and deft exploitation on the part of the Republicans to cast differences in style as differences of "values." It's not true and we should try to make that argument.

Democrats are known as the party of tolerance. And that has become a pejorative term. But, it's just a small step from tolerance to freedom. We are tolerant because we believe in freedom.

Let them have their crusade against freedom. They are swimming against the tide even amongst their own. Maybe we should suggest that they begin their crusade a little closer to home, though. Maybe they need to start by telling Toby Keith and Gretchen Wilson and Clear Channel that they don't want any more of their music on the public airwaves. Let's see how that works out in Real America, shall we?

Falwell's Chattel

Negotiators Add Abortion Clause to Spending Bill

"It's something we've had a longstanding interest in," said Douglas Johnson, a spokesman for the National Right to Life Committee. He added, "This is in response to an orchestrated campaign by pro-abortion groups across the country to use government agencies to coerce health care providers to participate in abortions."

This clause sounds like something the GOP would tell us Real Americans would all be thrilled with. So, why are negotiators tucking it in a spending bill in the dead of night? Why not pass it separately and bask in the glow of Real American approval?

This bill, of course, is going to pass. But, an opposition party might vote against it en masse in order to bring the issue to the attention of the American people. "They are hiding anti-choice legislation in spending bills at the last minute in order to secretly enact their radical agenda."

I'm sure Joe Lieberman will use this as an excuse to show that he is bi-partisan. Reid should corral everyone else to hang tough. Every other word coming out of Democrats' mouths should be "extremist", "radical", "secretive" and the like as Kerry did yesterday in his video.

Regardless of the merits of "moving to the middle" on abortion, this particular action should be opposed by Democrats because of the way in which it was done. They should raise holy hell that these contentious issues are being slipped in under the radar without debate. You want to frame these things in the public's mind as something the Republicans are ashamed of or afraid of and force them to explain why they are not.

This should be done over and over again so that Americans get the message that these guys are trying to hide their radical agenda. This serves to wake up the somnambulent middle who didn't vote for extremism and piss off the social conservatives who are itching to take credit.

And speaking of this, I want to take a moment to commend Josh Marshall for his "Shays handful" work. It's very important that Republicans be forced to account for their cowardice. If Josh hadn't done this, I'm not sure that we would have these wimps on record. As it is, challengers throughout the country now have a potent weapon if the Democrats can get it up to make use of it.

Friday, November 19, 2004


Remember the post I wrote a month or so ago about the romance novelist who was rousted by the Patriot Act police? It turns out that it was A Convenient Smoke Screen.

She was actually busted for collecting disability while making money writing, using her husbands social security number. Or at least that's what the government says.

Kerry Speaks

John Kerry is asking for our help to Protect Every Child in America. Sign the petition.

People have been talking a great deal about behaving as a real opposition party, presenting alternate plans, boldly defining ourselves as a government in exile. This is a smart politics. There is a leadership vacuum in the Party and if John Kerry wants to step in, I say more power to him. But for a few thousand votes in Ohio, we'd be calling him President-elect Kerry today.

This is a classy move from a classy guy. Perhaps that's not in fashion at the moment but it means a lot to me.

I'm Officially Depressed

I hate puritanism, authoritarianism, totalitarianism. I can't stand the idea that free adults aren't allowed to make their own choices about what to read, watch and think.

A while back, I wrote about Academy Award-winning writer and director Bill Condon who has produced a brilliant film on the life and work of sex-researcher Alfred Kinsey. Here are the first and second links to my posts about this important film and director.

I saw this film as one that depicted the ongoing battle in our society between rationality and science on one hand versus dogma and a strain of empirically-hostile religious extremism on the other.

Well, a cold current of censorship has now just hit even New York's flagship PBS station, WNET Channel 13.

I expect this crap from corporate media outlets who don't want to offend their advertisers and so try to play both sides as much as possible. But, PBS was begun for the very reason that they would be above such parochial concerns. Now, even in New York, the home of blue state elitism, they are opting for pedestrian conformism. If I were a New Yorker I might just have to decline to support them during the next pledge drive.

