Sunday, February 29, 2004

Left is Right
I do love the sight of conservatives making common cause with liberals. Last September, a conservative law professor, Dale Carpenter of the University of Minnesota, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage was overkill, and that the truly conservative position would be to oppose such an amendment. Pat Buchanan is blasting the entire neocon foreign policy project and suggesting that the neoconservative movement is a failure headed for history's landfill. In addition, we've already seen other conservatives and libertarians joining with liberals to oppose Bush policies on the deficit, civil liberties, and homeland security.

Sometimes you just gotta step back and survey the spectacular panorama that lies before us. The evidence is growing that Bush doesn't give a damn whether he alienates significant segments of his own core base of support. He's far more interested in placating the triumphalist, hardcore Christian wing of it--the sort of people who think Jesus is coming back any minute now, and that he'll be waving the American flag and driving a Hummer when he does. Meanwhile, secular conservatives are finding themselves left behind just like we godless liberal pukes are.

The great electoral success of the conservative movement has occurred largely because unlike liberals, conservatives tend to swallow their differences and fall into line behind the candidate most likely to advance the largest fraction of their agenda. On the other hand, liberals prefer to retain their ideological purity and splinter into a million pieces. Could 2004 be the year this paradigm turns on its head? Is this the year we liberal types get behind our nominee, flawed though he be, because he will advance the largest fraction of our agenda, i.e., getting rid of the most dangerous president in the history of the Republic? Is this the year secular, old-line, Goldwater-type conservatives begin to understand that not everyone in their party shares their goals? Eight months and three days to go before we find out.

This weekend on Best of the Blogs: The Other Dick and Veep Veep. Today's the last day of my guest blogger week over there, although Jerry has invited me to post occasionally in the future whenever the urge strikes me. I bet it will . . . .

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Throwing in the Sponge
Clear Channel, the giant radio chain, is trying to do for indecency what it did for dissent this time a year ago--terminate it from their air with extreme prejudice. After contemplating a proposed $755,000 fine this week thanks to the antics of a jock in Florida named Bubba the Love Sponge, the chain fired Bubba and yanked Howard Stern's syndicated morning show from six of its stations. The chain's president "apologized" for the Bubba show today, saying "We were wrong for airing that material." (For a little taste of Bubba's act, click here.)

What Clear Channel's president didn't tell Congress was, "We're ashamed because we got caught; otherwise it wouldn't have bothered us much." In a nutshell, this is why government regulation is necessary--not just of broadcasting but of plenty of other industries, too. Without the huge fine, Bubba would have gone on doing what he does, and Clear Channel would have had not a pang of conscience about it. For all their yammering now about stemming the rising tide of indecency, one month ago they were happily contributing to it without a second thought. Their new chain-wide regulations on indecency are not some magnanimous gift to the listening public--they're political cover. Sure, it'll help stem the tide--but let's be clear that they're being forced to do it. They would never do it otherwise.

I am usually a First-Amendment absolutist, and my general response to people who don't like something they hear on radio or see on TV is to tell 'em to turn it off. But I'm an ex-radio guy, and I come from a time when the lines were drawn a lot more strictly than they are now. (For example, I remember the morning I first let the word "hell" slip from my lips on the air--which was pretty cutting-edge for small-town radio in the 1980s.) And I know that it's possible to do brilliant, entertaining radio without dwelling on every conceivable thing that happens between the navel and the knees, as Bubba and Stern are famous for doing. In Stern's case, he often aims a little higher, displaying an absolute obsession with breasts. His listeners seem to share it, but think for a second--on the radio, every woman's breasts are beautiful.

Note to all: Due to commitments that actually get me out of the house, posts will be light to non-existent on this site from now until sometime Sunday. I hope to post a couple more times on Best of the Blogs before my guest blogger week comes to an end on Sunday, but we'll see if that's possible. This afternoon on BotB: Black Market Nukes for Peace.

Camelot, Not
Lost amidst the hype surrounding the opening of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is the fact that like other big-budget blockbusters, this movie has its share of "official licensed products" that moviegoers can take home as a souvenir. You can buy lapel pins, "witnessing cards" in English and Aramaic--presumably for handing out to friends to encourage them to see the Savior having the living bejeezus (so to speak) stomped out of him--and coffee mugs with the cross on it. If your tastes run to jewelry, there's the crucifixion nail pendant. It's $12.99 for a small one, $16.99 for a bigger one, leather strap included to hang it around your neck. From San Francisco, Mark Morford quotes the late comedian Bill Hicks: "A lot of Christians wear crosses around their necks. Do you think when Jesus comes back he ever wants to see a f--in' cross? It's kind of like going up to Jackie Onassis with a rifle pendant on."

Recommended reading: If Bush has anything remotely resembling a saving grace, it's that what he says and does is so easy to make fun of, as Mark Engler does in a piece on TomPaine.com. It's got a great lead: "I haven't watched Thirteen Days recently, but I think it's safe to say that if George W. Bush were president during the Cuban Missile Crisis, we'd all be dead."

This morning on Best of the Blogs: Another War, Another Tale.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

American Pie
In the wake of news that the Bush administration intends to keep shoveling millions of federal dollars into abstinence education programs of dubious value comes a news item today that will likely be swept quickly into the barrage of misinformation that accompanies abstinence education. Researchers have confirmed that a sexually transmitted infection linked to cervical cancer could also have something to do with tumors in the mouth in people who engage in oral sex. However, the researchers also say that a person is much more likely to get this form of mouth cancer from smoking or drinking. In fact, the New Scientist story says, "The researchers are not recommending any changes in behaviour." So if you're planning to indulge, carry on. Interestingly, that critical detail is missing from a Reuters report on the story.

But it's the lead sentence of the New Scientist story that has the nugget guaranteed to get everyone's attention (and guaranteed to be read on every wacky morning radio show in the country tomorrow): "Oral sex can lead to oral tumors." Well, yes it can, but in the same way that sucking on the barrel of a .38 can lead to getting shot--certain circumstances must exist, and they won't necessarily exist every time you put the gun in your mouth. Nevertheless, this bit of research will quickly end up as another bullet point (so to speak) on the list of 1001 Reasons Why Sex Will Kill You.

Of all the wingnut fantasies corroding the culture, the ones regarding sex education are the screwiest: You can't talk about birth control because that will give kids ideas. But those of us who haven't forgotten what it's like to be a teenager know that kids already have ideas. And when kids are told abstinence is the only proper response to these ideas, they develop some rather odd ways of compensating. Take oral sex, for example. It's scarcely considered sex at all by many young people, whereas in days of old, you might have actual intercourse with someone first and only later begin exploring alternate methods of working the equipment. I've even read stories of kids engaging in anal sex because everything they've been taught leads them to believe that's not really sex, either. And we already know about the sky-high divorce rates in the Bible Belt, as horny teenagers marry so they can legally get one another's rocks off two or three times a week, only to discover that sooner or later, they're going to have to talk to each other.

I can't help thinking that all across the country, some of the same parents who will be dragging their teenagers to Mel Gibson's horrifically violent The Passion of the Christ would go batshit if their kids saw the love scene between Nicole Kidman and Jude Law in Cold Mountain, or the opening shot of Scarlett Johannson's lovely backside in Lost in Translation. But maybe old H. Rap Brown explained the apparent contradiction when he said "Violence is as American as cherry pie." Everybody likes cherry pie. Sex, on the other hand, is decadent and awful and dirty and let's not talk about it so nobody will know it exists.

Tonight on Best of the Blogs: States' Rights? What's That Again?

The Evidence of Your Own Eyes
The biggest news in the presidential race last night was Dennis Kucinich winning his first delegates by finishing second in Hawaii's caucuses--he was the only candidate who actually visited there, which is fine argument for his mental health, if nothing else. If you could travel anywhere in the country in February, why wouldn't you go to Hawaii?

There are several explanations for the Kucinich vote yesterday. Maybe Hawaiians were so glad to see a presidential candidate that they decided to vote for him. Another explanation is that Hawaii is the second most heavily-unionized state, and Kucinich's anti-NAFTA position was likely to resonate there. A third one is more complicated and heavily based on stereotypes. Kucinich diehards tend to be serious lefties--for example, the kind of people who don't own TV sets. Yesterday, our local NPR affiliate reported that some people in Hawaii feared that caucus turnout might be held down by the fact that a Hawaiian singer was appearing on American Idol last night. Clearly, that analysis was correct. Prospective Kerry and Edwards voters stayed home, while the non-TV-set-owning Kucinich people went to the caucus.

(Since serious lefties sometimes lack a sense of humor in addition to a TV set, I must stress that the preceding was intended as a joke.)

Recommended reading: As you may know, this blog does not share the widespread belief that Kerry is the most electable of the Democrats. I have said before that if Howard Dean is unelectable, then Kerry is, too. His Vietnam service will not be enough to immunize him from the attacks that are coming. (His actions during that service are coming under increased scrutiny, as are his efforts of behalf of veterans since coming home, as in Sydney Schanberg's latest article in the Village Voice, which accuses Kerry of helping to cover up evidence of live POWs in Vietnam as recently as the early 1990s.) Nevertheless, people have been leaping on the Kerry bandwagon ever since his surprise win in Iowa, almost as if they thought, "If everybody else thinks he's the guy, then maybe he is." But an article yesterday in Slate pointed out the fallacy of that belief. In the 1950s, a psychologist using a simple experiment found that when "[f]aced with a decision that, in isolation, no one would ever get wrong, the unwitting subjects went against the evidence of their own eyes about one-third of the time." Sociology professor Duncan Watts draws parallels between what he calls "the Kerry cascade" and a stock bubble or a cultural fad, and spins a plausible scenario that puts Howard Dean in exactly the same position Kerry is today.

