Sunday, August 31, 2008
I remember the iconic photo of all the school buses lined up in a flooded service yard, and people demanded to know why these buses hadn't been used to get people out of the city. My buddy Fergus said at the time that people didn't understand logistics. Once the people were on the buses, what then? Where would they go? Were they just to be carted out of town and dumped at the side of the road? Where was the food, water, shelter, and medical attention for these people going to come from, provided by what agency and for how long?
This time around, there has been great emphasis on how quickly and thoroughly people have been moved out of New Orleans. This is providing the Republicans with great photo ops - see, we're not going to let people drown this time! Before anyone snarks, I am very, very glad that people are evacuating. They need to. Even if Gustav is "only" a Category 3 hurricane, that is one savage storm.
Before we all get too teary eyed about the great humanitarian effort, however, read this article posted in the New York Times: A Long and Weary Bus Ride to Anywhere. People are, of necessity, being driven very long ways away from NOLA with no idea of where they are going and not very good conditions when they get there. At this point, it could work out OK or it could become simply wretched for the people off in this or that corner of another state. Sure as hell beats drowning or dying of exposure on some overpass, but the logistics are still not in place to handle a mass exodus from NOLA.
And, probably, to be fair, there may not ever be a way to be "ready" for such a thing. But what strikes me here is that we have the makings of a decentralized disaster far away from the cameras and the short attention news cycles, and that the Republicans will get congratulated for a heckuva job because we don't see bodies and people breaking into stores for water.
I think blogs need to be canvassing news outside of NOLA and the MSM, such as in Birmingham, the end point for the patient travelers in the story, to see how the evacuees are actually being cared for over the period that they must remain away. Are there enough provisions? Are they kept informed of what is happening? How will they get home? What will happen if there is (please, let it not be so) terrible damage once again to New Orleans?
In short, let's keep the people in charge accountable.
Well, what's one of the Democratic Party's greatest strengths? Its appeal to women -- who make up more than half the electorate -- as the party that cares about their rights. The party's problem, of course, is that Clinton's candidacy exposed that for the expedient lie it is, since the party establishment allowed the blatant misogyny directed against Clinton by the media, Democratic lawmakers, the Obama campaign and the rank-and-file to go unchallenged. Then, when Obama was ushered into the nomination by a fishy decision by the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee that was contrary to the DNC's own rules, the party establishment finally spoke up, albeit weakly. But only for so long, because there was no time to pay attention to silly things like rooting out misogyny in the party that claims to care about women. Get in line and vote for the Chosen One, and keep your mouth shut and don't spoil the optics.
This did appear to be a fairly serious problem for the Dems; Obama was losing support among women and other groups with his lurch to the right. And instead of trying to bring those voters back into the fold with persuasion and carrots and addressing their concerns, the campaign, the party, the media and especially the fan base turned to threats, mockery, infantilization, accusations of racism, doomsaying and RoeRoeRoeRoeRoe when those voters started saying that gosh, love to vote for you, but you haven't given me any reason to and how dare you assume that I have nowhere else to go?
Now, there was never a real risk that progressives would vote for McCain en masse; those Hillary supporters who show up in polls as planning to vote for McCain may very well be Republican and Independent women who were voting for Clinton, not for the Democrats.
There has been, however, a real risk that progressives who are sick of the misogyny and sick about the direction the party was taking would sit this one out. And the Republicans were counting on that continuing.
And then a funny thing happened -- after a lot of tension about whether Clinton and her 18 million supporters would be shut out of the Convention, the Obama people agreed to give Hillary and Bill Clinton prime-time speaking slots. And they both spoke of unity, and urged Hillary's supporters to vote for Obama. And a lot of the Hillary diehards here watched those speeches and said they were convinced, they'd now vote for Obama. Others, too -- as Jack Goff said, it was what he'd been waiting for, though he hadn't known he'd been waiting for anything.
Obama's speech, too, convinced more people that Obama was not necessarily all style and no substance, that he understood the need to talk issues and the need to fight.
Then McCain -- who, it should be noted, was telling the press he had not selected a running mate as late as the final day of the Democratic National Convention -- dropped the Palin bombshell.*
Zuzu's excellent distillation of the primary dynamics helped crystallize a thought that has been rattling around my brain for a few weeks. The framing of this election cycle on the Left uses as an operating presumption that any fault or failure in the Democratic march to victory is to be laid at the feet of women voters, specifically female Clinton supporters. This is more than just IACF, though that is one of the cornerstones.
It is the presumption that we are an untrustworthy, disloyal, always in need of discipline part of the party. An internal enemy. A band of evil sisters just drooling over the chance to defect to the dark side, or else a bunch of brainless, shallow, vagina voters who just don't know what's in our own self-interest, poor mindless dears that we are.
We are threatened, bullied, lectured and warned that we had better not go vote for some hard-right cultural conservative. Any female public figure who it is imagined we might support is assailed in vile and sexist ways, always seeking to demean, humiliate and cut that bitch down to size. And it's not just the bully boyz at Cheetopia who are doing this, though they are the worst offenders. I've stopped going to TalkLeft after Jeralyn's offensively paternalistic lectures on how bad Palin is and don't we foolish HRC holdouts know what's good for us undermined whatever credibility she had as an Obama supporter trying to convince on-the-fence Clinton Democrats to grit their teeth and vote strategically. As if I am not a life-long Democrat and feminist who has never voted for a Republican.
Think about this. Did anyone ever hear Hillary criticize a single voter for declining to cast their vote for her? Did you hear her campaign do this? I can think of one person, Jim Carville, calling out one super delegate, Bill Richardson. I have heard Hillary say, with her typical humility, that she failed to get her message across and she was going to have to work harder at winning the voters' trust and support.
Hillary herself has been very publically lectured, buillied, warned, threatened, and harassed that she had better deliver her voters (And why is the image that I get in my brain when I read this stuff is of a bound, gagged and drugged female form being handed over for gang rape?) to Obama, or else she is ruined, done, over, disgraced, without a political future.
Treating half your base as presumptive enemies is not a good way to run a campaign. Just sayin'...
The political issue is bigger than Palin herself. There are a wide range of reactions to her selection and her ability to garner votes (as opposed to generate buzz) is probably narrow, though wider than it should have been. With regard to Democratic voters, putting Palin on the ticket should have had the same effect with Dem and Dem-leaning Independent women voters as putting Alan Keyes on the ticket would have had with Dem and Dem-leaning Independent AA voters, to wit, negligible. However, with the misogyny and Hillary-bashing of the primaries and the out-of-the-gate misogyinistic reactions to Palin herself, the Obamacans will suffer measureable attrition from this constituency. Among Hillary voters I have read and/or emailed with, most are laughing their asses off at the hysteria of the Obamacans, but most also are saying they won't vote for a conservative. A significant number who were considering voting McKinney or simply leaving the ballot blank say they will vote Palin. None who said they would vote Obama are changing their minds.
The new voters Palin is bringing in are on the Republican side, evangelical voters who were uninspired by or distrustful of McCain but who will eagerly turn out for Palin. The argument about McCain's poor health (which I think is both bogus and a bad, bad argument for Dems to make) is actually a plus for them, because it offers the prospect of one of their own as President. She will probably bring out moderate Republican women who would have gone for Hillary, don't really like McCain, and would probably have sat out this election round.
The real impact that Palin can have on the race is the way in which she compounds the effect of the Republican ticket. The huffing and puffing about her qualifications and experience has no effect on the Republican base. If anything, her ability to piss off the SCLM is a feature, not a bug. She is a Media Darling to them because the media hates her. She adds an extra exclamation point to the Republican argument with constituencies whose voting preferences decide elections. The focus on women voters, left and right, ignores that she may be a statistically significant draw for blue collar voters, especially those who are already somewhat culturally conservative. This is not so much that she will bring in voters that McCain cannot, as is the case with evangelicals, but that she reinforces his appeal to that constituency, and "seals the deal".
