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.


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?