Friday, December 26, 2008

A (Very) Belated Note to My Readers

As you've undoubtedly noticed, I haven't been posting much since the election. There was no point at which I made a conscious decision to cut back on my posting; rather, a combination of things (exhaustion at the end of a year of furious election-related activities, issues related to work and family, an utter lack of interest in the non-stop stream of "news" stories consisting of little more than idle speculation about the choices and implications of Obama administration nominees) combined to divert my attention elsewhere.

I'd like to make a brief statement about the last item in my parenthesized list above. I realize that there are business reasons for the continual production of stories purporting to read the tea leaves about what the future will presumably hold in the upcoming administration. Newspapers/magazines/TV news shows/blogs all want to hold the attention of their audiences. This is especially true of those media outlets dependent on advertising for their income. Eyeballs translate to advertising dollars, etc. That's simply how the game works & I accept that.

On the other hand, I don't pretend for a second to have the ability to read minds or see into the future. Nor do I believe that any of the prognosticators claiming predictive powers have those abilities, either. Predictions about future political events, it seems to me, imply a relatively simple teleology in which objectively observable criteria translate in a relatively straightforward way into concrete political results. I think that implication is grossly misleading because it completely overlooks such imponderables as unforeseen events and, at least as important, the interpersonal dynamics involved, both within a given administration and between that administration and its political constituencies and opponents, domestic as well as foreign.

By way of a quick illustration of what I mean, consider for a moment a few historical examples. Imagine for a moment the possible alternative paths that our political history might have taken had (a) Richard Nixon won the 1960 election rather than JFK; (b) the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King not been assassinated in 1968; (c) the GOP had not decided to cater to the far right with their tacit acceptance of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt tactics in the 1950s, Nixon's southern strategy, and their appeals to the religious right from Reagan to the current infestation of the White House. Imagine, for that matter, the kinds of presidential candidates political parties would and would not have been willing to nominate were American culture not afflicted with a widespread attitude according to which hostility to elitism translates to a hostility toward education. Imagine further that the social arrangements into which we've all been socialized since birth were considered to be not merely an accepted natural order of things, but the cumulative results of a series of choices made by humans in response to changing events and contexts.

The point I'm trying to make is that history, culture and politics are the combination of social context, individual personalities and chance. I don't know how those things will shape our world. I feel confident in Obama's ability to make reasoned, principled, humane decisions in the interest of our country and this planet. I have no idea how things will happen. So I wait.

In the interim, as I find things of interest to mull over, I'll share them with you. You have been warned... ;-)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Another Reason I Support Obama

Today's New York Times profile of Cassandra Q. Butts, Barack Obama's nominee for the positions of White House counsel’s office, White House adviser, and assistant to the president for personnel includes this crucial detail:
Is linked to Mr. Obama by: ...She still has his constitutional law book, which she seized as hostage back in college when she lent him a Miles Davis/John Coltrane album [emphasis mine] that he has yet to return.

While I am certainly not an advocate of borrowing things and then not returning them, I'm greatly encouraged by the item involved.

Oh, by the way--Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/Happy Kwanzaa to all. And a Happy New Year, while I'm at it.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Look—A Bird!

Now that the economy is tanking, free market absolutists and various GOP apologists are, predictably enough, twisting themselves into pretzels attempting to dodge responsibility for this latest and perhaps most spectacular of a seemingly endless series of Bush administration disasters. It’s all the fault of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, they claimed. No, it’s those nasty unions. When in doubt, blame Bill Clinton and racial minorities.

Before anyone forgets, here’s a Washington Post article outlining specific things the Bush administration did and did not do to help our economy crumble into the worst recession in years.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

In Case You Thought It Would Be Easy...

In case anyone was expecting the Obama healthcare plan to sail through Congress without a hitch, here's a foreshadowing of the coming opposition.

It is certainly true that the opinion of a writer at the Cato Institute is not necessarily indicative of the points of view of all who come to oppose the Obama healthcare plan; however, history has already given us multiple examples of precisely this sort of nihilistic cynicism on the part of many in the GOP. (The Democrats have not historically been immune to obstructionism either, but they've never taken it to levels anywhere near those of the GOP. And where cynicism is concerned, the GOP wins the race, hands down.)

So I propose a fairly unproblematic test: when the opposition arises, scrutinize the rationale given by each opponent of the legislation. If it's logical and fact-based, fine. People are, of course, free in a representative democracy such as ours to disagree, debate and perhaps change the legislation in question. But if the logic and evidence don't add up, remember the comments above. After all, such behavior would certainly be consistent not only with the Cato prescription, but with that of the Republican members of the current Congress, who (to give just one example) after threatening to eliminate the filibuster altogether in a flap over Bush judicial appointees, used the filibuster more in the past 2 years than any other Congress in history. On principle, of course.

The Obama website had better gear up for this--it's going to be an epic struggle, & the new administration is going to need all the help it can get.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

I Have to Testify

Pardon me while I unburdon myself...

I got politically involved at the age of 8 (by making an unavoidable pest of myself until my parents--themselves very politically active--relented & allowed me to accompany them to a meeting about the Vietnam war). That was in 1963. My folks belonged to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, so we got their newsletter, The Southern Patriot. I devoured it every time it came to the house, absorbing stories about racial discrimination, brutality, you name it--and the efforts to combat all that. I quickly became a very precocious political activist-grade schooler, haranguing my classmates about civil rights & the war continually. I took part in probably every major antiwar march in NY & Washington DC from 1968-1974 (except the one whose stated intent was to shut down Washington--I knew that wouldn't work & would just end in bloodshed).

Then came high school. Suddenly I was lost in a sea of rednecks. I got caught in the middle of a race riot my first week in high school. There was another a week later, and classrooms emptied so kids could watch. At that moment, I lost all respect for almost everyone in the school. In gym class, people would throw baseballs and basketballs at me. They’d punch me in the back while I was standing on line waiting to get out of gym class. They'd attack me as I walked in the hallways. I was threatened in study hall. (All of this was because I had shoulder-length hair.) Despite all that, in the midst of the worst of the racial tensions, a bunch of us kids, black & white, started talking to each other about what was going on, at first tentatively, then with intense passion. As we talked, a crowd grew around us which quickly became too big to fit in the space we occupied. We moved to the music room, but that quickly filled up as well, so we decided to go to the principal's office and ask for the auditorium. The administration hesitated so we told them they had to give it to us or we'd take it. They responded by opening up the gym to us. So we held an emergency assembly in the gym with the bleachers set up on both sides of the room and a microphone in the middle of the floor. One by one, kids got up & said they felt there was about to be violence & they didn't want it. We basically talked our way through the issue ourselves (the administration had no clue). By the end of the meeting, the tension had been replaced by a new openness and kids started interacting with each other. Participatory democracy is powerful.

I was disillusioned when Nixon was replaced by Ford, then reluctantly voted for Carter (reluctant because my first presidential vote was cast for someone whose campaign platform was the fact that he walked around in a peanut field wearing overalls & swearing he'd never lie to me). Despite that, I still felt optimistic that we could transform American culture into something more environmentally responsible and more perceptive in and domestic policies. Then Ronald Reagan, who I’d always regarded as a right wing kook, was elected in 1980. That was for me the destruction of all the dreams of progress I'd ever had. Mealy-mouthed centrism and economic incompetence was replaced by wacko economics, aggressively militaristic foreign policy and open pandering to racists and assorted other nuts. It’s been a long, hard climb back up to a sense of possibility.

Then along came Barack Obama. I canvassed Easton, PA from Sunday until about 3:30pm yesterday. I canvassed Sunday morning on the south side of Easton, which is apparently the roughest part of the city (it looked to me like Worcester, MA in 1968). The row houses were all on a hillside, so going door-to-door was a matter of going up a hill, knock/talk/leave literature, walk back down the hill. Slow going. The next morning, we canvassed another neighborhood nearby & hit the jackpot—a nursing home. The guy working in the office was an Obama supporter & he’d organized the entire building, arranging for a van to shuttle the residents to & from the polls. Amazing. Then I was sent to canvass Forks Township, which is a vast upper-middle class suburb. I got into an argument with 2 guys who came at me in a (verbally) belligerent way about Reverend Wright. (We were all told not to do this, but I just couldn’t behave myself.) After about an hour, I converted the most hostile of the 2 to an Obama supporter. This put me way behind schedule, so I kept at it until well after dark, which was kind of interesting—there were no street lights, so I couldn’t read the names on the sheets or the addresses of the houses without huddling under the garage lights at each house (it was pretty cold, too).

After canvassing in Forks Township all morning yesterday, I went back to our staging area (the Open Bible Church at 14th & Lehigh in Easton) to eat. As I took in the scene--zillions of people in the basement, waves of volunteers pouring in as others went out to canvass, groups of people being trained in the corners before going out--I was completely overwhelmed & started crying. I felt good going back to NY, not anticipating anything, just feeling a calm certainty. After dinner, my wife (who'd been phone calling with tons of people at BAM while I was in Easton) and I went next door to watch the returns with neighbors. I knew the second they announced the PA results that we had it & said so, but it still didn't sink in. At 11 I was back in our apartment when I heard my wife burst through the door yelling, "we did it!" I ran over to our neighbors to see & as I watched, I started crying like a baby. I've been crying on & off ever since. I’d gotten so used to being bitter, I didn’t even notice it anymore.