I do have a couple of questions for Real America on this. If vast numbers of middle Americans are upset about the loose morals on television, how can we explain this:

Parents who own a TV set manufactured after January 1, 2000 have a blocking technology called a V-chip that can be programmed to screen out shows with TV ratings they deem inappropriate.

By 2001, 2 out of 5 parents (40%) owned a V-Chip TV set and 7% had used it to monitor their children’s TV viewing. Of all parents who have a V-Chip TV set, more than half (53%) don’t know it. Of all parents who know they have a V-Chip TV set, two-thirds know(64%) have chosen not to use it and one-third (36%) have used it.

The two most common reasons parents give for not using the V-Chip are that an adult is usually nearby when their children watch TV, and that they trust their children to make their own decisions.

Approximately one-third of parents with home Internet connections have installed blocking technology such as filtering software or Internet Service Provider (ISP) controls to prevent children from accessing objectionable material.

It sure sounds to me as if somebody's not taking personal responsibility for what their children are watching.

Unless, of course, this isn't about children at all. In which case this is really about a bunch of tightassed, busybodies sticking their noses where they don't belong because they want to control everybody's lives.

Welcome to Massachusetts, Red States. Massachusetts circa 1692, that is.


Atrios and Yglesias make an argument for the Democratic Party to position itself on the side of personal freedom. Those who read this blog know I believe that this is a fertile field for us in this political environment.

Individual freedom is as All-American as apple pie and Let The Eagle Soar. The corporate police state theocracy is hostile to that All-American "value" and it is going to begin to encroach on people in ways that they will feel in their personal lives. There are at least three million votes there. Possibly many millions more. Plenty of Americans don't like being told how to live their lives by a bunch of priests, politicians or bureaucrats. And it ain't all about taxes.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Stupidest People On The Planet:

Favorable 25%
Unfavorable 57%

United Nations
Favorable 44%
Unfavorable 42%

Ally 22%
Enemy 31%
In Between 43%

United Nations
Ally 33%
Enemy 17%
In Between 47%

Golly Monsieur DeLay, you sure do have a purdy name. I hope one of your dipshit constituents doesn't get it in his head that you are the enemy.

I Know You Are But What Am I

Kevin Drum discusses the new wingnut political correctness about calling people who support right wing Israeli policy, "Likudniks" --- which is like calling people who believe in affirmative action "Democrats." It may be slightly imprecise, but it's not racist.

But this is becoming common on the right and you can tell even they know it's a stupid bully taunt. When wingnut freaks like Ann Coulter pull this stuff out of her strappy little thong, she can hardly keep a straight face.

From the November 17 edition of FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes:

COULTER: I don't know why you [Beckel] keep talking about [the unfair treatment received by] Bill Clinton when your party -- I mean, I understand why you'd like to change the subject, but your party is being biased and condescending about a black woman.


COULTER: I understand why you are so terrified of letting us point out what racists the Democrats are and how they have a big problem with black women.

BECKEL: You better be damn careful about using that word. I'll tell you something, I worked in the civil rights movement.

COULTER: Sean, stop him!

SEAN HANNITY (co-host): Bob -- Bob --

BECKEL: When you were sitting in your little schools up in New England.


COULTER: I keep trying to get to this.

BECKEL: Don't start with me about that. Ann, you just crossed the line.

HANNITY: Bob -- Bob --

COULTER: Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.


COULTER: It goes beyond the cartoons. It goes to the fact that...

ALAN COLMES (co-host): Bob Beckel.

COULTER: ... it is Condoleezza Rice who keeps being attacked for not being the most qualified person for the job, as I know Clarence Thomas was. No one ever said that about Warren Christopher. What were his qualifications for the job?


COULTER: You're [Beckel] racist. You do the same thing with Clarence Thomas.


COULTER: You keep talking about these cartoons. I'd only seen one of them before this program tonight. And I said I think liberals have a problem with blacks. They have a little race issue going on here.

