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December 29 2011

21:43

Ron Paul's America (Liberals Not Really Welcome)

Ron paul pic

In his most recent book Liberty Defined, libertarian Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul takes dead aim at Franklin Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms," the ideas that created the social foundation for the American compact on the edge of the great mid-century war against fascism and totalitarianism. Seventy years removed from that 1941 speech, Roosevelt's words may seem to some as gauzy as the Gettysburg Address did during the FDR's time, yet this passage from that speech - delivered 11 months before Pearl Harbor with the certain knowledge of the national peril ahead - reinstated in absolute terms the American commitment to her founding ideals, and the evolution of her place in the wider world:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

These were heady words for a man restocking the arsenal of democracy in order to fight and win a global war over both Atlantic and Pacific hegemony, a fight that brought the nation into its next stage of massive armament and its generational opposition to communism in general, and the Soviets in particular. Yet at the time, FDR's speech was also a political broadside - something of a killing blow, really - against the isolationists of the era, personified by Charles Lindbergh. The America First campaign attracted many anti-war liberals, particularly young intellectuals like Kurt Vonnegut and Gore Vidal, but also socialist leaders like Norman Thomas. No matter that nativism and anti-Semitism fueled much of the isolationist movement, and filled halls for Lindbergh speeches, the left could join the nativist right in opposing military campaigning.

Roosevelt's Four Freedoms cut through the claptrap isolation-and-bigotry brew of the American Firsters like a scythe over amber waves of grain, and they established idealistic 20th century goals to be pursued by American policy-makers. Have we ever lived up to any of those Four Freedoms completely? No, we haven't (nor did Roosevelt). But many of those who believe in this notion of a democratic republic with strong communitarian values believe we should keep on trying. Ron Paul, on the other hand, fills his halls (at least partly) with those who reject that view and believe FDR's Four Freedoms were a radical cul de sac off the main highway of America's real national ethic: the acquisition and preservation of property.

Writes Paul in his book (h/t Daily Beast): “Any effort to mandate or enforce the goal of making everyone free from want and fear through government action will guarantee the destruction of the concept of personal liberty. Whether it’s local government or world government, and no matter the motivation, this effort can only destroy one’s right to life, liberty, and property.”

Notice the bastardization of the original American set of rights: the "pursuit of happiness" has become property. This mutant strain has been living in vitro in American public life since Roosevelt used the power of the Federal government to battle the Great Depression's, and extended its reach in modern life. The New Deal, the Great Society, Medicare, Social Security, the G.I. Bill, Federal aid to schools, the nation's highway system, the EPA, FEMA, Head Start, the Labor Department, and of course, national defense and the military, were all responses in their own ways to the embrace of a greater communitarian spirit embodied in the four freedoms.

The libertarian obsession with property rights is in direct conflict with the ideas of national unity that have linked the majority of Americans since 1941. Ron Paul may associate with some unsavory racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist, anti-immigrant, gay bashing supporters and that association – best seen in 20 years' worth of newsletters he claims not to have written nor edited nor approved – is both offensive and disqualifying to a candidate of a major American political party.

Yet their offensive character, is really just a sideshow to the ideological threat that the rise of Ron Paul represents. The linking of so many liberals and civil libertarians on the left with either tepid or bold support for Ron Paul signals an abandonment of those communitarian ideals in favor of a very narrow reading of American destiny. Weary of war, of corporate warcraft, of heightened state security, and battered its by the malfeasance of deregulated financial monsters, many liberals understandably feel their hearts skip a beat when they flip on the latest Republican televised debate and hear the isolationist Congressman from Texas rail against the military-industrial complex and the Federal Reserve.

Yet this is just the candy that a predator uses to lure his unsuspecting victim into the back seat of his car. If the left joins this right, our future is a wasteland. The path that Ron Paul represents, should he be elected president of the United States, leads to what is rightfully described a Somalian in in nature. For there, removed from the community of nations, lies the ultimate libertarian state. It is a place where property is valued more highly than the lives of the people who inhabit the land, and where property is protected by force of arms and the freedom to use a weapon. There is no social safety net. There is no national economic system. There is no reserve bank. There is no healthcare know education no welfare no collective bargaining no interstate highway system no truly national defense. As David Atkins writes in Hullabaloo:

This, by the way, is why racism, theocracy and libertarianism go hand in hand, when from a philosophical point of view they should have little to do with one another. The negative effects of the lack of a central government are so obvious in developing countries that wherever the social order fails as in Somalia, it must have been due to bad religion, or the defect of having been born to an inferior race. Ron Paul fans must reassure themselves that such things would never happen to white, Christian folk. They're immune from the Somali problem by virtue being of different stock and different values, you see.

In a post on the Naked Capitalism blog, Matt Stoller describes model modern liberalism as comprising two distinct – and as he hints, equal – elements: a central Federal government that protects the rights of individuals and provides a social safety net, and opposition to warfare. I suggest that while both of these elements are indeed found in modern liberalism, in any left or center-left voting pool in the United States, that they are far from equal. The largest strain of U.S. liberalism is rooted in domestic communitarian values and economic self-interest for the majority of the working public. Opposition to military adventurism and to what some progressives call American Empire comprises a strong, often loud, highly principled, and righteous strain of the liberal polity. Long may it hold sway in primary campaigns, and warn American politicians of the limits of a democratic republics hegemony.

Yet it is a mistake to place what Stoller called "distrust of centralized authority" on the same level as the concern for economic well-being and domestic civil rights. Economics always comes first. This may be ungenerous, this may not be the highest ideal of a great nation, this may mean the pale watering down of one of Roosevelt's Four Freedoms, but it is also the truth. We should all oppose our sad and unethical drone warfare and the erosion of civil liberties in the era of military adventurism and anti-terrorism "security" apparatus expansion. But we also need to realize that Ron Paul opposes these and other excesses not because they're wrong, but because they're paid for by a strong Federal government he seeks to abolish - the same elected government that guarantees our liberty, regulates commerce, and provides some measure of social safety net.