Where I anticipate her being a "game changer" will be in state and local races, where a slight increase in turnout can change results. When some races and ballot measures are decided by a few hundred votes, getting out twenty more voters here, eight more voters there will pay off. I don't think that this was one of McCain's considerations when he chose her, but it is most certainly a consideration of the state party officials who are dancing a gleeful jig. It may endanger governerships, state legislatures and some House races Dems were hoping to pick up. For example, Washington State will have a rematch of Dem. Gregoire and Rep. Rossi for governor. The last time, Gregoire won by a razor thin margin after multiple recounts that are not considered valid by the losing side. In news reports I have read, Rossi is very happy with the choice of Palin to help him turn out his own cultural conservative base (he is a truly bat-shit insane culture warrior who cleans up nice) and expects another close battle with Gregoire - which he will win this time. Washington state is far more conservative than people realize, and adding Palin may actually turn Washington red because of the makeup of the Republican Party. This may be repeated in red and purple states in specific races where the race is close.
The next consideration is for ballot measures and initiatives, such as the anti-Affirmative Action measures in Colorado and Missouri (among other places) and the anti-gay marriage state constitutional amendment in California. Palin now adds an appealing and energetic face to put on the GOTV efforts on the Republican side. Interest in her, her marketability, raises the viability of these policy measures. My second thought after seeing her name in the news as McCain's VP pick was that California will soon have anti-gay bigotry enshrined in the state constitution because she will bring out the fundies to vote for this measure. My third thought was that California is no longer a shoo-in for the Dems because of the way in which a telegenic, appealing cultural conservative candidate who hits all the right libertarian notes will herself be reinforced by the anti-gay marriage initiative.
Choices like Palin are risky. This may yet all backfire on McCain. What I see, however, is an accidentally savvy ticket selection that is generating buzz and will redound to the Republican's advantage in the fall. It may not win the White House for them, but it revivifies an otherwise tired and disaffected Republican base.
The deliberate actions of the DNC and their selected candidate to antagonize and alienate the Democratic base only compounds the problem.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
For weeks, advisers close to the campaign said, Mr. McCain had wanted to name as his running mate his good friend Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, the Democrat turned independent. But by the end of last weekend, the outrage from Christian conservatives over the possibility that Mr. McCain would fill out the Republican ticket with Mr. Lieberman, a supporter of abortion rights, had become too intense to be ignored.
Mr. McCain was comfortable with two others on his short list, Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. But neither was the transformative, attention-grabbing choice Mr. McCain felt he needed, top campaign advisers said, to help him pivot from his image as the custodian of the status quo to a change agent like his Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama.
Not least, Mr. Obama’s decision to pass over Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as his running mate opened the possibility for Republicans to put a woman on the ticket and pick off some of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters.
At 11 a.m. on Thursday, at the McCain vacation compound near Sedona, Ariz., Mr. McCain invited Ms. Palin to join him on the ticket. He hardly knew her, and she had virtually no foreign policy experience, but Ms. Palin was a “kindred spirit,” a McCain adviser said. Mr. McCain was betting, the adviser said, that she would help him reclaim the mantle of maverick that he had lost this year.
Last Sunday, 24 hours after Mr. Obama announced his running mate, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Mr. McCain met with his senior campaign team at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Phoenix. By then, campaign advisers said, the group had long decided that Mr. McCain’s “experience versus change” argument against Mr. Obama had run its course, to the extent that it had worked at all.
In any case, one campaign adviser said, Mr. McCain hated running as the wizened old hand of experience. Despite his embrace this year of President Bush and many of the administration’s policies, Mr. McCain, a campaign adviser said, still saw himself as the maverick who delighted in occasionally throwing political grenades at his own Party.
Ms. Palin, and not Mr. Pawlenty or Mr. Romney, would reinforce Mr. McCain’s self-image, an adviser said. She had a reputation as a reformer in Alaska, she hunted and fished, and she had once belonged to a union. Just as crucial, Ms. Palin, 44, was beloved by the party’s religious base but did not come off as shrill. “She’s conservative,” Mr. Black said, “but she’s not an ideologue.”
So, what can be gathered from this? Pretty much what I said this morning.
- That McCain wanted to revive the "maverick" brand. That appears to have been his biggest concern.
- He was concerned about solidifying his base.
- He wants to be seen as a change agent.
- He had gotten as much use out of the "experience" argument as he could and was ready to turn tables.
- Getting Hillary's voters was not a primary motivator.
The only shocker in this article was how seriously he was considering Lieberman, which would have turned his campaign from a threat into the biggest joke in the political universe.
First, let's get the obvious out of the way. Why is anyone reacting to the fact that a conservative political party's conservative presidential nominee has tapped a conservative running mate? Like, duh. This is exactly what we should have expected from the Republicans because why would they do anything else? This is what Republicans are.
The real elephant (ahem) in the middle of the room is the unacknowledged fact that the DNC and their selected candidate abused the intelligence and trust of the party base and subjected the base's preferred candidate to outrageous abuse month after month in the primaries. The blogosphere's hysterical overreaction to the Palin selection reveals the fear that their hate-filled, explicitly misogynist tactics will backfire on them and that a significant enough percentage of this disaffected base will do more than sit out the election in November, but will actively cast a protest vote.
Clinton Democrats know exactly how revolting the Republican ticket is. That's why we voted for Hillary. That's why we rejected the Obama message of bipartisanship and content-free hopey-changey. Obamacans were the ones happy to play patty-cake with these bastards and throw our economic and legal concerns into the toilet. Hillary is still out there fighting for UHC, btw, while Obama's good buddy John Kerry declares that a Democratic Congress isn't even going to try to get it in front of a Democratic president.
I'm under no illusion how damaging Palin is and I won't try to portray her as anything less than she is - a rabid cultural conservative with bad policies for everything from the environment to social justice. I've been writing and voting against these people for years. I will be at it years from now because that is the kind of Democrat I am.
I'm also under no illusion how angry and alienated millions of Democrats are over Obama's conduct in the primaries. He made political choices and took political risks when he ran that campaign, and the fact is that he may have made the wrong choice.
That is the issue, not the Republican ticket.
The Democratic campaign has been woefully short on both ideological and strategic analysis of political conditions, bouyed by the false belief that the Republican brand was DOA this year (Don't we always think that?) and that the Democratic nominee would be a shoe in for President. The selection of Palin exposes the weakness of the Democrats by demonstrating what McCain is doing to strengthen his own hand. I point the reader to Ed Kilgore (post 1, post 2), BTD (post 1, post 2, post 3, post 4) and Chicago Dyke for clear eyed analyses of the political impact of McCain's move. Here is my own.
First and foremost, this is not about Democrats. This is about tensions and contests within the Republican Party. McCain is handling his intra-party conflicts better than Obama. There is doubt about where to take the party after the failures of Gingrich and Bush/Cheney, and McCain is answering them. With the choice of this person rather than another established party insider, McCain has expanded the leadership options. This was done at the risk of of ticking off the party establishment (the establishment that has been pissing on him since 2000), but will please many rank and file.
Second, McCain is protecting himself from electoral defections from his own side. His least committed constituents are cultural conservatives. These are the people who would go with Bob Barr. With Palin on the ticket, McCain neutralizes that effect, probably changing what would have been a higher attrition level compared to Obama's vis-a-vis Naderite/Green voters to a lower one.
Third, he reinforces his own "maverick" brand. This has always been more image than reality, but what foundations it does have are rooted in his reputation for abruptly taking an unconventional stand and for fighting party corruption. (That a member of the Keating 5 should become a poster child for clean government simply shows that political irony is dead, but that's another topic.) Superficially, Palin is a "daring" choice, and her reputation as someone who will buck the party elite will play well. Appearance and narrative trump reality in this case, as they always have.
But it leads to the fourth point, which is that Palin's political identity as someone who will challenge the party will resonate outside of conservative circles with right-leaning Independents. Too many people yammering on about Independent voters make the mistake in thinking that they are independent and not just slightly disaffected voters who will vote pretty consistently for Democrats or Republicans unless given something very enticing to shift their preferences. More often, these voters will sit out an electoral round if they have doubts about their habitual choice. This is the problem that McCain has been facing because the maverick brand was weak and because Ron Paul pulled a lot of people into his camp and they have not returned. Palin brings the myth of the frontier, clean government credentials, a libertarian streak, and sex appeal. This is an image that will sell to right-leaning independents.
Fifth, this choice strengthens McCain's claim to be a change agent, which co-opts the Obama theme. McCain was relentlessly pushing this message in his announcement and it has been taken up by operatives throughout the party. We're maverick outsiders who will be both conservative in our values and aggressive in shaking up DC business as usual politics. Unlike the theme of healing divisions, though, McCain promises to open up a can of whupass. Like sex, violence sells.