You know, it's often said that blacks feel like they have to be twice as good as whites for the same position. Well, when it comes to blacks working for a Republican administration, that's true. They have to be 10 times as good or they have their credentials questioned [by liberals]. That really is...

COLMES: You think liberals have a problem with blacks?

COULTER: ... the puppet Bush.

COLMES: Do you think liberals have a problem with blacks? You want to make that statement in a vacuum?

COULTER: Yes. No, I think I've given a few examples, and I'll give more. There's Clarence Thomas, who was constantly made fun of, is he the most qualified one of the job. I don't remember anybody ever asking that of Justice William Brennan or [David] Souter.


COULTER: Dick Clarke, the flamboyant opponent of the Bush administration, came out with a book earlier this year, claiming that Condoleezza Rice, when he talked to her about Al Qaeda, her face showed that she was perplexed, that she had never heard of Al Qaeda before.

Can you imagine somebody saying that about, you know, Wolfowitz? No. That's my fourth example now of liberals having a problem with blacks.


BECKEL: I have no problem with her [Rice] because she's black. I have a problem with her because I don't think she's up to the job [of secretary of state]. Do not begin to say that people like me are racist when I spent a lot of time out in the vineyards on the civil rights movement.

I don't think you can type one credential where you've had -- You've got to be careful here, Ann.

COULTER: And you listen to jazz

She is amazing. Notice how she characterized "Dick" Clarke as "flamboyant" while she's admonishing Beckel for being a bigot. People should not argue with her, they should laugh at her. She's a clown.

This notion that if you criticize minority Republicans, you are a racist is not confined to the lunatic fringe, however. It is one of their talking points and we are going to be hearing a lot more of it. They are using the language of liberalism to beat liberals over the head. But two can play at that game.

In our new Dadaesque politics we should expect this absurd stuff and be prepared to counter. Beckel should have immediately accused Coulter of being unpatriotic for criticizing President Clinton.

PoMo Puffery

In his post Rodeo Bloodbath, James Wolcott brings up something that's been making my gorge rise for the last few days --- this fetishization of the "Marlboro Man" GI photo. Apparently it's making bunches of Real Americans all moist and quivery.

It is, however, nothing more than warmed over WWII movie iconography which even news editors are eager to admit:

One cited the ``strong emotional pull, close and intimate.'' Another noted the intensity in his eyes, calling the Marine ``a modern-day Robert Mitchum.'' Another said, ``You can almost feel what he feels. This is war. This is real life.''

What exactly are they teaching in J-School these days? "He's a modern-day Robert Mitchum." "It's real."

As a reader reminded me the other day, it isn't reality, it's hyperreality. Robert Mitchum played the role of GI Joe in the movies. Now we have real GI's being iconized for looking like Robert Mitchum.

What a sad confused culture we have become.

The Ownership Society

Atrios notes the happy news that the AEI administration is thinking of dropping the business tax deduction for empoyer-provided health insurance in order to pay for making interest, dividends and capitals gains tax free.

I don't know what he's so unhappy about, though. George W. Bush is just trying to empower the working man here. With those fancy new medical savings accounts, the guy who works at Pep Boys and his wife who works in the hospital gift shop will be able to save the 10k a year (tax free!) to pay for his wife and 2 kids' health insurance. Then he'll be a member of the ownership society because he'll own his own health insurance policy. Isn't that great?

I'm assuming, of course, that if employers drop health insurance they will then be required to give their employees a raise in the amount of what they were paying for their health care, less the tax break. They will do that, won't they? Of course they will. Otherwise, these working people will be forced to "save" money that they don't have. That wouldn't be right.

But if that happens let's face it, if you can't afford to make ends meet that's what churches are for. Be good and maybe you'll be allowed some charity. (Or you'll be allowed to pray for some, anyway.) Meanwhile, just work harder. Like our good ole boy, Real American president who knows the meaning of hard earned dollar. He's tough, tough, tough and we have to be tough just like him. Why, a real man would rather gnaw off his leg or put his wife out of her misery than have his boss pay for his health insurance. This whole issue is an excuse for lazy Democrat losers looking for a handout.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Decidedly Different

Christopher Hayes spent time with undecided voters in Wisconsin and lived to tell the tale. His experience confirms my impression that these people were pretty stupid, but they are stupid in interesting and unusual ways I didn't expect.