Thank God. Thank you. Thank everyone I worked with on the campaign. Thank you to Ken and Ron for your hospitality, witty and intelligent conversation and your commitment to the cause. Thank you Rick for your phone call yesterday—I was on a mission so I couldn’t take the time to talk at length, but it was great to hear your voice. Thank you Mark, John, Pam and Virginia for working with me up & down the streets of Easton. Thank you Eunice Artis for your hospitality in Nazareth. Thank you Tom & Jocelyn Predhome for arranging the rides. Thanks to all the Americans who pulled together and finally put an end to the madness that's been inflicted on us for so long. There are no guarantees that we'll be able to deal successfully with the enormous list of crises left to us by Bush et al, but for the first time in my life I was able to work and vote for a candidate who I genuinely want to be president, and who I am confident has the intellect, instincts and talents to lead this country out of the wilderness. I am really honored to have been able to play some small part in it. (Btw, having never been on the inside of a campaign before at any level, I found it fascinating & really exciting.) I realized afterwards that this is something I've wanted to do my whole life. It's just that we never had a candidate I ever felt I could support unambiguously & I never felt that any previous campaign was open to any other than party insiders.

We're going to face a lot of difficult challenges but I think we're in good hands. I hope Obama keeps his website open & expands it to use for governance, because it's a great tool for both mobilizing popular support and providing feedback. If he takes advantage of that, he can avoid getting stuck in the sort of Washington tunnel vision that seems to affect most if not all politicians who are in DC for any significant amount of time. In any case, he’s right that democracy is our responsibility. So I guess we’ll just have to keep at it (not that anything could stop me, in any case). After all, it’s ours.

Wow.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Context

This election’s outcome, even more than the campaign leading up to it, will be transformational on multiple levels. Here’s a story illustrating just how much, at least on one level.

Remember Michelle Obama’s story about a 10 year old girl who told her that if Barack Obama wins, “it will be historical”?

I find these stories really compelling.

Of course, there are many other reasons to vote for Obama, as noted on this blog and many others. The war in Iraq, the economy, healthcare, global warming, education, incompetence in general (remember Hurricane Katrina?), torture, the shredding of the constitution, warrantless wiretapping of Americans en masse, the abrogations of signed international treaties, contempt for the rule of law—take your pick (or add your own to the list—it’s almost endless). Dick Cheney endorsed John McCain today, thereby reminding everyone with a brain that the latter really does represent, in multiple ways, a continuation of the disasters perpetrated by the administration of the former for the past 8 years. Obama wasted no time, taking full advantage of that to remind us all, once again, what's truly at stake in this election.

For God's sakes vote—but also do phone calling, travel to a battleground state, do anything you possibly can to get Obama supporters to the polls! I’m going to PA to canvass voters from Sunday through Tuesday. I’ve been arguing for years that we who live in a safe Democratic state (NY) should go to other states to do this stuff. Now that the opportunity has arisen, I’d feel like the biggest hypocrite in the world if I didn’t act on my beliefs. For the first time in my life, we have a candidate whose campaign has been predicated on ideas I truly believe in & who has rhetorically grounded his candidacy in the principles embedded in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution (as amended) & Lincoln’s second inaugural. If you feel the way I do about this election, ask yourself this: If I don’t do everything I can to a candidate I genuinely support into the White House, when will I ever get another such chance in my life?

Let’s make this happen! The future of our country and our planet are at stake!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We're All Socialists Now

Hendrick Hertzberg outlines the absurdities inherent in the charges of “socialism” leveled by the usual suspects against Barack Obama.

(H/T to Josh Marshall)

Western Swing for Obama

In case all the smear tactics, endless hours of phone calling and intravenous news injections are starting to wear you out, here's a musical salute to Obama, based on the old Western Swing classic, Choo-Choo-Cha-Boogie:



It takes me back to my brief Texas Swing phase in the early 70s. My father was on the radio as a member of Mickey Rider and His Harmonica Marvels in the 1930s. He was a monster harp player but kept it a secret (long story) until my mother made him play it once when I was in high school. He could play big band stuff on that thing, which until that time I didn’t even know was possible.

(H/T to Merrill Goozner, proprietor of GoozNews)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Don't Be Cheated Out of Your Vote

Of course you want to vote for Barack Obama. But first you ought to make sure your voter registration hasn't vanished down some rabbit hole. Here's a handy website you can use to check:

VotersUnite!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

It's a River in Egypt

A mysterious interlocutor identified only as “b” has responded to my calm, measured, thoughtful post on the Obama website suggesting that we kill the GOP brand by directing me to an opinion piece on the Daily News website by one Jamie Kirchick, evidently a writer for The New Republic (where do they find them?).

Kirchick claims that
“[a] not insignificant portion of liberals in this country believe that a small group of Jews, er, the "neocons," took control of the government following 9/11 to fight wars on behalf of Israel. Is not this slander as odious as the Internet rumors about Barack Obama?”

Is he asserting that accusations against the neocons are implicit attacks on Jews? Neoconservativism is a well-established ideology, and its acolytes have had a major role in developing the disastrous foreign policy of the Bush administration. That’s a simple matter of record. Is Kirchick attempting to deny it? That many of the neocons happen to be Jewish I regard as a source of great embarrassment, as should anyone who looks carefully at the record and recognizes the gigantic damage those arrogant clowns have caused this country and the world. To twist the well-deserved condemnations of the neocons into a threadbare excuse to change the subject by crying antisemitism is, I suppose, predictable in the sense that the people who got us into Iraq have been anything but honest about their responsibility for the disasters they’ve caused, but it’s certainly not convincing.

Kirchick attempts to accuse Joe Klein of antisemitism, which is kind of silly, given that Klein is Jewish himself and has stated clearly his own support for Israel in the very post being cited, as well as in this followup to it. Klein is making a serious argument that right wingers have tried to suppress by drowning it out with the antisemitism charge. Daniel Levi has an expansion on that argument here. Has Kirchick forgotten that it was considered axiomatic among such neoconservatives as Richard Perle (he of Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans, for those suffering from amnesia) that the road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad? Joe Klein didn't make that up.

Kirchick goes on to raise the various mentions of Nazism and fascism as supposed examples of hate speech, when in fact they all refer to the charming combination of hypermilitarism, hypernationalism, action for action's sake, corporatism, contempt for civil liberties, contempt for democracy and anti-intellectualism that William F. Buckley himself long ago identified as key components of fascism, all of which are easily identifiable elements of the Bush-Cheney (and neocon) world view and resultant policies. If Kirchick and his ideological soulmates don’t like being identified as such, maybe they ought to take a good look in the mirror and change their thinking. Their ideology is pernicious and we all have the proof.

Kirchick writes
“Have the journalists now bemoaning the low tactics of the McCain campaign and its supporters never set eyes upon the wildly popular Huffington Post? That Web site hosts countless angry rants, many examples of which are too vulgar to document in a family newspaper. In 2004, Nicholson Baker wrote a novel imagining the assassination of President Bush. Last week, Fox's "Family Guy" depicted Nazis donning McCain-Palin buttons.”


Pardon me for finding preposterous a comparison between comments of bloggers and those of the leading GOP candidates. It is precisely the fact that a long series of sleazy comments impuning the patriotism of their opponents and insinuating evil motives to Obama are coming from McCain and Palin themselves that is so astonishing and troubling. Please don’t try to tell me that bloggers have influence in any way commensurate with that of the top candidates of one of the two major political parties. That dog won’t hunt. And what the hell does a book of fiction by Nicholson Baker have to do with any of this? He’s not involved in the campaign at all, as far as I know. His book came out 4 years ago. What’s Kirchick smoking? And the last time I looked, Fox was nobody’s idea of a liberal media outlet. Boo hoo—a cartoon depicted McCain & Palin as Nazis—or anything, for that matter. Does Kirchick seriously intend to claim equivalence between this and cries of "kill him" at McCain-Palin rallies?

Regarding Kirchick’s attempt to depict the situation as one of rough equivalence between two opposing groups of campaign supporters (thereby, as usual, attempting to obscure the crucial difference that on the GOP side, the rot starts at the top), read this & see if any of it sounds familiar.

I reiterate: The GOP has a history of hate-mongering and character assassination that is unparalleled in modern American political history.

UPDATE: On the other hand, Kirchick's piece can also be seen as a mistimed attempt to restart the sputtering GOP outrage industry, something that was running on high gear until McCain won the GOP nomination. A few months ago, Kirchick could have depended on a great deal of synchronized huffing and puffing about the perfidy of liberals to drown out complaints from those liberals about insinuations of treason issuing directly from the top of the GOP ticket. Now, however, Kirchick’s gambit simply looks desperate—and more than a little absurd. The entire country has seen the two candidates side by side, with McCain grimacing, refusing to look at Obama or address him by name, ping ponging from campaign suspension to photo op to campaign suspension while Obama has remained calm and steady. The polls now show a popular verdict on the two candidates’ choices of running mates, and it is clearly to the advantage of Obama. The result is that McCain is increasingly seen as risky, and Obama the candidate of security. In that context, hyperventilating about the outrageous conduct of liberals comes off as a giant nonsequitur.

For anyone in need of a humor break, here’s a great post on the GOP outrage machine by Michael Kinsley from a little over a year ago. (Its original title, “How Dare You,” was much better than the one on the Time website.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"People Like Me"

A common question pollsters ask during elections is whether a given candidate “understands people like me.” The implication of the question is that if candidates could only understand our situations, they would make policy that took those situations into account. The issue of empathy would never arise, of course, if government policies were widely perceived as addressing the concerns of ordinary people. But in an age when government is commonly felt to be distant from and indifferent to the lives of ordinary American citizens, it should be no surprise to anyone with the slightest amount of sensitivity that empathy among politicians is a potent factor in election campaigns. With wages stagnant since the 1970s in inflation-adjusted dollars; an ever-increasing wage gap between senior managers and their employees; the subprime mortgage meltdown and resulting global economic crisis; a dysfunctional healthcare system; global warming; higher deficits and a growing national debt; crumbling infrastructure and two ongoing wars, it is easy to see why people commonly feel that government is unresponsive to them. No wonder only 9% of the public feels that the nation is headed in the right direction. In fact, it seems miraculous that anyone feels that way at all.