I am a liberal, more of a social democrat actually, as I grow older. There may be some phrases and ideals embedded in the tumor that is libertarianism, but I trust neither Paul's judgment nor his ethics. He would lead us backwards, and abandon many of the freedoms in this hard land of ours that organizers and advocates have fought so hard to attain. The dalliance with Ron Paul that so many liberals, center-lefties and civil libertarians seem to be engaging in during this Republican preseason, does not seem - if I may be frank - to be intellectually rigorous. Too many war-weary liberals seem happy to waive the rest of their communitarian views - and with them, their responsibility to work for reform. Roy Edroso cannily knocks that chip off the liberal shoulder with a post on Paul's libertarian cronies and their real ideas about "freedom" on the American scene:

These guys can always work together, because they all came out of the same Big Bang of hatred for the New Deal and its legacy: Big Government and the coalition that sustains it -- blacks, gays, unionized workers, women, et alia. Each conservative tribe has its own relationship to that legacy -- some of them (the more intelligent ones, generally) are deeply cynical, and some are as sincere as any schizophrenic street preacher. But all of them deeply hate that a bunch of minorities have coalesced to get something that they think belongs by right to them and people like them, and many of them have learned that it would be more effective (and, these days, more popular) to strike at the state that enables that coalition than at the minorities themselves.

What mania, particularly, animated Paul's newsletter stories of criminal-natured blacks and AIDS-drama-queen gays doesn't matter to me. I know that he's a Republican Libertarian and, having been born earlier than yesterday, that is enough for me.

Note: h/t to Levi Asher for inspiring this post with a lively Twitter back and forth, to Lance Mannion for his Christmas postcard.

Tags: Politics

September 13 2011

23:00

Ron Paul, Shiny Penny

It's no accident that the ugliest moment in last night's Republican Presidential debate centered around Texas Congressman Ron Paul and his extremist anti-government views.

"What do you tell a guy who is sick, goes into a coma and doesn't have health insurance? Who pays for his coverage? "Are you saying society should just let him die?" Wolf Blitzer asked.

"Yeah!" several members of the crowd yelled out.

The question by the CNN anchor - and by the way, how disgraceful was CNN in "partnering" with the fanatical hate-mongering Tea Party Express on the production? - was aimed squarely at Paul's hard-core conservative libertarianism, a deeply corrosive, amoral force in today's Republican Party. Paul attempted to soften his response (and the audience's evident blood lust) by pulling back to the 30,000-foot "Founders" level, the usual 18th century refuge for scoundrels and hypocrites who seek the to run the very government apparatus they'd like to abolish. They selectively divine the intentions of Jefferson and Madison (often skipping over Hamilton, the nation's first great liberal crusader) in a naked attempt to create a laissez faire playground for big business, a kind of giant mainland Cayman Islands.

And every four years in this sad era of never-ending wars, Ron Paul pulls in a few suckers on the civil libertarian left with the shiny penny of vast cuts in defense and military spending (hint: it's isolationism, folks), while tossing all entitlements and infrastructure and regulation out with the bathwater - along with civil rights, of course.

I agree with Adele Stan on AlterNet: "There are few things as maddening in a maddening political season as the warm and fuzzy feelings some progressives evince for Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, the Republican presidential candidate. The anti-war Republican,' people say, as if that's good enough." She details Rep. Paul's radical record in the post, but here's the gist:

But Ron Paul is much, much more than that. He's the anti-Civil-Rights-Act Republican. He's an anti-reproductive-rights Republican. He's a gay-demonizing Republican. He's an anti-public education Republican and an anti-Social Security Republican. He's the John Birch Society's favorite congressman. And he's a booster of the Constitution Party, which has a Christian Reconstructionist platform. So, if you're a member of the anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-black, anti-senior-citizen, anti-equality, anti-education, pro-communist-witch-hunt wing of the progressive movement, I can see how he'd be your guy.

This is the man who gave the keynote speech at the 50th anniversary gala of the John Birch Society. Yet many progressives automatically bestow most-favored Republican status on Paul every four years. In one respect, Glenn Greenwald (undoubtedly the preeminent civil liberties blogger on the left) is right: Paul is neither a "fruitcake" nor a "whackjob." His ideals and ideology are deadly serious, and the product of many years' labor. He should not be dismissed as "weird" because he doesn't have Mitt Romney's hair or Rick Perry's chest-thumping bluster; both of those guys are essentially professional actors. Ron Paul's the real deal.

But that real deal is a vision for America that guts the very society created (imperfect and always-challenged, especially in a nation where nearly 50 million people now live in poverty) by our representative democracy. Yet the liberal web is chock-a-block with appreciations for Paul. Dig this from Charles Davis at Counterpunch, who claims Paul "is more progressive" than Barack Obama. (Well yeah, if by "progressive," you mean "wants to do away with almost all domestic social spending.") It's textbook liberal Paul love:

Ron Paul is far from perfect, but I’ll say this much for the Texas congressman: He has never authorized a drone strike in Pakistan. He has never authorized the killing of dozens of women and children in Yemen. He hasn’t protected torturers from prosecution and he hasn’t overseen the torturous treatment of a 23-year-old young man for the “crime” of revealing the government’s criminal behavior.

Can the same be said for Barack Obama?

[snip]

Let’s just assume the worst about Paul: that he’s a corporate libertarian in the Reason magazine/Cato Institute mold that would grant Big Business and the financial industry license to do whatever the hell it wants with little in the way of accountability (I call this scenario the “status quo”). Let’s say he dines on Labradoodle puppies while using their blood to scribble notes in the margins of his dog-eared, gold-encrusted copy of Atlas Shrugged.