Sixth, McCain capitalizes on the debates about experience. What he has done is actually quite sophisticated. It is very short sighted to say that he can't use the "lacks experience" argument against Obama anymore now that he has chosen Palin. Wrong. He now can say he put Palin in a position that is appropriate to her political talents and promise, but which takes account of her actual experience. For the Left to argue that she is unqualifed for VP when her political career is extremely similar to Obama's is political suicide. If the Obamacans honestly cannot understand that Obama and Palin have comparable political biographies, then they are too stupid to be let out in public without a keeper.
To take up my previous posts about how Republicans will focus on Affirmative Action, not race, in this election, choosing Palin allows the Republicans to present an argument that they are not racist or sexist, but that they oppose unjustified promotions above your pay grade. The history of questionable election victories surrounding Obama will become an issue.
Seventh, this is an historic VP choice for Republicans, and they will not see it as tokenism because of Palin's credibility within her party. If it also picks up swing (or revenge) votes among Democrat women, it's icing on the cake, but do not for a second underestimate the effect this has with conservative women.
With the Palin choice, McCain is talking to his base and securing that support. I also think he is trying to establish a political coalition apart from Bush-Rove-Cheney. It is a risky choice because the results, good or bad, will be dramatic, but it is the right kind of political choice. McCain has clarified his ideological stance with his current and potential supporters which empowers him in the GE campaign.
McCain's choice also shines a spotlight on the potentially fatal weakness of the Obama campaign, which was to take the Democratic base for granted. Women voters won't go Republican because of Roe v. Wade and blue collar voters won't go Republican because the economy blows chunks and the Republican candidates are old rich guys who can't "connect". The Obama campaign treated the Clinton Democrat constituency and our champions with disdain and hostility, right down to the roll call vote. "You have no where else to go," is what we were told week after week when we said, no, stupid, it's not race, its the economy. It's the lack of partisan committment. It's the refusal to address our concerns about the social safety net. The magnanimity of the Clintons and their unshakable loyalty to the party, fully on display at the convention, threw the petty selfishness and insecurity of the Obamacans into relief.
The general election is now in doubt for the Democrats because Obama has spent most of a year kicking the Clinton Democrats, the base of the party, to the curb. His refusal to even consider our candidate for the ticket shows he puts his emotional satisfaction ahead of the political needs of the party. The campaign's first reaction to Palin was an attack on the person, exactly in the mode of their hateful attacks on Hillary - sexist, disdainful, mocking, and crude. This doesn't speak to the Democratic base and it only riles up the Republicans to defend their candidate.
If the contest is about ideology and the damage the Republicans have done to the nation, the Dems have a chance. If it is about personal qualifications and penney-ante scandals, Democrats lose.
It's all about the basics.
Friday, August 29, 2008
I share many concerns and issues with PUMA members and agree with most of what they are attempting, but I also have points of sharp disagreement.
As I said in a comment on Corrente to correct a misidentification, I am a Clinton Democrat. Period.
With appreciation for PUMA,
Pay attention to Ed Kilgore's points about why this candidate will be very strong with Republican loyalists and why she will appeal to Independents and wavering Democrats:
To be sure, I'm a poor judge of the visual side of campaign events. But what I saw in Dayton was (1) the "maverick" GOP presidential candidate introducing his "maverick" running mate, although Palin, even more than McCain, is actually a conservative ideologue whose selection thrilled both cultural and economic factions of the Right; (2) a direct appeal by Palin to HRC supporters to consummate Hillary's campaign by shattering the splintered "glass ceiling;" (3) a compelling personal story of a woman who (a) has one son with Down's Syndrome, (b) another who is being deployed to Iraq on September 11; (c) is married to a Native American (at least technically) union worker and athlete; and (d) has bravely defied her party and oil companies in Alaska.
I would add that I have been reading about Sarah Palin for a fairly long time so was not surprised to hear she had been chosen, that she is a very tenacious political fighter, and that she is a good contrast to McCain without taking away.
This is a dangerous political choice for Democrats, in great part because of moronic responses by PB 1.0 that belittle and underestimate her.
I mean, Dubya was too conservative, inexperienced and on the wrong side of issues to win in 2000, and how did that work out?
Thursday, August 28, 2008
The speech was better in that it had some specifics in it, some mentions of what Democrats intend to do. The 2004 keynote, in comparison, was almost all bipartisan feel-good, see we're really not all that different, unity stuff. Even so, it was a more effective speech because shorter, more focused and free to evoke rather than spell out. That is not a criticism of either speech because the tone and topic of each reflect the different task set before it and the kinds of expectations attached to those tasks.
BTD thinks Obama's speech tonight succeeded. I disagree, though I would not go so far as to say it failed. I think it held ground and was sufficient for the occasion, but it was, at base, deeply incoherent. The lack of internal agreement in the speech points to the incoherence of the anti-Clinton leadership because it reflects some of the deep contradictions of what I have been calling the Stevensonian elite in the Democratic party. It seems my coinage of "Stevensonian" is catching on in the outer 'burbs of the blogosphere, though there's been too simple of a dichotomy made from what I've been trying to describe. Stevensonian =/= "bad" and Truman =/= "good", and at this point there is not a single party leader of any status who isn't more Stevensonian than Truman. The question is where is the balancing point for the party and its candidates between these two modes of political life? Puzzling this out is what drives my political thinking. Obama's success or failure in the GE will hinge on whether he can find this balance. The speech tonight was not reassuring.
The speech breaks down into three parts. The first part was the best from a partisan standpoint, and was a solid, if standard, Dem acceptance speech. He thanked all the right people in all the right measure. He praised the country and the voters. He told stories of people. The best parts were taken wholesale from Hillary and Bill's speeches and that's a good thing. The single best line from it (in my opinion was this: "Well, it's time for them [Republicans] to own their failure. It's time for us to change America." Why is this so good? Because it talks about being responsible for outcomes, and tying political ideology to political failure. The Republicans are the cause of this failure, and we need to change that by tossing them out.
The stories tying his own life to what he heard on the campaign trail was nicely done, though I agree with a few commenters that the people he described are all generic types, not the specific people Hillary spoke of. I myself am uncomfortable at attempts by any politician to make claims about their own authenticity or common touch by comparing themselves to "regular" people, so the stories in the end did not work for me, but I can see how they would appeal to others. So, that stuff is a wash with me, but standard political theater.
The second part was also a standard part of any political convention speech, the inevitable laundry list of policies, plans and ideas that serve as shorthand for what the candidate and the party intend to do once in office. You can make these things killingly dull, but I'm not sure anyone can make them sparkle. It was the dullest point in Hillary's speech on Monday, too, when she ran down the list, so I'll give him a nod on that one. I don't look for specific policies in such things (I just go to the web site... ) and look at it more as a recitation of talking points.
Where the speech lost its way was the part that probably has Chris Matthews tingling all over, the third part where he slipped back into his stump speech and reverted to finger wagging at politicians as such, ignoring the lessons handed to him by the masters on Tuesday and Wednesday. It made no sense, given the political times and his own VP selection. It stood in direct contradiction to the opening, where he finally seemed to accept that he has to campaign as a Democrat.
It is almost unfair to make this speech stand up to the artistry of Bill's presentation yesterday, beacuse there is no better speaker in politics today than Bill Clinton, but it is only through these comparisons that we can see where the party needs to go and how it needs to position itself to capitalize on the weakness of the Right. Bill distilled this election and the fundamental ground of political difference into two sentences:
But on the two great questions of this election, how to rebuild the American dream and how to restore America's leadership in the world, [McCain] still embraces the extreme philosophy which has defined his party for more than 25 years, a philosophy we never had a real chance to see in action until 2001, when the Republicans finally gained control of both the White House and Congress. Then we saw what would happen to America if the policies they had talked about for decades were implemented.This is an incredible statement. In two sentences, he distilled all of the best political and econmic writings of the Left for the past two decades and applied all of the political history and wisdom since Watergate to make clear why the Republicans, as a party and an ideology, must be removed. Here are the issues - domestic prosperity and international stability - and we are in such dire shape now because of the damage the Republicans have inflicted on the nation once they got their way. Clinton made it clear that the source of our woes was the extremist rule of the other party, and that they must be removed, no matter how much we might personally like this or that particular Republican. It was a necessary move away from the drive to personalize politics, which is always a trap for Democrats, by talking about a philosophy of rule that leads to personal and national impoverishment.