Judging politicians according to their perceived empathy reduces the question of qualification for higher office to one of individual personal qualities and, as such, obscures the broader considerations facing any politician in formulating government policies. For any president will face a bewildering array of issues, many of which will involve considerable abstraction and an ability to absorb, analyze, summarize and respond to large amounts of information very quickly and decisively. Addressing the current economic crisis, for example, requires not only a desire to help people in need, but the ability to discern crucial differences between competing arguments of considerable sophistication as to how to respond. Similarly, choosing a successful path in U.S. foreign policy requires not only emotional responses to events, leaders and their countries, but the ability to determine which among various complex strategies is most likely to achieve objectives beneficial to the United States. The degree of empathy exhibited by a given politician toward various people or groups in the electorate provides little aid in determining the aptitude of said politician for the challenges lying ahead.

That said, it is remarkable that at a moment when we face catastrophe in all directions, one of this country’s two major political parties presents us with a vice presidential candidate with no apparent qualifications for the office she seeks.

The personalization of politics in America has been predicated on individualism, an idea that arose with the Reformation. There is wide agreement among scientists that human development is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Yet many on the right would deny the influence of social factors on individuals altogether. Such foregrounding of the individual renders relations between the individual and society unintelligible. The individual, like a figure against a background, is defined in relation to his or her social context. When that context is obscured, the decontextualized individual is then seen solely as a self-defined entity. American culture is rife with references to the mythological self-made man. Ayn Rand’s John Galt is one melodramatically exaggerated version of that autonomous individual, arrayed against the pernicious mass of men with their threatening mediocrity and government crutches.

Individual outcomes are then explained solely as questions of personal character, in a modern secular echo of one key part of the Puritan ethos. With success or failure reduced to a question of moral character, social context is deemed irrelevant, making action on social problems impossible. Thus we witness Dana Perino informing reporters on 10/9/08 that the Bush administration will not extend unemployment benefits beyond six months because that time period has been deemed by the administration to be suffient for anyone to get a job. Clearly, those still unemployed after six months are doing something wrong. Never mind that the economy has shed 600,000 jobs since the beginning of the year and the economy is grinding to a halt due to the paralysis of the credit markets.

This reduction of all social phenomena to questions of individual moral character dovetails neatly with modern GOP ideology, particularly its libertarian and market fundamentalist strains. The former gives primacy to the individual and regards society as an outgrowth of individual liberty. Similarly, free market absolutists, by focusing on markets to the exclusion of all else, obscure the constitutive role of society in the creation of markets. These ideologies have in common a marginalization of social phenomena outside the sphere of individual liberty and market efficiency, respectively. This reinforces the attitude common within the GOP of reducing social outcomes to questions of individual moral character. After all, if a subject is, within a given circle of discourse, deemed to be off limits, it should be no surprise that people within the circle dismiss that subject when constructing causal explanations. Having narrowed discourse to discussion of individual character, it is all the easier to develop government policies that exclude social spending and instead reward those whose superior material circumstances, according to the accepted discourse, indicates their superior moral character. That neither individual liberty nor modern market economies could have existed in the pre-modern world would suggest that social context plays an important role in the construction of both, but such seems not to have occurred to advocates of libertarianism and free market absolutism. Nor do periodic economic crises, the solutions of which have always depended on governmental intervention in the markets, put a dent in the ideological certainty with which free market ideologues adhere to theoretical consistency at the expense of empirical reality.

The reduction of politics to the personal has been supported as well by an ahistorical recasting of the concept of equality. In the Declaration of Independence, equality was depicted in terms of equality of opportunity. Outcomes were a matter of the individual, context and chance. The notion of merit, which began to be codified with the rise of professionalism in the 19th century, created an elaborate structure by which one could advance through the ranks of various trades, professions and educational institutions. This orderly process for advancement in personal and professional status stood in sharp contrast to the traditional European notion of ascribed status, against which the founders of our country stood in the Declaration. Achieved status offered official sanction to those who passed a series of predefined hurdles; it provided the trades and professions with legitimacy as institutions populated by individuals whose competence had been verified by such advancement. The same notion of achieved status transferred in the Progressive Era to commercial products inspected by the newly formed FDA and other governmental agencies. It is questionable whether the modern pharmaceutical industry, to give one example, could have developed the size and influence it has today had it not been for the intervention by that non-individual, non-market entity, the government, in the development of safety, testing and licensing standards pertaining to medical products.

The rise of the civil rights movement initiated a backlash against government, leading to the replacement of equality of opportunity by a cynical notion of equality of outcomes, resulting in the erosion of the idea of merit as the key to social advancement. Many conservatives have fought the inclusion of women, non-whites and gays in the body politic while accusing liberals of denying equal opportunity to whites via affirmative action. In addition, many on the right claim that liberals have abandoned merit in their selections for tenured university faculty positions on the basis, allegedly, of their politics, while trying to force universities to install conservative academics in tenured positions on the basis of the politics of the latter. This combination reflects a great deal of hypocrisy. Equally obviously, these moves on the right reduce to a power grab. After all, where were conservative voices in opposition to the “affirmative action” of Jim Crow, which gave white people a huge advantage by excluding black people from participation in American society across the board? Regarding “political correctness,” if competent conservative scholars desired to enter academia in greater numbers than is now the case, they would represent a higher percentage of applicants for positions on university faculties than they have. Those who rail against the supposed bias in university hiring overlook the fact that a self-selection process is at work. Complaints about the political orientation of college faculties, like complaints about affirmative action, are based not on prejudicial hiring, but on dislike of observable outcomes. The fact that warriors against supposed politically correct academic hiring want to change the outcomes by changing the rules indicates that rules are not very important to them. Yet without those rules--in other words, with merit tossed aside--there will no longer be a set of standards by which one can determine the qualifications of anyone in academia to teach, write or do research. This is not the position one would expect of staunch defenders of intellectual inquiry.

One of the great recent paradoxes in American politics is the relatively recent transformation of the GOP from a party of unabashed elitism to one asserting support for a faux populism. The Republican Party inherited the Federalist tradition with its mistrust of common people, as embodied in the construction of the Senate and the electoral college. In the late 19th century, elites within the GOP, spurred on by Brooks Adams, Henry Cabot Lodge, Alfred Thayer Mahan and Theodore Roosevelt, emulated European elites in seeking to compete with European empires by taking on an imperialist role in the world. GOP economic policies have consistently favored the wealthy at the expense of everyone else, particularly since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Elitism in the Republican Party has persisted well past William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale. But while Buckley himself was a well-educated and cultured man as well as an unapolegetic elitist, a new strain of conservative, embodied in the person of Senator Joseph McCarthy, was slouching toward Washington, waiting to be born politically.

McCarthy’s mode of self-representation consisted of a combination of exaggerated machismo, rank opportunism, manipulation, and blatant bigotry. His modus operandi was guilt by association. Where standards of logic, evidence, sophistication and ethics were concerned, McCarthy had none whatsoever. Despite all this, Buckley defended McCarthy and the elder statesmen of traditional GOP conservatism, such as Senator Robert Taft, found him useful, if repellent, until he became a liability by going after Gen. George C. Marshall and the military. For despite McCarthy’s obvious crudeness, he was, for quite a while, very popular, and his anticommunist crusade enabled the GOP to increase its political power and thus to pursue policies friendly to big business.

Richard Nixon, a considerably more intelligent and sophisticated man than McCarthy, harnessed the same forces of resentment in a more subtle way for use in his quest for and in the exercise of power. Nixon began his career, like McCarthy, with ad hominem attacks on opponents laced with implications of disloyalty. He appealed to ordinary people’s fears of communism, but also with ‘everyman’ symbolism as his Checkers speech and later, appeals to the great silent majority. Most important with reference to long-term social and electoral effects was his Southern Strategy for gaining GOP political dominance of the South, in the aftermath of the Democratic-sponsored Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, via use of subtle appeals to white racism. Like McCarthy, Nixon’s populist appeals masked politics favoring corporate power.

The Southern Strategy would continue to be the blueprint for GOP national electoral victories from 1968 at least until George W. Bush’s national campaign in 2000 (it was used during the South Carolina primary campaign against John McCain that year as well). Lee Atwater followed Nixon’s blueprint in converting the term ‘liberal’ into a pejorative term, appealing to white racism with the Willie Horton ad, and echoing McCarthy with the phrase “card-carrying ACLU member” in the 1988 campaign of George H.W. Bush. Karl Rove similarly used the 9/11 attacks as an excuse to demonize political opponents as traitorous, cowardly and weak. As with McCarthy and Nixon, these appeals to the ugly side of populism were accompanied by government policies favoring corporate power and the wealthy.

The division of electoral districts into strictly delineated partisan camps nationwide enabled politicians to craft messages aimed exclusively at their bases, with enabled Rove to run campaigns aimed solely at motivating voter turnout among the GOP base. This enabled further polarization and undiluted appeals to popular resentments. It also fostered an increasing insularity among supporters of each party.

Partly due to increasing political insularity, but also fueled by the implications of the anti-modernist and otherwise irrational strains common within modern conservatism, right wing discourse has increasingly become hostile to evidence and reasoned argument. There is no counterpart on the left, for example, to the bullying, bellowing ignorance of a Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity, or the contempt for ideas and the asking of questions (on the part of George W. Bush, for example) on the right. One does not hear people at Obama rallies screaming for the deaths of their opponents, but such expressions are often heard (and filmed) at John McCain rallies.

