Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sunday Reading

Losing the Plot — Jay Rosen on why political journalism sucks.

Nobody knows exactly when it happened. But at some point between Teddy White’s The Making of the President, 1960 and the Willie Horton ads in 1988, political journalism in this country lost the plot. When it got overly interested in the inside game, it turned you and me and everyone who has to go into the voting booth and make a decision into an object of technique, which it then tried to assess. We became the people on whom the masters of politics practiced their craft. Then political journalism tried to recover an audience from the people it had turned into poll numbers and respondents to packaged stimuli. Tricky maneuver.

This is what led to the cult of the savvy, my term for the ideology and political style that journalists like Chris Cillizza and Mark Halperin spread through their work. The savvy severs any lingering solidarity between journalists as the providers of information, and voters as decision-makers in need of it. The savvy sets up — so it can speak to and cultivate — a third group between these two: close followers of the game. The most common term for them is “political junkies.” The site that Cillizza runs was created by that term. It’s called The Fix because that’s what political junkies need: their fix of inside-the-game news.

Junkies are not normal, but they accept their deformed status because it comes with compensations. They get to feel superior to ordinary voters, who are the objects of technique and of the savvy analyst’s smart read on what is likely to work in the next election. For while the junkies can hope to understand the game and how it operates, the voters are merely operated on. Not only does the savvy sever any solidarity between political journalists and the public they were once supposed to inform, it also draws a portion of the attentive public into emotional alliance with the ad makers, poll takers, claim fakers and buck rakers within the political class— the people who, as Max Weber put it in his famous essay “Politics as a Vocation,” live off politics.

But we’re not done. The savvy sets up a fifth group. (The first four: savvy journalists, political junkies, masters of the game, and an abstraction, The Voters.) These are the people who, as Weber put it, live for politics. They are involved as determined participants, not just occasional voters. Whereas the junkies can hope for admission to the secrets of the game (by taking cues from Chris Cillizza and Mark Halperin and the guys at Politico) the activists are hopelessly deluded, always placing their own ideology before the cold hard facts.

HT to dread pirate mistermix.

No, Liberals Don’t Control the Democratic Party — So says Molly Ball at The Atlantic.

The misimpression that the liberals have taken the reins of the party has become widespread. To take just one representative example: “The mainstream of the party has now veered back toward its more populist and pacifist instincts,” Yahoo News‘ Matt Bai wrote Thursday, characterized by “outright contempt for the wealthy and for conservatives generally.” Like others who embrace this analysis, Bai draws the conclusion that this will be an obstacle to the presidential prospects of Hillary Clinton, who is perceived as hawkish, establishmentarian, and friendly to corporate interests.

Many Democratic insiders minimize the party’s divide. They note that there’s broad ideological agreement on social and cultural issues, from abortion and gay marriage to gun control and immigration. National-security and foreign-policy questions have the power to divide but are no longer litmus tests. Even on economic issues, the party generally speaks with one voice: in favor of universal healthcare, against reducing safety-net programs, for progressive taxation and government-driven economic stimulus. Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, told me in an email that the Democratic Party just doesn’t get hung up on internecine battles these days. “I believe that it’s a big-tent party that can and should accommodate centrists and liberals,” Tanden said. “That ideological purity has not been a winning strategy for the other side.”

But this high-altitude view elides real differences, such as disagreement over how much to raise taxes and on whom, how much to regulate industry, and whether to press not just to preserve but to expand those safety-net programs. (In addition to the Cuomo-de Blasio feud, Warren’s signature proposal would increase Social Security benefits, and Obama’s push for new free-trade agreements has run into resistance from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.) And the divide isn’t so much about issues as tone and tactics. The Warrenites harp on the gap between rich and poor and inveigh against big business; the centrists assure their big corporate donors that Democrats can be business-friendly.

Putin on the Titz — Andy Borowitz chronicles the latest atrocity from Sochi.

SOCHI (The Borowitz Report)—With the Olympics underway, hundreds of visitors to Sochi are complaining that they checked into expensive hotel rooms only to find them decorated with seminude portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The portraits, showing Mr. Putin shirtless and riding a variety of mammals, adorn the walls of virtually every hotel room constructed especially for the Olympics and were created at a cost of over two million dollars, Olympic officials said.

Tracy Klugian, who travelled from Ohio with his wife to attend the Sochi Games, said that he was appalled to find his hotel room dominated by a gigantic portrait of a shirtless Putin riding what appears to be a bear.

Said Mr. Klugian, “I did not travel thousands of miles just to be grossed out.”

For his part, President Putin has been dismissive of the complaints, today calling the hotel guests “babies who cry.”

“These people who are complaining about what is on their walls should be grateful,” he said. “At least they got one of the hotel rooms with walls.”

Doonesbury — Good news.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Minnesota Nice

Andy Kroll at Mother Jones looks at how Minnesota is getting back to its liberal heritage in the name of the late Paul Wellstone.

A decade ago, Tim Pawlenty was governor, Norm Coleman had replaced the late Paul Wellstone in the US Senate, and Rove was touting Minnesota—which hadn’t voted for a Republican president in 37 years—as a battleground state. Today, Democrats control the state Legislature. They hold both US Senate seats, five of the state’s eight congressional seats, and every constitutional office—governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and state auditor. In November, they defeated ballot measures to ban same-sex marriage and enact restrictive voter ID rules. And to top it all off, Rep. Michele Bachmann, the tea party torchbearer under investigation for ethics violations, announced in May that she would not seek reelection. “If you look at the history of our party since 1944, we’re at the apex of our political power,” gushes Ken Martin, the chairman of what in Minnesota is known as the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party.