Bill knows that trying to tie McCain to Bush won't work. Gore and Kerry both lost running campaigns about being better than the other guy, because the other guy can and will (with the full complicity of the MSM, as the Incomparable Bob Somerby reminds us) trample our goodness into the ground. What the Big Dog did, what Hillary did, was tie both McCain and Bush to the fucked up political philosophy of the Right. They made the argument about more than a single administration - it is against the Republicans as such, from Reagan forward.
Hillary and Bill can deliver these kinds of speeches that go hammer and tongs after the Republicans, speeches that resonate with the core of the party, because they don't feel the need to capitulate on being Democrats. There is no nod to bipartisanship just for its own sake. Struggles in Washington are not always bad if what you are fighting is the pillaging of the nation and an assualt on our basic liberties. They are as partisan as the moment will allow, and now is the time to go all out. What the anti-Clinton faction can't figure out (or won't cop to) is that Bill and Hillary have moved on from the embattled times of the Movement Conservative ascendency and are pushing a significantly more hard-nosed and tough approach to politics (Hillary even more than Bill) than you hear form the rest of the party, which is seems stuck in a timewarp from 14 years ago.
The spousal unit reminded me of an article we read in the Village Voice back in 1992 when we were ardent Jerry Brown supporters. (Side note - Hubby was at a campaign rally for Jerry in Washington Square Park. Jerry was running late as usual. Really late. Carly Simon was there and sang an a capella version of Anticipation. Talk about music suited to the occasion.) It made us sit up and take notice of this fellow from Arkansas. Bill Clinton was asked what he thought of Britain's Labor Party's thrashing in the most recent elections (This was under Kinnock, the party head Joe Biden plagiarized). Bill replied that Labor had not gone as far as the Social Democrats at Bad-Godesberg. Whoa. That made a pair of political scientists sit back and take notice. How bizarre that an American politician was so aware of the European Left, and waas thinking ahead of how to make a Center Left party work.
It is this attention to the operations of power and long-view political strategy that creates conditions for success that go beyond a single election round. This is what Krugman has chronicled about the Movement Conservatives. The Clintons have given a lifetime of study and practice of how to do liberal politics under adverse conditions. What are the compromises to make and why? What will set you up for a stronger move the next time your turn comes up? How do you get to the point where the Left can act?
Listening to the current Democratic leadership, reading the triumphalism on the fauxgressive blogs, and particularly hearing the drumbeat for "bipartisanship", I want to shake these fools out of their inability to recognize what has happened to the country over the last quarter century (actually longer, since Nixon forward). Here were the least palatable parts of tonight's speech:
The challenges we face require tough choices, and Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past. For part of what has been lost these past eight years can't just be measured by lost wages or bigger trade deficits. What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose our sense of higher purpose. ...
And you know what it's worked before. Because it feeds into the cynicism we all have about government. When Washington doesn't work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it's best to stop hoping, and settle for what you already know. ...
For eighteen long months, you have stood up, one by one, and said enough to the politics of the past. You understand that in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result. You have shown what history teaches us that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn't come from Washington. Change comes to Washington. Change happens because the American people demand it, because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time.
For 40 years, since 1968, the American political landscape has been dominated by the most compact, fanatical, ideologically radical party in the West today. They have brutalized their opponents and despoiled the nation. The crises of our nation (vs. some rather pedestrian political screw ups) have been caused by this group that simply does not agree that we should be a democratic nation. This is not "gridlock" - this is political survival. They have over-reached and now is the time to seize a political opportunity.
From the langauge I have heard through the campaign season and particularly in the last few days, this group is quite cheerfully positioning itself in a weaker position than the Clintons took in 1992, when it seemed impossible that anything could stop the Reagan Revolution juggernaut. They have eagerly taken on the superficial trappings of the Right - pandering to religious kooks, backing down on civil rights, abandoning even the pretense of social and economic equity, flatly saying they will not entertain an ambitious health care reform plan - and have no sense of the depth of change they could accomplish if they would trust to their own party's philosophy.
The speech was all surface and ended by denying its own opening claims, cutting off its deepest, strongest roots.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Some people said his heart wasn't in it when he was praising Obama. Maybe, maybe not. Bill sounded as sincere as any of the other speakers and was far more compelling because he came up with reasons that were more than just "vote for our nominee cuz he's so kewl." Name me one other political figure who has suffered such defamation and yet who can look any audience straight in the eye and unswervingly advocate for their opponent. The only person to match Bill is Hillary, and that is not a mistake.
Look at their speeches in the last 24 hours. They are a pair, just like the speakers, and they provide a profound lesson to Democrats.
Hillary's presentation was crisper, more on topic, much like the woman herself. As I said yesterday, she presented the political case for why we are Democrats. She looked at the identity "Democrat" with a clear eye and did not flinch away from making a claim that this was something worth fighting for. She defined a Democrat as someone who acts, who accepts duties and obligations, and who is not dissuaded by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. In the most glowing terms, Hillary explained why being a partisan was a good thing. To be a Democrat is to take upon oneself the identity of the outcast, the rejected, the oppressed, the disdained, to welcome the outrage of the well-off and comfortable, and never surrender to the demons of stupidity. Her performance showed how far the party leadership has fallen from their obligations to that duty, yet also saying, "It is still here, still possible, because I, too, am still here. Now is the time to act." It is not even a choice. No "or else," "you'd better," "last chance," or "you'll be sorry." They simply must lay down their obstinate opposition and be Democrats.
This is not, as some detractors and disappointed followers have said, weakness or capitulation. Anyone who thinks this has it exactly bass ackwards. The frantic machinations of the Obamacans show that they know who has the power to preserve them from their own follies. They need her in a way she does not, has never needed them. Their greatest fear is that she will not intervene.
Bill meandered a bit at the start, trying a little too hard to counter objections to Obama the person. He did a better job of this than anyone else I have heard speak except Hillary, but it was the wrong kind of cadence for this actor. I read an opinion piece recently (can't locate link) that said as long as the campaign is about Obama as a person, he will lose, because there is not much there to talk about. I'm going to resist the obvious snark line and shift the emphasis of that observation. If you are a Democrat, if a campaign is made small, individual, personal, reduced to the parts and proclivities that make up the candidate, you will lose. If you can be reduced to a cackling laugh, a misrepresented statement, a bad land deal, an awkward mannerism, you are toast. It is part of the overall Republican push to atomize people, needs, issues and interests, to reduce them to mere opinion or a personal failing, and thereby disguise the relationships of power that can help or hurt us. Bill's comparison of Obama to himself as the nominee was not just a generous gift to Obama, but a warning to the Democrats not to fall for the trap of morality politics that took out Gore and Kerry.
The change that came over the Big Dog in his speech is when he turned away from examination of the particular candidate and launched into his whirlwind indictment of Republican ineptitude and catastrophic governance. Bill Clinton laid out in no uncertain terms what the hell a Democrat does and how we affect the entire world for the better. This is why you are a Democrat! Not to make nice-nice with the extremist loons in the opposition, but to deliver the goods. Goods like increased wages and reduced inequality, real health care and fewer corporate profits, more security and less international resentment. Bill Clinton made clear that the subject of politics is exactly that - politics. Policy. Partisanship. Standing the fuck up for what you know is right and refusing to capitulate to the nervous nellies who can't think of anything except the fucking. Daring the bastards to shut down the govenemnt, or try to impeach you, and coming away the winner. Doing right by people and being the most loved president alive. Beating out most of the dead guys, too.
Watching the pair of them deliver the most powerful speeches of the convention was a one-two punch. They made the case for what it means to be a Democrat. The opposition to Bill and Hillary is not that they have failed, but that they are all too effective at building a party that can fight. They have demonstrated what the Democratic Party could be if it believes in itself and its core values.