Undecided voters aren't as rational as you think. Members of the political class may disparage undecided voters, but we at least tend to impute to them a basic rationality. We're giving them too much credit. I met voters who told me they were voting for Bush, but who named their most important issue as the environment. One man told me he voted for Bush in 2000 because he thought that with Cheney, an oilman, on the ticket, the administration would finally be able to make us independent from foreign oil. A colleague spoke to a voter who had been a big Howard Dean fan, but had switched to supporting Bush after Dean lost the nomination. After half an hour in the man's house, she still couldn't make sense of his decision.


Undecided voters do care about politics; they just don't enjoy politics...The mere fact that you're reading this article right now suggests that you not only think politics is important, but you actually like it. You read the paper and listen to political radio and talk about politics at parties. In other words, you view politics the way a lot of people view cooking or sports or opera: as a hobby. Most undecided voters, by contrast, seem to view politics the way I view laundry. While I understand that to be a functioning member of society I have to do my laundry, and I always eventually get it done, I'll never do it before every last piece of clean clothing is dirty, as I find the entire business to be a chore. A significant number of undecided voters, I think, view politics in exactly this way: as a chore, a duty, something that must be done but is altogether unpleasant, and therefore something best put off for as long as possible.

A disturbing number of undecided voters are crypto-racist isolationists. In the age of the war on terror and the war in Iraq, pundits agreed that this would be the most foreign policy-oriented election in a generation--and polling throughout the summer seemed to bear that out...But just because voters were unusually concerned about foreign policy didn't mean they had fundamentally shifted their outlook on world affairs. In fact, among undecided voters, I encountered a consistent and surprising isolationism--an isolationism that September 11 was supposed to have made obsolete everywhere but the left and right fringes of the political spectrum.


In fact, there was a disturbing trend among undecided voters--as well as some Kerry supporters--towards an opposition to the Iraq war based largely on the ugliest of rationales. I had one conversation with an undecided, sixtyish, white voter whose wife was voting for Kerry. When I mentioned the "mess in Iraq" he lit up. "We should have gone through Iraq like shit through tinfoil," he said, leaning hard on the railing of his porch. As I tried to make sense of the mental image this evoked, he continued: "I mean we should have dominated the place; that's the only thing these people understand. ... Teaching democracy to Arabs is like teaching the alphabet to rats."

That may have been the most explicit articulation I heard of this mindset--but it wasn't an isolated incident. A few days later, someone told me that he wished we could put Saddam back in power because he "knew how to rule these people." While Bush's rhetoric about spreading freedom and democracy played well with blue-state liberal hawks and red-state Christian conservatives who are inclined towards a missionary view of world affairs, it seemed to fall flat among the undecided voters I spoke with. This was not merely the view of the odd kook; it was a common theme I heard from all different kinds of undecided voters.


The worse things got in Iraq, the better things got for Bush. Liberal commentators, and even many conservative ones, assumed, not unreasonably, that the awful situation in Iraq would prove to be the president's undoing. But I found that the very severity and intractability of the Iraq disaster helped Bush because it induced a kind of fatalism about the possibility of progress.


To be sure, maybe they simply thought Kerry's promise to bring in allies was a lame idea--after all, many well-informed observers did. But I became convinced that there was something else at play here, because undecided voters extended the same logic to other seemingly intractable problems, like the deficit or health care. On these issues, too, undecideds recognized the severity of the situation--but precisely because they understood the severity, they were inclined to be skeptical of Kerry's ability to fix things. Undecided voters, as everyone knows, have a deep skepticism about the ability of politicians to keep their promises and solve problems. So the staggering incompetence and irresponsibility of the Bush administration and the demonstrably poor state of world affairs seemed to serve not as indictments of Bush in particular, but rather of politicians in general.


undecideds seemed oddly unwilling to hold the president accountable for his previous actions, focusing instead on the practical issue of who would have a better chance of success in the future. Because undecideds seemed uninterested in assessing responsibility for the past, Bush suffered no penalty for having made things so bad; and because undecideds were focused on, but cynical about, the future, the worse things appeared, the less inclined they were to believe that problems could be fixed--thereby nullifying the backbone of Kerry's case. Needless to say, I found this logic maddening.

