Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday Reading

Ten Days in June — David Remmick in The New Yorker on the days that changed America.

What a series of days in American life, full of savage mayhem, uncommon forgiveness, resistance to forgiveness, furious debate, mourning, and, finally, justice and grace. As President Obama led thousands of mourners in Charleston, South Carolina, in “Amazing Grace,” I thought about late 2013 and early 2014. Obama’s Presidency was surely dwindling, if not finished. His mood was sombre, philosophical—which is good if you are a philosopher; if not, not.

Obama described himself to me then in terms of his limits—as “a relay swimmer in a river full of rapids, and that river is history.” More than a few columnists believed that Obama was now resigned to small victories, at best. But pause to think of what has happened, the scale of recent events.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court (despite an apocalyptic dissent about “pure applesauce” and “interpretive jiggery-pokery” by Justice Scalia) put an end to years of court cases and congressional attacks against the Affordable Care Act, which means that millions of Americans will no longer live in a state of perpetual anxiety about health costs.

On Friday, the Supreme Court (despite a curiously ill-informed dissent about Kalahari, Aztec, and Han mating rites by Chief Justice Roberts) legalized same-sex marriage nationally—a colossal (and joyous) landmark moment in the liberation of gay men and lesbians.

Meanwhile, throughout the South, governors and legislatures are beginning to lower the racist banner of the Confederate flag. Cruelty on a horrific scale—slaughter committed in the name of racism and its symbols—has made all talk about the valuable “heritage” of such symbols absurd to all but a very few. The endlessly revived “conversation about race” shows signs of turning into something more serious—a debate about institutional racism, and about inequities in the criminal-justice system, in incarceration, in employment, in education. The more Obama leads on this, the more he sheds his tendency toward caution—his deep concern that he will alienate as many as he inspires—the better. The eulogy in Charleston, where he spoke as freely, and as emotionally, as he ever has about race during his Presidency, is a sign, I think—I hope—that he is prepared, between now and his last day in office, to seize the opportunity.

Finally, in recent months Obama has also, through executive action, made solid gains on immigration, wage discrimination, climate change, and foreign-policy issues, including an opening, after more than a half century of Cold War and embargo, to Cuba. These accomplishments—and potential accomplishments, like a rigorous, well-regulated nuclear arrangement with Iran—will help shape the coming election. In no small measure, Obama, and what he has achieved, will determine the parameters of the debate.

The Next Battle: “Religious Liberty” — Zoë Carpenter in The Nation on the next tactic the Religious Right will use to oppress the gay community.

As a jubilant crowd at the Supreme Court celebrated Friday’s 5-4 ruling that same-sex couples have a right to marry, moans of impotent fury emanated from conservatives in and out of the Court. “The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie,” Justice Antonin Scalia fumed in his dissenting opinion. In his own dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that the Court should not worry about human dignity: “Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved,” he wrote. Justice Samuel Alito, also dissenting, fretted that homophobes now “will risk being labeled as bigots.”

Among the field of Republican presidential candidates, the responses ranged from outrage to resignation; none embraced the ruling. Some were quick to throw red meat to the conservative base, ignoring yet another thing the GOP supposedly learned after getting crushed in 2012. But a few of the more serious candidates, who have read the polls and know that aggressive opposition to gay marriage spells trouble in a general election, tried to shift the focus to one of the next issues in the marriage debate, which Nan Hunter explores in detail here—the attempt to frame discrimination as the exercise of “religious liberty.”

“This decision will pave the way for an all out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision,” squawked Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who recently issued an executive order designed to shield business owners who discriminate against same-sex couples. “The government should not force those who have sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage to participate in these ceremonies,” he argued in his statement.

Though his take was cautious, former Florida governor Jeb Bush also highlighted religious-freedom protections. “Guided by my faith, I believe in traditional marriage. I believe the Supreme Court should have allowed the states to make this decision,” Bush said. “In a country as diverse as ours, good people who have opposing views should be able to live side by side. It is now crucial that as a country we protect religious freedom and the right of conscience and also not discriminate.”

Florida Senator Marco Rubio was somewhat resigned. “I believe that marriage, as the key to strong family life, is the most important institution in our society and should be between one man and one woman.… While I disagree with this decision, we live in a republic and must abide by the law.”

But Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker urged opponents of gay marriage to keep fighting. “I believe this Supreme Court decision is a grave mistake,” he said. “As a result of this decision, the only alternative left for the American people is to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to reaffirm the ability of the states to continue to define marriage.”

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum were predictably affronted. Huckabee declared that he would “not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.” Santorum blasted the Court majority for “decid[ing] to redefine the foundational unit that binds together our society without public debate or input.”


As with the Court’s decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, the ruling against gay-marriage bans is really a win for Republican candidates. They can use it to direct attention to the 2016 election, as Rubio, Walker, and former Texas governor Rick Perry did. “As we look ahead,” Rubio said, “it must be a priority of the next president to nominate judges and justices committed to applying the Constitution as written and originally understood.” Perry promised, “as president, I would appoint strict Constitutional conservatives who will apply the law as written.” And by taking the basic marriage question off the table, the Court offered candidates an exit from a debate they can’t win. As to who will actually take it—ask the nearest hippie.

Two Friends — Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi talk to Dave Itzkoff of the New York Times about gay pride.

Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi 06-27-15When Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi come sailing down Fifth Avenue in convertibles at the Gay Pride March on Sunday, they will not only be grand marshals at the annual event but also first-time attendees.

So on Thursday morning, these revered British actors, who appear together in the PBS sitcom “Vicious,” were wondering what awaited them beyond an afternoon of waving to fans and onlookers.

“I’m just a sponge for anything that might happen,” said Mr. Jacobi, the soft-spoken star of “I, Claudius” and countless stage productions.