The Republican nightmare is that their hate-drenched spell will wear off and the CDS afflicted fools on the Left will get over their idiocy and embrace the Clintons for what they are - the core of the Democratic Party. The psychotic flight from what these two have done to defend and rebuild a party steamrolled and demoralized by the Movement Conservatives denies the Democrats their own best legacy. If you are on Obama's side and you cut out the Clintons, you are carving out the heart of Democratic power. The roar that greeted both of them was not from a winnowed and managed crowd of loyalists. It was from whatever Democrat showed up. Why would you want to throw this away?
Hillary and Bill walk onto a stage and the energy goes through the roof. They are politically effective, which is why they are attacked so savagely by enemies from without and rivals from within. They speak to what it means to be a Democrat. They believe in this party in a way that the current leadership does not. The plea/threat for the Clintons to go all out for those who can barely stand to say the word "Democrat", let alone "partisan Democrat", betrays the the understanding that this is so.
The conflicted reaction to the Clintons from the Stevensonian elite has a few parts. One is just plain and simple jealousy, the kind that always attends successful people. Another, particularly for the younger crew who don't remember Reagan clearly, is that they have lived in a CDS saturated media market for most of their lives and it's difficult to think outside that narrative. Another is disappointment that they aren't Superman and Wonder Woman, and that they haven't lived up to their own ideals and expectations every day of their lives. The biggest part of it is fear that if you associate too closely with these people who are at the center of the unhinged hatred of a fanatical and violent opposition, you will also come under attack. Who would want to be treated that way? Why not stand by the sidelines and whistle while the attacks go on, rather than walk in and become a casualty? Better yet, why not try to placate the Right by joining the attacks and trying to be more reasonable than these stubborn hicks from Arkansas who keep insisting on things like gay rights and healthcare?
It's about time the party embraced its toughest, strongest best partisans. Be Clinton Democrats.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Her speech was a work of brilliance. I'm waiting to see the transcript and go over it in detail. It was, first and foremost, a speech about politics. It had plenty of "human interest" and even humor in it. We most certainly got a look into the mind and heart of this woman. But what it was, from the first line to the last, was a full-force evocation of what it means to be a Democrat. In a season wehere we have been bombarded by bipartisan, everybody let's hug, don't say anything bad about the Republicans, don't be partisan be Obamacan, Unity Ponies for everyone balderdash, Hillary took the party by the scruff of its dithering neck and made it look at the reason we are a party in the first place.
The invocations of all of her identities became the warp into which she wove the woof of policy, belief, and acts, creating a mantle - Democrat. I am a Democrat for these reasons - these reasons are why I must call myself a Democrat. She was unapologetically partisan in every sentence. She explained, with the examples from her campaign, why she is driven to serve. She gave notice that for her this is a duty and that the hatred heaped upon her has no effect. I was reminded of her words in the blogger conference call - I am impervious to them.
Evidently Chris Matthews said that there was no evidence of defeat in this speech. Why would there be? It is entirely a media narrative, helped along mightily by the pool boys of the fauxgressive blogosphere, that they were "finally rid of the Clintons." They wanted suffering, shame, penance, begging for forgiveness and Hillary just handed them a steaming super-sized mug of shut the fuck up. As she was never a media darling, they cannot touch her - she is impervious. She walked off that stage the most powerful person in the Deomcratic Party, owning nothing to any of the power brokers because she has given it all to the Party. That is her duty, there lie her obligations, and that is what she is here to defend.
In the hall, it was interesting to look at the signs. The bright white signs with her signature in deep blue were like lights across the dark background of the audience. At some point, people held up tall vertical signs: Hillary, Obama, Unity. The imbalance in the representations struck me at once. Her first name and the familiarity and comfort that evoked. His last name, easy to chant, traditional political presentation. But the names were not brought together. You had to look at another sign to be given a command (a plea?) - Unity. For that to have been so, the names would have to have shared the same space, a unity not demanded but enacted.
Hillary presented the case for unity, answering the question "Unity for the sake of what?" (and even answering Lambert's plaint "And we get...?") through her enactment of Democratic principles. There was no ire, no resentment, not even the whisper of hurt. Politics is rough, but failure to fulfill your political duty (to the veteran, to the cancer patient, to the impoverished mother), is unforgiveable. Not hope. Not change. Duty. She gave Bill the recognition for his duty that their political opponents meanly withhold. She offered the arguments for why the success of the party was paramount, and in the doing ripped away the prevarications and self-deception thrown out for why unity with her wasn't possible. She explicitly invoked Bill Gwatney's pursuit of a Democratic and more just South, crushing the anti-Bubba bigotry with the straightforward truth that the only way to end the ugly legacy of the South is to transform it.
Many people have talked about Obama as a "transcendent" candidate, someone who is "post-partisan," "post-racial," calls us to something higher, and so forth. What Hillary did on that stage tonight was demonstrate what true political transcendence looks like. Surrounded by heart-broken supporters, hateful detractors, an unflaggingly hostile media, and looking at the faces of her colleagues who have treated her in the most despicable way possible for months on end, she spoke passionately and without rancor to all of them. Her personal grace and decency were rivaled only by her political integrity and loyalty. She has transcended the brutality and cruelty visited upon her in this primary. The political ground that lies within her reach has been swept clean of any barriers, impediments or stumbling blocks.
There is nothing left for her to do for anyone. Hillary is exactly what she showed on the stage tonight - the most dedicated Democrat in the party - and it is now up to the rest to live up to her example, or fail and fall. She has laid the ultimate political trap precisely by refusing to do so.
This is, I think, what keeps flummoxing the people who want to do her damage. Hillary is a hellacious campaigner and is not above delivering some pretty sharp puches, as she did to the hapless John McCain and pretty much all the rest of the goons and fools in the Republican Party, but she is not out to destroy anyone. (Big Dog is a different matter, and I am now very curious to see how his speech will differ from Hillary's) When her response to the months of backstabbing, intrigue, smearing, and general paranoid petulance of the Obama campaign is to flash her million watt smile and say she's ready to win the White Hosue for the Democrats regardless of the candidate and do so with utter conviction and sincerity, there's really nothing they can do without looking exactly as corrupt and moronic as they are. She owes them nothing after this speech, though she will give them anything that a Democrat deserves.
Obama wanted to be the Democratic nominee in the worst way possible. He got his wish. Tonight, Hillary showed him the only way out of his predicament.
It is now all on Obama's head to show he is half the Democrat she is.
Monday, August 25, 2008
People don't give a fuck about race. Iraq isn't motivating them all that much, either, since it's obvious the question is not if but when we leave. They are scared to death of the brutal economic times ahead and they want someone to have some answers that will make their own lives more secure.
Is the campaign even talking abut this? Have they said anything concrete about helping ordinary Americnas get through the coming financial storm? Not according to Krugman or Somerby whose opinions I trust even if I don't want to hear what they say. Instead, we're getting week after week of whining about race and personal smears and impugning patriotism and who owns how many houses and whose more "in touch" with the middle class. Given the crap Biden has spewed about Obama in combination with his history of borderline racist and misogyistic remarks, it all sounds like the Obamacans are substituting their own guilty consciences for the opinion of the general public. They are so certain that the attacks will be on race and Obama's foreign/exotic presence that they appear to only be on the offensive for these kinds of arguments. They presume racism, xenophobia, accusations of elitism, questioning of patriotism. They are not wrong, because these are under attack as they are in every battle with the Republicans, but the expectations and responses are focused on these things to the exclusion of more dangerous inroads.
Also, these are the obsessions of the Stevensonian class. The power brokers of the party long ago hitched their wagons to race as the beast of burden that would pull them through to moral victory. They were on the side of the right and the good. The part of the party that would not align on this matter has been jettisoned, a necessary act that had to be done. But now the tunnel vision about race hasd become a political and cultural straight jacket. The race baiting of the campaign. Labeling Ohio voters "Archie Bunkers" for supporting Hillary. Belittling Pennsylvania voters who won't see themselves being delivered from their benighted lives by Obama. Dean's repeated references to Republicans as "the white party." The deafening howls that the only reason voters like me fail to vote for Obama is because we are racist.
The big question for me is how many Obamacans truly in their hearts believe that race explains everything in this campaign. That number is the measure of the vulnerability of the party.