So. Fucking. What.

I'll admit it does have a ring. And yeah, people are angry and rightfully so. But to answer that final question: imagine the demolition of the entire Federal government, back to a level would barely sustain a loose agrarian federation of competing states. Think of the pain, the anarchy, the tribal and regional disorder. Think of the crowd at the GOP debate lustily cheering death among the uninsured. That's Ron Paul in charge. So applaud the anti-war talk all you'd like, but pass on the politician and his twisted ideology.

Tags: Politics

August 01 2011

01:15

Murdoch's American Triumph

So, you don't see why the insidious influence of Rupert Murdoch's far-right media empire matters? Tonight only the blind could miss it. The Murdoch-fanned Tea Party falange owns the debate on the phony debt "crisis" - indeed, Fox created it.

No Fox, no Tea Party.

No Rupert Murdoch, no Tea Party.

No Tea Party, no disgraceful surrender on the part of the weak-kneed Obama Administration.

No insanely unbalanced "balanced approach."

No flight from Munich, paper-waving, "peace in our time" appeasement moment tonight from a man I admire personally but whose timid Presidency is slip-sliding away.

No rollbacks in Social Security and Medicare. No abandonment of long-held principles. No spitting vile facist gobs on the New Deal and Great Society.

This is why the events in Westminster over the last few weeks matter greatly to future of free nations.

This is a Roger Ailes triumph. A Grover Norquist win. A Rupert Murdoch special. They win.

The Democratic Party lies in ruins tonight. It no longer stands for the poor and the middle class and the workers. It has lost without a fight. A true policy of spineless appeasement.

And Murdoch smiles.

Tags: Politics

June 18 2011

15:28

The Passion of The Christie

While Anthony Weiner moves on (and there's irony in that statement for the less-than-steel-spined Democratic leadership) conservatives are also sporting Boehners of a sort. Here's American Thinker blogger Greg Halvorson admitting to a public climax over the object of politico-carnal affection of so many right-wing fans of, ah, shall we call it "law and order" to remain polite?

Friends, if it has been awhile since you had a Chris Christie-gasm, relax and enjoy the next minute and a half. New Jersey's governor, in response to being asked why he sends his children to private school, has again played Adult to a navel-gazing constituent; and again we're shown the results of "dumbing-down." The constituent is verbally destroyed by Mr. Christie, who pounces like a shark on a flipper-less seal. Not recommended for under-aged children constantly under threat from tyrannical whiners.

Yes, not recommended at all for under-aged children. I'm tempted to suggest Whole Lotta Love as the soundtrack for the slow-motion erotic film of desire that prompts the above-mentioned "Chris Christie-gasm" in certain political circles, mainly because of the pounding obstinacy of the riff. This is a crowd that loves a little hefty heel on the neck of the less powerful, the mere "constituent." Hmmmm, the "flipper-less seal." Quite the image.

Tearing ourselves away from that particular 25-cent GOP peep booth, doesn't it seem like Governor Christie is a little testy for someone being begged to seek the highest office in the land? A little hot under the swelteringly-tight collar for the object of mass conservative "get tough" fetishism, eh? While a sub-section of the conservative primary electorate may indeed slaver over such abhorrent behavior in the elected leader of the State of New Jersey toward a citizen asking a legitimate (and rather common) question while they feverishly click the play button on the YouTube video over and over and over and over ... [drink of refreshing cold water here] .... shouldn't it give pause to the rest of us?

The bloom is clearly off the rose that is Chris Christie, the self-proclaimed Springsteen afficionado who has injested precisely none of the Boss man's affinity for the little guy. Christie's sordid little shit fit - hautily scolding a voter whilst overseeing draconian cuts in vital services - lifted the veil on that particular heart of darkness like a lilting Clarence Clemons solo lifts the classic Sprinsteenian street sonnet (and by the by, good wishes to the Big Man in his time of trial). All is revelation in the real death waltz between flesh and fantasy.

Revealed as well by the piercing journalists at Gawker is Christie's strange notion of transparency appropriate behavior toward the press. John Cook:

The office of Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is claiming that Fox News chairman Roger Ailes is a confidential adviser whose interactions with the governor should remain secret under New Jersey's executive privilege.

Last month, after New York magazine reported that Ailes met with Christie last summer and called him this year to urge him to run for president, Gawker filed a request under New Jersey's Open Records Act seeking any correspondence between the two men, as well as any records of meetings or phone calls with Ailes from Christie's schedule or call logs.

Last week we received a rather surprising response: While declining to confirm the existence of any such records, Christie's office said they "would be exempt from disclosure...based upon the executive privilege and well-settled case law." In other words, Christie's staff refused to search for any records—which, given the undisputed reports of a dinner and phone call, almost certainly exist—on the basis that Ailes is a confidential adviser whose comments should be shielded from public scrutiny.

So the Fox press lord is a "confidential adviser" to the New Jersey Governor? Well, good luck with it boys. I don't think New Jersey's buying any more. Let's go to Sue from Teaneck for the coda to this sordid little tale:

Once again, Christie is showing his bullish side. He missed the question. She did not question him about why he sent his children, but why he thought it was fair to cut funding to public schools. Christie is a bully who uses his position to do whatever he wants. I hate to yell Chris Christie, but it does not work this way. You need to treat the citizens of New Jersey with respect. You become loud and obnoxious when someone questions your decisions that you clearly know are wrong. Let us not forgot the major snowstorm this season while he was on vacation. He could not even bother to take a break from his vacation to make a statement by way of radio or television, which many, if not all governors would of done. When he came back from vacation, he did not apologize for his actions from what I know he never does. Nor did he apologize for allowing the Lieutenant Governor to take vacation at the same time.