[…]

For that Minnesotans can thank—or blame—a small, press-shy circle of operatives, activists, donors, and party leaders who have built a political machine that chugs year-round to elect Democratic candidates and pass progressive policies. It is fueled by big unions and wealthy donors, the best data in the business, and an unusual level of collaboration among organizations that have very different priorities. Their strategy has created a road map for Democrats from Concord to Santa Fe. “The next phase for the progressive movement has to be taking our states back,” says Jeff Blodgett, a 30-year veteran of Minnesota politics who was the Obama campaign’s state director in 2008 and 2012.

It started with the death of Sen. Wellstone and his wife and daughter in a plane crash on October 25, 2002.  From that sad day, though, Mr. Blodgett started organizing to get Minnesota back to the blue side of the aisle.

Blodgett was shattered. He pulled himself together enough to recruit former Vice President Walter Mondale to run in Wellstone’s place, but Norm Coleman, a onetime campus radical turned Republican rising star and Rove acolyte, eked out a 2-point win. After the election Blodgett was unemployed and adrift. He turned over the same thought in his head: It can’t end like this. “If we didn’t have Paul and Sheila around,” he recalled some years later, “we had to figure out the next best thing.”

The next best thing became Wellstone Action, an organization conceived by Blodgett to train candidates, campaign managers, and activists to win elections the “Wellstone way”—promising bold policy ideas, investing heavily in grassroots organizing, and forging diverse coalitions. In May 2003, Wellstone Action held its first Camp Wellstone, a two-and-a-half-day crash course in campaigns and elections, and in the ensuing years 55,000 people would graduate from these trainings. Of the 112 DFL lawmakers elected to the Legislature last year, 40 were Camp Wellstone alums. US Rep. Tim Walz and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie graduated from the same Camp Wellstone class in 2005.

Read the whole story and see how it could be a model for other states where there have been traditions of old-fashioned populist liberalism overrun by the whackjobs.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Looking Forward

There’s hope for the younger set after all.

MISSOULA, Mont. — This funky college town, nestled along two rivers where five mountain ranges converge, has long been a liberal pocket, an isolated speck of blue in a deeply red state. Now Montana is electing more politicians who lean that way, thanks to a different-minded generation of young voters animated by the recession and social issues.

Sam Thompson, a 22-year-old environmental studies major at the University of Montana here, considers himself “fiscally conservative” but opposes cuts to Medicare; he expects to need health coverage when he grows old. Aaron Curtis, 27, a graduate student, admired Jon Huntsman, a moderate Republican, but could not stomach Mitt Romney’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

Billie Loewen and Heather Jurva, editors at the student newspaper, speak of a Depression-era mentality that is pushing their generation to back Democrats. Saddled with student debt, they worry about health care and are terrified that they will not find good jobs. “You might be just one accident away from losing everything,” said Ms. Jurva, who has worked 40 hours a week waiting on tables to put herself through school.

It is no secret that young voters tilt left on social issues like immigration and gay rights. But these students, and dozens of other young people interviewed here last week, give voice to a trend that is surprising pollsters and jangling the nerves of Republicans. On a central philosophical question of the day — the size and scope of the federal government — a clear majority of young people embraces President Obama’s notion that it can be a constructive force, a point he intends to make in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

These students remind me of when I was in college, now some forty years ago.  The issues were different; the war in Vietnam was still going on, the Cold War was a presence (we had all grown up with “duck and cover” and the fear of the Commies coming over the polar ice cap), but surprisingly, the same issues we talked about then are still a part of the dialogue today: a good job, equal rights, the environment, and putting our collective heads together to solve problems.  And a lot of us, then as now, saw that government could be a force for good in the world despite the bad examples we had back then.  We always believed that the next guy (and it was always a guy) would be the one to make the transformation.

What do the Republicans have to offer?  Ted Nugent.

HT to Melissa.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Moving Forward

One of the few interesting conservative reactions I saw to President Obama’s inaugural address yesterday came from Charles Krauthammer, the dour prognosticator of doom at the Washington Post:

“I thought it was an amazing speech, and historically very important,” Krauthammer said on Fox News in the aftermath of the speech. “This was really Obama unbound. And I think what’s most interesting is that Obama basically is declaring the end of Reaganism.”

He went on to say that it was a “hymn to big government,” which means he wasn’t listening to the same speech as the rest of us, but then, he’s paid to find the nits to pick at.  Judging by other conservatives’ reactions to the speech, they were not impressed, either.  And of course there was the unsurprising tut-tutting from a few Villagers and Grumpy Gusses who wanted to hear another call for unity and the end to partisanship in Washington.  Yes, that worked so well the last time.

If, as Dr. Krauthammer bemoans, this is the end of Reaganism, then it’s about time.  Even Ronald Reagan, the one that raised taxes, the one that supported the assault weapons ban, the one who signed an abortion bill when he was governor of California, would probably be happy to see the end of the era of big business kleptocracy that gave us such wonderful things as Enron and Wall Street rip-offs, the end of serial pollution and the denial of scientific reality, the end of racial polarization, the end of ignorance, intolerance, demonization of the LGBTQ community, and the end of the pursuit of an America that only existed in the half-hour black-and-white sitcoms of the 1950’s, all hosted by tobacco companies.  Much of those policies and philosophies still exist and are still trumpeted by conservatives, but at least they’re no longer the mantra of an administration.  At least for now.

The headlines of major papers are telling us that “Obama Lays Out Liberal Vision,” but that’s news only if you were not paying attention to the presidential campaign in 2012.  There wasn’t a heck of a lot new in the speech.  Even the breathtaking inclusion of “gay brothers and sisters” and the mention of Stonewall along with Seneca Falls and Selma was an echo from the stump.  That he would be the first president to mention gay rights in an inauguration speech is important, but it is not a “liberal vision” any more than the simple idea of treating all of us as equals, which, as the president noted, was written into the Declaration of Independence.