The Republicans, who regard racsim as a strategic weapon and not as an evil to be eradicated, refuse to join the party. Why waste money and resources when the Democrats are doing the damage all on their own? They will, of course, throw in racist appeals before the end because they are Republicans, but they have a more effective approach for now. Where has Obama lost ground among Democratic voters? In the populations most endangered by the faltering economy and the long term erosion of socio-economic standing. He did not address what mattered most to them, which was their increasing vulnerability to the ordinary dangers of life - insurance, health care, retirement, wages, job security, housing. To fail to do this was what makes Obama come across as elitist.
The assault on AFAC by the Republicans is yet another example of how they use personalization and moralizing to turn an argument about institutions and government policy into one about personal benefit. The focus on the individual who is not hired or admitted is turned into a narrative of dark forces colluding to deprive a deserving, hard working person of their rightful place and giving it to some unqualified person, completely ignoring the larger cultural context of the program. When the college admissions process is gamed by elites to gain access to the most desireable institutions, then the broader argument becomes harder to defend.
Some have mistaken my earlier arguments about Obama and affirmative action to mean that I am attacking him from a Republican, anti-AFAC position, that I support people who make such arguments, or that I think this is a "valid" criticism of him.
I'm not going to do their work for them, which is one reason I have remained silent on this topic for so long. There is a difference between saying that someone is not the best choice because he lacks experience and using false representations of affirmative action to smear a prominent Democrat in order to increase the efficacy of your campaign to destroy affirmative action.
I'm talking about the Democratic leadership's inability to understand how the simple facts of Obama's personal history combined with the blatent favortism and machinations of the DNC on his behalf is being used to effectively undermine the campaign and, more importantly, the liberal policies of the party. To respond "Racist!" when the charge is "Unqualified!" is stomping right into the sterotype of how Republicans say Democrats use AFAC - to place unqualified minorities into positions they have not earned, do not deserve and cannot perform. This is the real mesage behind the latest attack ad trying to use Hillary. It was not primarily about whether Hillary said Obama was not qualified (Like Republicans care about Hillary? Puh-leeze...), but about getting the optics in front of the viewers - white person who is really well prepared pushed aside for brown person who isn't. And with the Stevensonian fanaticism about race, they are providing all the wrong responses to this assault. The Republican campaign theme, now that Hillary is not on the ticket, is this: Look at the Democrats engaging in reverse discrimination with the office of the Presidency itself. If they will do this, they will stop at nothing to give your jobs away.
The problem is that the Democratic leadership have nothing to promote except Obama himself. They don't have policies that distinguish them from the Republicans (Sorry, we tried "I'm not Bush!" with Kerry. Didn't work out so well.), there is not a measure or cause Obama can claim as his own (AUMF is off the table with Biden as the VP), and the people most harmed by current conditions have been told that they are not wanted in Whole Foods Nation, that they are racist panhandlers at the door (Keep building that unity!).
Bill Clinton always talks about the powerful interests that try to keep us down. This is a child of the South, a man whose perceptions and convictions were forged in the middle of the battle against segregation. He was then, as he remains today, on the right side of the battle. When he talks about powerful interests, he is talking about the political and economic elites who purposefully set the poor, working and lower middle classes against each other over race in order to maintain their privilege. When the Big Dog advocates unity, it is to fight the divisions that keep people poor, disempowerd and vulnerable. He's talking about political unity to craft the policiy that will create and defend institutions that make people's lives materially better. This is unity for the sake of power.
Unity itself, taken as a good and a goal for its own sake, is powerless. It is the great High Broderistic wet-dream of perfect bipartisanship under God, party bosses indivisible, with lobbyists and cocktail weenies for all. It is ponies for everybody when what people really want is annual medical checkups and their privacy protected. "Unity or else" is a dead end because it does nothing for people. Which is why the Republicans and The Village like it. Keep the rabble in its place.
Unity for the sake of power has always been Bill's message, and now we see he was never alone with it as we listened to Hillary patiently discuss wonky topics with intent townspeople all across the country. If we do not unify for the sake of our goals, then those who profit from our disunity have won. That is what I see motivating Hillary's current campaigning, even as she is being assailed within her own party for daring to be an inspiring figure and unify voters in November. For the sake of her constituents, she will not yeild an inch to either the Republicans or the Obamacans' attempts to drive her out of public life.
The obvious injuries of class are being dismissed by the DNC and other Democratic power brokers this round, in a year when going to the policy left made perfect sense. The Republicans are eagerly pursuing the votes of those who feel injured on this count, but do so to fan the flames of resentment and division. The Stevensonian wing is all too enamored of its own moral superiority on race, too contemptuous of the Bubbas and the Bunkers, to make the slightest move to win back and thus defend this constituency.
At this point, I can no longer believe that it is just bad judgement, though stupidity is on full display. The rejection of Clinton Democrats is real. Why?
Sunday, August 24, 2008
I have benefitted enormously from AFAC. I think I'd be hating life about now if the conditions for women today were the same as what they were when I was born. I remember growing up that there were only four professions open to women - mother, school teacher, nurse and fairy princess. I remember my mother unable to have a credit card in her own name. I remember her joy at returning to college and finishing her BA. I remember the algebra teacher who would not give any girl in his class an A because girls couldn't actually understand algebra, but neither would he give a girl an F because she couldn't really fail at something she didn't understand. Maybe that's why I always got a D - I never bothered to do work that could never earn what it was worth.
What I do now, working in a senior position in an IT shop, treated with respect and given much authority, placed in a management track, this would not have been available to me at the beginning of my life. Did anyone making a decision to hire me say "She's only #3 on the list, but she's got tits, so hire her"? I have no idea as I wasn't privy to the decision meetings. Maybe that's exactly how I got my foot in the IT door. What I do know is that it was the tireless efforts of women from Abigial Adams to Sojourner Truth to Susan B. Anthony to Eleanor Roosevelt to Shirley Chisolm to Hillary Rodham Cinton that have won me the luxury to not even think about why I was hired, to engage in significant financial transactions without my spouse or father as a co-signer, to have access to safe and affordable birth control, and so forth.
It's not complete. I am the primary taxpayer on our tax returns with hubby filling in the "Spouse" columns. One year, the state of Califonia sent us the income tax booklet to Mr. Gurthang, Anglachel and Mrs. Unit, Spousal. It's not like we have gender neutral names like Shawn and Taylor either. The taxpayer was the man and the spouse was the woman - didn't we know that? I showed it to my class on gender and the students got an initial laugh, then starting thinking...
What I am also the benficiary of is centuries of white supremacy that has only begun to be dismantled since I was born. If I had been dark-skinned, my psycho ex-boss would never have hired me and given me my entry into the IT world when I changed careers. My father would have been barred from his college education and probably would have stayed in the military to make a living. He would have been in a desegregated Marine Corps, while his father would have been in a segregated Navy, and would not have been a surgeon. The university he went to might have let in hay seed farm boys with a hankering for something besides dirt, but they didn't allow "coloreds" in. The wealth, the education, the acculturation that a white middle class third generation professional can take for granted is clearly a benefit to me. The spousal unit may have been the first college graduate in his family (his mother was the first high school graduate), but his family was considered "white", not even Hispanic, and so could rise in the post war boom.
I'm just pointing out some advantages in education and employment. I'm not getting into things like housing, treatment by police, elegibility for pensions and retirement funds, access to medical care, public transportation and other public amenities. These are things I can take for granted that other citizens cannot, not with the automatic certainty I enjoy.
So, yes, I have benefitted greatly from long standing bigotry and from recent equality. To use Hillary's phrase, I have been blessed in what I have encountered in my life, and I agree with her that it is incumbent upon me to use these blessings to demolish the first source of benefit and expand the second, both for what I will rightly lose and for what I may help myself and others gain.
(Update - Good grief this post was riddled with typos! These have been corrected throughout.)
This is the third post in my series looking at affirmative action. This one is looking at the ways in which affirmative action is failing on its own terms and provides grist for the political mill.
As discussed in the previous two posts, AFAC is aimed at disrupting formal and informal institutionalized practices that have the effect of preventing classes of people from accessing the goods and benefits that accrue to the members of the institution. It is aimed at two institutions in particular, higher education and businesses. Education is targeted because of its gatekeeper role on credentialing individuals for entry into positions of wealth and power in the society. If being a doctor requires medical school training and no one who is female is allowed entry into such a school, then women are not able to be licensed doctors with all of the socio-economic benefits attached to that position. Employment is targeted because that's where you make your living and gain status in the larger community. If Hispanics are only allowed to drive dump trucks and not allowed to fill any other job niche in an environmental services department, that class of person is being institutionally relegated to a narrow range of career opportunities regardless of what he or she is competent to do. AFAC does not guarantee socioeconomic mobility, but it breaks down the institutional barriers that, left unchallenged, create conditions comparable to castes - your life opportunities are dictated at birth, attached to biological qualities you have little or no control over.