Mr. McKellen, the “Lord of the Rings” and “X-Men” star, whose utterances are either deeply serious or extremely arch, opted for the second. “You may be in for a very, very happy weekend,” he replied.

On a visit to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in the West Village, these two performers, who are both 76 and are gay, had come for a quick education on New York’s Pride events and their significance to the city on a weekend following the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on same-sex marriage. (At this year’s 46th parade, Mr. Jacobi and Mr. McKellen share grand marshal duties with the artist J. Christopher Neal and Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, a Ugandan activist.)

Along the way, they revisited their personal histories and reflected on the progress they had seen in their often parallel lives.

Even if his and Mr. Jacobi’s principal goal in participating in the parade was simply to have “a lovely time,” Mr. McKellen said that their mere presence in it, as living links between a less progressive era and the present day, made a statement of its own.

“That’s what we’re doing by being here and waving,” he said. “We don’t have to be reading out a long list of demands.”

The two friends, who play a longtime gay couple on “Vicious,” first met as students at the University of Cambridge in the 1950s, where they bonded over their interests in acting, their working-class backgrounds and their sexuality.

“We knew we were both gay,” Mr. Jacobi said, “but we didn’t call it gay.” Euphemisms like “camp” and “queer” were the norm, they explained, at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in Britain.

Both men went on to illustrious stage and screen careers, to play Richard III and King Lear, and to receive knighthoods — “We’re pretty much the same person,” Mr. McKellen joked.

Unlike their industry forebears, who they said never acknowledged even to confidants that they were gay or bisexual, Mr. McKellen and Mr. Jacobi said actors of their generation could be open about their sexuality with friends and colleagues.

Yet Mr. McKellen did not come out publicly until 1988, at age 49, during a radio broadcast in which he and the conservative journalist Peregrine Worsthorne debated Britain’s so-called Section 28 legislation, which forbade authorities from “promoting homosexuality.”

As Mr. McKellen recalled it, “When he said something particularly nasty about gay people, I said I’m one of them myself.”

Mr. Jacobi, by his own reckoning, did not come out at all. “I kind of oozed out,” he said with a laugh.

While still in college, Mr. Jacobi said he told his mother he was gay, and her reaction was, “Oh, all boys go through this phase.”

Doonesbury — Regrets?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Short Takes

The first funerals for the victims of the Charleston massacre were held.

The House passed trade adjustment authority as part of the “fast track” deal.

Another employee at the prison in New York was arrested on charges of helping the escapees.

The White House endorsed the Voting Rights Advancement Act.

R.I.P. Patrick McNee, 93, the ever-dapper John Steed of TV’s The Avengers.

The Tigers lost in 10 to the White Sox 8-7.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sibling Rivalry

Jeb Bush tells Fox News that he’d have invaded Iraq, too.

Former Florida GOP Gov. Jeb Bush says that he would have authorized the 2003 invasion of Iraq but acknowledges that mistakes were made after Saddam Hussein had been removed from power, in an exclusive interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly.

“I would have [authorized the invasion], and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got,” Bush told Kelly in a wide-ranging interview that will be aired Monday night.

Okay, now listen to how the question was framed: “Knowing what we know now…” which I assume means after we all knew that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the rest of his gang manipulated and lied about the intelligence to get us into the war, he’d still invade, although, to give him the benefit of the doubt, it doesn’t sound like he really understands the question.  But even if we give him that yardage, he still thinks it was a good idea to invade Iraq?  Really?

So far the only difference I can see between Jeb and George is that Jeb doesn’t talk like Yosemite Sam.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday Reading

America’s Love/Hate Relationship with Soldiers — James Fallows in The Atlantic on how we pay lip service to the service.

… This reverent but disengaged attitude toward the military—we love the troops, but we’d rather not think about them—has become so familiar that we assume it is the American norm. But it is not. When Dwight D. Eisenhower, as a five-star general and the supreme commander, led what may have in fact been the finest fighting force in the history of the world, he did not describe it in that puffed-up way. On the eve of the D-Day invasion, he warned his troops, “Your task will not be an easy one,” because “your enemy is well-trained, well-equipped, and battle-hardened.” As president, Eisenhower’s most famous statement about the military was his warning in his farewell address of what could happen if its political influence grew unchecked.

At the end of World War II, nearly 10 percent of the entire U.S. population was on active military duty—which meant most able-bodied men of a certain age (plus the small number of women allowed to serve). Through the decade after World War II, when so many American families had at least one member in uniform, political and journalistic references were admiring but not awestruck. Most Americans were familiar enough with the military to respect it while being sharply aware of its shortcomings, as they were with the school system, their religion, and other important and fallible institutions.

Now the American military is exotic territory to most of the American public. As a comparison: A handful of Americans live on farms, but there are many more of them than serve in all branches of the military. (Well over 4 million people live on the country’s 2.1 million farms. The U.S. military has about 1.4 million people on active duty and another 850,000 in the reserves.) The other 310 million–plus Americans “honor” their stalwart farmers, but generally don’t know them. So too with the military. Many more young Americans will study abroad this year than will enlist in the military—nearly 300,000 students overseas, versus well under 200,000 new recruits. As a country, America has been at war nonstop for the past 13 years. As a public, it has not. A total of about 2.5 million Americans, roughly three-quarters of 1 percent, served in Iraq or Afghanistan at any point in the post-9/11 years, many of them more than once.

The difference between the earlier America that knew its military and the modern America that gazes admiringly at its heroes shows up sharply in changes in popular and media culture. While World War II was under way, its best-known chroniclers were the Scripps Howard reporter Ernie Pyle, who described the daily braveries and travails of the troops (until he was killed near the war’s end by Japanese machine-gun fire on the island of Iejima), and the Stars and Stripes cartoonist Bill Mauldin, who mocked the obtuseness of generals and their distance from the foxhole realities faced by his wisecracking GI characters, Willie and Joe.