It is into this sociopolitical context that Sarah Palin has thrust herself. With little relevant education, training or experience, she is now a major party candidate for a position as potential replacement for a candidate who, if elected, will be the oldest person in American history to assume the office of President for the first time—and a four-time cancer patient. Through her husband and her own experience, Sarah Palin has direct ties to an extremist political party devoted to the secession of Alaska from the United States. In a now infamous interview with Katie Couric, Palin was unable to name a single newspaper or magazine she reads. She couldn’t name a single Supreme Court case except Roe v Wade (hostility to abortion rights being her signature issue). She has exhibited an almost pathological compulsion to lie about almost anything she’s asked. She has resurrected the old animosity among western state Republicans against the east coast. Since being nominated as John McCain’s running mate, Palin has used insinuations and guilt by association to depict Barack Obama as crooked, alien and even someone who has been “palling around with terrorists.” In her ignorance, dishonesty, extremist associations and ruthlessness, she fits right into the tradition of right wing populism typified by Joseph McCarthy, Nixon, Westbrook Pegler (whom she quoted in her inauguration speech), and Robert Welch.

Palin wears her lack of qualifications like a badge of honor, declaring proudly her self-appointed status as an outsider who supposedly doesn’t know the ways of Washington D.C. (Never mind that she underwent training to be a right wing political candidate with Newt Gingrich’s organization, GOPAC.) Essentially, Palin’s acceptance of McCain’s offer reflects a deep cynicism about the concept of merit. Anyone can do this job, is her implicit claim. Standards are just mechanisms used by elitists to keep ordinary people from participating as equals in American society. The game is rigged just to keep people like me out. One can hear in this the resentments aroused over 30 years ago in response to affirmative action. From the assumption that anyone gaining entry via affimative action is automatically unqualified to receive it, the next move is to say that if person X can get in without qualifications, so can I. The whole rationale for setting and maintaining standards—the assumption of competence, ethical behavior and prudence embedded in the notion of merit—is thereby swept off the table in favor of a decontextualized notion of equality wherein everyone not only has equal opportunity, but a right to equal outcomes regardless whether one has developed the skills required for a given position or not. That such a notion of equality might introduce an unacceptable level of risk into, say, leading the richest, most powerful country in human history doesn’t seem to have occurred to Palin, McCain or their advisors.

Whether Palin’s choice arose from an astounding solipsism on her part (a distinct possibility, given the insularity implied by her worldview, knowledge level and experiences), total cynicism (certainly this was involved in the decision by McCain and his advisors), or something else, the net result in the short term is the establishment of incompetence as a new standard of merit for public service. Many in the GOP have long considered government to be the enemy; that is essentially the position taken by far right libertarians and anti-tax extremists such as Grover Norquist. I suppose that electing an utter incompetent to high office is one way to protect one’s liberty from encroachment by the government. After all, if government is inherently evil, rendering it ungovernable presumably will protect individual freedom—if it doesn’t destroy the entire country first.

What an irony. An elitist political party, historically aligned with large corporations and the wealthy, and driven by an ideology of individualism and free market absolutism based on Protestant notions of merit, acquiesces in the rise of crude pseudo-populists in its pursuit of power. Having used pseudo-populist appeals to acquire and maintain power, the GOP has mutated into a party dominated by people so extreme that it must promote extremist policies to gain their support, in the course of which it gives voice to a cynical reconceptualization of equality that undermines the ideological framework by which status is attained in American society and in the process puts the entire country at risk.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Springsteen Comments at Obama Voter Rally

At yesterday's Philadelphia voter registration drive for Barack Obama, Bruce Springsteen gave a beautiful impromptu speech and played an acoustic version of The Rising. See it here.



(H/T to Talk Left)

Obama Responds to McCain's Return to Smears

Here's the Obama campaign's latest ad in response to the McCain campaign's return to attempts to divert public attention from the issues via character assassination:

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Forest for the Trees

On September 20, Factcheck.org posted an item claiming that Barack Obama lied when claiming that current retirees would have lost their savings had they been dependent on private retirement accounts invested in the stock market, which are a feature of John McCain's Social Security plan. The Factcheck.org charge is accurate in terms of current retirees, but misleading in terms of the long-term implications of McCain’s plan, which would, in fact, result in the unraveling of the Social Security system.
  1. Factcheck.org asserts that Obama misled Floridians in saying that McCain would put their Social Security benefits on the stock market.
  2. McCain’s plan is based on the original Bush plan, which would only have changed the Social Security benefits of retirees born on or after 1950. Both plans would put part of the Social Security tax of those born in 1950 or later into an individual fund sort of like a 401k, which could then be invested in the stock market as part of a mutual fund managed by some unspecified Wall Street investment firm.
  3. In terms of current retirees, then, Obama’s statement was misleading.
  4. However, the consequences of the McCain plan for those of us born on or after 1950 are another story altogether:
  • Due to the ciphoning off of part of the Social Security tax of individuals 58 years old or younger into individual accounts, financing of Social Security would be undermined.
  • Traditional Social Security benefits for those still in the plan would thus decrease compared to what’s currently available.
  • Relatively affluent retirees would thus leave the traditional program, and younger workers with the means would opt for individual accounts, further draining financial contributions from the Social Security system.
  • The result in the medium term would be a bifurcated system of social insurance with affluent retirees and workers opting out of the Social Security system and poorer retirees remaining in the traditional system, which would be increasingly unable to support their needs.
  • In the long run, the traditional system would prove untenable.
Here’s an analysis of the likely outcomes of the various proposals floated in Congress as part of the 2005 Bush plan, which McCain supported.

And here are the likely economic consequences.

Dean Baker comments on McCain’s plan to privatize Social Security.

Here’s a post by hilzoy on McCain’s Social Security plan.

Here’s a Reuters article on how the numbers in McCain’s economic proposals don’t add up. The quote by Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation carries implications for the logic of privatization in the context of the economic cross-pressures inherent in the McCain proposals.

In theory, the individual accounts would supplement traditional benefits. But that assumes a perpetually rising stock market. Oops...

In this Wall Street Journal article, McCain emphasizes his support for the Bush plan, including individual retirement accounts.

Here are his campaign’s position statements on Social Security.

Given the likely consequences of McCain’s plan, it’s easy to see why he claims that it doesn’t amount to privatization.

Here's more on those claims.

Another post outlining McCain’s history of support for Social Security privatization.

Ezra Klein outlines the implications of McCain’s denunciation of Wall Street and his promotion of Social Security privatization.

I suppose the most charitable interpretation of McCain’s comments is that by ‘privatization’, he means complete replacement of Social Security by private accounts. In this interpretation of his denials, McCain is speaking the truth in that his intention is to carve out a portion of the Social Security tax pie for use in individual accounts, while leaving the remainder in the traditional Social Security plan. (That, of course, would have to ignore his own comments in support of Bush’s plan in which he specifically supported privatization.) However, this interpretation only holds true if one ignores the long-term consequences of McCain’s plan.

In the short term, McCain’s plan does not represent a complete replacement of Social Security with individual accounts. By weakening the financing of traditional Social Security, however, McCain’s plan has the net effect of strengthening the argument, further along the line, for the privatization alternative by decreasing the current system’s viability.

Given McCain’s previously unambiguous support for privatization and the probable long-term effects of his current plan, is it really unfair to assume that complete privatization in the long run is McCain’s true intent? Or should we just assume that, as with so many other things economic, McCain simply doesn’t understand the implications of his own plan?

At any rate, it should be clear from the above that, aside from the issues already discussed, factcheck.org would render far more accurate analyses were it to bring a broader scope to its considerations of the truth or falsehood of a given statement. In this case, they have succeeded in simultaneously illuminating and obscuring.

Friday, October 3, 2008

This is One Utterly Repellent Creature

I meant to post something about this when I first saw it, but real life intruded, as it will. Although a number of people already have posted and/or commented on this, I felt I had to put my two cents in as well. You know how you feel when you’ve experienced something really shocking and have to unload about it to someone? Seeing the presidential candidate of one of the two major parties behave like this provokes that sort of impulse in me.

Here’s a video clip from John McCain’s recent meeting with the editorial board of the Des Moines Register.

Not only does he lie about his own campaign’s lies, he seems about to explode at any moment. Presidential temperament, anyone? Yikes...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tackling Working Class Racism Head On

Hat tip to Sir Charles at Cogitamus for this speech by Richard Trumka to the United Steelworkers. I have nothing to add to his comments. See and hear for yourself.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Hurricane Katrina, Economic Version




I've scoured the web for commentary by economists and others on the collapse of the U.S. finance industry (and economy in general) so you don't have to:

Background

Brad DeLong: Mark Thoma Is a Leading Indicator

Economist’s View (Mark Thoma): An Overview of the Crisis and What to Do about It (

Paul Krugman: Crisis Endgame

Brad DeLong: Thoughts on the Big Buyout

Thomas Palley: The Liquidation Trap

Econobrowser (Menzie Chinn): Some Observations on the Ongoing Crisis: Causes and Opportunity Cost Again

Brad DeLong: Understanding the Three Ways of Dealing with Financial Crises

Capital Gains and Games (Andrew Samwick): The Ownership Society, International Edition

Paulson’s bailout proposal

Calculated Risk: Bailout Proposal

Objections to the Paulson bailout plan

Daily Kos (gjohnsit): What in the Hell Just Happened?

emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler): No

Glenn Greenwald: The complete (though ever-changing) elite consensus over the financial collapse

Paul Krugman: No Deal

Mark Kleiman: Paulson Channels Cheney

Tyler Cowen: Luigi Zingales on the Paulson Bailout—Kazow!