This morning on Best of the Blogs: Dubious Choice.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Little Rituals
There are certain little rituals in society that we indulge without thinking, without even noticing them. Then comes the day when we do notice, and we wonder why we indulge them in the first place.

Take the phenomenon of spontaneous tributes--those kitschy and predictable efflorations of candles, cards, and teddy bears that appear when a celebrity dies, or when a child dies in some horrid way. Why do we do it? A study in Australia says that it's all about us--we do it to show what nice people we are. The same study says that such displays of "recreational grieving" are on the rise, and losing whatever meaning they had in the first place.

And then there are those public marriage proposals, in which a guy takes his sweetie to a game and proposes to her on TV. We've all seen this a million damn times, to the point at which you wonder why one more TV station or sports arena would even consider indulging one more proposal. Well, maybe it's because there's always a chance the woman will say no.

Recommended reading: From the Agonist, things Bush is not planning to do to protect marriage from the threat of same-sex couples engaging in it.

Tonight on Best of the Blogs: Information Awareness.

Advice for Bush
This morning, Liberal Oasis analyzes the stuff about jobs and tax cuts from Bush's speech last night, and how Republican governors--many of whose states are suffering from an economy that just won't turn around--are not ready to get on-message with the president. The summary includes a useful clip-and-save quote from Republican party hack-turned Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour: "Look, the American people are going to judge job creation by what actually happens, not by what somebody predicts." Let us know how that turns out, Haley.

For all the talk on the news this morning about his "forceful" and "aggressive" speech, Bush sounded to me like he was reading short paragraphs he'd never seen before and struggling to keep his place on the page. Sometimes, he sounded like he could barely understand the meaning of his own words. And people are worried that John Kerry might bore people?

It also sounded to me like Bush really does intend to make an issue of Democratic "anger" versus Republican "optimism." (This from an administration that represents the ultimate revenge of the Angry White Male.) But there really is anger out here. A better tactic for Bush might be to actually acknowledge it, and then start discussing either what he'll do about it or why it's misplaced, instead of trying to marginalize it as deviant behavior in a country where everything's just great. If Bush thinks he can just ape Reagan's "Morning in America" crap and ride it to reelection, people will see through it this time.

Recommended reading: From Daily Kos over the weekend just past--an analysis of just what social conservatives have gotten from their nearly 25-year ascendancy. In the words--the word--of poster DHinMI: "jack." The specter of same-sex marriages in California, and Bush's tepid response to them, has got them losing their minds. But will they lose enough not to vote for him in the fall? Nobody knows quite yet. In my post on Best of the Blogs this morning, I talk about the possibility of Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore running for president to peel votes away from Bush on the right. Matthew Yglesias of Tapped suggests a better choice might be Pat Buchanan, whose 2000 Reform Party platform--isolationist and protectionist--might resonate better today than it did four years ago.

Monday, February 23, 2004

"Nader: The Corvair of Candidates"
Via Wonkette, a blogger who calls his site "Fanatical Apathy" says of Ralph Nader: "2000's Naderites aren't likely to flock back to him in any significant numbers, not when everything the candidate himself believes in would be utterly destroyed by another four years of Bush. I mean, what are his possible slogans? Maybe "Ralph Nader--Because This Time Bush Really Doesn't Have a Chance." Or "Vote Nader--Your Children Will Understand Someday." Or maybe just "Fuck The Real World, I'm Voting Nader." (Wonkette's headline on the story of Nader's declaration yesterday was similarly blunt: "Nader to Liberals: Fuck You.")

If you have slogan suggestions for the 2004 Nader campaign, click "Comments" and fire away.

Transmissions From the Right
I spent way too much time today reading an extraordinary article by David Neiwert, who blogs at Orcinus, in which he examines charges of fascism thrown around by both conservatives and liberals. He says that we’re not a fascist state yet, but we sure have some of the characteristics. Then he goes on to examine, in fascinating fashion, how the extremist rhetoric of the patriot and militia movements of the 90s has been largely assimilated into today’s standard Republican talking points. However, unlike many cultural and political assimilations, in which the mainstream sands the edges off the new viewpoint, patriot and militia rhetoric has been somewhat immune to sanding. It’s maintained much of its potency, and has thus moved the Republicans to the right.

Extremist ideas are transmitted officially and unofficially, says Neiwert. Unofficial channels include organizations like FreeRepublic.com and various other conspiracy advocacy groups. Official channels include elected officials, such as Trent Lott, Helen Chenoweth, Ron Paul, and Bob Barr; advocacy groups such as Gun Owners of America and the Family Research Council; and religious leaders like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

And then there are the "media transmitters"--Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, Ann Coulter, the Wall Street Journal, etc. A major function of media transmitters, says Neiwert, is to condition the mainstream to extremist ideas. For example, because cable news craves balance, Coulter’s nutball ranting about every liberal of the last 50 years being guilty of treason as it’s defined in the Constitution gets treated as just another viewpoint, as valid as any other, when it’s actually foaming nonsense. This gives it a degree of legitimacy, which makes it more likely to be accepted by both average citizens and other media outlets. It's how the right-wing echo chamber works.

And that’s just the tip of Neiwert’s iceberg. The article is an 87-page PDF, but it’s 87 great pages.

On Best of the Blogs this afternoon: The Restoration That Wouldn't Be.

The Next Testament
Regular readers of this feature know I don't have much use for religion. I am agnostic on the fuzzier matter of "spirituality." When I take pleasure in a sunset, a song, or some other experience, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about what it is in me that is actually "feeling." Maybe it's something we could call a spirit, or maybe it's just synapses firing--either way is OK with me. But columnist Mark Morford in San Francisco has a more nuanced viewpoint. Morford is just as violently opposed to right-wing Christianity and its toxic effluents as I am, but believes more strongly than I do that life must have an acknowledged, mysterious, spiritual dimension to be full--and he'd like you to believe it too.

Regardless of its worth as history or moral guide, the Bible is an important text in the history of Western civilization. In the current Atlantic, Cullen Murphy muses about what a third testament would look like--"the Next Testament," he calls it. He wonders what we'd get if we assembled the "raw materials for something that would have the same cultural feel a few thousand years hence that the Bible has now." Murphy argues that everything from Stephen Hawking to Emily Dickinson to Ann Landers would be candidates for inclusion.

Recommended reading: Republicans love to campaign on issues of values and morality, personal choices made political and used as a club to beat the hell out of the opposition. These issues have meaning, but they're so wrapped up in emotion that they cloud people's judgment. They take on greater importance than they deserve when placed alongside questions involving things like the economy, national security, and the environment. But they're potent, and when Republicans are beaten on other issues--as they are currently on the economy, national security, and the environment--they eagerly change the subject to "the culture war." At TAP Online, Stanley and Anna Greenberg handicap the 2004 edition of the culture war, and find that Democrats are in better shape to fight it today than they were in 1988, when Bush the Elder rode it to victory over John Kerry's former boss, Michael Dukakis: "With the country divided equally between the married and unmarried, those who are weekly church attendees and those who are not, Democrats and Republicans, the specter of a battle over values should not leave Democrats trembling. Joining the battle is an insufficient strategy in the context of our current political parity, but noting the cultural trends should give Democrats greater confidence as they face the battles ahead."

This morning on Best of the Blogs: The Personal is Political.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Getting It
Maybe we should start keeping a list--people who get it and people who don't. Paul Krugman got the ball rolling a few months ago when he suggested that Howard Dean and Wesley Clark (may they rest in peace) understood the stakes of the presidential election this fall, but that the other guys didn't. The stakes are nothing less than a choice among futures--actually a three-way choice. Choice one is about real change. It would address the inequalities and structural defects currently inherent in the American way of life. This is where Dean, Clark, and to a certain degree, John Edwards, are coming from. Choice two is change for the sake of change--different nameplates on the office doors but a similar ethos in the boardroom. Nameplate on the Oval Office: John Kerry. And then there's the third one--in which the breathtaking changes of the past three years accelerate, which is what you get if you pull the lever for Bush.

Somebody else who doesn't get it--Tom Daschle, who told a South Dakota audience last week that he thinks the war in Iraq is going just fine, and that he's not particularly upset over the WMD intelligence flap. Say what? This is the leader of the opposition in the United States Senate? He also said that he thinks the war is responsible for the deficit. (That's the kind of razor-sharp political analysis his audience came to hear, I bet.) While I don't want the Repugs to gain any more seats in the Senate, I'd almost like to see Daschle get beat this November just so the Democrats could have the chance to pick a leader with a spine.

Does Ralph Nader get it? Who the hell knows? Nader announced this morning that yes, he's running for president again in 2004. High Democratic officials are greeting this news with rapid breathing and fantods, although Nader is not running as a Green this time, so he'll have a harder time getting on the ballot in all 50 states. Also, it's unlikely he'll find it so easy to make his 2000 schtick stick this time--that there's no difference between the major party candidates for president.

For evidence of the difference, Nader might look back to Friday afternoon. That's when Bush installed Bill Pryor on the federal bench with a recess appointment. This guy is another Scary Wingnut for Jesus. As Alabama attorney general, he defended Roy Moore's Ten Commandments shenanigans. He's argued for government-sponsored prayer, and subscribes to the wingnut doctrine that the United States is a Christian nation and should be governed accordingly. You can interpret the appointment as a nod at the hardcores in Bush's base--"I've done all I can for now on gay marriage [by indicating he'd support a Constitutional amendment against it], but I'm with you, and here's a nice raw steak to prove it."

No Democrat--hell, a lot of Republicans--would ever have appointed a guy like Pryor to the federal appeals court. For all John Kerry's faults, this is the kind of thing we wouldn't see if he were president. So yeah, Ralph, there is a difference. But there's a powerful distaste for politics-as-usual among some Democrats, too. For example, it's easy to picture disaffected some Deaniacs aligning with Nader.

OK, you waited long enough: And now, the blog news I alluded to on Friday. The first blog I ever read regularly was Jerry Bowles' Best of the Blogs, and it's still the one I turn to first each day. I'm happy to have been chosen as BoTB's first guest blogger, and I'll be posting there starting tomorrow. It'll be fun to bloviate to an audience far wider than the one on my own blog--but that's not half as cool as being on the same page with a group of bloggers whose thinking and writing I greatly respect. See you there . . . .

Friday, February 20, 2004

This Just In
Keep an eye on this space between Friday and Sunday for some big blog news--we're moving up in the world. Details forthwith . . . .

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time
D'oh! John Edwards isn't on the ballot in Vermont on March 2. Seems the Edwards campaign decided to concede the state to Howard Dean last fall--but now Dean is gone and Edwards is stuck. Edwards may be trying to land a bigger fish next door, however--New York. He hopes to peel off enough votes in the moderate upstate regions to counteract John Kerry's expected advantage in the heavily urbanized areas. After all, it worked for Hillary. It better, because with Kerry snagging the AFL-CIO endorsement yesterday, the urbanized areas will turn out for him bigtime.

Blog news: TomPaine.com has replaced its "Take on the News" blog with "The Dreyfuss Report" by investigative reporter Bob Dreyfuss, which will focus on national security and Iraq. One of his first topics is the coming handover of power. We sometimes forget that even after the transition this summer, there will still be American troops stationed there--perhaps forever, as in Germany and South Korea (or until the coming civil war gets too dangerously unmanageable for us to stay). Agreeing to let us stay will be job one for the new government. As Dreyfuss puts it, "What's at stake is the future of the American presence in the country (and Vice President Cheney's dreams of empire): What will be the legal basis for the U.S. troops that stay in Iraq? Will they be able to kill Iraqi insurgents? A million questions surround this issue, making it all-important that the new Iraqi government be led by Iraqis who support the occupation and who will look favorably on a long-term U.S. presence there." Which gives a nice opening to a Shi'ite, say, who opposes the long-term presence to score big electoral points by promising to throw us out.

If you think everybody is getting a blog nowadays, you're right. Even Allah has one. (It's the ultimate source of yesterday's new John Edwards campaign poster I linked to via Wonkette.) Allah says his blog started "as a parody of the radical Islamist mindset with which Americans have become only too familiar in the past two years." Who knew Allah had a sense of humor, or that's it's so dry? His nickname for our favorite departed presidential candidate: "Mujahid-Dean." (I don't believe that's a compliment, but it's still funny.)

I Like Ike (and Mick and Syd and Mike)
Fifty years ago today, then-president Dwight Eisenhower slipped away from a golfing vacation in Palm Springs. His spokesman said Eisenhower had gone to the dentist to get a chipped tooth fixed. But Professor Michael Salla claims the president actually went to Edwards Air Force Base in California to meet with two aliens. And not Mexicans, either--two extraterrestrials who arrived in a flying saucer. As to the origin of his theory, Professor Salla says, "There a lot of stuff on the Internet, and I just went around and pieced it together." (Does the Columbia Journalism Review know about this?) Eisenhower is also said to have gone to Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947, before becoming president, to see the remains of the crashed UFO supposedly discovered there. But what's really weird about the events of February 20, 1954, is that on that night, the Associated Press sent a bulletin saying Ike had died, although it was retracted two minutes later. If Ike had died, of course, it would have made Richard Nixon president 15 years sooner.

Now that's creepy.

Rather than spending a lot of time thinking about what Eisenhower is rumored to have done, we'd do better to think about some of the things he actually said and did, as Mick Youther notes at Intervention Magazine. Here's a taste of Ike's wisdom: "The problem in defense is how far you can go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without." On the subject of destroying from within, Sydney Schanberg is in the Village Voice with an article called "George Bush--Make-Believe President." It's a fairly standard indictment of our naked emperor, although well-written (and Schanberg invokes Eisenhower, too). But click it for the cartoon by Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, if nothing else.

Recommended reading: Somebody mentioned George Lakoff on this blog recently--whether it was me or somebody posting a comment, I don't remember. Lakoff is a professor of linguistics who's written a book called Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, in which he discusses the competing models of family life--the "strict father" model, beloved by conservatives, and the "nurturing familiy" model, equally beloved by liberals. TomPaine.com has an article by Lakoff in which he examines same-sex marriage through that prism--and discusses useful ways for liberals to turn the discussion to our benefit.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Down Go the Wingnuts
The spectacle of hundreds of gay couples getting married in San Francisco this past week has speeded the GOP's rush to toss more red meat to the wingnuts in the form of an anti-gay-marriage Constitutional amendment, just in time to beat John Kerry over the head with it. Kerry says he's for civil unions, but against marriage--which will be a distinction without a difference once the homophobes get fired up.

But there's a simple question to ask when the inevitable yammering begins about the "grave threat" of gay marriage: As Mark Morford puts it, "What is the horrible threat about two adults who love each other so intensely, so purely, that they're willing to commit to a lifetime of being together and sleeping together and arguing over who controls the remote? And what government body dares to claim a right to legislate against it?"

Maybe we're at the same point now with gay marriage that we were in the early days of the abolitionist movement, the women's suffrage movement, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s--the reactionaries on the wrong side of history are lining up their dubious scare-mongering arguments (often buttressing them with Biblical citations) in an attempt to forestall the inevitable. Not that the reactionaries won't succeed in causing plenty of misery before going down in flames--not that they won't take a few innocents with them as they go--but you can book it. They will go down someday.

Recommended reading: Holy smoke. Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri proposed a security bill this week that would, among other things, make it illegal to "speak, utter, or print" statements in support of anarchy, to speak in favor of overthrowing the government, or to display "any flag or emblem other than the flag of the United States" as symbolic of the U.S. government. If the word "anarchy" strikes you as anachronistic, well, me too. It sounds like World War I-era red-scare language, and it is--the bill actually expands provisions long on the books in Rhode Island to prohibit speech offensive to the government. As of this afternoon, Carcieri has withdrawn the bill--but that he proposed it with a straight face in the first place is appalling. (For more, click here and scroll down to "Homeland Security--Overthrowing 213 Years of Freedom.")

And finally, maybe this is what Columbia Journalism Review is talking about when they criticize the journalistic integrity of blogs. (If you're reading this at work, don't click the link until you get home.)

A correction: Yesterday I said that the Super Tuesday primaries were all closed--not open to independents and Republicans, like Wisconsin's is. In fact, Georgia, Ohio, Vermont, and Minnesota all permit such crossover voting. Good news for John Edwards, then.

And Now, Far Too Much About Sports
Item: Katie Hnida, the second woman ever to suit up for a Division I college football game with the University of Colorado, claims she was raped by a teammate four years ago. When asked to comment, Colorado coach Gary Barnett said he didn't know anyone who could back up her claim. (Hnida says she met with Barnett, the Colorado athletic director, and the accused player after the alleged rape, and Barnett said he'd back the player 100 percent if she pressed charges.) Then somebody asked him why Hnida left Colorado after the 1999 season--as if being raped wasn't reason enough. He said, "It was obvious Katie was not very good. She was awful. Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible. OK? There's no other way to say it."

Comment: In 35 years of following sports, I have never heard a college coach who was on the record come right out and say that one of his players was "awful" or "terrible." Maybe that they made terrible decisions or awful mistakes, but never have I heard so blunt a dismissal of a player by a coach. This is clearly something Barnett never would have said of a male athlete, and he's been furiously backpedaling since saying it about Hnida. The university had already been rocked by stories that the football program used sex, alcohol, and prostitutes to attract recruits, and by accusations of several other rapes. Then Hnida came forward with her story, only after hearing about the earlier scandal. The school put Barnett on leave, and given the uproar surrounding the program, it'll be the upset of the decade if he's the head coach come September. Mike Littwin of the Rocky Mountain News has more.

Item: The reigning American League Most Valuable Player, Alex Rodriguez, who signed a 10-year, 250-million dollar contract with the Texas Rangers three seasons ago, was traded to the New York Yankees over the weekend.

Comment: 90 years ago, the Philadelphia Athletics were the talk of baseball with the so-called "$100,000 infield." This year, three of the four Yankee infielders will have contracts worth $100 million or more. This can't help but be bad for baseball--the league's richest team is one of the only ones who could do the Rodriguez deal. The league's second richest team, the Yankees' arch-rival Boston Red Sox, tried to acquire Rodriguez earlier this winter, but could not--and now they're decrying the process that sent Rodriguez to the Yankees. (Hey, kettle, this is pot--you're black.) Baseball does not have any limits on how big a team's payroll can be, like football and basketball--instead, teams must pay a tax on payrolls over a certain amount. The Yankees are so rich that the tax is no disincentive to keep breaking payroll records. They'll pay out about $180 million in player salaries this year alone. And the disparity in financial resources (and because of that, talent) between the Yankees and Red Sox and the other teams in their division--Baltimore, Toronto, and Tampa Bay--is so great that if you're a fan of one of those teams, there is utterly no reason to buy a ticket this year. Your team isn't going to win anything if they played the 2004 season a hundred times over.

Item: Oscar Robertson was a great NBA star in the 1960s and early 70s. He played on the Milwaukee Bucks' championship team in 1971. Last Sunday, he wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times about the decline of the National Basketball Association.

Comment: Robertson himself acknowledges that his commentary will be seen as an old-school rant by a guy who's out of touch. But he's got the league pegged--the team concept is long gone, and the game has become all about one-dimensional players freelancing. I followed the NBA in Robertson's day, and watched a repeat of the 1972 All-Star game on ESPN Classic last weekend--and the difference between the '72 game and the modern game is like night and day. There was a precision and crispness in the old-school game that's totally absent from today's NBA. The prevalence of dull 85-77 games is more than enough to drive away fans who remember when a typical score was 122-115--never mind the hostile, hip-hop vibe that's almost guaranteed to drive away any fan over the age of 30 no matter how great the quality of the play.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Warning Sign
What, we worry? We should, as Doug Ireland notes on TomPaine.com. Independent voters and Republican crossovers went largely for John Edwards last night--and Kerry was also trounced by Edwards among suburban voters in Wisconsin. What this means is that Kerry's strength is concentrated among the Democratic faithful, but he's much weaker with the very people a Democrat must attract to beat Bush.

OK, so maybe Edwards will stop him on Super Tuesday? Not so fast, gringo. Unlike Wisconsin, independents and crossovers can't vote in the Super Tuesday states--those primaries are for Democratic registrants only, and it's likely that Edwards the moderate will get killed in more liberal California and New York. Plus, he's nearly broke. Add it all up, and it seems likely that his high-water mark was last night.

C.K. Rairden of the website Washington Dispatch criticizes Kerry on the same terms I do--for running a generic campaign when the party is dying for new blood, and for doing it in a snooze-a-riffic style. And as for the exit poll numbers from last night, Rairden has a gloomy perspective on Edwards' strength among independents and moderates, and what it means for Kerry. Says Rairden, "The Democratic base is solid. It's time to move on to the swing voter or face a harsh reality in November."

If the worst happens, let nobody say we weren't warned.

Special Meeting
From Blog for America: "There is a special meeting today with Governor Howard Dean, open to the public, at 1:00 pm EST, at the Sheraton Hotel in South Burlington (870 Williston Rd, Right off Exit 14W of Interstate 89)." Looks like this is the end, sort of. Howard Dean is going to suspend his campaign, keep his delegates, and shift his focus. Not what we imagined he would be doing on February 18 when we imagined this day three or six or nine months ago.

This blog has supported Howard Dean since last June. Not without reservations, not without wavering, not without criticizing--in other words, like one supports a real politician in the real world. I voted for Dean yesterday, proudly, and I'd do it again even if I knew how close John Edwards was going to come in Wisconsin. But I'm not a bitter-ender, like some who are commenting to the special meeting announcement on Blog for America--some even threatening to vote for Bush in a Naderesque fit of pique, spouting nonsense about making people see how bad it could be so that they'll want real change. Politics, as I said in my own post to the Blog for America (my first one ever, and on the last morning of the campaign), is the art of the possible. While getting Dean the nomination is impossible now, it's still possible to beat Bush. "History will judge us harshly if we don't--especially if we had the chance to do it and we didn't, out of pique, a desire to maintain our political purity, or some other reason that massages our ego but misses the point. It's our country's misfortune that it won't be Howard Dean who gets the nomination and thus the best chance to defeat Bush--but it will be a far graver misfortune if we lose the will to defeat Bush because we don't get to do it with our guy."

Shakespeare said of Macbeth that nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it. Howard Dean is not leaving political life, but he is leaving the presidential race. I'll be watching C-SPAN to see how his leaving becomes him today.

We Decide
Cynthia Cotts, who watches the media for the Village Voice, is out with an analysis of Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk blog, which purports to cover the media as they cover the campaign. She notes that CJR's real mission seems to be the reining-in of the blogosphere--holding it to the same standards of journalistic practice that big gray newspapers are supposedly held to. This is necessary, it seems, because a world full of blogs is just too untamed to be safe, and it needs a dose of old-fashioned accountability.

Whether this is a good idea has already sparked debate. I'm convinced that few of us political bloggers believe we're doing our own little version of the New York Times--I certainly don't. If you come here looking for gospel truth, you've come to the wrong place. What this blog tries to do is to point readers to (and comment on) stories that, for whatever reason, I find interesting, headache-inducing, outrageous, encouraging, and/or in some way worth a few minutes of a reader's time. I have a particular point of view that shapes how I define interesting, headache-inducing, outrageous, encouraging, and worthwhile--but you'd have to be mighty stupid to miss what it is. The same is true for the other blogs I read. They take on the personalities of their creators or contributors--even the big ones like Daily Kos. You know what you're getting in a general sense, even though there may be variations among the different people who contribute. Nobody should mistake it for the unvarnished truth--just as no one should mistake the Times or the Post for the unvarnished truth, but that's another story.

In my mind, the blogosphere is very small-d democratic, and it makes demands on readers not unlike the demands of small-d democracy. There are plenty of ideas and points of view and information out here. You have to figure out which bloggers are credible and which are not by thinking for yourself--using the same information available to the bloggers--and then arriving at your own conclusions, and broadcasting them yourself if you're so inclined. (That's what the "comments" link is for here, and the message boards on larger blogs--or start your own damn blog.) In all, it's a far more active process than picking up the paper and receiving its wisdom--and that's what scares the hell out of conventional journalists. We don't necessarily need them to tell us what to think anymore.

Not that blogs are going to replace conventional journalists. Count the number of links to major media sources in the average political blog and you'll see how we depend on them for the information we use to think with. But count also the number of unconventional sources we use as well. And think about how the give and take between old media and the public has changed. Newspapers still publish mere a handful of letters each day, just like days of old. But now, a paper with a regional or national scope is liable to find itself in a continuous conversation with bloggers somewhere, who can do more to keep it honest than scores of letter-writers--and without having to get through the filter of the person who decides what letters to publish. The phenomenon even reaches down to individual reporters--imagine being Jodi Wilgoren of the Times or Nedra Pickler of the AP, both of whom are being monitored daily in the blogosphere. Your relationship with the public would be profoundly transformed from what it was back when you were a one-way conduit. But whether it's individual reporters or entire news organizations like CNN or a major newspaper, for the first time, the average news consumer can say, "You report. We decide." That's more than just Fox News' hilarious slogan turned sideways. It says to the media that they no longer have the right to tell us both what happened and how to think about it. They only get to do the first part now. We'll do our own thinking.

Recommended reading: The Christian Science Monitor analyzes the rift in the Bush cabinet over the Iraq war, noting that Colin Powell seems conscious of shoring up his place in history now that the war has gone to shit and it's clear he won't be back even if Bush is reelected. My old history prof, James Lindsey, is quoted in the piece regarding how division in the cabinet is particularly harmful to Bush now, given the questions over prewar intelligence. The Monitor also indulges in speculation over how the Bush team would look in a second term. Condoleezza Rice says this is her last year in the White House, which doesn't mean she couldn't become secretary of state. But guess who wants the gig, too? Paul Wolfowitz. All along, the neocons have derided the State Department as having insufficient stomach for their policy of perpetual preemptive war. More than any other appointment, sending Wolfie to State in a second Bush term would mean that the gloves are not just off, they're stuffed in the back of the closet.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Primary Colors
Some random observations about the night that was:

Howard Dean's speech tonight was vintage Dean, precise, passionate, never stepping on applause lines--the man can really fire up a crowd, and it's one of the things we Deaniacs love about him. But it was also a cagey speech--"We are not done," he said, but it could be interpreted to mean we are not necessarily going on to Super Tuesday, either. Fox analyst Susan Estrich said she thought the speech contained hints of a speech Dean might give on Thursday--perhaps dropping out or suspending his campaign. (I confess--I haven't programmed Fox News out of my remote yet, so I do stop by now and then, although my wife doesn't like it when I do. She says it's bad for my blood pressure, and she's right.)

Poor John Edwards--he exceeds everybody's expectations and turns the Democratic fight into a two-horse race, then he comes out in front of a wild crowd in Milwaukee and gets off a great line, saying that the voters of Wisconsin had sent a message that "objects in your mirror are closer than they appear"--and then Kerry comes out to speak to his supporters in Madison (a half-mile from where I'm sitting, actually), and every channel cuts away to him. It had to be timed that way by the Kerry camp, knowing that Edwards is a compelling speaker.

And their man is not. And it's not just his speaking style, which suffers in comparison to Edwards' ebullience and Dean's passion--he tends to plod, although he occasionally locks into a cadence that puts me in mind of FDR. Kerry's speech tonight was so generic that it could have been given on any primary night in any election season for the past 30 years, the usual Democratic litany about better schools and worker protection and environmental responsibility. Not until he started talking about foreign policy and Iraq did Kerry seem much connected to 2004 at all. You do not need much clearer evidence that unlike other candidates in the race, Kerry doesn't grasp that this election has different stakes than any other--or if he does, that he prefers not to frame it that way. A 20-year veteran senator can't credibly sell himself as an insurgent.

And then, unlike Dean, Kerry stepped on his best line--that if the Republicans want to contest the election on the basis of national security, "Bring it on." He prompted the audience to say it with him, but then moved on to his next point before giving them a chance to cheer it. He's been using the line in speeches for a while, so there's no excuse for messing it up. He did better introducing his family, friends, and supporters--although I can't help thinking that Mrs. Kerry always looks like she'd rather be anywhere else. Mr. Kerry copped a line from JFK, about being the man who escorts Teresa around the country--and it's apparently Tar-ay-suh, not Tur-ee-suh.

As usual, our local TV stations did not cover themselves in glory. Funny--some of these stations have done live newscasts for 50 years, but come election night, when they're forced to ad lib and think on the fly, it starts looking like public access. I tuned in the Fox affiliate for their 9:00 newscast, which carried Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager's effusive introduction of Dean at length, but then cut away from the speech before Dean began. While flailing around trying to figure out what to do next, they ran a brief story on Edwards, inexplicably reporting that he intended to stay in the race despite his faltering campaign. Maybe the copy was written eight days ago, when Edwards was 36 points behind Kerry in one poll, but tonight, it was so stupidly wrong that somebody ought to get fired for putting it on the air. At this point, I began flipping around to the other local channels, most of whom were carrying Dean's speech--although by the time Kerry came out, they'd returned to entertainment programming.

Apart from the Democratic primary, we had only the casino vote I wrote about yesterday on our ballot in Dane County--and the result was just as surprising as Edwards' near miss. Contrary to my expectations, the casino went down hard--failing 65 percent to 35 with about 90 percent of the vote in. The Ho Chunk tribe outspent the no-casino group $1 million to $50,000, so it's an amazing result. It almost confirms one's faith in the ability of the voters to think through a complex issue and arrive at a counter-intuitive result.

Uneasy Lies the Head That Wears the Crown
So much for Wisconsin providing the coronation of John Kerry: Yes, the exit polls show Kerry winning here, but with John Edwards expectation-shattering close. Depending on the source, it's either 42-31 or 41-33. Howard Dean is at either 15 or 17 in the exit polls--not far off from where the preference polls had him before he began focusing on the state two weeks ago. (The polls are open here until 8:00.)

The following is a closed-circuit message to my candidate: Dr. Dean, I love ya. And I know, when I shook your hand a week ago, I thanked you and told you to keep fighting--but the time has come to stop. The supporters who have come out to greet you in the last two weeks were the already-converted. You were preaching to the choir. You still have a movement at your command, but it's not big enough to get the nomination. If you really think John Kerry is a Republican in Democrat drag, and if you truly want to stop him, it's time to acknowledge John Edwards is the only one who can.

Look at it this way: Both Wisconsin exit polls show Kerry and Anybody But Kerry in a dead heat. But the only way ABK has a chance is for you to step aside now, before Super Tuesday, so ABK can get a clear shot. Some of your supporters are going to hate you if you do this, and they would prefer to see you hang on until somebody has to pry your cold dead fingers off the podium mike at the Democratic convention. But I am convinced that the majority of us know the score. We won't think the money we've given you has been wasted--if what you have stood for all these months ultimately ends up making the country better. We'll only believe we've wasted the money we gave you if you hang in for the sole purpose of being a spoiler, and by doing so, you leave the party weakened for the important job of beating Bush. In a campaign that's had some great and inspirational moments, ending it at the right moment and in the right way--tomorrow morning--could end up being the greatest.

Recommended reading: From the Baltimore Sun, this piece about Kerry's challenge in reaching out to the Deaniac base. Dean pollster Paul Maslin (name-dropper alert: Maslin spoke to a Dean meetup I attended last summer) told the Sun that if Kerry wants to access the passion (and the dollars) of the Deaniacs, he "is going to have to show genuineness on the issues these people care about, starting with the war [in Iraq] and No Child Left Behind and the Patriot Act. Then there's the whole question of 'Do you really mean it when you say special interests have got to get out of this process?'"

I am pleased to see that the story about Kerry's reported dalliance with an intern has pretty much sunk without a trace. Maybe it means the media really wants to focus on stuff that matters. (In the Prospect, Eric Alterman and Michael Tomasky say maybe, but they also warn that old habits die hard, and offer five suggestions for the press that would allow them to "reassert their power and professional pride.") More than likely, however, it means that Matt Drudge overreached without actually having the goods. Wonkette analyzes the egg on Drudge's face. After reading a little about it myself, it occurs to me that what I dislike most about Drudge is those SCREAMING ALL-CAPS HEADLINES HE PUTS ON EVERYTHING. Pipe down, fercryinoutloud.

Role Models
In addition to my list of blogs that I read regularly or semi-regularly, there are a few I know I ought to read more often but I don't--one belongs to Eric Alterman, author of What Liberal Media?, who blogs at MSNBC. He's written (with Mark Green) a book called The Book on Bush, which is, in Alterman's words, intended "to systematically go through all of the significant policies of the Bush Administration and explain what they are doing, both to and for, the country."

Alterman talked about his book with Liberal Oasis. He touched on something that I've been thinking about this morning, having done my civic duty by voting in the Wisconsin primary. "…I’m called a Bush-hater by the Wall Street Journal, but I don’t really have any feelings about Bush personally. I never met him [but] when I watched that movie Journeys with George, I found him quite charming, to tell you truth. I understood the charm of the guy. But I don’t care if I like him or not. I don’t care if I like Clinton or not. I don’t care if I like Cheney or not. I care, as a patriot and as an intellectual, what are the results of the policies for the country and the world."

I think Alterman is in the minority. I'm there too, and I am guessing that many of the readers of this blog might be there, also. Many Americans want, first and foremost, to think that their president is a regular guy, to feel as though he's a good person, to view him as a role model for children. I submit this makes far less difference than what he actually does politically with the office. If Bill Clinton diddled an intern, if Howard Dean has a look in his eyes that makes you think he wants to smack somebody, that doesn't matter to some of us. We're all about what the guy will actually do in the real world, how he'll make the world safer and our country more prosperous.

I am pretty sure that George W. Bush would be a fine person to have a beer with or to sit next to at a baseball game. But does that automatically make him a good president? To some people, maybe. Not to those of us who share Alterman's view that what a president does matters far more than what a president is. Having made a comprehensive examination of Bush's term so far, Alterman tells Liberal Oasis: "I am genuinely afraid for my country, for my daughter’s future, of the consequences of a second Bush term. I am genuinely afraid of it. And it’s energized me…. I think there’s a real healthy understanding among all sensible people right now that there is only one hope for the future of this country and that is to get rid of this man, no matter who replaces him. I would very happy to vote for Bob Dole or George Herbert Walker Bush. [W] is the most dangerous man ever to occupy the American presidency in the past 100 years."

And that's something else I thought about this morning at the polls.

A local pundit was on one of the local morning shows up here today, and he made the notable point that John Kerry has voted against nearly every weapons system that's come before Congress during his years in the Senate, not to mention his vote against the Gulf War in 1991. Yet we're supposed to believe a chest full of medals from Vietnam will somehow immunize him from the coming blizzard of criticism over all those votes? Jake Tapper, formerly of Salon and now of ABC, wrote yesterday in the New York Times that maybe we shouldn't believe it. After all, Clinton--the pot-smokin' draft dodger--beat Daddy Bush and Bob Dole, a pair of World War II vets with a bunch of Flying Crosses and Purple Hearts, as well as Medal of Honor winner Bob Kerrey in the '92 primaries. And Bush himself--National Guard flyboy of dubious resume--beat an ex-Vietnam POW in the primaries and another Vietnam vet in the general election.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Waiting for the Surge
I don't know if this means anything, but it's interesting. A group of students at Marquette University in Milwaukee watched the Democratic debate last night. Before the debate, the preference percentages of the group went like this:

Kerry 20
Edwards 18
Dean 18
Kucinich 9
Sharpton 1

Afterward, the group's preferences looked like this:

Edwards 35
Dean 17
Kerry 12
Sharpton 10
Kucinich 9

The most we can say for sure is it means that Edwards won the debate among the student audience. Don't know if we dare extrapolate it to a late Edwards (or Sharpton) surge statewide--the poll I linked to this morning didn't show it. If anything, that poll showed a bit of a surge for Dean, who has been having a good week (if you don't count the defection of his campaign chairman to Kerry), raising his positive ratings versus his negatives, which have been in the tank since the Iowa debacle.

There's still a big ABK vote out there (Anybody But Kerry, in blogspeak), but as long as it's split, it's ineffectual. If Dean should finish second in Wisconsin about where this morning's Zogby poll has him, that would give him an excuse to go on to Super Tuesday--but should he? What if Dean dropped out after Wisconsin--but threw his support to Edwards? As ideas go, it's not that loony. Edwards, for all his faults, is miles closer to Dean's fundamental stance than Kerry is--that our government needs not just a change of leaders but a change in philosophy. And it would make Super Tuesday a hell of a lot more fun.

Today's VP speculation: former Clinton treasury secretary Robert Rubin (or, alternately, Virginia governor Mark Warner, or Bob Graham), Wesley Clark, and most incredible of all, Jim Doyle. As for the latter, two words: uh, no.

Staying Abreast of the Latest Developments
Because nobody is throwing a hissy fit over the halftime show at last night's NBA all-star game, it must mean that exposing the SIDE of your breast is not offensive to common notions of decency and a threat to the continued survival of the Republic. Only breasts visible from the front can do that.

Clearly, if Osama Bin Laden had been a topless woman, the war on terror would be over by now.

Place Your Bets
In addition to helping crown John Kerry tomorrow, voters in Dane County, where I live, will vote on whether to authorize the conversion of the DeJope bingo hall on Madison's east side into a full-blown casino. The bingo hall is owned by the Ho Chunk tribe, which operates an enormous casino about 40 minutes north of Madison near Wisconsin Dells, as well as two others in northern Wisconsin. Just after taking office last year, Governor Jim Doyle, a Democrat, unilaterally negotiated new gaming contracts with the state's Indian tribes, which would permit an expansion of gambling in the state in exchange for more revenue from the tribes. Republicans had kittens over the negotiations--because the Ho Chunk were big contributors to the Doyle campaign and as we know, Republicans are categorically opposed to granting favors to campaign contributors--but the agreements went forward, paving the way for new Madison casino.

The Ho Chunk are not asking voters to approve a new casino, by the way. The word "casino" rarely appears in any vote-yes publicity. Instead, we're urged to "vote yes on the DeJope revenue sharing agreements," which is as ornate a euphemism as you're ever likely to encounter in politics. The arguments for voting yes are the usual pro-casino arguments: more revenue for city and county government, and more jobs not just in the casino but in the new businesses that will spring up nearby. The arguments about job creation and economic development seem like common sense, but as is often the case with simple-sounding arguments, they ain't so simple. It's possible that the jobs created by the casino may be balanced by the loss of jobs elsewhere in Madison's entertainment industry. Theater and nightclub owners are especially concerned--casinos often bring national acts into their theaters at a loss, knowing they'll make up the difference in the casino. And as for new business creation, casinos are generally self-contained, with restaurants and hotels on-site, and don't necessarily spark new construction. The giant Ho Chunk complex near the Dells sits out in the middle of nowhere with practically nothing else around it save for a gas station or two. (The local innkeeper's association opposes the casino.) And while the Ho Chunk tout the cash windfall--at least $91 million to the city and county in the first 13 years of the agreement--casino opponents note that new expenses will swiftly offset that amount--such as additional public expenditures made necessary by increases in problem gambling and crime. The social costs of the casino have been highly debated, with each side producing academic studies to buttress its position. The county DA is opposed to the casino on the basis of crime and problem gambling. On the other hand, the county deputy sheriff's association supports it.

Madison's newspapers have editorialized about as expected. The Wisconsin State Journal's vote-yes editorial was shockingly cavalier about the likelihood of increased social costs, and derided the opponents as over-emotional bluenoses--which was odd coming from a paper that has its own mile-wide bluenose streak, and has traditionally opposed gambling. The Capital Times took a more measured tone in urging a no vote. In addition, casino opponents have the support of both the current mayor of Madison, Dave Cieslewicz, high-profile ex-mayor Paul Soglin, and a majority of the members of the County Board.

I can't find any polling on the issue, but the Political Stock Report from WisOpinion.com says the issue is tight (scroll down), guessing that young voters turning out for the presidential primary will vote for it, and also that "many liberals will go along because they'll feel guilty about America's former treatment of Native Americans." (Yup, that's Madison for you.) My guess is that the casino will pass, and by quite a bit. I'm voting against it. I'm not a gambler, to begin with--I don't enjoy it, and don't enjoy watching other people do it. The arguments about increased social cost are persuasive to me. And I remember when casino gambling was instituted in Iowa, and how the casinos sucked entertainment dollars and attention from other venues. I'd hate to see Madison's unique character, particularly its downtown, which is already suffering, further diminished by the generic glitz of a casino out by the interstate.

Too little, too late: John Edwards has picked up high-profile endorsements from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Capital Times and Madison mayor Dave Cieslewicz, and I have to confess I might vote for him if the race were close. But it's not--the latest Zogby poll has Kerry 47, Dean 23, Edwards 20. John Zogby makes an interesting (though awkwardly worded and punctuated) observation: "Dean is polling very well among young people around Madison. It is hard to see Dean going on from here however, he is polling well enough to get delegates and it's interesting to see that Edwards and Dean together suggest a substantial non-Kerry vote. What would happen if Kerry were to face just one opponent? Kerry has the highest favorable ratings and is given by far and away, the best shot at defeating President Bush. Again, it's all about electability."

We'd better be right about that electability thing, folks . . . .

Sunday, February 15, 2004

It's Time
Stories coming out today are saying that Howard Dean's aides are telling him he should hang it up if he doesn't win Wisconsin, and it's reported that some of those aides will be bailing if he doesn't. I concur. It's time. He won't win Wisconsin--one poll shows Dean with 11 percent support behind Kerry with 53 and Edwards with 16. Some Deaniac hardcores will be argue he should keep fighting, but the vast majority know the score and won't hold his dropping out against him.

It's time to start converting the Deaniac energy into a force for long-term change in the Democratic Party, rather than dissipating it in a pointless effort to postpone the inevitable. Every time Dean suggests he will fight on to California and New York, it diminishes his stature as leader of a movement and helps drive the movement out to the fringe. Presidential campaign historians will be discussing the arc of the Dean campaign for years to come. Better it should be the start of something that matters than a brief episode that doesn't.

Nice to meet you: In my post last Monday about the Dean rally I attended, I mentioned I was questioned by a member of the traveling press corps, whose name I didn't catch. Turns out it was Thomas Frank from Newsday, whose story appeared today. Scroll down, and there I am. With the last word.

Like, Maybe, Ohio
An Iowa friend sent me a funny e-mail comment on the prospect of Governor Tom Vilsack as John Kerry's running mate--"Vilsack is not a very dynamic person, nothing like Edwards. (He would be wallpaper in a debate with Cheney, I'm afraid.) He's certainly wholesome, though, and he and Christie might be a milk-and-cookie balance to the glamorous, rich, maybe-a-little-too-interesting Heinz-Kerrys. With those Bo-Peep hats, Christie looks too darn sweet to think an evil thing about--you just KNOW she makes casseroles with cream of mushroom soup." (She is contemporary enough, however, to have her own website. Can't find any hat pictures on it, though.)

Latest VP speculation--Kerry/Gephardt. John J. Miller of National Review Online (a publication that would not wish any Democrat well) runs down the case for several Democrats, naming Gephardt "the ultimate safe pick." Political Wire quotes columnist Robert Novak (somebody else not exactly friendly to Democrats) as surmising that a Kerry/Gephardt ticket would mean a "non-Southern strategy"--hang onto the blue states Gore won last time by securing the industrial states, and maybe winning Ohio this time.

But God, talk about charisma-free--and talk about the utter opposite of a paradigm-shifting ticket.

I read somewhere last week (can't remember where, so I can't link) that one piece of conventional wisdom regarding the 2004 election isn't necessarily true--that if the Democrats win every state they won last time and pick up just one more somewhere, they'll win the election. Following redistricting after the 2000 census, the electoral vote has been redistributed--Bush's states are now worth 14 more electoral votes than they were four years ago. So the Democrats will need to turn one big one they didn't get last time (like, maybe, Ohio).

Maybe Kerry should pick somebody from Ohio.

The Despoiling of America
In the wake of Friday's post about Steve Erickson's LA Weekly piece on the conflict between Secular America and Theocratic America comes an article by Katherine Yurica. She's a researcher who's studied Pat Robertson's religious empire, and she's published a piece on her website titled "The Despoiling of America." If Yurica read the Erickson piece, she might substitute the word "dominionist" for "theocratic." She argues that the Bush administration is driven by a religious philosophy that substitutes Old Testament values for New--a philosophy that allows its adherents to do anything, even performing acts that most religious people would consider sins, in order to reach its goal of complete political domination of the United States and the world. The ends--a world in which all people must recognize "the crown rights of King Jesus"--justify the means, which is one of the points Erickson made about Bush believers and their approach to governance.

You may be tempted to believe, if you read the Yurica piece, that her argument is overblown and nearly hysterical, because what she is describing sounds almost loony, given our pluralistic traditions. But in the end, your disbelief in the likelihood of her story comes from your idological location, which is most likely in what Erickson called "the secular center," which "won't accept that there's a culture war going on." While people in the center envision a coming-together of religious folk from all across the spectrum, overcoming their differences to pursue religiously inspired goals for the improvement of humankind, the dominionists define the "true" form of Christianity in a very specific, narrow way. It has specific rules for taxation, jurisprudence, war--more like a legal code than a philosophy, and its legalistic form brooks no variation. It would look on the communitarian ideals espoused by the likes of a Jimmy Carter or a Desmond Tutu to border on heretical. (Read Yurica's hair-raising sections on why dominionists believe they have no duty to help the poor or care for the sick.) Just as you don't win a shooting war by surrendering your troops in a battle, you don't win a cultural or religious war by surrendering your tenets to heretical variations.

I have been waiting for years for mainstream denominations to stand up against the spread of theocracy. While there are stirrings now and then, there's still no broad and widespread movement to say, "No, you're wrong about this, and here's why." There's a tendency for mainstreamers to look at the charismatics, pentecostals, and evangelicals who make up the bulk of the theocrats and feel as though everyone has common ground to stand on because they're all Christians, so their differences are bridgeable and not, in the end, a very big deal, so why fight too hard over it? But keep in mind that generous interfaith impulse is a feeling not necessarily reciprocated by the theocrats, who, as Randall Terry famously put it, "don't want pluralism." Fact is, the theocrats would lump followers of the so-called "mainstream" churches into the secular horde--and headed for Hell as surely as any other heathen.

In his annotation on the State of the Union for the Atlantic, James Fallows noted the presence of coded religious language that would speak directly to the theocrats in Bush's audience while zooming right over the heads of secular listeners. Theocrats, dominionists, call 'em what you will, count on the fact that the great secular unwashed (co-religionists of other denominations included) doesn't understand their language. And if the great secular unwashed doesn't understand the language, they can't know they're in a fight--and may not know until it's mostly over. "The Despoiling of America," even though it has some faults, helps with the translation.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Move Over, Henry Wallace
Kerry/Vilsack? That's today's vice-presidential speculation--that the Iowa governor's high-profile appearance in Washington today might mean he's on the fabled short list to be John Kerry's running mate.

One of the most difficult votes I ever cast in my life was in the Iowa Democratic primary for governor in 1998. Vilsack, a state legislator, was running for the Democratic nom against a retired state Supreme Court justice, Mark McCormick--and there was not a dime's worth of difference between 'em in terms of positions. I finally voted for McCormick based on his higher statewide profile. The likely Republican nominee was former Congressman Jim Ross Lightfoot, fresh off a close loss to Tom Harkin in the 1996 Senate race. Not only that, Republicans had held the governorship for 30 years, so I figured we would need all the name recognition we could get. But Vilsack nosed out McCormick for the nomination and then came from far back in the polls in the last two weeks of the campaign to win the governorship (although he got plenty of help from Lightfoot, who ran as inept a campaign in '98 as he had run in losing to Harkin in '96--his thirst to be elected to anything caused me to joke that by 2000, he would be running for dog catcher in Pottawatomie County). Vilsack proved to be an effective and popular governor, getting reelected in 2002 by a comfortable margin. I saw his name on an early list of VP speculation over a year ago, but didn't put much stock in it. Then his wife endorsed Kerry while he sat out the caucuses, and it made me wonder if he was getting in position for a possible second slot on somebody's ticket. The Democrats' bench isn't very deep, as we've noted here before, although there are some rising governors on the scene--Rod Blagojevich in Illinois and Jennifer Granholm in Michigan come to mind, but neither of them is ready for prime time yet. Maybe Tom Vilsack is. Stay tuned.

F the Messenger
The Progress Report leads off today with news of an intensely ugly smear campaign against Max Cleland, in retaliation for his criticism of Bush's National Guard record. The smearer: Ann Coulter. The enablers: the Heritage Foundation, TownHall.com, Fox News, and other media outlets disseminating Coulter's latest column, in which she accuses Cleland of exaggerating his record in Vietnam, including the loss of three limbs. (The Los Angeles Times has it right: "absurd and insulting.") Conservatives have gone nuclear with shocking speed on critics of Bush's National Guard record--which says to me that even they know his record won't stand up to continued close scrutiny, so they're desperate to change the subject.

A friend of mine called last night--we were talking about the Bush interview on Meet the Press, and he said it was weird that Bush felt he had to say "I'm a war president." Michael Moore thinks it's weird too--but he also thinks he knows the reason. In an open letter to Bush, Moore says, "Americans have never voted out a Commander-in-Chief during a war. I guess that's what you're hoping for."

Recommended reading: The Boston Globe's Don Aucoin on a really f---in' interesting phenomenon in the English language.

And finally, Miracle, the hit movie about the U.S. Olympic hockey victory over the Soviet Union in 1980, has special resonance up here. Two members of the team, Mark Johnson and Bob Suter, are well-known Madison sports figures, so we feel like the 1980 team belongs to us in a way different from the rest of the country. But even in cities not as favored as Madison, beating the Russians is considered by many to be the greatest single sports moment of the 20th century. This week, ESPN Radio asked fans to name their personally memorable sports moments, and it got me thinking about mine. (Because I know that not everyone who reads this blog cares about sports, I've posted my list here so it's more easily ignored.) I have to confess that the 1980 "miracle on ice" is not one of them, because I was apparently working that night and didn't see the game--not until ESPN Classic rebroadcast it in 2003.

The Traitorous Citizen
If you’re only going to read one thing today, make it "George Bush and the Treacherous Country" by Steve Erickson from LA Weekly. Erickson describes two Americas—one secular, typified by Tom Paine and Thomas Jefferson, the other theocratic, typified by Cotton Mather and George W. Bush. It’s long and loaded, and it gets into a subject I’ve been on about for years—that the firmer your religious foundation, the more strongly you embrace faith, the less strongly you can embrace democracy:

Whether it’s Christian or Islamic, an uncompromising religious vision can’t recognize the legitimacy of democracy without betraying itself. Democracy insists on a pluralism that entertains the possibility that one’s religious beliefs might be wrong and another’s might be right, and that all religious beliefs may be varying degrees of wrong or right—what traditionalists despise as "relativism." Almost by definition, democracy is at least a little bit blasphemous. It’s a breach of rigorous spiritual discipline, and its mechanisms are among the human works of the modern age, which itself is viewed by fundamentalism as an abomination. Doubt is a critical component of both democracy and its leadership. In the eyes of democracy, doubt is not just moral but necessary; the psychology of democracy must allow for doubt about the rightness of any given political position, because otherwise the position can never be questioned. The Bill of Rights and the First Amendment in particular are monuments to the right to doubt, and to the right of one person to doubt the rightness of 200 million. In contrast, the psychology of theocracy not only denies doubt but views it as a cancer on the congregation, prideful temerity in the face of divine righteousness as it’s communicated by God to the leaders of the state.

Nothing about Bush or his presidency makes sense without taking into account the theocratic psyche. Only once you consider the possibility that his administration means to "repeal the Enlightenment," in the words of Greil Marcus, do Bush’s presidency and his conception of power, their ends and their means, become comprehensible. Doubt is personally abhorrent to Bush; otherwise he couldn’t have assumed the presidency in the manner he did, with decisions and policies that from the first dismissed out of hand the controversy that surrounded his very election. This isn’t to suggest that his presidency is invalid, or to dispute the constitutional and legal process that produced it. It is to try and explain how on the second day of his presidency—in what was his first major act as president—in such draconian fashion he could cut off money to any federally funded family-planning clinic that merely advised women that the option of abortion exists. This was more than just a message to the president’s evangelical constituency that he was undeterred by what happened in Florida in November and December 2000. It was more than just a message to the rest of the country of the president’s contempt for it (which in part accounts for so many people’s intensity of feeling about him). It was, from the second day of the Bush presidency, a frontal assault on doubt.

Refusing to compromise faith by indulging in doubt turns the reasoning for the Iraq war on its head—if you’re a secularist:

The theocratic rationale for the Iraq war and the United States’ subsequent presence in Iraq exists far above petty secular anxieties about justifying either. If the president could barely conceal his impatience on last Sunday’s Meet the Press with distinctions between Iraq actually having weapons or having the capacity to make weapons, between imminent threats or threats that might become imminent, it’s because such distinctions couldn’t be more beside the point. It was never a matter of reasons justifying the war. Rather, the war justifies the reasoning. Some might suggest that the president’s case for the war was made in bad faith, but there is no "bad" in the president’s perception of faith, there’s only true faith that sometimes is confronted with hard tests posed by divine destiny, the hardest of which is whether the president can work his will on God’s behalf, however it must be done. That Iraq had nothing to do with those who attacked America almost two and a half years ago is only a distracting detour in moral reasoning, fine print for those whom God hasn’t called.