From Mister Roberts to South Pacific to Catch-22, from The Caine Mutiny to The Naked and the Dead to From Here to Eternity, American popular and high culture treated our last mass-mobilization war as an effort deserving deep respect and pride, but not above criticism and lampooning. The collective achievement of the military was heroic, but its members and leaders were still real people, with all the foibles of real life. A decade after that war ended, the most popular military-themed TV program was The Phil Silvers Show, about a con man in uniform named Sgt. Bilko. As Bilko, Phil Silvers was that stock American sitcom figure, the lovable blowhard—a role familiar from the time of Jackie Gleason in The Honeymooners to Homer Simpson in The Simpsons today. Gomer Pyle, USMC; Hogan’s Heroes; McHale’s Navy; and even the anachronistic frontier show F Troop were sitcoms whose settings were U.S. military units and whose villains—and schemers, and stooges, and occasional idealists—were people in uniform. American culture was sufficiently at ease with the military to make fun of it, a stance now hard to imagine outside the military itself.

Preserving the Record — D.R. Tucker in Washington Monthly says it is time to start setting the record straight on the Obama legacy.

This November marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of Reagan’s victory over President Jimmy Carter. For the past thirty-five years, Carter’s legacy has been relentlessly vilified by the right, with insufficient defense from the left. Sometimes, it seems as though progressives are ashamed of Carter—a man whose foresight on energy was remarkable, a man whose commitment to peace was unshakable.

Progressives cannot allow Barack Obama’s legacy to be relentlessly trashed the way Carter’s legacy was. Quite frankly, we need a Barack Obama Legacy Project, one that will recognize, today, tomorrow and forever, his true significance to America and the world.

With two years remaining in his term, a compelling case can be made that Barack Obama is one of the greatest presidents of all-time. Look at the track record: an economy resurrected, Osama bin Laden brought to ultimate justice, the Iraq War ended, millions of Americans finally accessing health care, dramatic advances in equal treatment for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans, two brilliant Supreme Court appointees, sweeping economic reform, and an energy policy that, while imperfect, nevertheless takes the climate crisis seriously.

He accomplished all of this despite raw hatred from “birthers” and Tea Partiers who went to bed every night dreaming of seeing Obama’s black body swinging from a tree—as well as that of his father, for being uppity enough to marry a white woman. He accomplished this despite hyper-partisan media entities that smeared him as a Marxist from Mombasa. He accomplished this despite being unfairly blamed for the dementia and depravity of a right-wing Congress.

Obama hasn’t been perfect. (We’re still waiting for that Keystone XL veto, sir.) Sometimes, he has frustrated those who seek more peace and more justice. Yet on the whole, he has been a blessing for humanity.

He has brought us through the worst financial heartache since the Depression. He has brought us through incidents of shocking gun violence. He has brought us through racial discord sparked by those who so obviously killed Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner because they saw these men, subconsciously, as proxies for the President.

Generations from now, children should read about the courage and conscience of Barack Obama, his passionate love for this country, his commitment to the hurting and the hungry and the hopeless. Generations from now, Obama’s name should grace public schools and federal buildings. Generations from now, his name should be honored in the same way we honor the names of Washington and Lincoln and Roosevelt and Kennedy.

Put A Sock On It — Julia Lurie in Mother Jones reports that same-sex marriage is legal in states where it’s still illegal to teach about being gay.

This month the Supreme Court announced it would decide in the current term whether all 50 states must allow same-sex couples to marry. No doubt the justices are aware of how public opinion on the issue has evolved. But while legal gay marriage has spread rapidly over the last several years (see this map), sex education laws in many states remain in the Dark Ages—even in states where gay marriage is allowed.

In Arizona, for example, two men or two women can tie the knot, but no student can be exposed to curriculum that “promotes a homosexual lifestyle” or “suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.” In South Carolina, where same-sex couples have been able to marry since last year, students are forbidden from learning about homosexuality “except in the context of instruction concerning sexually transmitted diseases.”

Sex education is only mandated for middle or high schoolers in 22 states, but almost every state in the nation has policies governing what teachers should emphasize or avoid if they teach sex ed. In 20 states, this means spelling out how teachers should cover homosexuality: 9 states require that information on sexual orientation be “inclusive,” while the 11 states in the chart above have either pro-heterosexual or anti-homosexual biases.

“These laws aren’t keeping up with the world that we live in,” says Elizabeth Nash, a public policy researcher at the Guttmacher Institute. “That could potentially be very difficult for many sex ed teachers.” That’s in part because states like Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi have statutes requiring teachers to frame homosexuality as a crime, based on outdated anti-sodomy laws. (In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that anti-sodomy laws were unconstitutional.)

Limitations on sex education have led some teachers to get creative. In Mississippi, one of 25 states that instruct educators to “stress” abstinence, teachers are prohibited from “any demonstration of how condoms or other contraceptives are applied.” Nonetheless, 76 percent of Mississippi teenagers report having sex before the end of high school, and a third of babies in the state are born to teenage mothers. One sex ed teacher created a lesson not on how to put on a condom, which would be illegal, but instead explaining “how to put on a sock.”

Doonesbury — The Most Trusted Name…

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday Reading

Compassionate Conservatism 2.0 — Peter Beinart in The Atlantic on why GOP attempts to make nice never really work.

In the late 1990s, after Bill Clinton campaigned for reelection against the Gingrich Congress’s assault on government spending, George W. Bush decided that he too would make congressional Republicans his foil. In September 1999, when GOP budget hawks tried to cut the earned-income tax credit, the Texas governor declared, “I don’t think they ought to balance their budget on the backs of the poor.”