Capital Gains and Games (Andrew Samwick): Financial Frustration

The Edge of the American West: New Deal or No Deal

Matt Stoller: If a Legal Armed Robbery Happens in Front of Everyone, Does It Make a Sound?

Alternatives

Dean Baker: Progressive Conditions for a Bailout

Matthew Yglesias: Mallaby: This Deal Stinks

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ex Post Facto Weekend Playlist

In the late 1980s, I was a member of the Lehigh Valley Community Broadcasters Association (LVCBA), a non-profit community group that ran a small college radio station, WMUH (Allentown, PA), whenever the students were absent (meaning overnights, summers and holidays). As such, I did radio shows, as we all did. One of the most creative members of the group was an impish guy who called himself Mr. Mark. He did what were nominally rock shows, but which incorporated avant garde classical music, electronics, spoken word stuff, and his own fake news reports, weather reports, etc. into a unique brew. I liked his shows so much that I recorded a bunch of them onto cassettes, which went into storage in a chest of drawers, where they sat for the next 19 years.

In late 2006 (having been out of touch with the group for a while), i learned that Mark had committed suicide in 2001. I responded by digging through my cases of cassettes, and digitizing all of his shows. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The whole process, which involved digitizing, cleaning up the sound, editing & finally burning CDs, took 7 or 8 months. By the end, I felt as if I’d been living someone else’s life & was more than happy to get back to my own.

In any case, here’s the playlist for one of the first Mr. Mark shows I ever heard, on July 22, 1986. The Modern Mummies was one of Mr. Mark’s groups (he played synthesizer). Some of the others I’ve been unable to identify, but I'm including them in the hope that someone familiar with this show might be able to fill in the blanks. (Incidentally, the intro to this show is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard.) Mr. Mark was not known to the general public; those of us familiar with his work continue to miss his impish humor, his curiosity and knowledge.

Mr. Mark, Intro/BeatTheHeat/FundExperiments/AvoidYourMower
Los Dominos, Unknown
The Dark, Unknown
Chris & Cosey, Love Cuts
Sparks, Shopping Mall of Love
Mr. Mark, Record Cueing
B-52s, B-52s EP
Sparks, Let's Get Funky
Mr. Mark, Texas Rangers vs. Tornado
Mr. Mark, Shoe Store Story
Mr. Mark, Ralph Cramden Homicide Squad
Mr. Mark, Intro to Severed Heads
Severed Heads, Confidence
Severed Heads, Sam Loves You
Severed Heads, Strange Brew
Severed Heads, Harold & Cindy Hospital
Nina Hagen, Flying Saucers
Chris & Cosey, Send the Magick Down
Mr. Mark, Maxx Foxx vs. Soviet Tanks
Mr. Mark, Vietnamese Blimp vs. UFO Govt
Mr. Mark, Cougars at Methodist Wedding
Unknown, African Music Interlude
Modern Mummies, Unknown
Unknown, Electronic Piece
Kate Bush, Unknown
Sonic Youth, Secret Girls
Chris & Cosey, October Love Song
Lou Reed, Waiting for My Man
Velvet Underground, White Light, White Heat
Skinny Puppy, Far Too Frail
Skinny Puppy, Glass Houses
Lou Reed, Walk on the Wild Side
Lou Reed, Berlin
Unknown, Electronics & Noise
Mr. Mark, Bluebeard
Mr. Mark, WMUH Auto Deals
Mr. Mark, Intro to Frank Tovey cuts
Frank Tovey, unknown
Kate Bush, Unknown
Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush, Mercy Street

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Wingnut Postmodernism Update

Jesse Taylor at Pandagon nails a few points I missed:

1. The inseparability of action, cause & motivation belies Krauthammer & friends’ claims of multivalent meanings associated with the doctrine.

2. The source of the ever-shifting definitions of the Bush doctrine is the improvisational (not to mention utterly unsuccessful) nature of Bush foreign policy. Basically, they had to continually change direction as one plate of spaghetti after another was thrown at the wall, only to sink in a heap on the baseboards.

Character, Pt 2

Courtesy of Jane Hamsher.

Is it unreasonable of me to see a certain continuity between McCain’s behavior toward his first wife and his conduct during this presidential campaign?

Just curious...

Wingnut Postmodernism

Various wingnuts have responded to Sarah Palin’s difficulty in answering Charlie Gibson’s question about the meaning of the Bush doctrine by claiming that the term has no fixed meaning, and that her response was thus correct.

The argument at the heart of Charles Krauthammer’s claims and those of Bill Dyer on Hugh Hewitt’s website are as follows:

Anyone who criticizes Sarah Palin, then, for asking Charlie Gibson to be more specific about the "Bush Doctrine" is trying to mislead you in at least two ways:

They're pretending that the term "Bush Doctrine" has a single clear, unambiguous meaning that anyone who follows national affairs ought to have immediately recognized. It doesn't...

They're pretending that because Gov. Palin didn't immediately try to guess which of several plausible meanings Gibson meant to give that term, but instead asked for clarification, she therefore must have been unprepared to discuss any of them...

If they had bothered to look, even the could have cured Josh Marshall, Greg Sargent, or Andrew Sullivan of their illusion that there's a single, simple meaning to the term "Bush Doctrine.


Let’s look at the first claim—that there’s no single meaning to the term.

First, a chronology of the various pronouncements, culled from the Krauthammer and Dyer posts:

  • Krauthammer, June 2001: unilateral withdrawal from signed treaties and rejection of the Kyoto protocol.

  • Bush address to special session of Congress, 9/30/01: States harboring or supporting terrorists will be treated as terrorists

  • Bush commencement address, West Point, 6/1/02: Rejection of containment & deterrence in favor of preemptive use of force

  • 2002 State of the Union address: Preemptive use of force

  • National Security Strategy paper, 9/02: preemptive use of force

  • Norman Podhoretz in 2006: “a rejection of cultural relativism and a willingness to use terms like "good" and "evil" more assertively”

  • Thomas Donnelly, 1/31/03: aggressive promotion of democracy based on the assumption of overwhelming U.S. global power


Clearly, there are a lot of different definitions here. But Krauthammer’s assertion that he’s an expert on the subject because he was first to coin the term, coupled with the date of the coinage, raised my eyebrows. The Monroe Doctrine was articulated by Monroe; the Truman Doctrine, by Truman. How did Krauthammer become the self-appointed Adjudicator of Things of Historical Importance? By racing to apply a label to an orientation, then making as much noise about it as possible. Similarly, Norman Podhoretz and Thomas Donnelly determine that their own pseudo-intellectual hobby horses are essential parts of this bold new doctrine. Holy presumptuousness, Batman!

Hubris aside, it is true that all of the above are elements of Bush’s approach to foreign policy (and in the case of Podhoretz’s wish list, his other policies as well). But how many of them are unique to Bush, justifying their inclusion in a definition of a specific doctrine bearing the name of that Great Man of History?

The principles above that were articulated by Bush are (1) treatment as terrorists of states harboring or supporting terrorists; and (2) rejection of containment & deterrence in favor of preemptive use of force. The former is novel, prior U.S. foreign policy doctrines having been formulated in contexts not including international terrorism of the sort we experienced on 9/11. The latter, while unique in the fact of its overt expression, was always an implicit part of U.S. foreign policy. Perhaps the most radical thing about it is not so much the statement itself, but the implications attached to it due to the “first the sentence, then the evidence” approach taken by the Bush administration to pre-war intelligence on Iraq. In short, the Bush administration’s contempt for intellectual rigor and its self-righteousness, coupled with their extreme bellicosity, have led everyone but their remaining acolytes deeply mistrustful of their intentions.

As Jules Tygiel and J. Peter Scoblic have pointed out, all the other positions above are consistent with right wing ideology since the 1950s. And contra Dyer, Reagan didn’t engage in rollback. He talked about it, just as Eisenhower had. In fact, as Scoblic points out, Reagan, being deeply ignorant of the nature of nuclear weapons and the strategies of containment, had adopted an aggressive posture towards the Soviet Union that led us to the brink of nuclear war in 1983. It was only after Reagan was informed of what had almost happened (the Soviets believed, based on Reagan’s public statements, massive military spending and changes in U.S. force postures during a massive U.S. global war game that we were about to launch a first strike against them and scrambled their bombers), that he realized the dangerous course he was on and reversed it, leading to the meetings with Gorbachev that led to an agreement to reduce nuclear arms. In short, it was abandonment of the posture dictated by right wing ideology that led to success.

Be that as it may, it is certainly true that most people who follow the news will likely respond, when asked the question posed to Palin, by mentioning the notion of preemptive war. That is because, despite its having long been an implicit part of U.S. foreign policy, the Bush administration made it explicit—and did so in the context of the drumbeat leading to the invasion of Iraq, placing it foremost in the consciousness of the politically engaged portion of the public. But given that the common sense popular understanding of the term is the one, by definition, with the widest currency, and given that the interview with Palin on a major TV network was obviously aimed at the general public, why should it seem unreasonable to anyone that the popular understanding of the term was the one under discussion? Certainly Palin didn’t attempt to reach for more scholarly definitions of any of the other items under discussion during the interview—why expect her to do so conveniently on one for which she so clearly had difficulty giving an answer?

That various wingnuts put forth a shifting collection of meanings for the term (some of which, as previously noted, they conveniently assigned themselves), is clearly a gambit to claim, as they do implicitly, that Sarah Palin’s inability to answer the question posed to her clearly and coherently is not a sign that she might be —heaven forbid that we should notice the obvious, because to criticize her at all is, for some heretofore unexplained reason, sexist—unqualified for the office she seeks. Nice try.