If this is truly the beginning of a term with “liberal vision,” then there are a lot of people — myself included — who are saying that it’s about time.  And if this is the beginning of a term where President Obama will not back down from his ideas before he’s even laid them out in dealing with the intransigent Republicans, its about time for that, too.  Let’s just hope that he means it and sticks to it this time.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The “L” Word

Digby points to an article in The Week that alerts us to the growing popularity of liberalism.

A full 25 percent of voters in this month’s election identified themselves as liberals, according to exit polls, a marked increase from 22 percent in 2008. (Conservative is still a more popular identifier, with 35 percent of voters claiming that label.) Still, the “L” word is more popular than it has been since 1976. Conservatives managed to turn “liberal” into an insult in the 1980s, and when Republican icon Ronald Reagan won re-election in 1984, only 17 percent of voters confessed to being liberal. Today that number has ballooned to 25 percent.

The article attributes the trend to a couple of reasons, one being that Barack Obama made being liberal “cool” again, and the other the fact that there’s the perception out there that conservatives are uncaring and disconnected.

It’s not that Americans are suddenly gung-ho about liberal politics, says Gary Bauer at Human Events. Voters are still filled with “strong skepticism about whether Obama will be able to accomplish Americans’ goals.” The Obama campaign simply managed to drive people away from Mitt Romney with a relentless barrage of negative ads smearing him — and, by extension, conservative politics — as “uncaring and disconnected.” Republicans can regain this lost ground next time around if they just learn from this loss.

Yeah, if they just knocked off the gay-bashing, the misogyny, the racism, and the need to inject fear and loathing into everything from children’s TV to healthcare for the elderly, they wouldn’t be such bad folks after all.  Of course, if they did that, they’d be on their way to being liberals.

For the record, I never stopped self-identifying as a liberal, and I’ve been doing that since I was in high school.  Which gives me the opportunity to post one of my favorite clips from The West Wing:

Santos: It’s true, Republicans have tried to turn ‘liberal’ into a bad word. Well, liberals ended slavery in this country.

Vinick: A Republican president ended slavery.

Santos: Yes, a liberal Republican. What happened to them? They got run out of your party. What did liberals do that was so offensive to the Republican party? I’ll tell you what they did. Liberals got women the right to vote. Liberals got African-Americans the right to vote. Liberals created social security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty. Liberals ended segregation. Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Liberals created Medicare. Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act. What did Conservatives do? They opposed every one of those programs. Every one. So when you try to hurl the word ‘liberal’ at my feet, as if it were dirty, something to run away from, something that I should be ashamed of, it won’t work, Senator, because I will pick up that label and wear it as a badge of honor.

My only fear is that now being liberal is becoming trendy, and you know how I feel about being “trendy.”  I’d much rather people picked up the liberal badge of honor and wore it not because it’s cool or hip but because they believe in the values that come with being a liberal: equality, economic fairness, using government as a tool for good instead of a cudgel, and standing up for the people who don’t have the voice or the means to acquire power in order to have a life that has been promised to them by the simple statement of We the People.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday Reading

The Bard Behind Bars — Shakespeare inspired prisoners at South Africa’s notorious Robben Island.

It doesn’t look like much — just a tattered, 1970 edition of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.” But inside, the book bears testament to an era.

Currently on display at the British Museum as part of an exhibition called “Shakespeare: Staging the World,” the book belongs to Sonny Venkatrathnam, who was incarcerated during the 1970s in South Africa’s apartheid-era political prison, Robben Island. Having convinced a warden that the volume was a Hindu religious text, Venkatrathnam was allowed to keep it with him in prison, where it was passed from prisoner to prisoner. At Venkatrathnam’s request, his comrades signed their names beside their favorite passages.

On Dec. 16, 1977, Nelson Mandela signed next to these lines: “Cowards die many times before their deaths; / The valiant never taste of death but once.”

Walter Sisulu, another African National Congress leader and close confidant of Mandela, put his name beside a passage in “The Merchant of Venice,” in which Shylock talks about the abuse he has taken as a Jewish money-lender: “Still have I borne it with a patient shrug / For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.”

And Billy Nair, who went on to become a member of Parliament in the new South Africa, chose Caliban’s challenge to Prospero from “The Tempest”: “This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother / Which thou tak’st from me.”

The Robben Island Shakespeare is the only book from the prison that records an act of personal literary appreciation by the major figures incarcerated at the time, many of whom went on to play major roles in post-apartheid South Africa. It is a kind of “guest book,” bearing the signatures of 34 of the Robben Island prisoners. But is also more than that.

When they signed their names against Shakespeare’s text, each prisoner recognized something of himself and his relation to others in the words of a stranger. The Robben Island Shakespeare records that community of character and signature as an example of Shakespeare’s global reach and as a historically specific witness to a common human identity and shared experience.

Cutting the Cord — What it’s like to go back to Slow TV.

Our options narrowed from a world of entertainment to the whims of the few channels that would deign to come clearly through what are essentially newfangled rabbit ears: a high-definition digital antenna intended to capture the over-the-air signal, which was once how everyone watched TV. Sure, some shows were online, but in the beginning the number of commercials in them seemed prohibitive. We’d just come from a paradise of DVR fast-forwarding. Now we had to sit through the same ad over and over? We also had only one computer; with two writers in the family, it wasn’t available for TV watching.

We quickly learned some lessons. Would “Mad Men” still run if we couldn’t watch it? (Yes.) Would people refrain from spoilers while “Breaking Bad” made its way to streaming? (No, they would not.) What was this “Walking Dead” everyone was talking about? (Still not sure, but apparently it’s a big deal.)

When the weather is right, we get most of the channels. Sometimes. CBS is the only network that shows up consistently and pristinely, and one day I’ll be old enough to enjoy its fare. There is also a channel that doesn’t seem to have a name but broadcasts reruns of “Three’s Company” or “Sanford and Son,” which is not so bad in the beggars/choosers category.