Tags: Politics

June 13 2011

02:02

The Bell Tweets for Thee

Nobody seems to like Anthony Weiner very much, and the man has some fairly creepy uses for modern technology. But absent a felony charge, where's the justification for overturning an election and ignoring the will of the Congressman's constituents? Further, what's the hurry? If Weiner is, as reports suggest, falling apart personally in the twister wreckage trail of his digital non-sex life, then his colleagues in the Democratic leadership seem hell-bent for his total destruction.

I'm disgusted by the breathless puritanical rush of Pelosi, Kaine, Hoyer and Schultz - all Cotton Mather politics and no loyalty.

Let's put it this way: would a week or three make any difference? Can the man at least meet in person with his pregnant diplomat wife? Can he seek some calm counsel and perhaps treatment (though I'll note in passing that approximately 97.8% of American men would qualify, technically speaking, as "sick bastards" if all was made known)?

When I see a mob, some bonfires in the night, and a guy tied to a rail - I tend to distrust the mob.

Tags: Politics

October 26 2010

20:35

'I say she got what she was asking for'

When a Rand Paul supporter stomped on the head and shoulders of a MoveOn.org protester at a campaign stop in Kentucky, the ugly incident provided an instant and crystalline snapshot into the growing culture of violence that is seething in the darker precincts of the American right-wing.

Yet the act of violence itself - the young woman suffered a concussion and local police are properly preparing felony chargest against the Tea Party thug responsible - seems like a lowercase footnote to the circus of politics in comparison to the wider reaction of conservatives. 'I say she got what she was asking for' said a commenter on Jim Hoft's radical and frequently reactionary Gateway Pundit blog. And that voice was not the exception. It's too easy to cherry-pick insanity from comments sections, but when you can use a squeegee to sop 'em up, well son, that's what we call "a pattern." To wit:

We fight back , I know your not used to it bit get used to it. There are a new breed of conservatives. We have stones. Powder is dry.

These maggots get what they deserve.

To all you pansies who are whining about the foot to the back put yourself in that position. The guy didn’t stomp on her head; he pushed her down flat on the ground. No one knew what she was up to and took measures to neutralize her. If you have ever been handled by the police you will realize these same techniques are used against a perp. Please grow some balls and understand that these situations call for these measures. If she had a gun you would be crying that enough wasn’t done.

So that makes it okay to shove her to the ground and step on her head? Yeah, it does. You wanna play tough, you better get tough. Whiners.

Screw the narrative, make liberals afraid of confronting the right. This is why athiests and secularists cower and surrender to Muslims but feel free to whip up on and attack (literally and legally) Christians.

You want to mess with us? Get ready for an ass whoopin.

My hat’s off to all who acted with charm and grace. And why I never go where cockcroaches dwell. I know MY limits. But stand in my way … on the way to the voting booth this upcoming Tuesday? Then G*d help you.

Too bad nobody had a taser.

She’s lucky she didn’t get her fuxing head blown off. Robert Kennedy and George Wallace weren’t so fortunate.

Catch that last one? That's what in the air these days, the whiff of violence and anarchy from the hard right, from the reactionaries who have taken over the Republican Party. This is the anger stoked by the Palins and the Pauls. Yet the so-called mainstream conservatives, with very few exceptions, consort like pigs in the slop with those who rely violent, anti-American know-nothing for their scraps of power.

Perhaps the hatred on Hoft's sickening blog - where a policy that allows comments like these clearly approves of them as well - isn't so far from what we consider the mainstream? After all, the Gateway Pundit is published by The Institute on Religion and Public Life, which describes itself as "an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society." The Institute was founded bythe late Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic priest and former Lutheran clergyman who advised former President Bush and teamed with  Watergate figure Charles Colson to edit Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission. Socially conservative? Yes. A hate-mongering radical espousing violence? No. Yet Fr. Neuhaus's website is now filled with hatred, only a year after his death. 

A week from today, the mid-term elections unfold across the land. The Tea Party wing of the GOP will claim victory in its push of the Republican Party to the far frontiers of the American right. Their visceral - and in some case, race-based - hatred of President Obama masks a wider dislike for true liberalism, the open society we've crafted in centuries of blood, sweat and toil.

So here's what I say: vote against 'em.

UPDATE: Essential Melissa McEwen - "This is the inevitable result of a political movement that constantly engages in violent rhetoric (and there are a lot more links where those came from), whose elected officials feel comfortable speaking casually about the violent overthrow of the government. This shit doesn't happen in a void."

Tags: Politics

October 02 2010

02:08

Some Like It Not

Curtis rahm

Tony Curtis would have made a terrific Rahm Emanuel. I can see him as a tortured, angry chief of staff in a tense fin de siècle drama of rising shadows in a White House under siege. Just as easily, I can picture Curtis joyfully elbowing his way through a comical role as Emanuel the Picaresque, jabbing lefty bloggers with glee and keeping his much more serious boss on time and off guard, throwing F-bombs like bouquets around the wacky West Wing.

Alas, the eras did not align. Emanuel is off to Chicago and Curtis off this mortal coil at 85 - and well remembered, I think, by the Siren as a man who who could nurse a grudge with the best 'em.

Other actors went on talk shows and sat down for print interviews and laughed or shrugged off the mockery they'd endured. Not Curtis. It needled him, and nothing was going to stop him saying so. He was too much the Bronx native to let a slight pass. He was going to stay worked up about it as long as you kept bringing it up.

Hard to find a better description of Emanuel, except for the Bronx part (Chicago suffices), and here's another thing the two men had in common in addition to their Jewish heritage (let's not mention this to Rick Sanchez) and a passing facial resemblance: providing comfort to those in the presence of their performances. Curtis played the kind of characters that made you uncomfortable, providing the nervy, forceful energy that often moved the plot and created situations of drama or comedy. He wasn't a big, comfortable presence - a real leading man. He was a grumbling engine, a nagging voice in the narrative;  for all his good looks, the Curtis characters always seemed to be unhappy, pinched, deprived, impatient, pissed off.

In the drama that is Washington, Emanuel had a similar role. The big media types wrote the grand narrative and then farmed out the script: young inspiring President hires tough guy enforcer as all-out political warfare begins - gimme either Operation Petticoat or Spartacus, baby, but make it sell. Yet Emanuel wasn't even a glint in the President's nascent brand when the 2008 version of Barack Obama was selling hope and change to a hungry nation - he was the living antithesis, in fact, of what liberal Obama supporters projected on their candidate: a profane, centrist, DLC type with scars and combat ribbons from the hated Clinton Administration. Rahm was a candidate for a new Clinton administration - along with people like Gates, Jones, Holder, Lew, Summer and Hillary Clinton herself. From the first "WTF!?" moment of John Podesta's appointment to run the transition, there was a sense among the progressive voices who'd supported Obama through the long campaign that the matador had pulled the cape away and nicked them with the knife.

I had no sympathy whatsoever. They always projected upon Obama their ideal Presidential qualities, rather than the perfectly fine strengths the living candidate actually possessed. They were all waiting for Superman and thought Obama wore the cape. What I saw was a serious, considered, centrist Democrat who made practical decisions and compromises in the course of attaining power - a fine and powerful speaker with a fairly wide intellectual perspective, and the Senator's instinct for compromise (and a Columbia man to boot). While I was disappointed that President Obama did not deliver a more forceful agenda during the early days of his term when he clearly possessed the people's mojo to force several important issues - particularly the thin gruel of phased health insurance reform that served as the understudy for actual healthcare reform - I was not unhappy with the rather easy choice of Barack Obama over any living Republican politician.

Mainly, I don't understand anyone who blames people around President Obama for Administration policy, management, or its somewhat controversial attitude toward the so-called Democratic base. I smiled when Ezra Klein tweeted that Chicago's Mayor Daley did the "professional left a solid" by stepping aside so big, bad Rahm could leave the White House to run for mayor. Yeah, now that meek and rudderless Obama character will no longer be stuck under Emanuel's Clinton-loving, third-way worshiping, DLC-licking thumb! Here's Klein on Emanuel's legacy:

The Obama campaign was about poetry. It was the pretty rhetoric of hope and change. The Obama administration has been, to the surprise of many of its supporters, entirely about prose. It's been about the thousands of pages of legal language that tell the government what's changing. And no one represented that shift better than Rahm Emanuel ... Rahm Emanuel is not post-partisan. He is not of the new politics.

Heh-heh, really. What new politics? I've seen precisely none. And really, Ezra, "poetry?" Not a relentless ground game and intensive and expensive branding funded by tens of millions of campaign contributions, including more maxed out Federal donors than either Clinton or McCain? You can almost picture Emanuel's smirk - as played by Tony Curtis, of course - at a line like that. As the Siren remembers: "here's Curtis, enduring an agonizingly long shoot on Spartacus, surrounded by English actors playing Roman generals, turning to dainty Jean Simmons and groaning, 'Who do you have to fuck to get off this picture?'"

You can't blame Emanuel for pre-negotiating away the public option, adopting Bush era positions on civil liberty and security, and foot-dragging on gay rights and immigration reform. Nor does Rahm get the credit for restarting America's relationship with key world power centers and averting total financial catastrophe. He's not responsible for the wars - one on the wane, the other doubled down on.

Emanuel was one of the bogeymen of the base, particularly among the Obama true believers who didn't - and still don't - want to blame the President directly. This Administration clearly has no patience for constant and substantive disagreement in the ranks of commentators on the left - from Robert Gibbs to Joe Biden to the President's not-so-subtle urging of progressives to get back in line, the Obama political corps wants Democrats to focus on its successes, go easy on the disagreements, pull on the same oar. Many strong voices don't like the suggestion of "whining" over welcome public debate, and have no problem blaming the President directly. [See Peter Daou, Melissa McEwen, Jane Hamsher, Glenn Greenwald, Digby and Memeorandum on any given day].

Yet, it's worthwhile to consider the alternative in the context of the mid-terms. Wild-eyed, government-killing radicals have infected the Republican Party from the right and two years of race-baiting, birtherism, and appeals to violent revolution - combined with horrendous economic conditions and a collapsing middle class - have created an opportunity for conservative non-government. I was in the room when Bill Clinton told a bunch of bloggers that if the Republicans seize the House, the Obama White House faces unending subpoenas and investigations during the next two years. Let's just say he knows what he's talking about in this regard. 

I thought Bob Shrum had a good line today in The Week - along with the rare and welcome use of the word "incarnadined" - that summed up the deal on Obama's plate on his side of the political dinner table:

Obama can change the political weather by a few degrees—and that might be just enough. In the process, he has to inspire and not just scold disappointed progressives. But he has a point when he says that it’s “inexcusable” for Democrats to skip the midterms: “People need to buck up.”

[snip]

They need to realize that the Republican plan is to drag out or destroy the recovery—and then they need to vote.

These mid-terms could set the nation back a generation. It's valid and important to push the President and to push this administration, especially on civil liberties. But it's also important to hold the wrong forces of "change" at bay. Or as Tony Curtis's Sidney Falco put it, and Rahm Emanuel might have: "The cat's in the bag and the bag's in the river."

Tags: Politics

May 23 2010

22:23

Public Image Libertarian

I'm going over to the other side I'm happy to have not to have not Big business is very wise I'm inside free enterprise I'm adaptable I'm adaptable Thus sang young John Lydon on 1984's This Is Not a Love...
Tags: Politics

March 24 2010

01:40

Oh Me of Little Faith

After witnessing a year of dithering - and watching those brutal months of lethargy leading to the infamous Lost Summer of 2009 - I never thought that President Obama and the Democrats would get revolutionary healthcare reform done.

And they didn't.

But they did pass sweeping health insurance regulation, a historic development that may - just may - be the first step in a true reconsideration of the American "system" for providing healthcare, a movement that should widen the social safety net, improve care, encourage business and help us all get closer to our promise as a nation.

Led by an energized Barack Obama, who clearly realized that his Presidency rode on the outcome and that his hands-off strategy simply wasn't working, Democrats passed the biggest extension of that safety net in the last four decades. In taking the risk and riding boldly at the head of his troops, Obama largely secured his domestic legacy and energized his political base - which happens to be diverse and opinionated and loud (who'd want it any other way). He also set the the table in political terms for other signature Democratic goals: immigration reform, environmental legislation, and much-needed financial services reform.

Six months ago, I was among the legions of progressives who were down on Obama - but I've watched him fight back since just before Christmas with a growing sense of admiration and excitement. The President is easy to admire for his tone, his intelligence, and his personal story; it's the tenacity I doubted (along with the skills of the White House staff). But as they say on the game shows, "Johnny, tell Tom about his consolation prizes."

I may still believe that a concerted effort from the day after the election through the first 100 days could have yielded real, broad, structural healthcare reform - and I may not entirely admire the shape and substance of the much-kneaded legislation - but I cannot argue that this bill isn't an accomplishment of stunning political proportion.

If the passage of the healthcare bill has raised the President a tick or two on this cynic's politicometer, then Speaker Nancy Pelosi has surged from the bottom to well above eye level.

With the kind of counterclockwise arm-twisting martial arts motion the experts refer to as "Tae Kwan LBJ," Pelosi bullied the package across the line, one hacky-sack Congressman at a time. In John Boehner, who seems to have dyed his face in strange oppositional tribute to the DailyKos, Pelosi faced a counterpart who held total control over his caucus. OK, I'm exaggerating. Boehner just repeated the talking points from Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity that all the Tea Party, er, that is to say, Republican representatives did. Who can forget those wonderful handmade signs on the balcony of the minority leader's office - such artistic talent, such sharpie skillsets! And those wingtips - don't get me started.

But this post is not about the GOP. They speak for themselves and their word is "no."

It's about those rock 'em, sock 'em Democrats. As Lance Mannion says - and who am I to disagree - "nothing like this has happened in my memory." And it's true.

So it's on to immigration, I hope. As Al Giordano wrote this week: "It is unconscionable that twelve million people – children, elders, workers, homemakers – in the United States of America are left defenseless and persecuted for simply existing."

No kidding, and maybe - just maybe - the political wind is at the Democrats' backs. I agree with Bill Clinton's counsel to Congressional Democrats from last fall - winning breeds winning. And the early post-passage polls bear it out. I suspect the fall won't bring Blue Dog Armageddon for the Dems - but their do-nothing obstructionism against a President who was more-than-willing to deal may well damage the Republicans for quite a while (and I'm not alone, even among conservatives).

But today, I'm newly-baptized in the faith of progressive legislative process (and let's give a shout-out to left-wing bloggers who needled and bugged and pushed the President and Congress). So I'm breaking out my old Mao T-shirt and cussin' like Vice President Biden. This hopey change thing seems to be workin' out just fine right now.

Tags: Politics

March 21 2010

02:58

Tea Party Anthem: Can You See the Real Me?

The Tea Party crowd has finally found the marrow. With Congress set for the dramatic weekend passage of a fairly undramatic reform package on some aspects of the health insurance industry, the vocal right-wing fringe descended on Capitol Hill crying socialism, threatening gun violence, mocking gay people, shouting racist epithets and hurling spittle on elected representatives.

The full-on freak of the right, goaded by Elmer Gantry fascists like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity, would be entertaining if it didn't carry the explicit promise of violence. At the conservative blog Political Byline, one blogger seems to discern a reason for the defamatory and despicable behavior in Washington:

I mean, and I how to do I put this? Ah, I know! The liberal media and I mean the one’s who are reporting this; You should be glad it was just words. I mean, it could have very well been worse. Luckily and thankfully, it was not. But it could have very well have been. So, to the Race hustlers and Gay Blades; be glad it was just words, signs and insults. Because the alternative could have been much worse.

But again, to the more important point —– What the hell do you people expect? I mean, you want to destroy this Country’s health-care system, all to fulfill a stupid, idiotic socialist agenda; and you wonder why some people are pissed off about it?

Yeah, they're asking for it - for spit, for "faggot," and for a bullet.

There are two forces driving the tea party protesters, outside of encouragement by the insurance industry and the conservative radio entertainers: ignorance and bigotry. And yet it's not all that surprising.

Homophobia and racism are pervasive social forces, and fear and anxiety often bring out the worst biases in people. Hence, these developments, though quite disturbing, are not shocking. Furthermore, the Tea Party movement began its healthcare protests in a circus-like atmosphere; apparently, things will remain that way until the bitter end.

Tags: Politics

February 26 2010

15:28

Blair Witch House

Chuck Butcher displays his perfect pitch on the state of the healthcare reform debate: "I'm glad I'm not a Democrat trying to fluff the Senate Bill, but I'm much happier I'm not a Republican trying not to look like a plutocrat while doing their shilling."

But you have to wonder in re: yesterday's curling-like summit gabfest at Blair House - where Puerto Rican nationalists once tried to snuff President Truman (an observation by way of nothing whatsoever) - was John Boehner really pissed off about the Democrats' proposed tax on tanning salons and cosmetic surgery?

I followed along only in fits and hi-def spurts, but I did catch a few angry GOP references in the negative to "two thousand pages" and wondered if the Republicans were, at long last, repudiating their party's  ideological reliance on the Bible.

Tags: Politics

January 12 2010

21:26

Lame Change: The Cartooning of Elizabeth Edwards

For a woman in American politics, there's simply no floor space between harridan and sainthood. There's nowhere to stand, no place to exist, no neutral platform from which to speak. No gray. Bitch or angel, and too few of the latter.

Take Elizabeth Edwards, dying of cancer and the target of the post-2008 whisperings of campaign aides eager for revenge and an off-the-record chat with political Dirt Devils Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. For a while on what passes for the public commons in this country, Edwards was the Mother Theresa of the Democratic Party, holding on her illness-ravaged shoulders the shame of her husband's infidelity and the progressive dreams of followers who judged her calls for public healthcare to be legitimate.

No more. Cheered on by a Washington media rooting section that could only be portrayed by a cackling Heath Ledger brought back from the dead and replicated to fill every seat at Politico, Edwards is now caricatured as a shrill, unhinged she-devil rending her garments in airports and slicing the Achilles tendons of underlings with a vicious alacrity of a demanding hellcat.

I haven't read the apparently juicy Game Change yet, but I read the breathless excerpt in New York Magazine - which felt it necessary not only to carry the take-down of Edwards, but to cartoon the imaginary scenes as well. Yet reading all those juicy details about this supposedly evil woman merely provided a somewhat sad insight into a complicated and painful life lived during the glare of a national political campaign. There is nothing shocking in the one-sided Elizabeth Edwards portrayal in the book - indeed, it's as believable as her sainthood story...or Barack Obama's salvation myth concoctions. Which is to say, a bit but what does it matter.

And why the sheer mean-spirited style of the whole sorry mess? What's the point? I caught a minute or two of Halperin and Heilemann on Imus this morning. Halperin looked dizzy with the rush of attention, giddy with his well-publicized takedown. Heilemann, a good reporter whose work I've admired, looked apologetic and downcast. And as the dearth of sourcing becomes apparent - the book has no notes, and there's already budding controversy over direct quotes from people like Bill Clinton that are now characterized as paraphrases, and second-hand ones at that - I suspect a guy like Heilemann (who appears to have a soul) will become more dispirited. Because Digby has it right:

Sweet Jesus, I hate this goddamned Halperin/Heilemann tabloid atrocity. It's got the villagers so excited I fear they are going to literally orgasm on camera -- and that's something I just don't want to see. A book based on backstabbing gossip from disgruntled campaign aides and pissed off rivals is about as reliable a six year olds playing a game of telephone. When you combine these nasty little tidbits with the Villager sensibility and biases of the writers, you end up with a docu-drama rather than a work of non-fiction.

Over at the Daily Beast, Lee Siegel takes the Elizabeth Edwards reporting apart, bit by bit. And it's not so much whether the stories are true, but whether they amount to anything at all:

According to the book, Elizabeth called John’s campaign manager an idiot. Maybe he was. She accused David Axelrod of lying to her. Maybe he did. At one point during the 2004 presidential race, she “snarled” at the people who were scheduling her appearances: “Why the fuck do you think I’d want to go sit outside a Wal-Mart and hand out leaflets?” Well, why the fuck would she? Halperin and Heilemann are veteran political reporters. Surely they know that such language and tantrums are as common in political campaigns as their opposite: sheer, calculated niceness.

You can't help but feel that the "crazy woman" character is so easily applied to females on the political stage - their anger is never contained, rarely effective, and almost never portrayed as just. It's usually just crazed, unhinged, pre-menstrual or menopausal. Glancing through the New York cartoons is a trip through that little garden of American political sexism so beloved by the mainstream media.

If Game Change (from what I've seen so far) is at all a reminder of the 2008 campaign, it's a reminder of that prism that existed then - and, God help us, exists now - that distorts the lives of public women and creates the kind of monsters that, I guess, sell books.

Tags: Media Politics

December 31 2009

18:54

The Obama Disconnect: the 'Organizing' Myth

The truth is that Obama was never nearly as free of dependence on big money donors as the reporting suggested, nor was his movement as bottom-up or people-centric as his marketing implied. And this is the big story of 2009, if you ask me, the meta-story of what did, and didn't happen, in the first year of Obama's administration. The people who voted for him weren't organized in any kind of new or powerful way, and the special interests--banks, energy companies, health interests, car-makers, the military-industrial complex--sat first at the table and wrote the menu. Myth met reality, and came up wanting.

via techpresident.com

Micah Sifry's terrific piece in TechPresident (where I contribute occasionally) neatly sums up one the year's greatest political frustrations on the left - the utter failure of the super-connected Obama campaign to use that grassroots power in the cause of the very issues the President ran on.

When I talk to groups about social media trends, Obama '08 is a key data point - yet as the year went on, I started to add a crucial caveat to my presentations: that political campaigns don't generally translate to governance.

I remember asking Micah late last year when Obama should begin using his vast network of online and grassroots supporters to start pushing for public healthcare and other issues. This was during the campaign, actually; Micah was probably right in answering "not yet," since Obama still had to defeat McCain and the Republicans.

But it's a tragedy that he didn't switch instantly from campaign mode to policy mode after winning election - especially on public healthcare. I'm firmly convinced we wouldn't have this pale, anemic Senate insurance regulation mish-mash tarted up as "historic reform" if the President and his team hadn't made the decision to stop campaigning and organizing.

In the end, "Obama the Organizer" remains largely a myth, at best a one-off tactical feature of his successful political campaign. And that's too bad for all of us.

Tags: Politics

December 21 2009

18:23

Healthcare 'Reform' - Sand Between the Fingers

We're not changing our health-care system very much at all, in fact.

Nothing happens in 2010. Or in 2011. Or in 2012. In 2014, when the bill really begins, the insurance situations of 18 million people change. A full 16 million of those people are uninsured. Aside from the small sliver of people who will pay a surtax on the final few dollars of uncommonly expensive insurance plans, the country simply will not notice this legislation.

We're reforming the margins of the health-care system.

via voices.washingtonpost.com

As Big Tent Democrat says: "Put THAT on the teleprompter."

My disappointment with so-called "healthcare reform" is profound and Ezra Klein's post at the WP does the best job of laying out why. There's not much there. No public option. No real reform for five years. A so-called mandate with no penalties and a seemingly optional agreement with the health insurance industry - whose stocks are soaring to half-century highs on the news of this mess.

Some will call it "historic." They will be wrong.

Tags: Politics

December 02 2009

03:33

Obama's War

From tonight onward, the relevance of George W. Bush to the foreign policy of the United States begins to diminish like a lifting winter fog to the vanishing point. This war in Afghanistan is Barack Obama's war, and he traveled to West Point to boldly claim that ownership before some of the young men and women who may soon face death under the terms of his order.

President Obama's team, transported nearly whole from its triumphant political campaign, has a sure-handed mastery of the image, the words, the brand. So there was no mistaking any intention whatsoever in tonight's speech upon the Hudson - and any continued carping about inherited warfare and the failed policies of a predecessor in office conflicts with the image of strength and decisiveness the President projected at the U.S. Military Academy.

To put it bluntly: he was not forced into this decision. The failures of the opposition party are no longer all that relevant to what happens now. The Afghanistan policy - more fully understood, in my view, as the Pakistan-Afghanistan policy - is the Obama Administration's policy. It is not some moth-eaten hand-me-down hybrid forced on a unwilling President.

Liberals, who have long deluded themselves into believing Obama was a fellow traveler (in John Heileman's words), have got to find a way to accept this - to understand that President Obama is both the best and the brightest and a practical centrist to the core of his being. (This stands in stark contrast, of course, to the sheer lunacy of the hard right, which insists on branding the Administration as socialist). Progressives who somehow intuited an anti-war politician, a near-pacifist, based on Obama's opposition to Bush's Iraq misadventure must finally understand that this is a President who won't shy away from ordering military action.

Indeed, the President's national security and diplomatic team is resolutely interventionist - committed to military strength and its strategic use - even if they're not wild-eyed exceptionalist cowpokes like the previous Cheneyites. The key words in tonight's address were these:

“We are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That is why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border.”

This is about the danger from that region to American interests and lives. While I may believe Afghanistan to be an unwinnable quagmire that only cost lives and dollars with short results, that it's useless to try and prop up what Bob Herbert calls "ragtag and less-than-energetic Afghan military" and the corrupt regime, President Obama has decided differently. Clearly, the U.S. does have a national security interest in the immediate future of Pakistan and Afghanistan - and so, I might add, does the civilized world.

As David Sirota writes in a tough post tonight (he seems somehow personally hurt that Obama has decided to retain the mantle of "wartime President"), the punditry around this decision is tiresome:

Why do so many pundits and pro-Obama activists continue to focus on how "hard" and "difficult" and "trying" this decision is for President Obama, rather than on how "hard" and "difficult" and "trying" this will be for the soldiers who are killed? Doesn't Obama get to make this decision, and then go home to the comfortable confines of a butlered White House, while thousands of Americans will be sent 7,000 miles from home to face their potential deaths? Isn't the latter "harder" than the former?

I suspect the President himself would agree. Of course this wasn't an easy decision, but it was the President's decision - and the decision he ran so hard to make. Yes, he took his time and that's to his credit. And now it's his war.

And because he acts in your name and mine, it's still ours.

November 25 2009

17:49

Fired Up - Ready to Go on Climate Change?

That President Obama will travel, after all, to Copenhagen next month to take part in the United Nations climate change conference is huge news in my house - or at least, in my daughter's high school environmental activism club.

There are those who argue that the U.S., even with a Democratic President and Congress, is not ready to come in from the cold on climate change in a formal manner, that the Obama Administration has moved too slowly in joining international action. But the actions of the President speak loudly, particularly to young activists who very often drive this issue with more passion than their political professional elders.

So Obama's trip to Copenhagen, where he will speak at the beginning of the conference and then zip over to Oslo to collect his Nobel, is important to the environmental movement in the U.S. I know that I was hearing a bit of "why should we bother?" after a long day of telephone-banking to Congressional offices - but that was when the young activists believed the Administration would skip Copenhagen.

Welcome too is the small bit of policy the President will bring with him: "a tentative promise to reduce production of climate-altering gases," the first time the U.S. has ever entered in the arena of concrete emission numbers. According to John Broder in the Times, Obama "will tell the delegates to the climate conference that the United States intends to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions “in the range of” 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, officials said. No American administration has ever delivered even a tentative pledge on emissions reductions because Congress has never enacted climate legislation or approved an international global warming agreement with binding emissions targets."

But the White House is doing something else as well: firing up the portion of the activist base that spends long afternoons calling Congress about climate change.

Tags: Politics

November 21 2009

01:42

'I Deserve Health Care'

Organizing for America has announced the winner of its Health Reform Video Challenge, and it's terrific. Hope the Senate's watching.

November 18 2009

23:33

Empowering Sarah

There's a great little Mad Men moment in Jonathan Van Meter's detailed profile of Hillary Clinton in this month's Vogue (and what socially ambitious magazine piece doesn't have a Mad Men moment these days). "That's how it was!" enthuses the...
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