Friday, September 12, 2008

McCain's Ads Are Lies

Brave New Films has catalogued McCain's ads, showing them to be lies intended to smear Obama:



(H/T to litbrit at Cogitamus

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Things I Like

Here's a list of songs, chosen randomly from iTunes. Please feel free to add your own in the Comments section below.

Cassandra Wilson, Solomon Sang
Skinny Puppy, Dig It
The Brand New Heavies, Brother Sister
Joni Mitchell, Night of the Iguana
John Mayer, Bigger Than My Body
The Psychedelic Furs, The Ghost in You
Laurie Anderson, Sharkey's Night
Jean-Paul Bourelly, Awakening
Enrico Rava, John Abercrombie, Jon Christensen & Palle Danielsson, Surprise Hotel
David Bowie/Pat Metheny Group, This Is Not America
Japan, Still Life In Mobile Homes
Ralph Towner-Gary Burton, Icarus
Alice Coltrane, Sita Ram
Cactus World News, Years Later
Me'Shell Ndegeoocello, The Way
XTC, Life Begins At the Hop
Al Jarreau, So Long Girl
King Crimson, Red
Herbie Hancock, Edith and the Kingpin (feat. Tina Turner)
Joni Mitchell, Strong and Wrong
Neville Brothers, Brother Jake
Peter Gabriel, On The Air
Talk Talk, It's My Life
Cassandra Wilson, Love is Blindness
Killing Joke, Change

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Fired Up

Here are some sights and sounds from the campaign trail, courtesy of Barack Obama and Joe Biden (h/t to Brad DeLong):

First, Joe Biden

And here's Obama

There are 60 days (roughly) until the election. The time is now.

If you’re not registered to vote, for God’s sake, please do so now.

Go to the Obama website, sign up if you haven’t already, and volunteer. Donate. Help get other people registered to vote. Donate again.

No one can say any longer that they don’t know what we’re going to get if we let the GOP win this election.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Straight Talk Simulacra

McCain calls his campaign “the Straight Talk Express.”

McCain has completely reversed his position on almost every issue except support for the war in Iraq and opposition to abortion:

http://www.thecarpetbaggerreport.com/flipflops

He has deliberately and systematically misrepresented Barack Obama’s views on a multitude of issues.

http://www.talkleft.com/story/2008/5/27/1842/82920
http://www.factcheck.org/elections-2008/soft_on_iran.html
http://www.factcheck.org/elections-2008/distorting_obama.html
http://www.factcheck.org/elections-2008/factchecking_mccain.html

Having campaigned on a claim to experience far superior to that of Obama, he has chosen as his running mate a person with absolutely no relevant experience or expertise for the position. A heartbeat away. With little or no prior vetting, apparently.

His chosen running mate gave a speech at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday in which she repeatedly misrepresented Barack Obama’s record and attitudes, as well as her own.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/09/04/ap-attacks-praise-stretch_n_123771.html
http://www.factcheck.org/elections-2008/gop_convention_spin_part_ii.html
http://www.samefacts.com/archives/campaign_2008_/2008/09/palin_v_reality.php
http://lefarkins.blogspot.com/2008/09/calling-bullshit.html
http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2008/09/open-thread-rnc.html

Now it turns out that even the photographs of black people used by the McCain campaign as part of the backdrop at their convention were purchased stock photography.

http://dailykos.com/storyonly/2008/9/5/153224/4904/749/588112

I’ve long marveled at the expertise with which the GOP obscures its agenda and distracts voters from the nature of its governance. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, many in the GOP railed against the supposedly sinister influence of postmodernists on college campuses. By now it should be obvious to everyone that the GOP is the true party of postmodernism. How anyone can believe anything they say is beyond me.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Labor Day Weekend Playlist

I’ve never posted playlists to my blog before, but there’s no reason in the world why I shouldn’t. I love sharing my musical discoveries/obsessions with others, so here goes. Please feel free to add your own in the Comments section.

Alice Coltrane, Journey In Satchidananda
Alice Coltrane, Sita Ram
The Beatles, Tomorrow Never Knows
Brian Eno & David Byrne, Qu'ran
Cassandra Wilson, Solomon Sang
David Sylvian, Taking the Veil
Derek Trucks, Sahib Teri Bandi-Maki Madni
Don Cherry, Brown Rice
Harriet Tubman, IllOvercomeSpirit
Helmut Franz & Norddeutschen Rundfunks Chor Hamburg, Lux Aeterna (1966)
Henry Kaiser, Blue Eternity
Jack DeJohnette's Directions, Flying Spirits
Jai Uttal & The Pagan Love Orchestra, Guru Brahma
Jai Uttal & The Pagan Love Orchestra, Jaya Jagadambe (She Who Tears Apart Thought)
Joan Osborne, One of Us
John Coltrane, Spiritual
Joni Mitchell, Hejira
Katia & Marielle Labeque, Messiaen:Visions De L'Amen/1: Amen De La Creation
King Crimson, Matte Kudasai
Liberty Ellman, Borealis
M-Base Collective, Cycle Of Change
Me'Shell Ndegeocello, The Way
Nine Inch Nails, Pilgrimage
P'taah, There's a Light Inside Your Mind
Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush, Mercy Street
Robert Fripp, Easter Sunday
Santana, Waves Within
Severed Heads, A Million Angels
Talking Heads, Take Me to the River
XTC, Dear God

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Weird Concert Dynamics

This is my first post in what I imagine will be a series on the dynamics between performers and their audiences. I’ve never posted on audience-performer dynamics before, and I really don’t know whether the things I’ve observed have been representative of larger trends, whether they’ve gotten better or worse (however one defines the terms), or whether they’re reflections of my own changing feelings about concert attendance.

I went to a free Battles concert tonight in Central Park. Battles, for those as yet unexposed to their music, is a band that deals in repetitions of minimalist patterns and overlays of same. At Stage Right was a guitarist who doubled on keyboards, often playing the two at once. In the center was another guitarist who also doubled on electric bass. At Stage Left was another guitarist who doubled on keyboards and sometimes on electric bass. In the middle was the drummer, who played very simple patterns with slight permutations over time, a sort of Steve Reich interpretation of disco, rock and funk drumming, if you will.

The music I found simultaneously intriguing and infuriating—the former because the gradual accent shifts and compulsive repetition combined cleverness with a sort of clinical obsessiveness, which together piqued my curiosity; the latter because clinical, repetitive obsessiveness has a really short shelf life for me as a listener, and because the impersonality implied by the repetitiveness I find kind of scary and repulsive.

Perhaps my reactions were not unique, because I observed something at the end of the show that I’d never seen before. The band finished its set and walked off the stage. The crowd gave them some applause, but certainly not an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response. Then someone appeared backstage (to far stage right) and began prompting the audience for signs of enthusiasm so as to induce the members of the band to return to the stage for an encore. The audience was malleable enough and responded on cue.

So here’s the first question: Have you ever been to a concert during which the audience had to be prompted to provide a rationale (in the form of demonstrable enthusiasm) for a band’s return to the stage for an encore?

I realize that everyone (me included) is dead tired of those tired “things were so much better back in the sixties” arguments. I don’t intend to add my blog posts to the pile, certainly. But having been to a lot of concerts from 1969 to present, I don’t recall ever before observing efforts to convince audiences to demonstrate that they like the artists as a condition for an encore. We went to concerts because we wanted to see our favorite acts—a shocking concept, I know. No one had to tell us to clap and cheer—we did those things because we admired fervently the artists whose concerts we attended. Was the audience reaction (or lack of same)tonight due to the alienating reductionism and obsessive repetitiveness of the music? Or are audiences just less engaged in general with the music they see performed live? Have we become the pod people depicted in Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Inquiring minds want to know...

Please feel free to add your observations in the Comments section below.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hoax e-mail Campaign Targets Obama Tax Policies

An e-mail is spreading around claiming falsely that Barack Obama will raise a bunch of different taxes substantially. This, of course, is a standard charge leveled by the GOP against Democrats every election.

To get an accurate picture of Obama’s tax plans, see the Tax Foundation’s Tax Policy blog.

Another honest analysis, by the Tax Policy Center of The Urban Institute and Brookings Institution is here.

Lastly, FactCheck.org debunks the e-mail’s claims in detail.

Steve Benen noted today that the McCain campaign is —ahem—incentivizing e-mail spamming by its acolytes in an effort to add some kind of spark to his campaign. I imagine these comments come from independent actors—even the increasingly sleazy McCain campaign probably wouldn’t want to be directly associated with charges as outrageously cheap as these—but certainly the McCain campaign’s efforts to encourage trolls add fuel to this kind of fire.

By the way, the e-mail ends by saying “[a]ccording to Nancy Pelosi we also need to increase Social Security payroll deductions FICA so illegals dont [sic] have to pay but can take it back home with them and retire in luxury.” The gratuitous shot at immigrants I suppose is the cherry on top of this rich Sundae of dishonesty. That alone should be a glaring clue to uninformed recipients that the e-mail is bogus.

The version I read claimed to be from one Sharon M. Valois, apparently an employee of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island, which credential I suppose is intended to give the claims an air of authority.

Do your country and planet a favor—spread the links above as widely as you can.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What is Reality?

First there was the McCain ad comparing Barack Obama to Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears. In addition, the McCain campaign mocked Obama for his suggestion that people inflate their car tires to the recommended pressure.

Then Obama responded with a deft application of humor.

Now Paris Hilton has responded as well. And the funny thing is that she makes more sense than McCain. She's funnier, too (although that's setting the bar pretty low, I admit).