Yet what initially seemed like a torture we’d simply have to endure became a surprising reminder of the simple pleasures of simple TV.

Call it Slow TV. I had never stopped loving TV, but I had stopped appreciating it. Entire seasons of shows had piled up on the DVR, on the theory that they might be interesting someday. TV was everywhere now — on the phone, on the computer. It was on while I wrote, did taxes, folded laundry. It was background noise. When I really had to make choices about what to watch, and then pay attention with no rewind to fall back on, TV became absorbing again, an activity in itself, as it had been when I was younger. And I watched much less, if only for logistical reasons.

As it turns out, I unintentionally had become part of a growing group of Americans giving up wired cable and even televisions. Nielsen recently reported that TV set ownership has dropped to 96.7 percent of American households from 98.9 percent, and it isn’t because we’re reading more. Instead we’re cobbling together new ways of digesting programming. We watch on iPhones, computers, Rokus, other people’s HBO Go accounts, and yes, a digital antenna; one-size-fits-all TV is over.

Still, analog watching isn’t without its inconveniences. Even in the heady days of cable service, the DVR was overwhelmed by the choices on some nights. The answer should have been simple: Watch some shows online when the computer is available. But “Gossip Girl,” for instance, had so many unforwardable commercials on Hulu that it’s clear who the real demographic for those shows are: people who don’t yet believe that they have the right to not be advertised to for 30 minutes of a 60-minute show. When the ads became burdensome, the series had to do some mighty things to stay on the list. Blair’s marrying a prince, then leaving him for Chuck, simply didn’t qualify.

Keeping Hope Alive — How to keep young people engaged in politics and progressivism.

Young voters surprised pundits and Republicans again this year as we turned out in record numbers to vote, joining key constituencies including African Americans, Hispanics, and women to reelect President Obama. Composing 19 percent of the electorate, up from 18 percent in 2008 and 12 percent in 2004, young Americans demonstrated their importance to a growing progressive coalition.

Many question, however, whether our diverse and unprecedented coalition will be able to build on this foundation and sustain the power of our ideas and values throughout our lifetimes. Or, like the Reagan coalition after 1990, are we fated to fracture as a political force by 2016? Some suggest that the strong generational power of today’s 18-30-year-olds will become inconsequential as the hype dies down and we grow up. Our next steps are critical.

Young progressives are a distinct and large population that favors pragmatic problem-solving, opportunity for all, justice and equality, and government’s promotion of such ideals. Identifying more strongly with values than with a political party, we are a significant portion of President Obama’s alliance. Yet given the diversity of the Obama coalition, someone must lead productive grassroots dialogue, finding a broader progressive voice. As members of the largest and most diverse generation in American history, young progressives are the best candidates for the job.

Rather than waiting 30 or 40 years to see how this pans out, let’s write the story ourselves today. Young people are powerful influencers of elections, and we’ve built a strong foundation on which to stand. But it’s up to us to define citizenship for our generation and maintain a unified commitment to progressive values to solidify the political shift.

Doonesbury — Red Rascal returns?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Growing Up

Jonathan Krohn, a right-winger at 13, on growing out of it.

I was tired of being a part of the ideological warfare this country is so caught up in. I was tired of the right using me as an example of how young people “get” what they’re talking about — when it’s obvious that I didn’t get what I talking about at all. I mean, come on, I was between 13 and 14 when I was regurgitating these talking points! What does a kid who has never paid a tax bring to the table in a conversation about the burden of taxes? What does a healthy child know about people who can’t afford healthcare because of preexisting conditions? No matter how intelligent a person might be, certain political issues require life experience; they’re much more complicated than the black and white frames imposed by partisan America. (And no, my mother and father didn’t write my material for me. You’d have to be as paranoid as the birthers to think someone’s parents would put them up to all that. Have a bit more faith in the human race, man!) I was just a 13-year-old kid spitting up the nonsense he’d learned. In the future, a good rule of thumb might be: If you’re not old enough to have consensual sex, you’re probably not old enough to make consequential political statements.

My past did me some good, though. If I hadn’t seen this childishness I might never have taken the time to let myself breathe, and read philosophy, and develop a new, better sense of humor, not to mention a more mature writing style. An open mind and critical thought are like a metaphorical AA after a long bender on ideological wine: I’m proud to say that this program has gotten me three years sober.

Now, I’m just another white, comic-book collecting, sci-fi watching, film-obsessing, satirizing, sorta stereotypical Jewish nerd who’s never been laid.

[…]

So this is what this story boils down to: A 17-year-old has different opinions than he did at 13. People may be disappointed by how underwhelming that is, but it’s how the world works. Some people move on with life, mature, and realize that they don’t know everything nor will they ever know everything. Then again, some don’t.

Mazel tov, Jonathan.

Growing Up

Jonathan Krohn, a right-winger at 13, on growing out of it.

I was tired of being a part of the ideological warfare this country is so caught up in. I was tired of the right using me as an example of how young people “get” what they’re talking about — when it’s obvious that I didn’t get what I talking about at all. I mean, come on, I was between 13 and 14 when I was regurgitating these talking points! What does a kid who has never paid a tax bring to the table in a conversation about the burden of taxes? What does a healthy child know about people who can’t afford healthcare because of preexisting conditions? No matter how intelligent a person might be, certain political issues require life experience; they’re much more complicated than the black and white frames imposed by partisan America. (And no, my mother and father didn’t write my material for me. You’d have to be as paranoid as the birthers to think someone’s parents would put them up to all that. Have a bit more faith in the human race, man!) I was just a 13-year-old kid spitting up the nonsense he’d learned. In the future, a good rule of thumb might be: If you’re not old enough to have consensual sex, you’re probably not old enough to make consequential political statements.

My past did me some good, though. If I hadn’t seen this childishness I might never have taken the time to let myself breathe, and read philosophy, and develop a new, better sense of humor, not to mention a more mature writing style. An open mind and critical thought are like a metaphorical AA after a long bender on ideological wine: I’m proud to say that this program has gotten me three years sober.