Now the same pattern is repeating itself. In 2012, Mitt Romney boasted that he was “severely conservative.” He chose Paul Ryan as his running mate in large measure to mobilize Republicans who loved Ryan’s assault on the welfare state. But Romney and Ryan lost in part because Barack Obama, like Clinton before him, scared Americans about the GOP’s assault on government. Moreover, as in the late 1990s, the budget deficit is going down.

As a result, potential GOP presidential candidates are falling over one another to run as Bush did in 2000: as compassionate conservatives. Rand Paul is arguing for shorter prison sentences. Republican Governors John Kasich and Mike Pence are expanding Medicaid. Marco Rubio recently said it was time for Republicans to stop trying to balance “the budget by saving money on safety-net programs.” Even budget cutter extraordinaire, Paul Ryan, wants to “remove it [the fight against poverty] from the old-fashioned budget fight.”

It’s easy to see why compassionate conservatism is back. It’s harder to see it helping Republicans all that much.

First, it didn’t even help Bush all that much. Let’s remember, he won less than 48 percent of the vote in 2000. Between them, Al Gore and Ralph Nader won more than 51 percent. Exit polls that year found that of the 10 qualities Bush voters cited as reasons for voting for him, “cares about people like me” was number seven. In 2004, pollsters asked the question differently. As Ben Domenech has noted, Bush won only 24 percent of voters who said their top priority was a candidate who “cares about people.” He won only 23 percent of voters who said their biggest concern was health care. That’s better than Mitt Romney, who won only 18 percent of voters who prioritized “car[ing] about people.” But it’s exactly the same as John McCain’s percentage in 2008. And on health care—a key domestic-policy issue on which Republicans want to show they’re not hard-hearted—Bush in 2004 did slightly worse than McCain and Romney.

The big reason Bush won in 2004 isn’t because he wowed voters with his compassion. It’s because he won 86 percent of those who said their number one concern was “terrorism” and 80 percent of those who prioritized “moral values.” Since then, national security has faded as a political issue and the GOP’s historic advantage on it has disappeared. Something similar has happened on the culture war, which has shifted in the Democrats’ direction because gay marriage—which Bush won votes for opposing in 2004—is now far more popular.

If the first problem with running as a compassionate conservative is that it didn’t work so effectively for George W. Bush, the second is that being seen as compassionate is probably harder for a Republican today. Suspicion of the GOP among key demographic groups is greater, and the Republican base is less tolerant of reaching out to them. When Bush was president, the leaders of both parties opposed gay marriage. Now it’s a partisan issue, which makes it harder for a Republican candidate to win LGBT votes, at least without provoking a rebellion among the GOP’s Christian conservative base.

Paul Ryan 2.0 — Charles P. Pierce on the rehabilitation of the studmuffin with the balance sheets.

On Thursday, the zombie-eyed granny starver from the state of Wisconsin went to the American Enterprise Institute — and there’s one of your tells right there — to reboot his public image as a serious man of serious ideas. This image took quite a beating over the past decades as he produced budget after budget that were economically illiterate and politically suicidal. Then he ran for vice-president with G.I. Luvmoney at the top of the ticket, and Joe Biden laughed at him, and that was pretty much that. Since then, Ryan has been fashioning an entirely new persona for himself as the Republican who cares about the poor. On Thursday, he announced his new anti-poverty initiative. It has been received fairly well. Ezra Klein has at least one foot back on the Paul Ryan Is A Serious Thinker bandwagon.

Ryan is, at heart, more interested in reforming government programs than in simply cutting them. When deficits exploded after the financial crisis he used deficit-reducing budgets as the vehicle for far-reaching reforms. Now that deficits are lower and poverty is more salient, he’s using poverty as a vehicle for far-reaching reforms. The constant thread in Ryan’s career isn’t his concern for budgets but his efforts to overhaul the safety net.

And I am the Tsar of all the Russias.

On his electric teevee show, Lawrence O’Donnell found 101 different ways to talk about what “a good start” this plan is. (Ryan himself is hedging, calling the plan a “discussion draft.” Guess who’s leading the discussion?) There are ideas within the stated plan to which I have no objection: the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, prison reform, etc. There is also one major and insurmountable flaw in the plan, and that is that Paul Ryan is a consummate charlatan, the fact that he has discovered a new formula for snake oil notwithstanding.

One must never forget when discussing anything Paul Ryan says about economics that he fundamentally does not believe that the care of the poor and the sick is a legitimate function of government. This belief is theological. It is the basis for his entire political career. And it has not changed. This is a philosophy he developed while going to high school and college on my dime and yours through Social Security survivor benefits, and you’re welcome again, dickhead. Anybody who thinks Paul Ryan has “changed” in any substantive way should not be allowed out in public without a minder. In this recent scam, the tells are scattered everywhere, and they are obvious, and you don’t even have to know that the more “compassionate” of his proposals don’t have fk all chance of getting through the monkeyhouse Congress in which he is a leader. He knows that, too.

Carter 2.0 — Sheryl Gay Stolberg in the New York Times profiles Jason Carter, running for governor of Georgia.

Like many candidates, Jason Carter, the Democratic nominee for governor in Georgia, is courting the Jewish vote. But when Mr. Carter, a state senator, declared his “powerful connection” to Israel, it was more than a campaign sound bite.

It was a not-so-subtle attempt to distance himself from a man he has loved and admired since boyhood: his grandfather, former President Jimmy Carter.

The former president’s views on Israel are not the only ones to make his grandson squirm. Of the elder Carter’s call to ban the death penalty, his grandson said, “I love my grandfather, but we disagree.” And when grandfather Carter offered to attend a campaign rally in Albany, Ga., not far from here, his grandson politely asked him to stay home.

“He wanted the people of southwest Georgia to see that he was a man of his own,” the former president said in an interview in his office, in a house where his mother, Lillian, once lived. Referring to his wife, he added, “He didn’t want the attention to be focused on me and Rosalynn.”