Undecided voters don't think in terms of issues. Perhaps the greatest myth about undecided voters is that they are undecided because of the "issues." That is, while they might favor Kerry on the economy, they favor Bush on terrorism; or while they are anti-gay marriage, they also support social welfare programs. Occasionally I did encounter undecided voters who were genuinely cross-pressured--a couple who was fiercely pro-life, antiwar, and pro-environment for example--but such cases were exceedingly rare. More often than not, when I asked undecided voters what issues they would pay attention to as they made up their minds I was met with a blank stare, as if I'd just asked them to name their favorite prime number.


But the very concept of the issue seemed to be almost completely alien to most of the undecided voters I spoke to... So I tried other ways of asking the same question: "Anything of particular concern to you? Are you anxious or worried about anything? Are you excited about what's been happening in the country in the last four years?"

These questions, too, more often than not yielded bewilderment. As far as I could tell, the problem wasn't the word "issue"; it was a fundamental lack of understanding of what constituted the broad category of the "political." The undecideds I spoke to didn't seem to have any intuitive grasp of what kinds of grievances qualify as political grievances. Often, once I would engage undecided voters, they would list concerns, such as the rising cost of health care; but when I would tell them that Kerry had a plan to lower health-care premiums, they would respond in disbelief--not in disbelief that he had a plan, but that the cost of health care was a political issue. It was as if you were telling them that Kerry was promising to extend summer into December.


In this context, Bush's victory, particularly on the strength of those voters who listed "values" as their number one issue, makes perfect sense. Kerry ran a campaign that was about politics: He parsed the world into political categories and offered political solutions. Bush did this too, but it wasn't the main thrust of his campaign. Instead, the president ran on broad themes, like "character" and "morals." Everyone feels an immediate and intuitive expertise on morals and values--we all know what's right and wrong. But how can undecided voters evaluate a candidate on issues if they don't even grasp what issues are?

Liberals like to point out that majorities of Americans agree with the Democratic Party on the issues, so Republicans are forced to run on character and values in order to win. (This cuts both ways: I met a large number of Bush/Feingold voters whose politics were more in line with the Republican president, but who admired the backbone and gutsiness of their Democratic senator.) But polls that ask people about issues presuppose a basic familiarity with the concept of issues--a familiarity that may not exist.

As far as I can tell, this leaves Democrats with two options: either abandon "issues" as the lynchpin of political campaigns and adopt the language of values, morals, and character as many have suggested; or begin the long-term and arduous task of rebuilding a popular, accessible political vocabulary--of convincing undecided voters to believe once again in the importance of issues. The former strategy could help the Democrats stop the bleeding in time for 2008. But the latter strategy might be necessary for the Democrats to become a majority party again.

I suspect that there are more than a few of these types of voters out there and they unfortunately gain in significance hugely with the electorate so evenly split. These are the people you reach through showbiz values. Logic, self interest, philosophy are useless. Gotta put on a better show. It's not that hard to do.

Unconventional Wisdom

Read this from Jonathan Rausch in National Journal.

Quick post-post-election exit poll: Which of the following two statements more accurately describes what happened on November 2?

A) The election was a stunning triumph for the president, the Republicans, and (especially) social conservatives. Because the country turned to the right, President Bush received a mandate, the Republicans consolidated their dominance, and the Democrats lost touch with the country.

B) Bush and the Republicans are on thin ice. Bush barely eked out a majority, the country is still divided 50-50, and the electoral landscape has hardly changed, except in one respect: The Republican Party has shifted precariously to the right of the country, and the world, that it leads.