Now, I’m just another white, comic-book collecting, sci-fi watching, film-obsessing, satirizing, sorta stereotypical Jewish nerd who’s never been laid.

[…]

So this is what this story boils down to: A 17-year-old has different opinions than he did at 13. People may be disappointed by how underwhelming that is, but it’s how the world works. Some people move on with life, mature, and realize that they don’t know everything nor will they ever know everything. Then again, some don’t.

Mazel tov, Jonathan.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Knock It Off

Steve Almond has an essay in yesterday’s New York Times magazine that, in the words of Charlie Pierce, makes me want to guzzle anti-freeze. The very title — “Liberals Are Ruining America. I Know Because I Am One” — made me groan before I even read it, and once I did, I wanted to throw it across the room.

His basic premise is that if we ignore the right-wing noise machine like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News or somehow seal them off from the civil discourse that the grown-ups are having, they will go away.

Imagine, if you will, the domino effect that would ensue if liberals and moderates simply tuned out the demagogues. Yes, they would still be able to manipulate their legions into endorsing cruel and self-defeating policies. But their voices would be sealed within the echo chamber of extremism and sealed off from the majority of Americans who honestly just want our common problems solved. They would be marginalized in the same way as activists who rant about racial purity or anarchy.

Rush Limbaugh would be a radio host catering to a few million angry commuters, not the alpha male of conservatism. Fox News would be a popular fringe network, not the reliable conduit by which paranoid hogwash infects our mainstream media.

In this world, it would be much harder to mislead people because media outlets would shift their resources to covering the content of proposed legislation, the exploding role of corporate influence in our affairs of state and the scientifically confirmed predicaments we face as a species.

Liberals and moderates would no longer be able to mollify themselves by watching Jon Stewart mock conservative wack jobs. They would be forced to consider their own values and the sort of actions necessary to reify [sic] those values in the world. They might even consider breaching our artificially inflated partisan divide.

To that I say with all the due respect and decorum that I can muster: Bullshit. We have tried that approach before, and it hasn’t worked. It didn’t work in the 1990’s when the machine went after the Clintons. Yes, Bill Clinton survived impeachment and Newt Gingrich was tossed out, but like the monster in Alien, Newt came back; we just spent a year enduring his inanities, and it wasn’t as much fun this time because he’s still insufferable and boring as whale shit. They do not go away — Mr. Almond as much admits that — they only get worse. So why does anyone think that by ignoring them or isolating them will work this time?

I know all too well how little stomach progressives have for aggressive politics. We would much rather have a nice discussion over a nice glass of wine and reason together. But that’s not what the haters and the right-wingers want. In the first place, those reasonable Republicans have all been primaried out of office, and even the ones who try vainly to sound reasonable are still capable of calling you a Nazi.


Liberals have got to get over their squimishness. The way to fight back is to fight back. Don’t give an inch. It’s like fighting a wildfire; you put it out in one area, it comes back somewhere else, so you put it out there. You respond to every provocation, every nutty e-mail sent by your whack-job relative about Kenyan birth certificates and Michelle’s garden. It doesn’t have to be a long discourse with facts and figures; they don’t work, and well-intentioned pearl-clutchers like Steve Almond only enable them. Knock it off. You call bullshit and you call out the racist bigoted Neanderthal bullies that they are. You don’t bring a peace pipe to a knife fight, and you don’t win the argument by conceding anything. Of course, that assumes they want to have an argument. They don’t. They want to end the chit-chat and get on with the bloodletting.

Take it from someone who spent a lot of his early years at the mercy of bullies: it’s surprising how fast they run for their momma when you actually do fight back. It works. And it feels very, very good when you win. But you can’t ever let your guard down, and no matter what happens in November, they’ll still be out there.

Knock It Off

Steve Almond has an essay in yesterday’s New York Times magazine that, in the words of Charlie Pierce, makes me want to guzzle anti-freeze. The very title — “Liberals Are Ruining America. I Know Because I Am One” — made me groan before I even read it, and once I did, I wanted to throw it across the room.

His basic premise is that if we ignore the right-wing noise machine like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News or somehow seal them off from the civil discourse that the grown-ups are having, they will go away.

Imagine, if you will, the domino effect that would ensue if liberals and moderates simply tuned out the demagogues. Yes, they would still be able to manipulate their legions into endorsing cruel and self-defeating policies. But their voices would be sealed within the echo chamber of extremism and sealed off from the majority of Americans who honestly just want our common problems solved. They would be marginalized in the same way as activists who rant about racial purity or anarchy.

Rush Limbaugh would be a radio host catering to a few million angry commuters, not the alpha male of conservatism. Fox News would be a popular fringe network, not the reliable conduit by which paranoid hogwash infects our mainstream media.

In this world, it would be much harder to mislead people because media outlets would shift their resources to covering the content of proposed legislation, the exploding role of corporate influence in our affairs of state and the scientifically confirmed predicaments we face as a species.

Liberals and moderates would no longer be able to mollify themselves by watching Jon Stewart mock conservative wack jobs. They would be forced to consider their own values and the sort of actions necessary to reify [sic] those values in the world. They might even consider breaching our artificially inflated partisan divide.

To that I say with all the due respect and decorum that I can muster: Bullshit. We have tried that approach before, and it hasn’t worked. It didn’t work in the 1990’s when the machine went after the Clintons. Yes, Bill Clinton survived impeachment and Newt Gingrich was tossed out, but like the monster in Alien, Newt came back; we just spent a year enduring his inanities, and it wasn’t as much fun this time because he’s still insufferable and boring as whale shit. They do not go away — Mr. Almond as much admits that — they only get worse. So why does anyone think that by ignoring them or isolating them will work this time?