What a strange campaign this is...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Telecomms, Ducks & the Social Construction of Reality

Joe from Fort Worth, TX wrote on July 9th 2008 at 9:09 am EDT:

If this passes, I will cancel all my AT&T services. That means ending my land line and changing my internet access provider. I will make it clear to the company representative that talks to me about this action that the company they are working for is engaged in spying on Americans, and that they by extension are as well. I will mention the 4th ammendment.

In the future I expect that an Obama presidency will mend the laws to criminalize the behavior that the phone companies and the President hope to protect from civil liability by this law. Hopefully they will elevate it to the level of treason, which actions that subvert the constitution should be. I will expect that the trade for a life spent in jail will be worth it to them for just a little money.



in response to my comments:

The McCain campaign has been making a lot of noise lately, claiming that Barack Obama has been changing his positions, can't be trusted to keep his word, etc.

As Steve Benen demonstrates, that's a very interesting line, coming from McCain. Benen's post is a resource we should use to maximum advantage.



Joe—

I feel like doing the same, but I seriously doubt that Qwest is available in my area.

I realize that most people pay no attention to politics, and I'm sure that's got a lot to do with the absence of a tremendous popular outcry over the passage today of the FISA amendment. Yet I doubt the public would have been so quiescent in the face of a gradual dismantling of the Constitution in the late 1960s or early 1970s. I get the sense that the long string of abuses of the Constitution, starting with Watergate and progressing (if that's the word) through Iran-Contra to the present situation, gradually led to a public acceptance of such things as normal. And as W.I. Thomas put it long ago, "[w]hen men (sic) define situations as real, they are real in their consequences." Or, to put it into more detail a la Berger and Luckmann, we simultaneously (a) internalize meanings of social interactions we observe; (b) externalize via learned behaviors, those meanings we have internalized (thereby perpetuating them); and (c) objectivate those meanings and behaviors (meaning we come to accept those meanings and behaviors as ‘real’ things, not as arbitrary constructs; in other words, we stop questioning those meanings and behaviors). That’s what you get when you put in the White House for 28 of the last 40 years a political party that has contempt for the Constitution (not to mention, government in general)—and an opposition party that acts largely as its enabler.

Does anyone still think elections don’t matter and that there’s no difference between the two major parties? I am nauseated by Obama’s about-face on FISA. I think he has played enabler to an administration (if that’s the word for it) that has made clear its willingness to trample the Constitution and the rule of law generally. From what I’ve read, I think the existing FISA law provided the government with whatever tools it needed to track and monitor terrorists and their networks while providing SOME judicial oversight. The FISA amendment just passed eliminates that oversight. See this post for a detailed explanation of the bill just passed and its implications. There is widespread consensus that the FISA amendment was put forth not for national security reasons, but to shield the offending telecomms and the Bush administration from legal jeopardy for their crimes (and yes, Bush’s wiretap authorization starting in 2001 were in violation of the existing FISA law, not that he’ll ever be held to account for that). And of course, in the absence of oversight, Bush and his cronies (not to mention every succeeding administration) will be able to do whatever they want. I believe that’s the basic definition of an imperial presidency, which of course has been Dick Cheney’s pet project ever since Watergate.

So why am I unwilling to pitch Obama over the side? First of all, as much as I disagree with him on FISA, I still recognize that he is a man of many parts, most of which I still like very much. He’s brilliant, for starters—something you can’t say about any GOP president in recent memory (except Nixon, who was brilliant in a decidedly ugly way). God knows we’ve had more than enough of stupidity and insensitivity in recent years—the last 8 in particular. Obama’s entire appeal is based on what I see as very positive ideas—inclusiveness, reasonableness, rationality, a willingness (in many cases) to find new ways to think about the problems we face. He is the first candidate in my adult life to frame his candidacy as an appeal to unify the country and to ground that appeal in, among other things, the values embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. (That makes his decision on FISA all the more disappointing. Yet even with that vote, Obama’s repeated references to the Constitution reawakened a sense—hopefully not just in me—of possibility that we as a country might be able to return to the values reflected in those documents. This is something I’ve never seen in a candidate before.) Unlike McCain, Obama is aware of economics. He is certainly aware of new technologies and the possibilities they provide. If his campaign is any guide, he’s an amazing manager (see this post for an overview; for more details, click on the link therein) And of course (contra McCain’s desparate spin), he’s committed to ending the war in Iraq.

There’s also the matter of the other party. The GOP is dominated by its conservatives, as it has been since 1980. Many of them, as perhaps a form of unintended public service, revealed their true natures recently when Jesse Helms died (see this post for their comments as well as comments by the object of their effusions). Now let’s follow the logic: (1) The GOP is dominated by a group, many of whose members, perhaps most, are revealed as racists; (2) GOP political campaigns have been based quite consciously on appeals to race since 1968; (3) GOP policies have often had a net effect disproportionally adverse to people of color (see this excellent post for details). If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, etc. And I haven’t even mentioned the war in Iraq, the economy, the environment, the avalanche of corruption and incompetence, the divisiveness, [add your own outrage here]. I believe all of the above is what’s called context. Whether the Bush administration has been able, as one of its officials famously said, to define their own reality, it is certain that the GOP has created one for itself as a whole. Now it is up to those of us who reject their definitions of the situation to engage in a much more positive social construction of reality.

There. I’ll stop now. Please feel free to comment below.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Roots of Modern Conservatism

Ding dong, Jesse Helms is dead. You already knew that, right?

hilzoy raises an obvious but important question: Why should conservatives expect people to regard them as anything but bigots when they exhibit adulation for an extraordinarily mean-spirited, ignorant hate-monger? Brad deLong opts for formal logic in making the same point.

While hilzoy compares the encomiums of conservatives with the statements and behaviors of the object of their affection, Tom S at rustbeltintellectual shows that GOP domestic politics has been driven primarily by racism since the end of the 1960s.

Given all of the above, why on earth should we not regard the GOP as the party of racism? The party of Lincoln long ago mutated into something our 16th president would not have recognized, much less chosen to join. And given that obvious reality plus the hideous record of the current occupant of the White House (with the GOP controlling all 3 branches of government), shouldn’t the Democrats be campaigning against the entire GOP as a party, rather than just John McCain? After all, does anyone seriously believe that if McCain is elected we won’t be saddled with the party he represents?

I’m not arguing, by the way, that John McCain is a bigot or that everyone in the GOP is such. Nor am I claiming that the Democratic Party (think of the West Virginia and Kentucky primaries) is free of the disease. In fact, I’m not even saying that all conservatives are racists (Ross Douthat has made a point of objecting to the current Jesse Helms lovefest, for example.) I am saying that the GOP as currently configured is dominated by people and groups that condone racism. How do I know they condone it? Because if they didn’t, it would not persist in their policies, statements and campaign appeals (whether overt or implied). It is true that the GOP has some non-white officials in prominent positions, but let’s face it—regardless who has visibility, the thrust of the party’s policies and oft-stated attitudes has been and continues to be particularly inimical to most people of color. While John McCain’s campaign has not engaged in the kinds of appeals popularized by Lee Atwater and Jesse Helms, there are many in his party who argue that he should. The prevalence of such attitudes is once again made clear by the fact that movement conservatives, who dominate the GOP, have made a point of extolling the alleged virtues of Jesse Helms to the skies. That the GOP consciously built its electoral coalition by appealing to such attitudes is a crime for which they should pay by banishment to permanent marginality.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Fourth of July

And while we're all celebrating, it wouldn't hurt to remember exactly what our revels actually commemorate. In a beautiful post, James Livingston parses a recent column by William Kristol to reveal the deeply undemocratic frame of reference lurking therein.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Compare and Contrast

Here's a really interesting article about Barack Obama's management style (h/t to Hilzoy):.

And here's some news from the McCain campaign.

Compare Obama's temperament, as described in the article above, to that displayed by McCain in this incident.

Who would you rather work for? More to the point, who would you rather have working for you?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Visual Representation of Data

This website is devoted to a visual representation of the political blogosphere. [WARNING: It takes a significant amount of time to load.]

I can’t say it has transformed my thinking on anything, much less altered my consciousness, but it’s interesting. Ergo, I pass it on to you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It's Not Arugula, It's Race

In It's Not Race, It's Arugula, Noemie Emery rejects the widely accepted argument that racism is behind much of the reluctance among working class white voters. (Roy Edroso has commented briefly on this article here, but I feel compelled to take it further, for reasons to be explained below.)

“In this view,” writes Emery, “race is the issue, and the big years in history were 1964 and 1965, when Lyndon B. Johnson did the Right Thing, signing the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, and consigning his party to electoral darkness by losing the South for the next several eons. By these lights, bigotry and fear are the main factors, and all the others are thinly masked surrogates for them. If Obama loses, this will be the excuse of the campaign and of the press that supports it."

Instead, Emery borrows a simplistic classification scheme from Michael Barone and Ron Brownstein between “academicians” (or to Brownstein, “priests”) and “Jacksonians” (Brownstein’s “warriors”).

The academicians, according to Barone, like peace (and/or appeasement) and moral equivalence; are against force; “traffic in words and abstractions, and admire those who do likewise;” love nuance and fairness; disdain Jacksonians; and their theme songs are "Kumbaya" and "Imagine.” (You can add Volvos, Birkenstock sandals, lattes, etc.) Incidentally, public employees are included in the above category, for reasons Emery does not explain.

Jacksonians, according to Barone, valorize the warrior ethos; dismiss the work of academics and public employees; favor “a notion of natural liberty: People should be allowed to do what they want, subject to the demands of honor;” like men of action, clarity, justice and just force; think academicians are inconsequential; and like country music. In other words, real men.