Usual answer: A. Correct answer: B.

For the record, only time will tell, the truth is somewhere in the middle, and all that. Still, level-headed analysis -- which is not what this year's post-election commentary produced -- shows that every element of Statement A is suspect or plain wrong.

Begin with that stunning triumph. "Stunning" implies surprising. Any observers who were stunned this year lived in a cave (or on Manhattan's Upper West Side). All year long, month after month, opinion polls averaged to give Bush a lead in the low-to-mid-single digits, depending on when the poll was taken and who took it. Only toward the end, after the debates, did the gap narrow to that now proverbial "statistical dead heat." Even then, the statistically insignificant margin generally favored Bush. Another indicator was the University of Iowa's electronic election market, which lets traders bet on election outcomes; it consistently showed Bush winning with a percentage in the low 50s. Rarely has an election been so unsurprising.

A triumph? Only by the anomalous standards of 2000. By any other standard, 2004 was a squeaker, given that an incumbent was on the ticket. The last conservative, polarizing Republican incumbent who slashed taxes and campaigned on resolve against a foreign enemy won 49 states and received 59 percent of the popular vote. That, of course, was Ronald Reagan, who did not need to scrounge for votes to keep his job.

Most incumbent presidents win in a walk. The prestige and visibility of the White House gives them a powerful natural advantage. Bush enjoyed the further advantage of running against a Northeastern liberal who had trouble defining himself and didn't find the battlefield until September. By historical standards, Bush in 2004 was notably weak.

The boast that Bush is the first candidate to win a popular majority since 1988 is just pathetic. Bush is the first presidential candidate since 1988 to run without effective third-party competition, and he still barely won. No one doubts that Bill Clinton would have won a majority in his re-election bid in 1996 if not for the candidacy of Ross Perot.

A new political era? A gale-force mandate for change? More like the breezeless, stagnant air of a Washington summer. Despite much higher turnouts than in 2000, only three states switched sides -- a startling stasis. Despite Bush's win, the House of Representatives barely budged. In fact, the Republicans might have lost seats in the House had they not gerrymandered Texas. The allocation of state legislative seats between Republicans and Democrats also barely budged, maintaining close parity. The balance of governorships will change by at most one (at this writing, Washington state's race was undecided). If that's not stability, what would be?

In the Senate, the Democrats were routed in the South and their leader was evicted. Those were bruising blows, to be sure; but it was no secret that the Democrats had more Senate seats to defend, that most of those seats were in Republican states, and that five were open. "Early predictions were that the Republicans would pick up three to five seats overall," notes my colleague Charlie Cook. (See NJ, 11/6/04) In the end, the Republicans picked up four.

Here is the abiding reality, confirmed rather than upset by the election returns: America is a 50-50 nation. According to the National Election Pool exit poll (the largest and probably most reliable such poll), voters identified themselves this year as 37 percent Republicans, 37 percent Democrats, and 26 percent independents. That represents a shift in Republicans' favor, from 35-39-27 in 2000 -- but it is, of course, a shift to parity, not to dominance.

The political realignment that Republicans wish for is real, but it has already happened.


...the electorate's center did move, but only about 3 percentage points. That was about how much Bush improved his showing over 2000 in the average state he won twice, and it is also about the size of his margin of victory this year. It was enough to win him a close election, but hardly a breakthrough.

If anything structurally important happened in 2004, it was that the country moved to the right a little, but the Republican Party moved to the right a lot. John Kerry's Democrats aimed for the center and nearly got there, whereas Bush pulled right. He won, of course, but in doing so he painted his party a brighter shade of red -- especially on Capitol Hill, and above all in the Senate, some of whose new Republican members seem nothing short of extreme.

Read it all. I've written some of this same myself, so I'm partial, but really all is not lost. With all they had to work with to come down to a few votes in Ohio, gerrymandering Texas and picking off Red State Senate seats doesn't exactly speak to great electoral strength.

Via Donkey Rising