So it goes in what may be the nation’s most awkward legacy campaign.

Political families — from the Roosevelts to the Kennedys, Bushes and Clintons — have long been a part of American politics. And they are not new in Georgia, where Michelle Nunn, the Democratic nominee for Senate, is running for a seat her father, Sam, once held against a Republican, David Perdue, whose cousin was governor. Mr. Carter’s bid to unseat Gov. Nathan Deal, the Republican incumbent, is testing the strength and durability of the Carter name in Georgia, a red state that Democrats hope to turn blue.

But it is also a test of something more: a deep bond between a 38-year-old grandson and an 89-year-old grandfather who, in the words of Roy E. Barnes, Georgia’s last Democratic governor, “would walk on fire to help get Jason elected.”

The elder Mr. Carter and his wife, regarded in the family as its sharpest political mind, have plunged into their grandson’s campaign. Mr. Carter has offered so much unsolicited advice (“Some of it is his famous micromanaging,” Senator Carter said) that strategists now include him on their daily email updates, even if some of his counsel seems dated.

“He got elected governor of Georgia by shaking 600,000 hands,” the younger Mr. Carter said. “That’s what he would tell you: ‘You’ve got to go to the grocery store and shake everybody’s hand.’ ”

The former president said he had helped vet campaign strategists by examining “their credentials,” sent to him by his grandson. The elder Carters have also been aggressive fund-raisers, headlining events in New York, Washington and Los Angeles — as well as a $20,000-a-couple weekend here in Plains last month, which included a church service and a personal tour of the former president’s boyhood farm, now a national historic site.

Such leveraging of his former office has prompted Republican attacks. “Follow the money: President Carter a cash cow,” the Deal campaign declared in an email missive.

At that, Senator Carter grew testy. “My grandfather gets attacked all the time by all different kinds of people, and he’s over it,” he said. “The judgment that he is looking for is not from my political opponents or his political opponents or even anyone else. The judgment he is awaiting is one that he is very comfortable with.”

Analysts call the race a tossup. Mr. Deal, 71, a former congressman elected governor in 2010, is on the defensive over a string of ethics questions, and his approval ratings are below 50 percent. Though Mr. Deal has more cash on hand — $2.6 million to Mr. Carter’s $1.8 million — Mr. Carter outraised the governor from April to June. Polls show them running essentially even.

Doonesbury — JFGI.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Restoration Comedy

Over the last week or so there’s been an effort on the part of a couple of Beltway kids to restore the legacy of George W. Bush.  No, really.

First there was Ron Fournier with this wistful recollection:

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer walked into the media cabin of Air Force One on May 24, 2002, and dropped identical envelopes in the laps of two reporters, myself and Steve Holland of Reuters. Inside each was a manila card – marked by a small presidential seal and, in a simple font, “THE PRESIDENT.”

Handwritten in the tight script of President George W. Bush, both notes said essentially the same thing: “Thank you for the respect you showed for the office of the President, and, therefore, the respect you showed for our country.”

What had we done? Not much, really. An hour earlier, at a rare outdoor news conference in Germany, Steve and I decided to abide by the U.S. media tradition of rising from our seats when the president entered our presence. The snickering German press corps remained seated. “What a contrast!” Bush wrote. “What class.”


Bush’s note, a simple gesture, spoke volumes about his respect for the office of the presidency. He did not thank us for respecting him. He knew it wasn’t about George W. Bush. He was touched instead by the small measure of respect we showed “for our country.”

The same sense of dignity compelled Bush to forbid his staff to wear blue jeans in the White House. Male aides were required to wear jackets and ties in the Oval Office.

Then there was this love note from Matt Bai:

The truth is that Bush was never anything close to the ogre or the imbecile his most fevered detractors insisted he was. Read “Days of Fire,” the excellent and exhaustive book on Bush’s presidency by Peter Baker, my former colleague at the New York Times. Bush comes off there as compassionate and well-intentioned — a man who came into office underprepared and overly reliant on his wily vice president and who found his footing only after making some tragically bad decisions. Baker’s Bush is a flawed character you find yourself rooting for, even as you wince at his judgment.

But as is the way in modern Washington, it was never enough for Bush’s political opponents that he was miscast or misguided. He had to be something worse than that — or, more precisely, a lot of things worse. He had to be the most catastrophic president ever, in the history of ever. He had to be a messianic war criminal. Or a corporate plant looking to trade blood for oil. Or a doofus barely able to construct a sentence.

That was the way Will Ferrell portrayed Bush in a one-man Broadway show that, for a while after Bush’s departure, thrilled the enlightened set. For a lot of urban Americans, the ones who bought little books of Bush’s mangled syntax at the Barnes & Noble checkout line, Ferrell’s comic version of Bush became more real than the man himself. You know something’s wrong when the most nuanced portrayal of a political figure comes from Oliver Stone.

So George W. Bush may have lied us into a war that killed 5,000 American soldiers and destabilized an entire region of the world, he may have initiated warrantless wiretapping on civilians and poisoned the Justice Department with political hacks, outed a CIA operative for political revenge, let a major U.S. city drown, blown a huge whole in the budget, and let Wall Street rob the nation blind, but he wrote thank-you notes and enforced a gentleman’s dress code in the White House.  So it’s all good.

Aside from the irrelevancy of whether or not the West Wing was a showplace for the Jos. A. Bank catalogue or the president was always punctual, these paeans to the legacy of the man who was arguably the worst president since Warren G. Harding make the point that other than what a nice guy Mr. Bush was as president, there is nothing else nice that anyone, regardless of political affiliation, can say about the history of his administration.  Handed a budget surplus, he demolished it and threw us into debt.  Warned about terrorists lurking even in our own country, he ignored them until it was too late, then exploited the nation’s fears and loathing to pass draconian laws that violate civil rights.  He used a devastating act of terror to go after a peripheral enemy who, aside from being a dictator, had nothing to do with the attack.  It was as if FDR, in retaliation for Pearl Harbor in 1941, invaded Italy.