I know all too well how little stomach progressives have for aggressive politics. We would much rather have a nice discussion over a nice glass of wine and reason together. But that’s not what the haters and the right-wingers want. In the first place, those reasonable Republicans have all been primaried out of office, and even the ones who try vainly to sound reasonable are still capable of calling you a Nazi.


Liberals have got to get over their squimishness. The way to fight back is to fight back. Don’t give an inch. It’s like fighting a wildfire; you put it out in one area, it comes back somewhere else, so you put it out there. You respond to every provocation, every nutty e-mail sent by your whack-job relative about Kenyan birth certificates and Michelle’s garden. It doesn’t have to be a long discourse with facts and figures; they don’t work, and well-intentioned pearl-clutchers like Steve Almond only enable them. Knock it off. You call bullshit and you call out the racist bigoted Neanderthal bullies that they are. You don’t bring a peace pipe to a knife fight, and you don’t win the argument by conceding anything. Of course, that assumes they want to have an argument. They don’t. They want to end the chit-chat and get on with the bloodletting.

Take it from someone who spent a lot of his early years at the mercy of bullies: it’s surprising how fast they run for their momma when you actually do fight back. It works. And it feels very, very good when you win. But you can’t ever let your guard down, and no matter what happens in November, they’ll still be out there.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Memo To David Brooks

TO: DAVID BROOKS

RE: “WHERE ARE THE LIBERALS?”

Thanks for your note about how liberals need to restore trust in themselves and their own institutions before “America” will sign up for their policies. However, there are a couple of points you conveniently overlooked.

– You may think that liberal policies and the number of people who support them are “flat or in decline,” but actually, support for so-called liberal ideas such as marriage equality, women’s rights, environmental protection, and controlling climate change are on the rise and have been going up steadily for the last twenty years. It has very little do to with politics, though; it’s because “America” is evolving, and even if the right-wing loons don’t believe in it, it is happening.

– It’s laughably hypocritical of you to say that liberals are losing because they have destroyed trust in government and there is no leader to storm the castle of Republican corruption and restore trust in our institutions. You’re telling us this after a year of absolute paralysis at the hands of the Republican House leadership whose sole purpose in life is to defeat the incumbent president, and three years after the end of a presidency that was so riddled with political shenanigans from the White House to the Justice Department that Nicolai Machiavelli flipped over in his grave and said, “Whoa, too rough for me.”

– Based on the current crop of people running for the GOP presidential nomination, please don’t feel as if you and the Republicans have any standing to tell anyone else how to pick a leader.

And lastly, don’t put the burden of restoring trust in government on the Democrats alone. The right wing has spent most of your adult life demonizing everything to the left of Ronald Reagan as evil, anti-Christian, and venal. And that was before Bill Clinton and Barack Obama showed up on the scene. So it seems a tad disingenuous to complain about how terrible the place looks after you’ve just spent all this time trashing it. That’s like a German tourist wandering into Warsaw in 1946 and saying, “Hey, what did you do to all the synagogues?”

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

President Obama’s “Spirited Defense of a Progressive Vision”

Since I was traveling and am now deep in the world of theatre, I missed President Obama’s much-anticipated speech on the economy and the future of the country. Steve Benen summed it up as a spirited defense of a progressive vision: “It’s called ‘liberalism.'”

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


Here’s some of what the president said:
We believe, in the words of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves. And so we’ve built a strong military to keep us secure, and public schools and universities to educate our citizens. We’ve laid down railroads and highways to facilitate travel and commerce. We’ve supported the work of scientists and researchers whose discoveries have saved lives, unleashed repeated technological revolutions, and led to countless new jobs and entire new industries. Each of us has benefitted from these investments, and we are a more prosperous country as a result.

Part of this American belief that we are all connected also expresses itself in a conviction that each one of us deserves some basic measure of security and dignity. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, hard times or bad luck, a crippling illness or a layoff, may strike any one of us. ‘There but for the grace of God go I,’ we say to ourselves, and so we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which guarantee us health care and a measure of basic income after a lifetime of hard work; unemployment insurance, which protects us against unexpected job loss; and Medicaid, which provides care for millions of seniors in nursing homes, poor children, and those with disabilities. We are a better country because of these commitments. I’ll go further — we would not be a great country without those commitments. […]

The America I know is generous and compassionate; a land of opportunity and optimism. We take responsibility for ourselves and each other; for the country we want and the future we share. We are the nation that built a railroad across a continent and brought light to communities shrouded in darkness. We sent a generation to college on the GI bill and saved millions of seniors from poverty with Social Security and Medicare. We have led the world in scientific research and technological breakthroughs that have transformed millions of lives. This is who we are.

This is not the first time President Obama has used these terms, nor is it the first time he’s come to the defense of liberal ideas. His speech at the Democratic Convention in Boston in 2004 — the speech that introduced him to the national stage — was such, as was his acceptance speech at his own nominating convention in Denver in 2008. But this time it was not just a speech to introduce or reaffirm goals; it was a speech that was a reaction to both the Ryan budget proposals and the entire Republican agenda of economic reform. In short, he’s calling them out.

A lot of people have been urging him to make such a call. I’m glad he did. Now let’s see if there is action and resolve behind them.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fussing Up

I get it that there are progressives who are upset with President Obama. I get it that they’re not happy with the lack of progress on some of the issues that he promised. But I’m getting a bit tired of the way they’re carrying on about it. For all the angst, petulance, threats to find a primary challenger to the president, and holding their breaths until they turn blue, you’d think they were Republicans.

If you thought that once we elected Barack Obama everything would be all roses and rainbows, that all our disagreements and distrust would magically vanish in the abundant sunshine of the dawn of a new day, then there’s a lot you missed in learning about the way things work in this Washington… and in the world. Remember, your mileage may vary, some assembly is required, batteries are not included, other items shown sold separately, and for every pony, there’s always the manure that comes with it. But things will get done. Maybe not the way we hoped and not in the final form, but that’s how it rolls. For instance, after all the impatience and ranting about how the president was not living up to his promise to get rid of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, it looks like the repeal will actually happen. And it won’t be a temporary measure like the signing of an executive order that can be repealed by the next Republican president. If it passes, discrimination by law against openly gay and lesbian soldiers in the military will be done away with forever.

I am not suggesting that Democrats and progressives all shut up and do whatever it takes to make the president look good and go all eyes-glazed-over on Hardball with the droning of “Yes-I-support-the-president” chorus. And I also recognize that there are progressives who have never thought that Barack Obama was a liberal and don’t trust him. Fine; I give them credit and a lot of admiration for their zeal and drive to move the nation in a more progressive direction. I’m all for it. But there are things worth fighting over within the party and there are better ways to go about it. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to restore this country and recover from the serious damage of the last ten years, and the clock is running. Let’s discuss it, let’s get a lot of different ideas out there, and but let’s do it constructively and convincingly. As John Cole noted, there’s a difference between holding someone’s feet to the fire and burning them at the stake.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Our Better Nature

After looking at the way things have been going in Washington and around the country for the last couple of years, it’s obvious that the Republicans have come to the conclusion that they don’t care if they hurt other people in order to accomplish their agenda. That is all that matters to them, and if there’s some collateral damage to those other people, well, that’s just too bad.

Look at some of the things they’ve stood up against: healthcare reform, repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, healthcare for the people made sick by responding to 9/11, extension of jobless benefits for those people thrown out of work by the recession the Republicans helped cause, tax relief for the middle class, aid to education and infrastructure, assistance to corporations that employ a large number of the middle class, immigration reform, food safety; the list goes on and on, and in every case the Republicans mounted a battle against them.

And in just about every case, the opposition wasn’t based on practicality or the lack of need. It was couched in abstract and hypothetical terms; health insurance is a privilege, gay people are icky, capitalism shouldn’t reward bad decisions, no one should pay taxes to subsidize people who weren’t born with trust funds, and what’s wrong with finding a rat hair in your hot dog, anyway? Man up!

This GOP philosophy is often braced up by their own hypocrisy; for example, the number of Republicans who applied for money for pet projects from the stimulus package they voted against is legion, as are those who rail against undocumented workers but have them cleaning their bathroom and trimming their lawn. And if you look at the recent activity on Capitol Hill it’s even more obvious. The failure to repeal an odious and un-American bill such as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in the light of the support of its repeal by the military brass, the troops on the ground, and just about everyone else, liberal or conservative, who knows what it’s like to serve with gay men and lesbians is a case in point. The opposition to repeal is based not on fact but on fear and an attempt to appeal to the ignorance and bigotry; always a safe bet in politics.

The same thing applies to the extension of jobless benefits. It touches millions of people regardless of their politics; unemployed blue-collar workers who embrace Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber as well as the single mom trying to get by as a cart wrangler at K-Mart. But if you can get on Fox News and tell the rest of the barely-employed that the people without jobs are lazy loafers who need to learn the hard lesson of an honest day’s work for less pay, then of course you can justify claiming that it’s really hard to make a decent living if the tax rate on everything you make over $250,000 is going up by three whole percent.

It’s not that they are all intentionally cruel; they’re just thoughtless and immature. The natural instinct of a person who has achieved some sense of maturity and obligation to the world outside of themselves is to want to help others without trying to first think about what’s in it for them or how they can possibly profit from it, and they just don’t seem to get that there is more to being a citizen — and a human being — than being rich and famous. And it’s easy to be a bully, especially when you’re dealing with an opposition that falls for the “Hey, your shoe’s untied!” bit nearly every time.

History and human nature has proven that over time the better angels of our nature win out. Progress against oppression and the platitudes of tradition and ossification has been made, sometimes swiftly, sometimes at a glacial pace, but always moving forward. But it is hard to look far to the future and counsel patience when you see the solution and the promise just out of reach and it is kept that way by those who are doing it only because they can.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Taking the Moment

I almost skipped reading George F. Will’s column yesterday because I could pretty much predict what he was going to say — the election of 2010 was a rejection of liberalism — even before I read the headline. He and David Brooks and the bow-tie daddies have been telling us that for months.

Except I don’t buy it. The mid-term elections of 2010 were a result of an economy still struggling to recover and unemployment still too high, plus the usual trend in mid-term elections for older and more conservative — dare I say reactionary — voters to come out and younger ones staying home. Had those factors not been involved, the elections would probably have gone better for the Democrats.

I’m pretty sure that when the GOP lost the mid-terms in 2006, Mr. Will et al did not conclude that it was a rejection of conservatism; they said it was a reaction to the moment and that Republicans had not lived up to their promises, and that the election of Barack Obama in 2008 was not a “wave” but a rejection of the Bush presidency. Fair is fair; if they can claim that for 2006, it has to apply to this election as well. If it was John McCain in the White House and unemployment was hovering around 10%, you’d hear Mr. Will explaining patiently that the Democratic take-over of the House and Senate in the 2010 midterms was not a rejection of conservatism.

One factor that has nothing to do with liberalism or conservatism will change, probably by the next election, and that is that the economy will improve. Even after the pounding it has taken over the past three years, the economy moves in cycles, and we are, despite the current numbers of unemployed and factory orders, on a recovery upswing. And since irony reigns supreme in American elections, the fact that it was a Republican administration and economic policy that got us into this current recession meant that the people who took over from them and tried to fix it are the ones who are getting the blame. Most voters are focused on issues that touch them rather than whether or not the country is too liberal or conservative. They look at their own lives and vote accordingly, and this time it was the Democrats who got the blame.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Short Takes

See, we told you: A poll finds that Americans wanted more from the healthcare bill.

Their turn: Liberal groups plan to march in Washington next weekend.

Maybe they will: Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) says the Democrats may take up the tax cuts in Congress next week after all. (Wanna bet?)

Venezuelans are voting in large numbers in parliamentary elections.

There may be hope for the two remaining hikers held prisoner in Iran.

If you were born in Puerto Rico and haven’t gotten a new birth certificate, you’re going to have a problem getting a passport.

The Tigers still have some road games, but they ended the season at Comerica with a win against the Twins.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Taking The Marbles and Going Home

David Kurtz at TPM tries to put the current Democratic crisis of courage in perspective.

I know it’s cathartic to howl at the moon, and in most cases it’s just a heat of the moment reaction. But the “take my marbles and go home” crowd has always struck me as peculiarly both overinvested and underinvested in politics: overinvested in the way a rabid sports fan’s mood rises and falls with the fate of the hometown team; underinvested in that they go from supposedly caring so much it makes their hearts ache to washing their hands of politics entirely.

What I think it speaks to is a lack of control. A helpless feeling washes over people who care passionately about the issues that confront the country but who, because of the demands of work and family, are limited in how involved they can be politically. They have their vote and in some cases they have some disposable income to give to campaigns. But they don’t have much of a voice, certainly not a loud or influential voice. In casting about for some way to exert more control, a take it or leave it mentality starts to seem like a viable option.

I don’t have any silver bullet to offer. Politics is a long hard slog, with frequent reversals. It’s about making the best decision from among the available choices. Often the available choices, as they say in political science circles, suck. The fact that political successes are so rare and fleeting is what makes them so glorious. But you have to gut it out through the lean times. No guts, no glory.

Mr. Kurtz got some pretty angry responses to his post, calling him “condescending” and “ludicrous,” and explaining why they were done here. But as I said in my previous post, it’s not about what the party or the White House is doing; it’s about what you’re doing. And, by the way, have you considered the alternative? Do you really think that letting people like Sharron Angle or Ken Buck or Carl Paladino try their hand at governing is worth it because you got pissed off? We still have echoes of 1994 ringing in our ears.

That said, it doesn’t help when it seems like the Democrats and the White House are drawing their inspiration for policy and election strategy from watching re-runs of The West Wing on Bravo. On the other hand, it’s better than 24.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Oh, the Agony

Under the headline “The Agony of the Liberals,” Ross Douthat determines that liberals don’t march in goosestep lockstep like some other political parties.

They doubted him during the health care debate. They second-guessed his Afghanistan policy. They’ve fretted over his coziness with Wall Street and his comfort with executive power.

But now is the summer of their discontent. From MSNBC to “The Daily Show,” from The Huffington Post to the halls of Congress, movement liberals have had just about enough of Barack Obama.

Please, Ross, try to restrain your chortling glee. This is how we do things. And as Abraham Lincoln once said, “No matter how much cats fight, there always seem to be plenty of kittens.”

In the interest of fairness and balance, I’m sure we’re all anxious to hear from Mr. Douthat as he explains how the Tea Party and their xenophobic, homophobic, and racist trend represents “The Agony of the Conservatives.” He’ll be writing about that any day now.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Kucinich On Board

It will be interesting to see how some folks on the left respond to this little bit of news.

Shattering: Kucinich to vote for the HC BILL!

Howard Fineman just reported the Congressman [Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)] will have a press conference tommmorow [sic] where he will be announcing his support for the bill. Although it will be reluctant support, he WILL vote for the final bill. He also said he will emphasis [sic], as Obama did, that this is just a first step in the reform effort.

I’m not sure how many votes from the left Mr. Kucinich will bring to the floor; he’s not exactly known as a consensus-builder. But he’s also not known as someone who can be bought with promises of shiny things later on, so there must have been some serious discussion on Air Force One on the flight to the rally in Ohio on Monday.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What Democrats Lack

Adam Serwer at The American Prospect makes the case that while the Republicans are at a huge disadvantage in terms of their record on national security, they have managed to turn it into a political advantage because the Democrats let them.

During the last administration, the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil occurred, despite some forewarning. The Bush administration then failed to capture the leadership of the group responsible for the 9/11 attacks, allowing Osama bin Laden to escape at Tora Bora. Then, they manipulated the American people into supporting the invasion of a country completely unrelated to the terrorist group that attacked the United States, granting al-Qaeda a considerable propaganda victory as well as a second front where their adherents could gain combat experience. This focus of resources and attention on a country unrelated to the fight against al-Qaeda led to the Taliban regaining the strategic initiative in Afghanistan, the single biggest factor in producing what may be an indefinite American military presence there. The prison created by the Bush administration to hold suspected terrorists features prominently in the promotional materials terrorists use to swell their numbers. The current centerpiece of the GOP’s national security policy vision is a crime under domestic and international law, one that their own dream presidential candidate has said helps al-Qaeda win more recruits to their cause. The torture wing of the GOP wants to turn the United States into the kind of country it would want the U.S. to invade. That doesn’t sound very appealing to me.

And yet the Democrats have failed to make the case, either for political advantage or for the simple reason that it’s morally right, and that the approach the Republicans have taken on the issue is bad for us and for the world.

That’s not because they lack the courage of their convictions; it’s that they lack both courage and convictions. Most Democrats apparently saw torture as something they could bloody Bush over, rather than as a moral outrage that jeopardizes our national security and corrupts the most basic institutions of democracy, which is why they’re at a loss for words trying to counter the GOP’s pro-torture demagoguery.

I suspect that’s because the Democrats didn’t think the American electorate was as gullible and susceptible to demagoguery as it apparently is, and that they thought the onslaught of attacks since the Nixon administration, including the impeachment of Bill Clinton, were just aberrations. And moral outrage is not something they’ve ever been any good at; it’s usually done best by those who use it to divert the attention away from the fact that they’re the ones who are outrageous.