It also has the cultural effect of reducing casual or habitual bigotry. Using slurs to talk about classes of people gets a little more difficult when members of that class (women, AAs, handicapped, gays) are standing next to you in the workplace - or are your boss in that workplace. It makes people think about their words in private conversations. It sets standards for how classes of people should be portrayed in mass media. It creates discomfort for those who want to cling to institutionally supported modes of discrimination and preferential treatment. It introduces greater risk into the life prospects of those classes previously insulated by institutional constructs, such as the way the Ivy League colleges until relatively recently were off limits to anyone who was not a WASP male.
The arguments put forward by its opponents seek to minimize the effect it has on institutions and focus on the "reverse discrimination" forced upon the allegedly qualified job or college applicant who was denied access in favor of an allegedly unqualified rival for that slot. There is also the quieter (but probably more honest) argument that if an institution and its members wish to discriminate, they should be able to do so and not be forced to associate with people they don't wish to encounter. The existence of colleges for women, AAs, the deaf, and religious groups is used to bolster this argument - if they can "discriminate" why can't we? It ignores the fact that these parallel institutions arose because of the exclusionary practices of the original institutions.
Equal opportunity in employment gets less media attention than that in college admittance. It gets mentioned in stories, but the examples offered to show how horrible it is are overwhelmingly taken from academia. The employment examples in the news (and this is my own observation, not a scientific poll) tend to be either complaints against EEOC enforcement in the public sector or people successfully suing employers over EEOC violations in the private sector. This latter group also tends to be less about hiring (getting in the door) than about advancement up the employment ladder. I see a few reasons for why employment is less of a sore spot than education.
First, there's a lot more places of employment than educational institutions, so more employment opportunities. Less hinges on getting that particular job than on getting into that particular school. Next, there really is a business advantage to most work places to be diverse. This is emphatically so in public service employment, such as local government, police and safety operations and the military. Wes Clark and Colin Powell are in accord on the necessity of affirmative action to sustain military readiness and cohesion. Third, I make the cynical observation that it is far easier for companies to avoid actually enforcing AFAC because there are so many companies and there is no good way to check up on them. Public service entities have reporting and records transparency requirements, so they are less likely to duck the law. To be less critical of employers, it is also the case that they may need to fill a job and they do not get any job applicants who can perform the job satisfactorily except the upper-middle class white male. The question of how they know who can do a satisfactory job and who cannot based on a resume and a job interview is incredibly subjective. Finally, amidst all the talk of being forced to hire people who are unqualified, businesses are silent about their persistent discrimination against older (+45) job applicants. The simple explanation for this, one I heard many times from different employers as we were evaluating the resumes and deciding who to call in for an interview, was that the older applicants with the longer resumes would be too expensive to hire. My current employer is the only place I have worked that does not consistently penalize older applicants.
My experience and the experiences related to me by friends and co-workers tend to be that AFAC is used as an excuse for why someone was turned down for a job to avoid having to say the real reason. "Hey, we wish we could have brought you on, but this position was designated an affirmative action hire by HR, sorry," rather than "Hey, you applied for a job where you didn't have relevant training and your former employers all say you are a deadbeat." It is also used by a rejected applicant to explain away why they weren't chosen. I know several people who have crappy resumes and/or who interview badly who always blame not getting what they want to "some [insert slur here] took my job away from me." Employment decisions are simply not as cut and dried as you think. In almost 20 years of conducting interviews and ranking applicants, I have NEVER encountered a situation where anyone directly or obliquely presented an argument that an unqualified woman or minority be hired because that person was female or a minority. I have seen less qualified candidates get the nod because they presented themselves very well in an interview, or because the person was pretty/handsome. I have seen numerous cases of gender, race and age discrimination, some of them delivered with breathtaking crudeness.
Education is a whole 'nuther kettle of fish. In education, the “who you will get to know” is pretty much as important as the “what you will get to learn”. The battles over access to education are really of two types: lack of financial support for economically disadvantaged white males in comparison to that available to other classes of applicants, and aggressive jockeying for limited slots in elite institutions, conducted mostly between socio-economic elites. The latter battle is the one that grabs the headlines, though it is presented in a disingenuous way. This is a battle about reinstituting privilege and is conducted among elites for the sake of elites. They have already agreed on keeping the doors closed to the "undeserving" and are now contesting with each other for the precious resource of admittance to the networks of wealth, power and privilege.
There are two pre-college educational systems in the US today: The regular public school curriculum which varies in sophistication and effectiveness with the tax base of the surrounding community, and the pumped up upper-middle class college-track curriculum. The first is simply there, allowing students to meander (or battle) their way through as best they can, with little time for more than the basics. A really bright student might luck out and find a mentor who helps them use the education system for their own benefit, but most students (even really bright ones) are just kids who don't think that far ahead and most teachers are overwhelmed with duties to provide the attention necessary to get the kid to focus. This is the world of the girls in my post Dreams of Our Daughters. This is not something limited to poor or working class neighborhoods, though the percentage is higher there. It has always been the case that most students are in school because that's where they have to be, and that most schooling is just to convey basic literacy and numeracy. If you have an economy where manual trades can provide decent wages and living standards, such that basic education combined with targeted vocational training (whether from a training class or on the job) is sufficient for this purpose, then you don't need to put such a premium on "higher" education.
The second educational track, people who understand the long-term effects of getting into the right college, make a project of achieving that goal for their kids. They want UCLA, not Cal State Long Beach, for their kid. They know all about college rankings, which alumni get into the best companies, which law schools are the recruiting grounds for the best firms, the fine distinctions between this business school and that one. They are keenly aware of the privilege and status that accrues to those who can get into these elite locations, and do not share the same concerns as the family sending their kids to Cal State San Marcos. What was once a reasonably local phenomenon - the elites of a region had institutions of higher education where their sons went to rub elbows with the sons of fellow elites and establish the social, political and economic relations needed to maintain their elite status - has gone national and mobile. If you are an ambitious family from Minnesota, you can train up the kid to get into the Ivies and not just settle for U of MN (No slam against that fine institution, btw, where I applied to and was accepted, but did not attend). They are now competing against a larger pool of applicants from all over the country (indeed, the world) where the probability of their acceptance has dropped and they are in danger of losing their access to the upper echelons of society. Of course they are fighting tooth and nail to knock their competitors out, and if destroying AFAC will improve their chances, then out it goes. The high profile cases of "reverse discrimination" are being fought within this tribe to ensure their lackluster offspring can bully their not terribly talented way into Harvard, Yale, UCLA, etc. Training to standardized tests and having professionally ghost written "personal essays" are just more tools of the trade. The argument at this level isn't about "unqualified" applicants - it is about removing the poor and working class from any consideration whatsoever.
But what about those families with kids who are part of the ordinary education system? Here, I think the argument about AFAC, that the result if not the intent is to handicap individual white male applicants in relation to other applicants, has some merit. Why should someone named Joe Smith who is a first generation college applicant from a working class family in Fresno not benefit from affirmative action more than someone named Joe Sanchez who is a third generation college applicant from a professional family in La Jolla? But what if Joe Smith's grades are only OK and Joe Sanchez's are great? Or Mr. Smith wrote his own personal essay while Mr. Sanchez had his reviewed, edited, revised, and rewritten by his UC San Diego professor parent? Or, what if Joe Smith is up against Joe Murphy who has all the advantages of Joe Sanchez? What should the choice be then? And if it is Joe Sanchez from Fresno (identical to Joe Smith) up against Joe Murphy of La Jolla, should Mr. Sanchez's ethnicity trump Mr. Murphy's stronger academic record? We won't even get into the application by Josephine Jones... The point here is that there are too many disparate measurement considerations for who gets access, all heaped on an admissions office that is expected to exercise the wisdom of Solomon and never admit an "undeserving" applicant. The applicants need to have enough academic standing that they can be expected to complete their degree, but that leaves a large applicant pool. The kids that are coming out of the ordinary educational system are the ones who need the more attention to economic background and degree of educational acculturation. It is not the case that flunk-out Black kids from South Central are taking away prime slots at UCLA from "innocent" white working class guys from Simi Valley. It is more the case that working class white guys from Simi Valley can get into UC Riverside, but are not getting decent financial aid packages.