Until 1968, according to Emery, Democrats “frequently sported a veneer of priesthood, but it covered a Jacksonian heart.” After they “lost their warrior edge...Democrats started losing the White House.” Emery claims that Reagan Democrats abandoned the Democratic Party due to resentment of “post-1968 liberal activism--and racial preferences and busing much more than the original Civil Rights measures--but they also were drawn to the muscular foreign policy, democracy promotion, and unabashed patriotism of the FDR-HST-JFK line.” Academicians who claim that the GOP uses race to convince white working class voters to vote against their interests, according to Emery, are forgetting that national defense and security are the most important issues to such voters.

Apparently not recognizing the image reflected in her mirror, Emery asserts that “[t]his neglect often leads to a reading of history that aligns rather poorly with the facts.” She then lists a succession of electoral contests in which the Democrats nominated an academician and, predictably (if the Barone/Brownstein/Emery theory is your guide), lost.

Why Reject Racism as Causal?

Emery remarks in a tone of sarcasm that LBJ did “the Right Thing” in signing the Voting Rights Acts. What’s the point of the sarcasm? Does Emery doubt that it was right to enable black people to vote in this country 100 years after the end of the Civil War?

She goes on to say, “[b]y these lights, bigotry and fear are the main factors...If Obama loses, this will be the excuse of the campaign and of the press that supports it.” The term “excuse” is generally used as a synonym for ‘rationalization’; i.e., an explanation used to deflect attention away from the genuine cause. The generally sarcastic tone of the paragraph and the phrase “[b]y these lights” make clear Emery’s rejection of the idea that racism is at cause. However, she makes no effort to articulate any reason she might have for that rejection. This is all the more striking given the history of racism in electoral politics since 1964.

Lyndon Johnson famously said upon signing the first Voting Rights Act into law that he’d just signed away the South to the GOP for a generation. In this he was optimistic, as events would prove. When George C. Wallace gained unexpected primary strength in 1968, the GOP presidential candidate, Richard M. Nixon, took note and began appealing to southern white racism in an effort to put the South solidly in the GOP column going forward. This was the result of a conscious strategy developed by Nixon in conjunction with his aide Patrick Buchanan, among others.

From then until now, the GOP has relied on appeals to white racism, whether overt (Sen. Jesse Helms’ ad against affirmative action, featuring a pair of gnarled white hands crumpling a job rejection letter) or covert (arguments for states’ rights serve as a dog whistle to those adhering to the view that the Confederacy, which fervently argued in exactly those terms, was on the side of right in the Civil War). There’s no need to recite the endless stream of examples—just a few will suffice: The Willie Horton ad, Reagan’s campaign opening in Philadelphia, MS, the GOP pandering over the Confederate flag flying over the South Carolina state capital, the racist button for sale at the recent Texas state GOP convention. Is Emery arguing that these things haven’t happened? If not, does she claim that they were ineffective? Considering that the GOP has adhered to these techniques for the past 40 years, isn’t it logical to conclude that either (a) they are effective or (b) the GOP is incredibly stupid to continue relying on them?

Then there are the exit polls. In West Virginia, 30% of whites stated openly that they voted against Obama because of race. The result was similar in Kentucky. Moreover, due to reactive measurement effects, it is reasonable to suppose that the same dynamic was at work in Texas and elsewhere. (Ohio may be a special case due to the intrusion of Canada’s conservative government in the primary with its now questionable report on a conversation with one of Obama’s top economic advisers.) Is there some particular reason why Emery discounts this evidence?

Given the enormous amount of evidence supporting the theory that race is at cause in Obama’s problems with working class white voters, why does Emery reject the theory out of hand? She does not say.

The (Ahem) Theory

Here’s Emery’s rather remarkable rundown of the distinctions between her two ideal types:

“While the term Academician explains itself, Jacksonian comes from Andrew Jackson, the first of the Democrats' warrior heroes (with an echo perhaps of Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson, who seems now to have been one of the last)...In this reading of history, the critical year would be 1968, when the Democrats splintered on crime and security issues, and afterwards became the party of peace (and/or appeasement), of moral equivalence, and of aversion to force. In this reading, the Jacksonians or warriors reject Obama less because he is black than because he is a priest or academician...”

Notice the long chain of binary oppositions above. Is it just coincidence that the qualities associated with each echo the smears and taunts directed, overtly or by implication, by the GOP against Democrats in every election since 1976? One wonders whether the attributes listed above were arrived at through the research of Barone/Brownstein/Emery, or whether they started with the former and then shaped the latter to fit. (Of course, the latter approach would be totally out of character for neoconservatives, as observers of the prelude to the invasion of Iraq know.) At the very least, it seems that Barone and Emery have trouble distinguishing between ideal types and politically motivated stereotypes. Anyone trying to use such obviously biased classifications in the social sciences would be laughed right out of academia—by social scientists of all political persuasions.

Note also that peace is equated, in true neocon fashion, with appeasement—in reference to 1968, no less. This clearly reflects a frame of reference according to which Vietnam was, in Ronald Reagan’s formulation, “a noble cause” that was betrayed (here the right wing updates Ludendorff and Hindenburg’s responsibility-deflecting “stab-in-the-back thesis,” transferring blame from the Jews in the original thesis to hippies, intellectuals, liberals and the Democratic Party in its post-Vietnam reincarnation. Those manly Jacksonians/warriors would not have appeased communism, as we morally equivalent latte-sippers supposedly did by opposing the war in Vietnam (and again, of course, in re the current war in Iraq). No siree—they would have stayed the course (in the words of President Katrina) and fought on, no matter how long (a la McCain), simply because, having gotten in, it would be supposedly ignoble to, y’know, bother to notice whether there was (a) a convincing reason for our involvement in the conflict in the first place; (b) any understanding on the part of our government of the culture and history of the country we’d invaded; (c) a realistic goal motivating our efforts; (d) the means and methods sufficient to achieve such goal consistent with our values and interests; and (e) lacking the above, stop and withdraw. Never mind (a) the fact that, in both conflicts, the arguments given the American public for our involvement in the conflict were patently false; (b) each case essentially amounted to the U.S. attempting to reengineer an existing society (of whose culture and history we were essentially ignorant) to more closely resemble our own, regardless of what the inhabitants of each country wanted; (c) consistent military superiority by U.S. forces in each conflict proved to be almost irrelevant to the outcome because of the arrogance and ignorance of our civilian leadership as to the limits of our capabilities in re (b) above, and the political nature of the underlying conflict; and (d) oh, by the way, perhaps Emery and her neocon friends never noticed this, but the monolithic communism against which we were supposedly fighting in Vietnam and which would take over all of Southeast Asia if we didn’t? Well, it wasn’t monolithic in the first place, as border wars between China and the USSR, between China and Vietnam after the U.S. withdrawal, and between Vietnam and the Pol Pot Regime of Cambodia made abundantly clear. Secondly, rather than taking over Southeast Asia, communism took a different shape in each communist country, and that shape had to do with the culture, history and political realities faced by each country rather than some supposedly shared overarching ideology. In other words, just as with Iraq, one of the most important stated reasons for our involvement was false.

The reference to 1968 also reflects the inability of neocons to recognize (or at least, to admit) that there was another limitation on our options in Vietnam—contra Barone’s and Emery’s pathetic attempt to rewrite history, China made explicit at the time that extention of U.S. ground forces and bombing any closer to the Chinese border would have triggered direct involvement in that conflict by the People’s Republic of China—something feared not only by those nuance-loving civilians in the White House at the time, but many in the military brass as well. (Gen. Maxwell Taylor, for one, had been a member of the Never Again Club after the Korean War—the title referring to a land war in Asia. Gen. Curtis LeMay wanted to bomb North Vietnam back to the Stone Age, as he famously said, but his was by no means the only view in the Pentagon.)

If this argument involving the Vietnam War seems a little off-topic, that’s only because the underlying premise of Emery’s piece is a decidedly non-reality based alternative (ahem) history of that conflict.

Emery’s (and Barone’s and Brownstein’s) argument is an insultingly stupid example of reductio ad absurdem. If you doubt that, consider the number of latte-sipping, arugula-eating lefties who supported the invasion of Afghanistan (not to mention our involvement in World War II) but who opposed the war in Iraq. Here’s a really difficult concept for neocons to get their little heads around—one war involved an organization that attacked us and had a symbiotic relationship with the government that shielded them in Afghanistan; the other had no justification whatsoever and has brought nothing but grief to both Iraq and the U.S. What do you know—logic, evidence and the moral and intellectual rigor required to refrain from acting in the absence of both really matter. When the neocons contrast their belligerence to our opposition to senseless wars it’s not evidence of disproportionate allocations of testosterone between the two groups; rather, it reflects a refusal on the part of the neocons to think. And if arguments like Emery’s are any evidence, perhaps it’s because they don’t know how.

Emery’s argument is frankly ridiculous—and ordinarily I wouldn’t devote so much time to something so preposterous. What motivated me to write this response was the fact that it was recommended by an Obama supporter! I find that frankly astounding and disturbing. Surely we must be able to see through foolishness such as Emery’s article. We ought to be aware as well of the nature of The Weekly Standard, on whose website Emery’s article appeared. The Weekly Standard is generally considered to be the house organ of the neoconservatives and of the Bush Administration. Its editors are William Kristol and Fred Barnes. Kristol, in addition to infesting the Op-Ed page of the New York Times, was also one of the founders of the Project for a New American Century, a neocon group formed to push U.S. foreign policy into greater belligerence, and among whose members were many future top officials of the Bush Administration—such as Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle. The mentality of The Weekly Standard is typified by a recent commentary in its pages by Michael Goldfarb arguing that obedience to the president overrides the rule of law (See Glenn Greenwald’s comments on this here.). Why anyone supporting Barack Obama would recommend such a discreditable source I cannot understand for the life of me.