Those who think theocratically about the United States see a divinely ordained purpose in America’s very existence. Bush fulfills that purpose in ways that make perfect sense to those who share his religious worldview, but baffle those who do not--and that very bafflement strengthens the hand of the theocrats:

"Everyone says liberals love America, too," writes [Ann] Coulter. "No, they don’t," and probably nothing is more indicative of the ineffectuality and incomprehension of secularists in this civil war than that they would argue. Because of course Coulter is right; it’s not her America that secularists love. Secularists love the America of Tom Paine, not Cotton Mather, but they keep trying to reconcile the two, since both are part of America’s story and since in fact such a reconciliation always has been the dream of America and those who invented it. The secular center won’t accept that there’s a culture war going on. In the desire to reach accommodation, secularists acquiesce to the right on the very meaning of Americanism, not to mention definitions of character. "At least he’s a decent man," someone recently protested to me about George Bush, by which she meant in comparison to the last guy, of course, even when as a matter of public policy such "decency" means the abandonment of AmeriCorps programs, which allowed college students to pay off loans by teaching underprivileged children to read, in contrast with the expansion of the earned-income tax credit by the morally vitiated Clinton, who raised millions of people out of poverty as a result. It’s a decency that impeaches a president for lying about a sexual affair but not about a war. Whatever the many compelling reasons to question whether Howard Dean would ever actually make a good president, the former Vermont governor emerged from obscurity last year to galvanize the Democratic presidential race largely because he wouldn’t acquiesce.

At the end of his compelling article, Erickson finally decides that he’s a traitor—to the theocratic version of America. Me too.

Other worthwhile reads: From Spinsanity: Was Bush AWOL from the National Guard or not? Despite the documents released this week and the blizzard of charges and countercharges, the evidence is murky. Also, with the Republicans launching their dirty war against John Kerry yesterday in pure Nixonian fashion—making an accusation about what the opposition is going to do so as to give them cover to do the same thing themselves—Spinsanity debunks the first of the whoppers about the Democratic nominee-presumptive that are resounding through the right-wing echo chamber.

From Nat Hentoff in the Village Voice: Some conservatives and libertarians are beginning to stand up to John Ashcroft. One of them is Wisconsin representative James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who has said that an extension of Ashcroft’s baby, the Patriot Act, past its 12/31/05 expiration date without a review of its results would happen “over my dead body.”

That's a lot to read. Better take the rest of the day off and get busy.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Questions of Responsibility
Iraq intelligence failures are--drum roll please--Bill Clinton's fault! Y'know, somebody ought to tell the Repugs that Clinton isn't running this year--not that it would make any difference. Josh Hammond predicted that they'll try to run against Clinton anyway, and suggested that because of it, the former president ought keep a low profile this year, except on economic issues.

Recommended reading: From the New York Observer, what the 9/11 commission heard--and did not hear--about the timeline on the morning of the attacks. Gail Sheehy notes that the government had at least 15 minutes and perhaps a half-hour's advance notice that the first plane had been taken by Middle Eastern terrorists, including one named Mohammed Atta. Why didn't anybody act? That's what the commission is supposed to find out. Will it?

Tell the Truth
First there was the Drake University peace-protestor case; now comes word that the Justice Department is seeking the medical records of women who had partial-birth abortions, not to find out who the women were, the department says, but to determine whether the doctors suing the feds over the ban on the procedure have actually performed it, and under what circumstances. The medical schools subpoenaed have fought the demand, and federal judges have blocked the request in Illinois and may do so in Pennsylvania. Asking for medical records with personally identifying information removed is a common procedure in lawsuits--but not when the information is that of people not directly involved in the suits.

Here again, let's not fall for what looks like a routine request. Given the marauding spirit of the Ashcroft Justice Department, the danger of permitting them a new level of access is that it always encourages them to go a bit further next time they want something. Picture it--in the future, the argument will go something like: "Partial-birth abortion is illegal. Why should doctor/patient confidentiality protect those who commit crimes?" After all, they've already torn up the idea of attorney/client privilege.

From our "I know I am but what are you?" department, conservatives have found the photo of Kerry with Jane Fonda I linked to yesterday, and now they're proclaiming that it's much worse than anything George W. Bush could possibly have done, up to and including desertion from the National Guard, which he didn't really do, really. Now we'll see what the mainstream media does with all this--it's the precise kind of "balance" they love, because they think they've got both sides of a story and play them equally. But the two are not remotely close to equivalent. Even if Kerry hung out with Hanoi Jane, that's only a political transgression, and a debatable one at that. If Bush skipped out on his National Guard service, that's against the law, and an honorable discharge doesn't fumigate the stink.

Recommended viewing: The people at MoveOn.Org have another ad they want the world to see. "Polygraph" highlights the misleading statements Bush used to sell the war in Iraq. You can watch it here.

Not in Front of the Kids
I sense a grand convergence of political misdirection about to occur with the debate over a federal Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage--the amendment will be debated during the very summer of the election pitting a Democratic candidate from the very state that is trying to foist gay marriage on the whole country against God's handpicked choice for president. Pay no attention to the economy and the courts and security and the environment and the deserter presiding over all of it, Mr. and Mrs. America--gay people want to destroy your way of life! Daily Kos analyzed the amendment pretty well yesterday, noting that the proposed language of the amendment bans not only marriages but civil unions--and if I am not mistaken, it would also give states the right to ban the kind of domestic-partner agreements that have been legal for years. Yep, why be simply puritan when you can be punitive, too? Show them homos who's boss, by God. Let 'em move to France.

There are lots of interesting poll numbers on gay marriage and civil unions at PollingReport.com. Among them is that the older you are, the less likely you are to favor gay marriage or civil unions. This indicates that a tipping point may come in the future at which gay marriage becomes acceptable, but we're not there yet. The same Washington Post poll, taken in January, notes that even among those groups most likely to oppose gay marriage--those over age 65 and Republicans--more people favor leaving it up to the states instead of amending the Constitution. (The party of states' rights somehow managed to miss that.) Not that leaving it to the states would do a lot to bank the raging homophobia. Here in Wisconsin, 45 Republicans and one Democrat in the Assembly have signed on as co-sponsors of our own Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. (Insert heavy sigh here.)

Recommended reading: As the presidential candidates descend on Wisconsin, Alexander Cockburn of Counterpunch is out with a column on the demise of Wesley Clark and the anointing of John Kerry. If you think I exaggerated yesterday in saying that Kerry is no force for true change, Cockburn wouldn't. Counterpunch won't be endorsing Kerry anytime soon. A quick glance down their left-hand page shows several anti-Kerry articles, but you can find them for yourself. There's not much point in linking to them, or even paying them much notice from now until Election Day. He's our guy, and buyer's remorse is not an option.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Who's Yer Daddy?
The first blog I ever read regularly was Best of the Blogs, and it's still my favorite because of articles like these: Jerry Bowles on the curious placement of a full-page National Guard ad in today's New York Times and Josh Hammond on why he thinks Howard Dean is becoming "the white Alan Keyes of the Democratic Party." Bowles is an ex-military man and has been all over the controversy over Bush's service records; Hammond has been harder on Dean than most commentators in the Dean-friendly blogosphere, but often says things Deaniacs need to hear.

Dean has backed off his pledge to make Wisconsin his last stand, so unless he gets beat by Sharpton (which nearly happened in Virginia), he's probably in through March 2 now. Hammond accuses Dean of being untrustworthy for staying in the race after saying he'd get out. He ascribes Dean's persistence to, among other things, a desire to do to Kerry what Kerry did to him, and that may be partly why he's staying in the race.

But I think there's another, more prosaic reason--not the sole reason, but one that counts. Dean has been running for president for nearly two years, and speaking to enthusiastic crowds for eight or nine months. When he walks into a room, he hears people chanting, "President Dean, President Dean." They hang on his every word, interrupt him with applause, and line up to shake his hand when he's through. Then it's onto the bus or plane and off to the next town, where a couple of hours later, it happens again. I don't care how well adjusted you are--if you have ego enough to think you should be president of the United States, that adulation has got to be as powerful as crack. I don't believe Dean is so egotistical that he's staying in solely because he loves the way it feels to run, but love it he must. How could he not?

Recommended reading: A group called Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice held a forum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the other night. One of the group's founders, Stephen Soldz, delivered a talk called "The Psychodynamics of Empire," which was not nearly so daunting as its title. In the course of his talk, Soldz analyzed Americans' response to September 11 as an analyst might see it if we were collectively on the couch, and provided insights into the appeal of George W. Bush.

Soldz notes that we grow up believing that this country is unique, called by history, God, or whatever to be the greatest country on Earth. But now we've been attacked, the economy is in the tank, and people are unsure what the future will bring. Is it us? Is it our fault? Soldz says, "The fear, anxiety, and sense of failure despite our best efforts that many Americans experience--especially in this, the best country in history--and the accompanying shame, help activate the strict father model. The existence of an enemy out to destroy us leads people to believe we need a strong leader, an all-wise father-figure to protect us. Enter President Bush with his jump suit and codpiece."

But as I read Soldz' analysis, I thought, enter also John Kerry--a war veteran projecting a steady and resolute image, surrounded by those ubiquitous Fire Fighters for Kerry--an alternate version of the strict father. He's certainly better suited to fill that psychological void than John Edwards, the guy who's dating your sister, or Howard Dean, the toughest teacher in the whole high school. Wesley Clark comes the closest, but he comes across more like your dad's best friend than your dad, and he's gone back to Little Rock anyhow.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?