Both of these articles smell of the sardonically laughable attempt to put a good face on a really bad legacy and try to humanize Mr. Bush in the same way some historians remind us that for all their faults certain figures in history had their lighter and genuine moments.  That’s done to give them dimension and perspective in contrast to the horrors and flaws they all too clearly demonstrated in office: Richard Nixon was paranoid and a crook but he got us the EPA and liked Elvis; LBJ lost Vietnam and 50,000 lives but gave us the Civil Rights Act, Medicare, and raised beagles; Ronald Reagan… well, there’s already a full-blown industry dedicated to turning him into a saint to the point that even he wouldn’t recognize himself, so putting a man on Mars and turning the Soviet Union into a model of Jeffersonian democracy will just have to stand on their own.

But held to the same measure, what did George W. Bush actually accomplish to counter all of his flaws, errors, and calculated political attacks on the people who didn’t vote for him?  Name one thing, one bill, one act that left the country better off, more cohesive, and more capable of leading the world by the example of America’s aspirations for peace and freedom that his administration gave us that rises above the pall of incompetence and revenge politics that forged a barely-disguised hatred on the part of the white Christian patriarchy that gave us the likes of Karl Rove and the Koch brothers.  Go ahead, we can wait.

About the only good thing that came out of eight years of George W. Bush in the White House was such a revulsion on the part of the American electorate for his politics of personal destruction that they voted twice to elect the first black man as president.  Mr. Bush can also lay claim to the demolition of whatever was left of the moderate and thoughtful wing of the Republican Party, finishing off the work started by Ronald Reagan.  Mission accomplished.

HT to DougJ and mistermix at Balloon Juice.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Awaiting the Court

As I said this time last week, today could be the day the Supreme Court hands down its rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8.  It could also be the day that it rules on the Voting Rights Act and Affirmative Action.

It would be stunning if the Court were to hand down all four rulings at once, and, to top it all off, we are mindful of the news from South Africa on the condition of Nelson Mandela, a person whose legacy is in no small way related to the questions of freedom and equality that are being considered by the Court.

Karma is the one universal constant.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sunday Reading

Beating Back the Bush — The Sunday chat shows will probably have a few defenders of former President George W. Bush.  Here’s the counterpoints from Alex Seitz-Wald at Salon:

Bush Zoinks 03-04-04Every dog goes to heaven and every former president should get a shot at repairing his legacy, especially when it’s as tattered as George W. Bush’s. With the opening of his presidential library and museum this week, observers from former Bush officials to mainstream outlets were taking a fresh, rosy look at the Bush legacy. Some offered dopey and facially ridiculous cheerleading, while others offered more compelling suggestions to return to the Bush era with an open mind. After all, other presidents left office in a cloud only to be redeemed by history years later.

So, is this week making you feel a bit nostalgic for the Bush era? Don’t. It’s been almost half a decade since the 43rd president left office, and he’s looking as bad as ever. Of course, that won’t stop a small circle of admirers (many of whom used to be on his payroll) from trying, so here’s your guide to taking on the five biggest specious pro-Bush talking points put forward this week:

1) Bush kept us safe: The biggest myth of the Bush presidency, by far, is that the president kept the country safe. As Charles Krauthammer wrote this week in the Washington Post in a typical example: “It’s important to note that he did not just keep us safe. He created the entire anti-terror infrastructure that continues to keep us safe … Which is why there was not one successful terror bombing on U.S. soil from 9/11 until last week.”

Just no. First of all, why does 9/11 not count? It’s not like the U.S. government was completely unaware of the threat from al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden until 9/11. After all, bin Laden had already helped orchestrate the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed hundreds in 1998, and Bill Clinton launched cruise missiles into Sudan and Afghanistan to try to kill bin Laden three years before 9/11. And then there’s that CIA briefing that warned Bush: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” — 36 days before Sept. 11. Bush’s response to the briefer giving him the news? To say, “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.” Then he went fishing. Literally.

As for the claim that there were no terror attacks on U.S. soil after 9/11 under Bush — also bogus. Conor Friedersdorf writes:

“Bush’s tenure included anthrax attacks that killed five people (more than died in the Boston marathon bombing) and that injured between 22 and 68 people. Bush was president when Hesham Mohamed Hadayet killed two and wounded four at an LAX ticket counter; when the Beltway snipers killed 10 people; when Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar injured six driving his SUV into a crowd; and when Naveed Afzal Haq killed one woman and shot five others in Seattle.”

Also, there was the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, just before the 2000 election, which should have brought an extra warning about the al-Qaida threat, and later on, bombings in London, Madrid, and Jordan. Meanwhile, thanks to the wars there, much of the attention from international terror went to Iraq and Afghanistan, where al-Qaida and sympathetic groups found it easier to kill American soldiers than to attack Americans on U.S. soil.

There are more, including the howler that Bush was fiscally responsible, and the most egregious one of all: “Iraq wasn’t that bad.”

The Deportation Machine — William Finnegan in The New Yorker on how undocumented workers are treated when they are caught.

You get arrested. The authorities run a background check. They need to know if you have outstanding warrants or unpaid tickets, if you jumped bail somewhere, if you’re driving a stolen vehicle. To obtain your criminal history, they routinely send your fingerprints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which keeps a database of more than a hundred million prints. The F.B.I., under a federal program known as Secure Communities, will share your fingerprints with the Department of Homeland Security. Homeland Security’s core job—the reason it was created—is to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States. Your prints might reveal that you’re a suspected terrorist. D.H.S. is also charged with border security. Its Immigration and Customs Enforcement arm, ICE, will run your prints through the D.H.S. database—specifically, its U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology Program (U.S.-VISIT) and Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT), which also contain more than a hundred million prints—searching for a match with people wanted for immigration violations. If a match occurs, ICE can issue a “detainer.” Now the local authorities, before they release you, may notify ICE, which may elect to transfer you to federal custody in order to begin deportation proceedings.

Florida Ethics — No, really.  Carl Hiaasen has the scoop.

Promise not to laugh?

An ethics bill was passed last week in Tallahassee.

It’s no joke. The Legislature unanimously approved a law designed to clean up its own sketchy act, and that of elected officials all over the state.

Gov. Rick Scott says he’s “reviewing” the bill. To veto it would be an act of profound cluelessness, but remember who we’re talking about.

The ethics legislation is significant because the concept of enforcing ethical behavior is so foreign to Florida politics. Decades of well-publicized misdeeds and flagrant conflicts of interest have failed to make a moral dent.

A few years ago, lawmakers went through the motions of establishing something called a Commission on Ethics. Most Floridians were unaware of its existence, for good reason. It was a total sham.

Doonesbury — The perpetual question.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Misty Watercolor Memories

If you thought it was nice that all five living former and the current president got together yesterday to dedicate the George W. Bush Presidential Center, and you thought it was magnanimous of men like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to say nice things about him, well, I’m not going to pee on your campfire.  Let him have his moment in the sun and all that; he’s out of office and can’t do us anymore harm except to continue to assault the English language.

Conservatives accused Democrats and liberals of hating him blindly, of never giving him the chance to prove that he’s not evil incarnate.  (Ironically, a lot of conservatives have done the exact same thing to Barack Obama, so I guess they know what they’re talking about.)

Personally I never hated George W. Bush.  That would mean I actually cared about him.  But I could never muster the energy to actually give a shit about him as a person.  His policies and his methods of governing and the things done in his name are another matter.  And so while I never made it personal, and I don’t really care about his museum or the attempt by his minions to polish up the turd that was his administration, I do remember the reasons that I counted down the days until he was out of office and back in Texas where the worst thing he could do to the sensibilities of the world was to launch an attack on the art world with his new-found toy: a paint brush.

If you need a reminder of what it was like, Steven Rosenfeld at Jezebel has compiled a concise list of the 50 reasons a lot of people despised the presidency of George W. Bush.  Some are little, but most of them are harsh reminders that while it’s fine to let him have his little museum, it is a monument to abject failure.

Actually, the real monument to his legacy are the rows of white marble stones in Arlington National Cemetery and the other graveyards around the country where young men and women now lie because of his lies.  Paint that, Mr. Bush.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Bush Library

Via USA Today:

Former president George W. Bush says his new presidential library is “a place to lay out facts,” not a forum to explain policies such as the war with Iraq or his administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.

“There’s no need to defend myself,” Bush said in a phone interview with USA TODAY. “I did what I did and ultimately history will judge.”

If there’s no need to defend himself, then why would he bring it up unless he felt that there was a need to defend himself?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Next Generation

Another Bush enters politics.

George P. Bush is officially running for Texas land commissioner — ending months of speculation about which statewide office the grandson of one former president and nephew of another planned to seek.

His spokesman, Trey Newton told The Associated Press that Bush spoke with current Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson before filing the official paperwork Tuesday.

An attorney from Fort Worth and Spanish-speaker whose mother is originally from Mexico, Bush is considered a rising star among conservative Hispanics.

Land commissioner can be a stepping stone to higher office in Texas. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst served in the post before winning his current job.

Yet another argument for free contraception.

This is Jeb’s son, and while I’m sure he’ll do fine in Texas, I wonder why he isn’t running for office here in Florida.  After all, this is where his dad did his carpetbagging.  Can it be that the market is already saturated with young hot Hispanic Tea Party favorites?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Presidential Quotes

Abraham Lincoln:

…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

John F. Kennedy:

…let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.

George W. Bush:

Eight years was awesome and I was famous and I was powerful.

Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.

Presidential Quotes

Abraham Lincoln:

…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

John F. Kennedy:

…let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.

George W. Bush:

Eight years was awesome and I was famous and I was powerful.

Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ownership Society

George W. Bush popped up in New York to say something yesterday.

Former President George W. Bush reflected on his presidency in a rare public appearance Tuesday, poking fun at his low approval ratings and saying he didn’t miss being the leader of the free world.


Bush also offered some revealing comments about one of his most enduring pieces of legislation, the so-called Bush tax cuts.

Bush said that the tax cuts would have a better chance of surviving if his name hadn’t been attached to them. In recent years, Democrats have resisted renewing the cuts, which they say favor the wealthy too much.

“I wish they weren’t called the ‘Bush tax cuts,’” he said.

They wouldn’t call them that if you hadn’t proposed them and signed them in the first place, Copernicus. They’re all yours.

Ownership Society

George W. Bush popped up in New York to say something yesterday.

Former President George W. Bush reflected on his presidency in a rare public appearance Tuesday, poking fun at his low approval ratings and saying he didn’t miss being the leader of the free world.


Bush also offered some revealing comments about one of his most enduring pieces of legislation, the so-called Bush tax cuts.

Bush said that the tax cuts would have a better chance of surviving if his name hadn’t been attached to them. In recent years, Democrats have resisted renewing the cuts, which they say favor the wealthy too much.

“I wish they weren’t called the ‘Bush tax cuts,’” he said.

They wouldn’t call them that if you hadn’t proposed them and signed them in the first place, Copernicus. They’re all yours.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Miami Memories — The End of the Rat

From the Miami Herald, the University of Miami is closing the old Rathskeller.

It’s the big question at the University of Miami these days: Where, wonders grad student Tommy Kiger, will he get a beer and watch the ballgame?

For the past five years, Kiger has been a regular at UM’s on-campus Rathskeller — better known as the Rat. Since 1972, the lakeside hangout has served countless pitchers of beer and plates of chicken fingers, and played host to innumerable games of pool and darts. But at midnight Friday, the original Rat closed for good.

This summer, it will be demolished to make room for a new student activity center. The one consolation: UM administrators assure students that it will have a new Rat.

“Closing it makes me sad,” said Kiger, 23, an engineering student, who took photos of himself and his friends by the restaurant’s sign Thursday. “The food’s good, the beer’s good, there’s a lake. I don’t understand what else you could want. I would not change a thing.”

The Rat arrived on campus at an auspicious moment, in December 1972.

“In 1973, the drinking age was reduced to 18,” recalled Norm Parsons, UM’s director of wellness and recreation. “You can imagine the euphoria. These were the Vietnam days, the love-ins, the demonstrations. The Rat became the hub of culture. It provided a social environment on campus.”

And I was there when it opened; it was my sophomore year. The Rat was built in the corner of a parking lot next to the student union and near the Ring Theatre, so we theatre students had watched it being built as we made our way over to our then-hang out spot in the Hurricane dining room. When it had its grand opening, we participated in some of the ceremonies. It was a nice place to go for lunch, but after rehearsals — especially the late ones as we got close to opening a show — we went to Bill & Ted’s, an old-fashioned bar in a little cinder-block building situated in the corner of a shopping center parking lot near the intersection of Red Road and US 1. It was smaller, quieter, and the beer was cheaper.

When I moved back to Miami ten years ago, I’d have dinner at the Rat before going to a show or when I was helping the Old Professor build scenery. It still had the good onion rings and hefty cheeseburgers, and though I no longer drink beer, it was a nice place to sit and notice that the college students of 2011 didn’t look all that much different than those of 1972… except they’re all really young.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Blazing Canolis

If Mel Brooks had made The Godfather, it would have had Fredo as the heir to Don Corleone. Hilarity would have ensued as the clueless mobster ran the Mafia into the ground while younger brother Michael, the one with the smarts, had to wait his turn until it was too late and he was sent off to run a string of brothels in rural Wyoming. Well, that’s basically what happened to the Bush family. After Poppy Bush had his turn in the White House, it was supposed to be Jeb Bush, the younger but smarter one, who would get the nod after his successful run as governor of Florida. But instead, it went to George W., who makes Fredo Corleone seem like Warren Buffett, and now the Bush name — even among Republicans — is toxic.

Well, not all Republicans. Rich Lowry at National Review sees hope on the horizon that Jeb could restore the family honor.

Four years after leaving the Florida governor’s mansion, he remains one of the most impressive Republican politicians in the country, a formidable policy mind with the political chops to drive conservative reforms even out of office. So why isn’t he running for president? Bush told Miller what he’s said to others, too — he won’t run in 2012, but he’ll consider 2016. This is a mistake. Bush should run now…

Mr. Lowry maintains that by 2012, the Bush reputation will have been “rehabilitated,” which tells you right off that if Mr. Lowry was true to his core, the Bush reputation wouldn’t need to be rehabbed; wasn’t George W. Bush the Greatest President of the 21st Century?

To be fair to Jeb, he is, as Mr. Lowry notes, “different” from his brother; again, an admission that George W. was a disaster. If Jeb were to run, he would have to spend a great deal of time explaining how he isn’t his brother — or why he doesn’t have a hokey fake Texas accent. He’ll also have to contend with a flock of candidates swooping in from the right wing who will not let him off the hook for being a candidate who, as governor, was considered a moderate. There’s no place in the party for a candidate who can’t demonize his opponents with word salads on Facebook.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jeb at least made a try for the nomination. But I also suspect that most of the country would recoil in horror at seeing yet another Bush running for office. As Steve Benen says, “Hasn’t that family done enough damage already?”

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Meaning of Life

Yesterday was the centenary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, and despite the attempts of some members of the GOP to turn it into the second nativity, it got blown off the front pages of the papers by the revolution in Egypt and the run-up to the Super Bowl. Still, there were gatherings and memorials among the faithful, even though the fact remains that if Mr. Reagan was around today and tried to run for office as a Republican, he’d get run out of town as a tax-and-spend RINO by the Tea Party crowd that invokes his blessed name at every turn.

Perhaps the most cringe-inducing tribute to Mr. Reagan came from newly-minted Rep. Ben Quayle (R-AZ), the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle in an op-ed in the Politico.

When I was a child, President Ronald Reagan was the nice man who gave us jelly beans when we visited the White House.

I didn’t know then, but I know it now: The jelly beans were much more than a sweet treat that he gave out as gifts. They represented the uniqueness and greatness of America — each one different and special in its own way, but collectively they blended in harmony…

Yes, the legacy of Ronald Reagan and the meaning of life comes down to a collection of artificially colored and flavored gobs of sugary goo that, if you leave them exposed to the open air for a length of time, harden into a gelatinous mass that stick to your teeth. Clearly Mr. Quayle studied the depths of metaphor at his father’s knee in the same way he learned that good parenting is taught by calling out a fictional character’s family values.

Whatever. Aside from the fact that it completely distorts history and reality, there’s not a whole lot of harm that can come from mythologizing Mr. Reagan’s terms in office; after all, it was the 1980’s, and that decade could use a little turd-polishing. And, as Steve Benen noted, other than Reagan the Republicans have no real heroes to worship as president. The reason they call themselves the Party of Lincoln is because he was it. Since then, who? Harding? Coolidge? Hoover? Eisenhower was a liberal commie pinko compared to today’s stock of characters, and Nixon codified the politics-as-blood-sport brand that gave us Lee Atwater and Karl Rove: turn your opponents into enemies and make mere mortals into legends.

As a former actor in old Westerns, I’m sure Mr. Reagan would appreciate the line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.