And none of this addresses the fundamental problem of the loss of decent paying jobs for people who do not have college educations.
What the raging battles over affirmative action show is the creeping insecurity over the reversal of the socio-economic gains that reached their peak in the 70s. The advances for both manual and professional labor that came from the post-war boom is eroding (see just about everything Paul Krugman has written in the last 10 years). The antipathy towards AFAC has roots in simple bigotry against the Other, but it also points directly at the more fundamental problem - the reversal of gains in wealth, economic security and prospects for simply holding steady, let alone for advancement. It makes sense that people will fight for their individual interests when institutions are failing them on all sides.The
Democrats have been ineffective in fighting for the interests of the working class since the 70s. With this year's primaries, we watched the DNC's establishment choice candidate run a campaign based on demonizing the working class as a bunch of stupid, racist, worthless people who have only themselves to blame for not being members of Whole Foods Nation.
And this is why selecting affirmative action as the centerpiece of their assault on the Democrats was a master stroke by the Republicans.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
One of the Affirmative Action issues I have read in comments on the blog, have read in various publications and newspapers, and have discussed with the spousal unit is the perception, accurate or not, that AFAC (to distinguish from AA) will not help anyone who is white and male, regardless of his family background. It has been described as everything from an unforseen side-effect to a deliberate reverse discrimination objective. I think this is the biggest area of failure in the equal opportunity measures and is what Democrats should have been addressing all along. What I'm going to try to do in this post is talk about the blind spot in equal opportunity programs, why it is there, how it was allowed to grow, and how this is a fertile ground for the Right's politics of resentment. First, we have to talk about manufacturing jobs in the post-war period.
If you have not read Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins novels, get yourself to a bookstore or library at once and devour them. While these are great detective novels, the reason to read them is for the picture Mosely paints of post-war Los Angeles, which was a manufacturing powerhouse and a big draw for African Americans extricating themselves from the segregated South. While most people know about the AA northern migration to New York, Chicago, Detroit and various manufacturing centers in the Northeast and Midwest, LA was also a prime destination. People of all races and backgrounds flocked to LA for the great weather and plentiful manufacturing jobs that expanded exponentially during the WWII factory boom. No or little education? Not a problem if you are willing to learn the line work. Mosely's novels chronicle the rise and fall of manufacturing employment in Los Angeles and the devastation it inflicted on the AA population starting in the 60s, long before the same downsizing, plant consolidation and move to overseas locations hit the traditional manufacturing centers of the East and Midwest.
The contraction of the manufacturing economy, the largest source of high-paying manual labor jobs (ranging from unskilled to highly skilled), started first in plants located in urban cores with large black populations. It took until the Reagan recession of the early 80s for it to wreak the same kind of destruction on white working class populations. The popular narrative describing the impoverishment and unrest among black populations ignores the economic catastrophe and pathologizes the brutalized community itself as "ghetto culture". This is where Mosley is highly instructive by following the life trajectory of a WWII veteran, Easy, through the height of AA working class affluence in LA through the destruction of that brief period of expanding wealth and stability. A similar story can be told about the effect of de-industrialization on white populations, but it takes place over a longer period of time and the affected populations were simultaneously glorified by the Right, who gladly helped undermine the manufacturing base while they undermined the social safety net that would have protected this displaced population, and treated equivocally by the Left, who too often argued that if only these Archie Bunker types would have taken advantage of higher education, they wouldn't have been trapped in these dead-end jobs.
Which gets us to the GI Bill. To the degree that there was an equal opportunity program that was targeted directly at white poor and working class men, it was the GI Bill. It was never thought of in this way, though that was its effect. The GI Bill forced open access to higher education - and thus routes into the white collar middle class - in a way pretty much unheard of. It wasn't a soldier's pension to allow someone to live comfortably within his class the rest of his days, but an actual opportunity to leave behind the danger and uncertainty of manual labor and gain socio-economic status where wealth could be accumulated and life prospects improved. The GI Bill was the fuel that powered the engine of post-war college and university expansion. The California college system - still the finest three-tier public higher education model in the world - has its roots in this program. People who would never have been considered college material before WWII now had the means and the political backing to get the training to enter professions.
It is difficult to understand just how limited access to higher education was before this program. My grandfather, who was a Navy surgeon in WWII, had to leave medical school (despite being a lecturer in the school, despite having written a text book still in use today by most major medical schools, despite laying the ground work for what we know today as arthroscopic surgery) because he was a poor farm kid from South Dakota and couldn't pay for tuition. No student aid in the 20s and 30s. He joined the military to pay the education bills. If you've had your knee repaired with arthroscopy, thank my Grandpa and all the sailors whose knees he operated on over the years. His own sons were able to take advantage of the GI Bill, with two doing so directly as veterans themselves and the third who now had an expanded UC system that accepted all California high school students with minimum academic achievements and the rediculously low in-state tuition amount. Students whose academic levels weren't so good could go in at the Cal State level, and everyone else was welcome at the community colleges where they could learn the basics and transfer to a Cal State or a UC - like the spousal unit did.
When begun, the GI Bill was really only available to the white soldiers from WWII. Minorities may have been eligible for it, but what schools would admit them? Women were doubly handicapped as they were not GIs and they were not accepted in most colleges. Their experiences in WWII, where they built things, ran things, worked outside the home and were in charge of their lives, got squashed very badly with their "domestication" in the 50s (read Stephanie Coontz's The Way We Never Were). The identity politics of the 60s and 70s had access to higher education as a central concern because it was a route to wealth and security being denied to minorities and women at an institutional level. It was not just training for professions, of course, but also access to the informal networks of trained professionals who could then help you get in the door at companies where you would not be considered without someone to "vouch" for you. Ironically, AFAC as applied in the workplace is precisely to disrupt those informal, insider networks where personal relationships (family ties, old friends, membership in the same academic clubs, etc.) were the grounds for employment and not formal job qualifications. If you could no longer just hire the manager's niece's new hubby for that managerial slot, but had to actually look at education and had to demonstrate that you were not silently discriminating by hiring minorities and women at a level consistent with their percentage in the population, then the institutional practices of inequality and discrimination became more costly to maintain than to abandon.
As mentioned above, lurking in the background to these advances for larger portions of the public was the contraction of the manufacturing sector. (Note, the conservative attack on unions was also part of this, but is too much to address in a blog post.) Starting in the 60s in urban cores and working outwards through the 70s and hitting full force in the early 80s, the erosion of this employment base hit all working class groups hard, but did not hit them at the same time. With the Reagan recession, where were working class white males to go? Higher education was starting its enormous climb in cost, the military was still rebuilding from the Vietnam War (read up on Wes Clark's account of these times for the military), and the minorities and women who had finally been allowed to take advantage of open admissions for white collar training were entering the workforce in substantial numbers. If decent paying manufacturing jobs were gone, and you didn't want to (or were to old to) join the military, and you didn't have a sterling high school record, and you weren't elegible for some really sweet scholarships and stipends, and you had a family to support and weren't really that into going back to school, and you were white and male, just what were you supposed to do?
The changing economy came for minorities first, creating inner-city blight that was then ascribed to racial failings, but eventually it worked its way out to the white working class. The biggest failure of the Democrats at this period in time was failing to address this new socio-economic condition, when the post-war boom was ended and majority of the country lost economic ground. Instead, they remained wedded to a simplistic identity politics model for enforcing equal access to education and employment. It was not so much wrong (entrenched privilege always needs to be challenged and dismantled) as inadequate, unable to shift and address the very real economic distress assailing a large portion of its own constituency.
AFAC has developed its own patterns and modes of entrenched privilege, which is pretty much a given for any program that can actually create access to wealth. The internal contradictions and tensions of trying to dismantle institutional advantage are both being exploited for gain by people who are not particularly disadvantaged and being exaggerated to encourage class division when we most need unity. That's the next topic of discussion.
Posts in this series: