Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bitch is the New Black

In honor of SNL's skit, I have changed my tag line. Hat tip, Taylor Marsh.



Saturday, February 23, 2008

Truth and Cultural Memory

Pat Oliphant hates the Clintons and has created some of the most offensive political cartoons of the primary season, crudely reproducing the most misogynistic slurs against HRC. Even so, when not blinded by Clinton Derangement Syndrome, he has a way of cutting to the political heart of controversies that has no equal. This cartoon about Michelle Obama's cynical and narcissistic statement about the nation is brilliant. It also undermines most of the BS Oliphant has thrown at Hillary.

In the early days of the blogosphere, a phrase you read quite often was "down the memory hole," a reference to 1984 and the way inconvenient historical facts about the Bush/Cheney regime were routinely erased or disappeared from the public record. One of the purposes of Left Blogistan, it was said, was to save these bits of inadvertant truth and keep them from going down the memory hole. Then, the A-List Blogger Boyz decided that they wanted to be political power players, too, just like the MSM, and truthiness became hip, especially where the Clintons were concerned.

One of the hallmarks of the Obama campaign is truthiness and a deliberate denial of cultural memory. It is shown in self-indulgent, self-referential comments about how there was only dreary darkness in our nation until The Precious rose like the Sun (Son?) above the horizon. The aggressive denial that anything good came out of Bill Clinton's administration is part of it, all repeated by the "Yeah, yeah, that's right!" chorus of Blogger Boyz and Media Whores (but I repeat myself). There is the facile lauding of Reagan. There is kissing the asses of Newt Gingrich, Trent Lott, Tom DeLay and the rest of the Republican leadership by saying only the Republicans have been the party of ideas in the last two decades. There is the dismissal of historic Democratic leaders, such as LBJ on Civil Rights and FDR on the New Deal.

In his hamfisted attempt to suppress the very real affection ordinary Americans have for Bill and Hillary Clinton and the concrete material gains people enjoyed during Bill's administrations, Obama and his adualtory Geek Chorus have performed acts of violence upon the cultural memory, aggressively trying to shove the past deeds and successes of the Democratic Party down the memory hole so that there is nothing against which to compare The Precious and his insubstantial record. He wants to accrue to himself to the emotion of the rhetoric of our great leaders without having to commit himself to the causes that they fought, and in some cases died, for.

"Maybe somebody should instruct you about the Civil Rights times, and how completely this country has turned itself around from the 1960s onwards."

The polite chiding Oliphant has the ghost of LBJ hand over to Michelle Obama points to the other historical elision being committed for the sake of The Precious. The advances of this country towards equality for all (not just upper class white males), towards responsible social services, towards access to higher education, towards environemental awareness and responsibility, towards cooperative and constructive international relations, have all been made because of the Democratic Party and because of dedication to democratic causes. We need candidates who will campaign on the record of the party with pride and no equivocation. The divisions that have happened, such as the reconstruction of the Republicans as the party of racism, are the results of political battles that materially benefitted the less well off in this country.

Obamacans (far closer to Republicans than to Democrats) say opponents of The Precious are just haters or are shills for Hillary. NO. Some of us have supported Hillary from the start of the campaign, but many have come over to Hillary's side because of the dissing of and pissing upon the true legacy of the Democrats, such as my mother, who was an Edwards supporter. We resent that Obama is using right-wing talking points to dismiss the fights we have engaged in for decades in order to attract a few "Democrats for a Day" in the primaries.

The damage done here is not to Hillary. She will, as she assured us, be fine no matter the outcome. She is a woman of amazing talents, with depth and strength of character we can only imagine. She has never turned her back on us and she will be on our side no matter what.

The damage done is to the party and to progressive, liberal causes that are being effaced from our cultural memory for the sake of Obama's narcissistic campaign.


Friday, February 22, 2008

It's the Missed Opportunities, Stupid

Paul Krugman serves up a double helping of economics and politics in his NYT column today. Here are the key 'graphs:

Can the next president do anything to avoid that outcome [being the next Jimmy Carter]? In terms of straight economics, the answer is a clear yes.

To this day, it’s not clear what Mr. Carter could have done differently: stagflation is a problem with no good solutions. But weak spending is a treatable condition. A serious fiscal stimulus plan — one that emphasized public investment and aid to Americans in economic distress rather than across-the-board tax rebates, which many people won’t spend — could do a lot to ease the country’s economic pain.

Politically, however, it’s hard to see this happening.If the next president is a Republican, he will be captive to the doctrine that tax cuts are the answer to all problems, and therefore won’t seek an effective response to the economy’s troubles.

And even if the next president is a Democrat, any serious stimulus plan would face intense, ideologically motivated opposition in Congress. Will the next president be prepared to fight for an effective plan? Or will we end up with a compromise like the one Congressional Democrats agreed to this year, legislation that assuages conservative objections at the cost of undermining the plan’s effectiveness?

Until recently, I thought the biggest political struggle facing the next president was likely to be over health care reform. But right now it looks as if the first thing on the next administration’s plate will have to be dealing with a weak economy.

And if effective action isn’t forthcoming, the next president will suffer the fate of Jimmy Carter, who began his administration with words of uplift — “Let us create together a new national spirit of unity and trust” — and ended up delivering America into the hands of the hard right.

Don’t Rerun That ’70s Show

Line drive right into Golden Boy Barry's noggin. I noticed the phrase "And even if the next president is a Democrat," which sends me a strong message that Krugman doesn't believe a GE victory for the Democrat nominee is entirely certain in the way that the triumphalist A-List Blogger Boyz seem to think.

A Democratic president is going to have to fight tooth and nail to get anything passed. It is going to require an ability to take anything thrown her direction and deflect it while doggedly pursuing the policy objectives that will, when enacted, cement real gains for ordinary people.

The start and end of Obama's campaign all along has been I'm a more likeable person than Hillary, so help me beat that bitch. He has ridden Clinton Derangement Syndrome out of the starting gate, along the backstretch and into the far turn. Obama does this even as he himself has a pattern of political behavior more centrist and conciliatory than Big Dog at his worst and even as he has surrounded himself with former staffers and appointees of Bill's administration.

What the campaign lacks, however, and why it cannot achieve what Bill Clinton did, is an unswerving dedication to bettering the lives of ordinary people. It is trading on the most shallow of all political impulses (Oh, please, stop arguing about stuff and making me feel uncomfortable! Stop with the partisan bickering! Won't somebody think of the children?) and deliberately sidesteps the tough work of coalition building. Saying that you will seek common ground with the right - who wants no such thing - builds no coalition to promote progressive causes. It just gets you an inside track with David Broder and the Blogger Boyz who all want to become the next Tim Russert. Getting a bunch of college students with free time to swarm caucuses is not building a coalition, either, btw.

Building coalitions involves getting the support of people who aren't personally enthralled by your awesome awesomeness, but who are looking for advantageous political and economic deals.

Movement Conservatism has been thoroughly discredited by the Bush II administration, but that doesn't mean the liberal cause has an open road ahead of it. The radicals on the right are entrenched in government, they command popular media, and they have no compunction against using the most crude and visceral attacks they can conjure up to sway public opinion. To take back the nation, the Democrats are going to have to mount their own concerted attack, doing right by ordinary citizens and insisting on accountable, rational government. That means deploying effective policies despite the entrenched right wing hacks, appointing liberal judges, and getting significant legislation passed over determined opposition.

I know Hillary can do that. The Precious has yet to show he can talk about it, even when someone else writes it up for him.


Moving Fun

Because we cannot live by politics alone.

Here are a few before-after pictures of the renovations on our house. The first one is what the kitchen looked like the first time we saw it. A nearly original 1924 yellow tile kitchen. The floor is filthy, peeling vinyl, the walls have been painted in three different shades of yellow, and the room is split into the main kitchen and a small utility porch with no back door. The fridge sat back there because there was no where else to put it.

After renovations, the kitchen and utility room have been combined, the old yellow tile has been replaced with green tile and custom Arts & Crafts style gingko leaf decorative tiles, the floor is now true linoleum, inlaid in a classic rug pattern (the color and style taken from the original flooring unearthed in demolition), and the old yellow cabinets have been replaced with new yellow cabinets.

The original dining room and sunroom were swathed in layers of dirty curtains and Venetian blinds, with rotting, moldy carpet that had been put in sometime in the 70s. The center of the house was dim and smelly. You can just glimpse the glitter popcorn ceiling, loaded with asbestos.

Curtains removed, floor stripped, sanded, stained and revarnished, and all the woodwork is given a chance to shine. The ceiling asbestos was removed (with proper environmental protection and disposal), retextured, and painted a beautiful soft rose. The floors throughout the house now look like this.

This bathroom is simply hideous. The mismatched paint, the gag-inducing wallpaper, the formica topped vanity, the stained and ratty carpet. But underneath it all is gorgeus vintage tile.

The medicine cabinet is still out of the wall having 70 years of paint stipped off before it is sanded and refinished. We still need paint and the lights were put in upside down, though they are pointing up now. The beautiful floor is in the open for all to see, and the disintegrating vanity has been replaced with a wooden washstand with Art Deco carved legs and a sleek china sink top. The sink itself is just a deep curve in the middle of the china.

Here you can see the double glitter ceilings, the rotting carpet, the hideous light fixtures, and the dark rooms. Even in the middle of a sunny day, you had to turn on lights to see anything. In the background, you can glimpse the kitchen.

The floors are redone and the windows have been fixed. The light is a little funky because of plastic they put up to keep people from walking on the floors while the varnish dried. We're moving in over the next week.


Thursday, February 21, 2008


If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

Henry David Thoreau

Hillary's closing remarks from tonight's debate perfectly encapsulate who she is and why she is running. It is about humility about one's own blessings and respect for others. From the CNN transcript:

CLINTON: Well, I think everybody here knows I've lived through some crises and some challenging moments in my life. And...


And I am grateful for the support and the prayers of countless Americans. But people often ask me, "How do you do it?" You know, "How do you keep going?" And I just have to shake my head in wonderment, because with all of the challenges that I've had, they are nothing compared to what I see happening in the lives of Americans every single day. along with Senator McCain, as the only two elected officials, to speak at the opening at the Intrepid Center at Brooke Medical Center in San Antonio, a center designed to take care of and provide rehabilitation for our brave young men and women who have been injured in war. And I remember sitting up there and watching them come in. Those who could walk were walking. Those who had lost limbs were trying with great courage to get themselves in without the help of others. Some were in wheelchairs and some were on gurneys. And the speaker representing these wounded warriors had had most of his face disfigured by the results of fire from a roadside bomb.

CLINTON: You know, the hits I've taken in life are nothing compared to what goes on every single day in the lives of people across our country. And I resolved at a very young age that I'd been blessed and that I was called by my faith and by my upbringing to do what I could to give others the same opportunities and blessings that I took for granted.

That's what gets me up in the morning. That's what motivates me in this campaign.


And, you know, no matter what happens in this contest -- and I am honored, I am honored to be here with Barack Obama. I am absolutely honored.


CLINTON: Whatever happens, we're going to be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends. I just hope that we'll be able to say the same thing about the American people, and that's what this election should be about.

This is a complex, nuanced and very powerful statement. It establishes the foundation upon which her beliefs and acts are founded. She has been blessed in her life, despite the very public trials she has faced, and she is humbled by the struggles of others. The knowledge of her accidental privilege compels her to serve. This is what motivates her to do as she does, not the cynical and destructive accusations thrown at her from left and right. There is no self-pity or excuses. It is a simple, direct and compelling story.

She places herself beside McCain, letting us know what it was they witnessed together, and speaks of the strength of those shattered by the war he wishes to continue for a hundred years. She points out that injury does not mean an end or something to be ashamed of, but rather is a test of the humanity of those who watch.

With grace and savvy, she gives her opponent more than his due, making clear the deep differences of character between them. Where he grudgingly said she was likeable, she declares she is honored to share the stage with him. It is equal parts charm and power.

And then, the closer. We will be fine, she says, drawing Obama firmly within the world of privilege, we have the power, wealth and support to weather any setback. We will not suffer personally, no matter who wins. But, who might suffer if the decision goes one way or the other? Who will not stand up for the wounded and the sick? Who might not care about the child who is hungry, or the woman who is beaten, or the senior who is bilked? Who to you stand with? What do you stand for, you, my opponent, who stands inside this magic circle of privilege with me and who has assailed me so much in recent times?

"I just hope that we'll be able to say the same thing about the American people, and that's what this election should be about. "

The election is about the lives of ordinary people dealing with the simple annoyances and capricious catastrophes that accumulate through life. It is about those without the wealth, power and connections to get through the recession in good shape. There is the foundation upon which the election has been set if you are a Democrat.

Hillary deftly told the haters they weren't going to turn her aside from her lifelong commitment to public service and challenged Golden Boy Barry to be better than his (borrowed) words.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Honor Killing

This election season has been less candidate selection than a vast Rorschach test on the nation's political psyche. That Golden Boy Barry would be a popular favorite is no great surprise, given the electorate's predilection for candidates who make them feel good and seem personable. I don't think his long term prospects are that good, but that's the subject of another post.

The great mystery to me (and not just me and not just as affects the election) is why the deep, irrational, violent reaction to Hillary from so much of the left? I can understand why the right would loathe all things Clinton. There are clear political advantages to the right to preventing effective leaders from rising on the left. There is the revenge factor on someone who has repeatedly defeated them and who is more beloved by the American people than Saint Ronnie. There is the fact that HRC has promised to battle them over health care again, which Krugman has rightly identified as the foundation stone of a revitalized left.

I need to return to the key paragraphs of Stanley Fish's NYT essay on Hillary hatred:
Still, sexism doesn’t seem an adequate explanation of the Hillary-hating phenomenon if only because so much of the venom in the comments is directed at the Clintons as a team. The idea is that nothing but evil can emanate from them; they are a moral blot on the nation’s escutcheon, a canker-sore on the body politic, and they must be removed (perhaps by any means necessary). No doubt sexism is a component of such sentiments–a number of women respondents accused her of riding on her husband’s coat-tails and lambasted her for not leaving him–but sexism doesn’t really account for an anger that sometimes borders on the homicidal...

Underlying this surrender of the franchise to those least qualified to exercise it is the complaint (rarely overtly stated) that the Clintons have had the bad taste to undergo the assassination of their characters in public and have thereby made us its unwilling spectators. This is of course the old ploy of blaming the victim, and Ava Mae Lewis (16) is at least explicit about it. After deploring the “wild accusations” and “rabid hate”, she declares herself “disappointed that the Clintons force us to make this final and public rejection.”...

In other words, by being the targets of unwarranted attacks — that is their crime, being innocent–the Clintons are putting us in the uncomfortable position of voting against them for reasons we would rather not own up to. How dare they? Given the fierceness of the opposition to her candidacy, why doesn’t Hillary do the decent thing and withdraw? “What bothers me about Hillary is that she must know this, yet she apparently thinks so much of herself, or wants to be president so badly, that she’s willing to risk compromising the Democrats’ chances of winning in November to stay in the race” (Matthew, 440). How inconsiderate of her both to want to be president and to persist in her quest in the face of calumny.

Why is she putting us through this? Why is she making us a part of the smearing and shaming of her? Even more than with Big Dog, there is a maniacal obsession with punishing Hillary Clinton for having been the victim of the right wing's and the MSM's misogynistic assaults. Two particular points of ire stand out.

One is her ability to accept and forgive her husband for his infidelity. I know it upset me at the time, when I was recently married and pretty insecure about it all, not to mention we were going through some relationship issues of our own. Dammit, woman, stand up for yourself! Teach that lying so-and-so a lesson for dissing you! A decade further on, with a bunch of marital water under the bridge, I have come to respect what it must have taken for Hillary to not follow conventional wisdom (or bow to public pressure) and go on to create something new from the detritus of that betrayal. On a personal level, I know it is a lot harder to mend than to abandon, and she and Bill showed more fortitude than most people.

The second is her AUMF vote, or, more precisely, her refusal to be badgered into some half-assed apology to people who hate her anyway. She made a decision that was defensible for a number of reasons, some of which had to do with the ways in which the executive and the legislative branches needed to properly interact. That Bush betrayed everyone afterwards, taking a simple diplomatic bargaining chip and gambling it into an entire war, does not invalidate the original decision. What infuriates her detractors is that she won't grovel for having made a bad decision. I look at this and respect the stance while decrying the decision. Kerry and Edwards both pandered to try to get anti-war votes, trying to have it both ways. That HRC will not be shamed into recanting is the flash point.

As I was puzzling over this combination and reflecting on Fish's words, something came to mind. At some level, the brutal attacks on Hillary have nothing to do with her acts and deeds. It all has to do with the detractors' feelings of shame over what she has done or refused to do. She should have withdrawn from public life rather than insist that her life is her own to do with as she likes and deems right. She will not be a "good girl" and capitulate to the blustering alpha-males in the room.

What we're watching is little more than a political honor killing of a woman who has refused to allow our shame over how she has been treated dictate her decisions.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Words Matter When Struggles Matter

A few words about the recent uproar with Golden Boy Barry. The Precious has been shown to be speaking almost the exact same words, using the exact same physical gestures, as Gov. Deval Patrick used for his gubernatorial run. This is not really plagiarism, per se, especially as Gov. Patrick has granted The Precious permission to reuse the governor's speeches.

This is something rather worse than plagiarism, because it cuts directly to the heart of what The Golden One's claim to fame is - being a great orator who articulates our shared hopes and channels them into change.

As a number of other bloggers have noted, the people to whom The Precious is compared because of his mad oratoratin' skillz were not merely or even primarily great public speakers. They were actors whose words have become sacred to us because of what they did, the context in which their way of being in the world inbued their words with substance. King's dream was so powerful because we saw on our TV screens King's nightmare - the dogs, the fire hoses, the beatings and, finally, the funeral. Or think of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address:
Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether'.

I know of no other statement that can, with such power and economy, simultaneously explain, justify and mourn the Civil War. Lincoln spoke as the Commander in Chief who pursued war when much of the nation would have refused it, not counting the "bondman's toil" to be worth the blood of Union soldiers.

These are words that matter because of the what the speaker had already done and because the words referred to issues so profound they were fracturing the nation to its foundations. King and Lincoln were participating in fights worth having. They weren't just gussying up a little campaign rhetoric, or borrowing a couple of lines like someone might borrow a cup of sugar or a neat turn of phrase. Would JFK's "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country," line be so resonant today if not for the things he actually did for his country? FDR's admonition about not fearing anything save fear itself, was backed by his administration's proven track record of taking on enormous and terrifying challenges facing the nation as a result of the Great Depression and succeeding. Rural electrification, Social Security, WPA and a host of other bureaus, departments and measures that improved the lives of Americans.

Words that matter. Fights that matter. The words that come out of a candidate's mouth should be grounded in the substance of what she intends to do if given the public's trust. They may be awkward and overly wonky (thus boring the Kewl Kidz to sleep), but words spoken out of deep conviction in and committment to actions that better the lives of citizens are what partisans want to hear. When Obama supporters flatly say they don't expect him to achieve anything of substance if he gets elected, but, hey, at least he won't be trashed quite so much as HRC, they've just given me the ultimate reason to not vote for the guy. After all, all he's offering is "just words."

The reason why Golden Boy Barry's words are so offensive to me is not that he borrowed them from Gov. Patrick, but that he had to borrow them at all.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Netroots: Liberal Democrats and Jacobins

There have been no dragons in my life, only small spiders and stepping in gum. I could have coped with dragons.

"Hero", Niki Nymark
Longtime readers of this blog know I’m less than impressed with the direction the netroots has taken since the 2006 electoral cycle. It is ironic, given that I am at heart an Arendtian and firmly believe in the necessity of popular power in creating and maintaining liberal democracy. My initial appreciation of the blogosphere soured as I watched what was a marvelous mash-up of ideas and initiatives turn into something decidedly less inviting. The devolution would have been very difficult to avoid, it is true, but the lack of self-awareness from a large cadre of trained thinkers makes me shake my head. This post (and others I have planned) is an attempt to think critically about the course of the netroots.

Several months back, there was a spate of posts, generally gleeful, about the differences between the “left-wing” and “right-wing” brain, and how this showed that people on the left were “smarter” than those on the right. What few noted was that the study simply documented modes of thinking – a flexible mode and an inflexible mode – and noted that the inflexible form of thought was more prevalent among political conservatives than among political liberals, not that there was a conservative or liberal brain, though it would be difficult to be a liberal and not be a flexible thinker. The flexible vs. inflexible modes of thought is a way to understand the profound gulf in the netroots, one that mirrors a long standing and traditional divide on the left – that between liberal democrats and Jacobins.

I make a distinction between someone who holds leftist views generally and those who are specifically liberal democrats. Why is that an important distinction? The defining characteristic of liberal democracy is the structure of the polity, a law/rules governed set of interlocking institutions. To be a liberal democrat (in the classical, McPherson sense of that label), is to be someone who deals constructively with ambiguous situations, where the task at hand is not to chose between right and wrong, but to act within the formal institutions, evaluate competing legitimate claims for social goods (rights, entitlements, benefits, protections), and distribute these goods in a defensible, equitable way. When the institutions have either failed or are no longer adequate to evaluate claims, the institutions and laws are restructured. This may happen any where from a local school board to the Constitution.

The vulnerability of a liberal democracy lies in the fact that it must take the claims of all citizens into account. While not everything is allowable (such as chattel slavery), what remains is not always recognizable as liberal, or even very democratic. Even claims that are reasonable are not necessarily harmonious with other legitimate claims, and the resulting contest and compromise are givens. Moreover, what is politically necessary may not be morally perfect. There are limits to the exercise of morality in the public sphere, which is what Machiavelli meant when he said that we must learn how not to be good. It was not a call to lawlessness, but to its opposite, to strict adherence to the needs of the mundane world, embodied in the law of the land, vs. the other-worldly claims of religion.

The point here, which is crucial when understanding the excesses of both left and right, is that a liberal democracy can only fight about right and wrong when there is a prior agreement that the survival of the body politic – the institution and rule bounded space in which we conduct the public’s business – is the most important consideration. We must learn how not to be good because at any time your claim may be the losing one and, no matter how true or right you hold that claim to be, you are not therefore entitled to destroy the flawed world in order to get what you wish. In a related vein, faction within the liberal majority may open up opportunities for a compact and organized illiberal minority to seize the institutions and offices of the state and then pervert them. This is, frankly, what happened to Gore in 2000, when the Naderites sabotaged the Democrats. It is not moral to adhere so dogmatically to moralistic stances that the worst side wins. Acting in the place of and on behalf of others incurs political obligations, and the liberal democrat must chose the ethic of responsibility over the ethic of absolute ends.

Movement conservatism at its core denies the legitimacy of liberal democracy because it will not accept that there can be any acceptable position other than what it desires. The Bush/Cheney administration is a two-term repudiation of the founding principles of the nation. One of the chief accomplishments of movement conservatism is to delegitimize the act of evaluation, attempting to force all questions of policy and statecraft into false dichotomies in which their end of the pole is always the right one with the ultimate goal of deconstructing the institutions that limit their desires. It is an effective political strategy because living in ambiguity is difficult. You want decisions done with, final, that’s it. You want certainty and solidity. Sometimes, you simply want what you want and to hell with fairness. The battle of good vs. evil is great box-office. It appeals to the sanctimonious dictator dwelling in all our hearts.

Movement conservatism has seized on issues where there is legitimate contesting interests and has reduced them to yes/no. Taxes and abortion are their two most effective memes, with racism and nativism hot on their heels. The key to making an effective dichotomy is to imbue it with a personal emotion, reduce it to false equivalency (taxes = theft, abortion = murder) that removes the space for judgment, then pump up the volume on the outrage such that it is illegitimate to voice a contrary position without hedging, apologizing, equivocating and so forth. Taxes come from my wallet, who doesn’t love little helpless babies, and then there is the ever present fear of the dark skinned, funny talking other.

On the left, the rigid mind flourishes quite well, too, even if it is not as prevalent as on the right. It participates in the same sanctimonious moralism as their rightwing counterparts, and both engage in a rhetoric of purity, but with extremely dangerous results for the left. On the right, it is us against them and serves to unify otherwise incompatible interest groups. On the left, it is me against the machine and sets up dynamics that create canyons out of small differences. On the right, it is the beloved community of true believers fighting against the sullied world. On the left, it is the pure hearted citizen rooting out the corruption of power.

It is a Jacobin tendency on the left to always already consider the kinds of powerful institutional and public processes that are necessary to perform the people’s business to be inherently dangerous to the fantasized prelapsarian condition that The People would live in were they not led away from the straight and the good by the politicians and power brokers. The problem, of course, as Arendt points out in numerous ways, is that you need very strong institutions to defend the space for evaluation of claims and distribution of social goods. Or, as Winston Churchill is alleged to have said, democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

The deep problem of Jacobinism is that it ends up both endangering the ordinary institutions and structures of power and also creating boundary dissolving movements of persecution, both done in the name of preserving the “true” or “pure” will of The People. It destabilizes the attempt to found effective institutions for harnessing political power in its single-minded pursuit of purified power outside the bounds of city hall and the legislature, imagining that if only the deal-making, rule-breaking and interminable palaver of these place could be replaced with wisdom and justice (freedom? Not so much…) for all the deserving. Like the right, its enemy is the evaluation of claims and compromise on distribution of social goods, which is the core of liberal democracy.

This is the Achilles Heel of the left, even more so than its general predilection for internal contestation. In the latter we find the arguments about who gets what, where and how that are the proper topics for a liberal democracy. In the former we find the impulse to squelch the unseemly horse trading and hucksterism of the agora. That the netroots (particularly the blogger A-List) is not the same as the left, let alone contiguous with liberal democrats, exaggerates the degree to which purity (and its dark side, revenge) is the central concern. How often do you hear “I hate all the parties! They are all corrupt! There is no saving the system!”? The blogosphere amplifies the Jacobin tendencies of the Left.

These tendencies are why we get utter fuck-ups like Ralph Nader running for President. He knows he wants what is right and true and good, and he will be above all the dirt and filth of the government machine and will pass good laws and The People will hail their modern Solon. It is a compelling fantasy, that of the good philosopher king who will be above “mere politics” and will bring justice and order from the mire merely by pronouncing the law. Every significant election, from local mayor to President, has at least one of these types running, sometimes several. A good liberal democrat knows this is nonsense.

What the right understands is that politics is power and the relationships that generate conditions in which power can be seized, deployed, and increased. They know that the best way to disempower the left (which Paul Krugman covers in great detail in The Conscience of a Liberal) is to disrupt the formation of the political relationships on the left which create points of contact between potential rivals and facilitate discovery of and agreement upon common issues. They do this through politics of fear and division in mass politics, and through smearing and trashing individuals who exhibit leadership in inside-the-beltway politics. One of their sure-fire tactics is to tarnish the reputations of such leaders with the Jacobins. Every politician on the left who has attempted anything of consequence has something in their record to earn the opprobrium of the moralists, left and right, and their “failures” are amplified into crimes against the nation. The netroots attacks the same Democrats that the right attacks, and in nearly identical language and levels of hysteria. The most pure case of this was the hatchet job they did on Al Gore in 2000, effective to the point that even today after all the Bush/Cheney ghouls have done, people on the left sneer at Gore as a hypocrite, a phony, an “establishment” candidate, a “corporatist” and quite a variety of unpleasant names.

The key here is that the netroots, more than any other part of the so-called left, is exquisitely susceptible to the Jacobin impulse, tearing down people and institutions in the name of ending corruption and hypocrisy. And, in this way, it amplifies the efforts of the right to dissolve the structures that place limits upon desires. As there is no end to the ways in which ordinary human beings can screw up or fail to do their best, there is no end to the hunt for the guilty, the punishment of the innocent and the promotion of the non-participants. It also results in candidate promotion that is simply unrealistic coupled with an unwillingness to accept that most of the rest of the political world just wants its goodies and really doesn’t care about Saint So-and-So who will lead us to the Promised Land. The stance of absolutes is inherently a minority position.

The Jacobin left shares with the conservative right an unhealthy faith in the power of a great leader to rally the faithful and pronounce the law, a man before whom the foes of the good will tremble and retreat, whose words of wisdom will instruct the benighted and lead us to righteousness. Saint Reagan was the exemplar of this being on the right. The left always manages to deny its Solons, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The problem comes in the desire to see oneself in a struggle of world historic proportions, with much slaying of dragons and rescuing of fair damsels. As my epigram hints, the ordinary course of liberal democracy, one of its virtues, is that politics is, for the most part, small spiders and stepping in gum.

Is there corruption at the heart of the republic? You bet your bippy. The source of that corruption is the movement conservatives who are anti-democrats and wish to transform this nation into a fascist state on the model of Franco’s Spain. Has the Democratic Party been too damn complacent? Ditto. But their complacency has to be put into the context of the unrelenting, well-coordinated assault on the psyche of the nation by the right for almost half a century, aided and abetted by the Jacobin left who would rather see evil flourish than compromise on their demand for purity. As Eric Alterman likes to say, thanks Ralph. The resurgent Democratic party of the 90s was stymied more by its unwillingness to tell the right to stuff its faux-morality up its keister than by any alleged lack of progressive rigor, preferring to lambast its own president for not being pure to denouncing its opponents for not being democratic.

This is not a defense of the status quo (though Jacobins will consider it such), but a diagnosis of the fault line that runs through the political left. There is a reason that politics splits (and splinters) the way it does in the US, and why the left has such difficulty building and preserving popular, egalitarian institutions. It is hard to keep the extremes of a liberal democratic coalition attached in order to retain a sufficiently powerful electoral majority. The left must take an object lesson from the effectiveness of the movement conservatives on how to drag politics towards its own interests, but it also has to be keenly aware of the way in which the tactics of purity politics are corrosive to the practice of liberal democracy. It unnerves me when the answer of both the extreme left and the extreme right to the problems of government are to destroy the Democratic Party and everything attached to it.

Krugman identified economic equality as the best glue to maintain this coalition, and racism as the solvent that has fractured it. My next post in this series (should it ever be written) will be about “The South” as the key challenge to liberal democracy.


Before I disappear...

For about a year, I have been toying with the idea of a three-part essay set on what I see happening to the netroots and to Left politics in general. It was kicked off several years ago by a combination of events.

First, someone I know who had been a staunch conservative became a full bore "netizen", but the curious thing was that she still hated liberal democrats such as myself. If anything, she hated them more. The target of her anger remained the same but the reasons provided were different. Looking into those reasons, I realized that they were structurally the same as a conservative opponent's argumens, and so I began to ponder the parallels of the extremes of thought.

Second, I was taken with Mark Schmidt's writings about the political realignment of the nation after Goldwater's abortive presidential run and the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It went with similar arguments coming from Paul Krugman and Rick Perlstein on how and why the electorate moved so suddenly and dramatically to right, leaving conservative values and becoming radical fundamentalists. I was also struck by the (ultimately reductionistic and counter-productive) arguments of Tom Schaller about the need for Democrats to abandon the South.

Finally, I watched the debacle of the Ned Lamont campaign, championed by the leading bloggers of the Left blogosphere. To this day, they seem blind, deaf and dumb to the impact they had on the 2006 election. Or perhaps they understand only too well.

All of this had more or less coalesced into a set of three essays: one on the difference between liberal democrats and Jacobins, one on "The South" in American politics, and a final one on the netroots as power brokers in elections.

I wrote up the first essay before Iowa. The other two have not been set down, but exist as notes and blog posts. I'm going to post the first essay to give people something to chew on while I'm involved in other things. The other two may or may not get written.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Miscellaneous Notes - Updated

  • I won't be posting much in the next few weeks due to work and family stuff. Don't read anything into a lack of posts except that I have a life.
  • I don't tend to reply to commenters. Nothing personal. I've had my say and prefer to let you have yours.
  • I read on other blogs how people will be glad when the Democratic nomination process is over and things can go back to normal. This is wishful thinking. The rupture in the "netroots" blogosphere happened in 2006, with certain high-profile bloggers trying to make the Connecticut senatorial election a referendum on, well, everything they didn't like and in particular translate a win for a namby-pamby rich white former Republican into some kind of proxy defeat of all things Clinton. There is no "going back" on the deep damage inflicted by Kos, Atrios, TPM, FDL and HuffPo (to name only the most prominent) when they made opposition to the Clintons on everything the litmus test of belonging to their club. When Paul Krugman is being called names and trash-talked because he won't join in the witch hunt, you know things have become seriously unhinged. It is not going to get better after the nomination.
  • My own psychological break with the netroots, when I stopped thinking of myself as part of it, was reading how Jane Hamsher accosted Barabara Boxer in a restroom at Daily Kos in 2006, demanding that Boxer condemn Lieberman and support Lamont. When Boxer told her to back off, Hamsher advocated that Californians mount an opponent to Boxer. Who the hell is Jane Hamsher to tell me what issues are important and how I should rate my Congress critters? I suspect a lot of Connecticut Dems who might have supported Lamont but ended up voting for Lieberman thought much the same thing. The netroots prima donnas don't want to acknowledge how much of what they do in actual politics is little more than blackmailing and bullying. This goes over very badly with the officials, the official's supporters, general citizens who don't like outsiders picking their candidates and dictating political priorities, and a truckload of bloggers who aren't too keen on being verbally abused for disagreeing with the A-List's self-aggrandizement program. You would think they would have learned a lesson with Lamont.
  • Obama is a media darling because he is seen as a Clinton killer. Should he succeed at that, he will be assailed from both sides - the Right will apply Clinton Rules to him and the Left will "suddenly" realize they have an untested ego maniac on their hands, up to his keister in the Chicago slime machine. And then we will be subjected to months, if not years, of netroots bloviating on how it was all the Clintons' fault. As I've always said, this election has one person running for President and everyone else running as the man who can defeat her.


Update - It appears that Armando (Big Tent Democrat) and I are thinking along similar lines, though I place the point of rupture at an earlier date, probably because I do support Clinton and so was more suspicious sooner:

"You know the Day the Blogosphere Died? It was when it decided to defend NBC's sexism and misogyny in order to score points against Hillary Clinton.

There was a time when the Netroots agreed with me that we needed Fighting Dems, that Obama was not measuring up on that score.

But the Obama Cult has taken over in its entirety.

I am not for Hillary Clinton. But I am for my issues and my beliefs on what is the proper political strategy for the Democratic Party.

As the famous saying goes, I did not leave the blogosphere, the blogosphere left me.

It will never be the same. It is now EXACTLY what the Right Wing o sphere has always been - a cheerleading section - just for their favored candidate.

The Netroots are dead."

Read the thread that comes out of his comment, too.

Friday, February 15, 2008

There is No National Election

Get that through your skulls, Hillary and Barry supporters alike. That is a profound misconception. If there was a national election, with the citizen's choices equally weighed, we would be celebrating the second term of President Gore right now. Of course, that also means we'd be looking at an election pitting Joe Lieberman against John McCain, so maybe it's best not to go too far with that particular thought.

We have a general election which is simply the simultaneous votes of 50 states, plus districts, territories and protectorates. No one can take a national poll result and extrapolate it to mean something definite. That simply measures a general sense of the nation, not who is scoring better with electoral votes. Each individual state has to be examined for both demography and geography. That's one of the reasons I have been searching the exit polls and also the New York Times county breakdown maps. Examining the maps tells stories about the locations of the people doing the voting and how they shake out.

Hillary's success in large primary states is not simply that they are primaries, though that helps. Look at the maps of the southern and border states - Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina and Florida. Look at how the counties align for who wins which area. Look at South Carolina and see the counties where Obama won because Edwards and Clinton split the vote. Look into Missouri and see the few places where Clinton did not win majorities. Look at patterns of voting in the places where the vote in the General will be most contested, which includes border states Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Who is going to hold voters in those states and why? Where will McCain be most problematic?

What states will simply not be in play for the Democrats? They are going to be the states of the inter-mountain West most certainly: Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada and Arizona. New Mexico may be in play. With HRC, I think we can get Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri, given strong turn out. With The Golden one, not a chance, though Virginia becomes a faint possibility. Given the dissing of Florida, I don't think Barry can carry it. I think Hillary has a chance. There is no solid blue state that Barry has won that she cannot also win in the General, while I think she is more likely to bring in swing states than he can. Many of his caucus win states (Idaho, Kansas) are simply not possibilities this round, especially with how feckless the Dem Congress has been lately. The deep south? Fuhgeddaboudit.

The ability to win small caucus states, with combined turnouts lower than Florida or California, in red parts of the country where the structure of the caucus itself over-represents The Golden One's constituencies says zero about viability in those same states come November. General primary states are a better measure, once you control for ethnicity and class, because they have the lowest barrier to entry and thus have a greater sample of representative voters.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Don't Sit Out the Fight

I've been reading my comments and the posts and comments on other pro-HRC blogs and I have noticed a disturbing trend.

Too many good Democrats are sounding like petulant "Obamacans".

Listen up - there is no reason to vote for McCain. NONE. Don't go making stupid fucked up threats about how you'll vote McCain if Golden Boy Barry finagles the nomination. That is what the Republicans and Republican leaning Independents who crossed party lines and voted Obama to screw over Hillary want to hear. They want you to stay away. They want you to behave like the bratty, self-centered "come to Jesu-- I mean, Obama" thugs who bully and threaten Hillary supporters in caucuses. They want to disgust you and convince you to stay at home.

Hillary would be the first one to tell you the fight is more than one individual. That was part of what she was getting at when she said that MLK needed LBJ. A single individual is not enough to fight against the organized, entrenched Movement Conservatives. It takes a concerted effort by groups of people to do what is right.

The Golden One's greatest strength is also his Achilles Heel. His worshipful crowd is turning out for him personally (Am I the only one who keeps thinking of The Life of Brian and the followers chasing Brian around, waving shoes?), and not for the party. If they become disenchanted with Barry, there is nothing else about him, his campaign, or the general political cause to keep them around. One of the reasons why Hillary still has the largest core of supporters of any candidate of either party is because we support her for reasons that go beyond merely liking the candidate.

Hillary Clinton represents the best of the Democratic stance - loyalty to the base, dedication to public service beyond electoral office, total wonky command of all issues and policies, and an unflappable, clear-eyed understanding of just what she is up against from the Right. She is a Democrat in the FDR mode, ready to make the government work for us.

Cynical old bitches like me, well, we've long ago outgrown any romantic notion of politics, we believe in people who are dependable if not totally hawt, and we have had a lifetime to see how overall policy has affected our lives. That's why we turn out for candidates who don't make our knees knock but are mighty good for the retirement account. Of course, with Hillary, my heart goes pitter-pat and my bank account in nodding is agreement, but I digress.

One of the strategies of the Right in encouraging intra-party hostility among Democrats is to dishearten, disgust and discourage Democratic voters from turning out at all. We can't win down-ticket races, from Senators and Representatives to mayors and city council members, if we don't show up to vote. The Obamacans have already declared that they don't give a flying fuck about the party if The Precious doesn't get the nomination, doing their best to blackmail the party elite into backing them for fear of losing downticket votes.

HRC supporters are better than that. We don't believe in fairy tales and ponies for everyone. We believe in progressive policies and the need to never give up the struggle because we've had a set back. We're not just here for the celebrity of the week. We're here for the long haul, fighting back the peoeple who walk out of Congress rather than uphold the rule of law, or who park truck bombs in front of Federal buildings, or who lie like rugs to get through a Senate hearing, then flip America the bird and say torture is just dandy. We are fighting the party of racism, class warfare, forever war, hypocricy, lies, and criminality.

As such, I admonish Hillary voters to stay true to our girl and pledge to go to the polls in record numbers in November and vote Democrat from the top to the bottom of the ticket. Yell out that you are going to vote, that you support the liberal cause, not Daily Kos, and that your choice will be counted. Then be sure to cast your presidential vote for Hillary Clinton, even if you have to write her in.

Send a message to the haters out there that you will not be silenced and you are ready to fight.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Fights Worth Having

The cross tabs tonight are actually pretty close to what they have been in every other primary: Whites and women vote strongly for Hillary, Independents and Republicans have crossed over to vote for Obama and try to defeat Hillary in the primaries, AAs vote for Obama, and he has yet to prove he can carry a large state with a minority Black Democratic constituency. All the votes of all the caucuses added together do not equal the turn out in just Florida, let alone California, so Hillary has still proved more popular with a wider swath and greater number of voters than Barack can dream of.

My mother is a strong Hillary supporter, but was too ill to attend the caucus in Washington last Saturday. She loathes Golden Boy Barry and detests his cultish followers even more. We talked for about 30 minutes tonight and she flatly said he was ripping the party apart with his self-centered, shallow, and arrogant campaign. You see, my mom was part of those 60s disturbances and an early feminist, and she knows that you don't get anywhere by refusing to defend what matters. She prefers Edwards to HRC (fair enough), but had no doubt who she would pick once Edwards dropped out. This is one life-long Democrat who will not cast a vote for Obama in November - she, like me and all our female relatives, will write in Hillary.

Why does Mom feel so strongly about this? She's a party-line voter and has been with a sole exception, to support Dan Evans as Washington governor in the 70s. She endured the tear gas in Berkley, she supported ERA, though she opposes abortion she defends a woman's right to choose, and she knows which political party supports her causes. Her support of Edwards was for his policies on the poor and disadvantaged and for his willingness to be the advocate of the "losers", the people America likes to pretend don't really exist.

One thing Hillary said in her Politico interview was that it's not clear what struggles of the last few decades Golden Boy Barry would consider worth his time. As I have asked over and over, just what is it that The Golden One offers Democrats? Be concrete. What fights is he going to wage for us? Taking troops out of Iraq? Uh, all the Dems say they will do so. Has he committed to what kind of judges he will appoint? What parts of Social Security are off limits to discussion? Holding the line against Republican intransigence? Saying unequivocally that the Democrats advocate what is right, good and for the betterment of the nation, and that the Republicans are fear-mongering cretins? Exactly what he will do to reverse the gutting of the Civil Rghts division of the DOJ? His policies on restoring privacy to the average American? Etc.

Hillary said something powerful in that interview that the A-List Blogger Boyz keep side-stepping in their fanatical promotion of all things Obama - there are fights worth having. Division can be constructive. Unity is self-defeating if it leads you to undermine the core beliefs that make you what you are. This is what Krugman and Perlstein get at, this is what my mother knows from having fought these battles in her youth and right through her life; it matters what we are for, what we are willing to stand up and defend.

Mom's memories of Kennedy aren't so much of JFK the sexy dude with the big speeches, though that is there. She talks of the day he was murdered. "They got him," she says, with disgust and anger, even today, "they knew they had to bring him down. Bobby, too." My mother looks up to Kennedy the martyr, the man who died because the right-wing in this country will literally kill to keep the world from changing around them. It goes beyond money or raw power or religion - these are markers of the root cause. It is the mix of hate and fear that powers fundamentalists around the world, allowing fanatics in the US to speak approvingly of al Qaeda's murder of thousands in the WTC. The pervs had it coming to them, praise the Lord! It is the impulse that powers the Republicans' Southern Strategy. Race may lead it, but the people who promote and support this mode of politics are opposed to anything that seeks to be open-minded, inclusive, ecumenical, and progressive. They are opposed to liberal democracy itself.

These are the battles that are fought when it seems we are just doing some policy wonkishness. The details matter. The concessions matter. There are points on which there cannot be compromise, where unity is not just undesireable but a mark of failure. Bashing the battles of the 90s, when the Movement Consevatives were ascendent, is not just stupid. It ignores the fundamental ground of the battles. Dismissing them all, as the Right so fervently wants to dismiss them, as some kind of character flaw of Bill Clinton, trivializes the brutal damage done to the fabric of the nation, turns us away from the sundering of judicial warp and legislative weft, and normalizes the assault upon reason, equality and justice conducted against the country by the Republicans since Goldwater.

It refuses to acknowledge that they will stop at nothing to turn our country into Nixonland.

The wine-track Left's fatal flaw is its distaste for politics, the dirty hurly-burly of trades and deals, scams and sales, scratching backs and twisting arms. It is the disdain of the philosopher kings for the agora. But the public good is just as much the public's bad (as Madison famously balanced out), and there is nothing pure or simple about that market. They keep wanting to pick a leader who will somehow transcend politics, change the tone of the dirty market traders, dare us to hope for a time when we will unite as a single people with a single vision and march forward into a better future.

It isn't so much liberal fascism as the fantasy of the zipless fuck.

One Obamabot in a Corrente comment thread whined that he wanted to win, not struggle, and so he was voting for Obama, demonstrating once again the deep stupidity of the Obamaphilic Left. There will always be a struggle as long as there is a right-wing. We cannot "win" by putting a single person into a single office because of his mad oratorating skillz. This has to be likened to fending off a tide that will always be moving against us, corroding our foundations even when it ebbs. The A-List Boyz, the ones so angry at Hillary Clinton for daring to stand up against the calumny thrown at her (and most especially the calumny that comes from their own, dear, sweet little sexist mouths) are all slavering and quivering over the prospect of a political zipless fuck, where they can have their philosopher king, and an election success and have sweetness and light magically transform and transcend the icky struggles of the Clinton era into a progressive wonderland.

Oh, and a pony, too.

Here's some real history, little boyz. The wins of the Left have come almost as afterthoughts to the struggles, and are inevitably tarnished and dimmed by them. That is the nature of the struggle of liberalism against fundamantalism, because our opposition literally will kill to preserve their way of being in the world. The victories of the 60s came through the blood of our leaders. We envy (oh, how we envy!) the seemingly teflon triumphs of the Right, their Saint Ronnie, their wiggling out of scandal after scandal, their ability to catapult the propaganda. We want that, too! We want to be able to do as we like and get away with it. That, deep down, is the fundamental appeal to Obama - that he might be a "media darling" and thus get away with it. We want our zipless fuck. It's part of the guilty pleasure of watching him bash the Clintons with the same arguments and tone that a McCain would do, because, to our assaulted senses, that's what winning looks like.

It is against these kinds of wins that our struggles take place. These are the fights worth having.


Sunday, February 10, 2008


Krugman on what matters:

In 1956 Adlai Stevenson, running against Dwight Eisenhower, tried to make the political style of his opponent’s vice president, a man by the name of Richard Nixon, an issue. The nation, he warned, was in danger of becoming “a land of slander and scare; the land of sly innuendo, the poison pen, the anonymous phone call and hustling, pushing, shoving; the land of smash and grab and anything to win. This is Nixonland.”

The quote comes from “Nixonland,” a soon-to-be-published political history of the years from 1964 to 1972 written by Rick Perlstein, the author of “Before the Storm.” As Mr. Perlstein shows, Stevenson warned in vain: during those years America did indeed become the land of slander and scare, of the politics of hatred.

And it still is. In fact, these days even the Democratic Party seems to be turning into Nixonland.

The bitterness of the fight for the Democratic nomination is, on the face of it, bizarre. Both candidates still standing are smart and appealing. Both have progressive agendas (although I believe that Hillary Clinton is more serious about achieving universal health care, and that Barack Obama has staked out positions that will undermine his own efforts). Both have broad support among the party’s grass roots and are favorably viewed by Democratic voters.

Supporters of each candidate should have no trouble rallying behind the other if he or she gets the nod.

Why, then, is there so much venom out there?

I won’t try for fake evenhandedness here: most of the venom I see is coming from supporters of Mr. Obama, who want their hero or nobody. I’m not the first to point out that the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality. We’ve already had that from the Bush administration — remember Operation Flight Suit? We really don’t want to go there again.

What’s particularly saddening is the way many Obama supporters seem happy with the application of “Clinton rules” — the term a number of observers use for the way pundits and some news organizations treat any action or statement by the Clintons, no matter how innocuous, as proof of evil intent.


For now, Clinton rules are working in Mr. Obama’s favor. But his supporters should not take comfort in that fact.

For one thing, Mrs. Clinton may yet be the nominee — and if Obama supporters care about anything beyond hero worship, they should want to see her win in November.

For another, if history is any guide, if Mr. Obama wins the nomination, he will quickly find himself being subjected to Clinton rules. Democrats always do.

But most of all, progressives should realize that Nixonland is not the country we want to be. Racism, misogyny and character assassination are all ways of distracting voters from the issues, and people who care about the issues have a shared interest in making the politics of hatred unacceptable.

One of the most hopeful moments of this presidential campaign came last month, when a number of Jewish leaders signed a letter condemning the smear campaign claiming that Mr. Obama was a secret Muslim. It’s a good guess that some of those leaders would prefer that Mr. Obama not become president; nonetheless, they understood that there are principles that matter more than short-term political advantage.

I’d like to see more moments like that, perhaps starting with strong assurances from both Democratic candidates that they respect their opponents and would support them in the general election.

Hate Springs Eternal

Stanley Fish on Hillary Hatred

Josh Marshall and the rest of the A-List Boyz need to hustle their butts over to Stanley Fish's latest opinion piece in the New York Times and understand he is talking about them.

Not long ago, Fish wrote a column about the deep, pathological hatred voiced at Hillary Clinton, the kind we see every day in blogs, opinion pieces, news reports, pundit talk shows, editorial cartoons and the like. Hatred that often takes the form of Dave Shuster's weird "You won't talk to me and let me trash you, so you're a whore and you mother's a pimp!" argument about Chelsea Clinton - if you won't do or be what I want, if you disappoint me, I will attack you, and what best pleases me is attacking you. Heads, I go after you, tails, I go after you.

Fish dryly opens his column, A Calumny a Day To Keep Hillary Away, with this:
The responses to my column on Hillary Clinton-hating have been both voluminous (the largest number in the brief history of “Think Again”) and fascinating. The majority of posters agreed with the characterization of the attacks on Senator Clinton as vicious and irrational, but in not a few posts the repudiation of Hillary-hatred is followed by more of the same. Lisa (No. 17) nicely exemplifies the pattern. She begins by saying “I agree that there is a rabid nature in the manner in which numerous conservative groups attack Hillary Clinton,”, but in the very next sentence she declares that “most of Hillary’s reputation is well earned” and then she spends nine paragraphs being rabid. A significant minority of posters skipped the ritual disavowal of hatred and went straight to the task of adding to it.
The key marker of a Hillary Hater is the willingness to state, in almost the same breath, that it is out of control and then to plunge in for a full-throated round of it. The calumny, of which the respondents, just like our own pitiful Josh Marshall, appear oblivious, is their own. They are engaged in a performative (hey, I did spend a lot of time in grad school learnin' the lingo...) of hatred. They are not describing something about Hillary (she, as a corporeal being, is negated) - they create "Hillary" with their assertions about what is or is not relevant to the construct. Indeed, the respondents sometimes do not appear to understand the effect they are having on the listener, the way in which they are exposing their own innner psyche:
Still, sexism doesn’t seem an adequate explanation of the Hillary-hating phenomenon if only because so much of the venom in the comments is directed at the Clintons as a team. The idea is that nothing but evil can emanate from them; they are a moral blot on the nation’s escutcheon, a canker-sore on the body politic, and they must be removed (perhaps by any means necessary). No doubt sexism is a component of such sentiments–a number of women respondents accused her of riding on her husband’s coat-tails and lambasted her for not leaving him–but sexism doesn’t really account for an anger that sometimes borders on the homicidal.
Fish then dives directly into the darkest heart of the revivified Clinton Derangement Syndrome and its powerful hold on the Left, the way in which it is used to rationalize support for Obama. As with Hillary, Obama himself is erased as a person and reappears as a screen upon which the lines of CDS are limned. It is almost an algebraic equation in this statement from one of his commenters: “The fact that Hillary Clinton is hated is true and real. Therefore if the Democrats want to recapture the Whitehouse, they better think long and hard about electability in their choice of a candidate.” Fish is relentless, however, and takes the speakers by the scruff of the neck, forcing them to look at the logical construct they have created (my emphasis):
Electability (a concept invoked often) is a code word that masks the fact that the result of such reasoning is to cede the political power to the ranters. Carolyn Kay (456) makes the point when she observes that if you vote against Clinton because you fear the virulence of her most vocal enemies, “you have allowed the right-wing hatemongers to decide who our candidate will be.” Underlying this surrender of the franchise to those least qualified to exercise it is the complaint (rarely overtly stated) that the Clintons have had the bad taste to undergo the assassination of their characters in public and have thereby made us its unwilling spectators. This is of course the old ploy of blaming the victim, and Ava Mae Lewis (16) is at least explicit about it. After deploring the “wild accusations” and “rabid hate”, she declares herself “disappointed that the Clintons force us to make this final and public rejection.”
They did it to us! They made us witnesses to their humiliation, those bad people! No, Fish, responds, you don't get off the hook that easily (my emphasis):
In other words, by being the targets of unwarranted attacks — that is their crime, being innocent–the Clintons are putting us in the uncomfortable position of voting against them for reasons we would rather not own up to. How dare they? Given the fierceness of the opposition to her candidacy, why doesn’t Hillary do the decent thing and withdraw? “What bothers me about Hillary is that she must know this, yet she apparently thinks so much of herself, or wants to be president so badly, that she’s willing to risk compromising the Democrats’ chances of winning in November to stay in the race” (Matthew, 440). How inconsiderate of her both to want to be president and to persist in her quest in the face of calumny.
How inconsiderate of her, indeed. How dare she force the political conditions which make us feel uncomfortable. This gets back to something I have been saying again and again in the last month, where I point out the deep discomfort that the wine-track left and especially the A-List Boyz have with political conflict. They somehow want to have victory without having anyone besmirch their candidate and without having that candidate taint his dainty hands with the crude weilding of power. What Krugman (here and here) and Perlstein both point out is that there are divisions in this nation that run so deep and are so powerful that we have no choice save to fight them tooth and nail, and to understand that we have only our mortal, flawed and always already compromised leaders to rally behind. What these respondents hate the most about Hillary (and also about Bubba) is that they are "unclean".

The greatest crime the Clintons have committed in the eyes of the Left is not being perfect. Not being white and liberal enough, not being a perfected version of the Kennedys, not being without stain or flaw, and thereby giving the Right something to slime. Except, of course, the insiders and punditocracy had already decided that they were class traitors who should have stayed among the East Coast establishment and not gone back to Little Rock and mixed with the lesser beings (you know, Southern white trash and poor Blacks). Hillary's current core constituency, blue collar workers, life-long rank-and-file Democrats, union members, ethnic minorities, women with less than upper-class education, they don't seem to have a problem with this. It is just the kind of people who sit around reading blogs and opinion columns in the NYT who are always posting comments before they are overcome with the vapors.

Fish raises an eyebrow and gives the respondents another thing to think about. The battering of the Clintons is not just more villification for them, it is at the same time a deliberate campaign strategy of Hillary's cheif rival. Fish examines the strategy, acknowledges the political savvy as something other than mere opportunism, but ends by pointing out the self-negating gotcha of this type of campaign, which is the gotcha of all such campaigns waged since Adlai Stevenson (my emphasis):

The beneficiary of this she’s-a-victim-so-we-must-expel-her logic is Barack Obama, and some respondents suspected him of fostering the divisiveness he rails against. “When Obama calls Hillary divisive he, of course, is pandering to these crazies Stanley Fish is describing” (dehud, 128). “Barack Obama is working hard to provide fuel to the Hillary haters” (Meryl B, 339). Actually, Obama doesn’t have to work hard at all. The media, as many who wrote in pointed out, are doing it for him. A number of commentators perceived an anti-Hillary bias at work in the op-ed pages of our major newspapers (including this one) and in the remarks made by radio and TV personalities. MSNBC was singled out as a network that has become an extension of the Obama campaign. Chris Matthews, a liberal warhorse, is obviously in love with him. But so is the entire editorial page of the New York Post. On Thursday, Dick Morris, Eileen McGann, and Kirsten Powers wrote mash notes to Obama in the disguise of columns, and the lead editorial warned Democrats not to miss out on the “excitement and promise” Obama brings. Today (Sunday) Peggy Noonan worried that the Democrats might fail to “recognize what they have in this guy.” With unpaid employees on both sides of the media aisle, Obama doesn’t have to do anything but be his usual inspirational self. Unencumbered by the record of achievements and missteps that comes along with political longevity, he can present a clean slate to the electorate. Nothing hazarded equals nothing to be criticized for.

Of course Obama has every right to take advantage of the enmity his opponent has garnered over the years. It is the politically savvy thing to do, just as it is politically savvy for him to insist that the superdelegates follow the voters in their districts, given that a majority of them is known to favor Senator Clinton. But political savvy is perhaps not what Obama wants to claim. His boast–problematic down the road–is that he is not a politician at all.

Obama would be a fool not to try to capitalize on this media and electoral windfall, but what kind of politics does it create in the end? Armando over at TalkLeft is explicit that it may be a tactic that will allow The Golden One to win a campaign, but it is not one that will allow him to govern effectively precisely because the marker of his administration is to be above politics and avoid those battles that must be engaged to turn back the tide of Movement Conservatism. Better to win than to succeed.

Fish leaves us with this thought, that CDS says far more about the respondents than it can ever say about Hillary Clinton (my emphasis):

Hillary Clinton is undoubtedly a politician, and experience — good and bad — is the trump card of her campaign rhetoric. It is a card some posters want to take away from her. OM (421) erases two years from her tenure. “You have had elected office for six years.” Syzito (134) observes that “Hillary has NEVER been elected to anything except as Senator from new York.” (Why being a two term senator from a major state is as small, inconsequential thing is not explained.) It is comments like these that lead Marsha (450) to say, “Many of the posters confirm your conclusions.”

Perhaps so, but these same posters vigorously deny that it is Clinton-hatred that moves them. They are pleading, with JF (566), “Please don’t lump us with the haters.” But if I may take some liberty with the words of an old song: You made me lump you; I didn’t wanna do it.
Here's looking at you, Josh.


Just Like Grad School

The deep problem of Josh Marshall's increasingly execrable posts about Hillary Clinton is not only that he has made them, but also that they are not terribly unusual among A-list male bloggers. Melissa McEwan sums up the reason why the rhetoric is ass-covering crap here, In Things I Find Cute, much better than I can.

I've heard Josh Marshall's arguments about how MCNBC's rhetoric may be offensive but it's not, like, sexist, y'know, before. It was the standard bullshit spewed by male professors and male grad students about the dynamics of graduate classrooms and seminars when the female students in the room objected to some gendered statement or act by the aforementioned male profs and students.

Big Media Matt put up a post the other day before Josh's wet, steaming pantload was generally noticed that brings up the biggest truth, that the Clever Young Men of the Blogosphere simply can't see because they are unable (and unwilling) to observe themselves as part of the phenomenon:
I think Hillary Clinton's going to win this thing. I think the college educated men who dominate punditland have spent a lot of time missing the fact that there actually are enthusiastic Clinton fans out there -- they're just mostly working class women and thus mostly not in the room when this CW gets hashed out. On the Record

Not in the room.

That really sums up the deep structural problem of the "netroots" as a source of political strength on the left. They have never left the graduate classroom while the rest of us have moved on.

I spent a long time in graduate classrooms before finally deciding that I needed to find a line of work where I could retain my dignity, and I know this type of person very well. He's white (or codes as "white"), very articulate, often socially awkward, deferential to fawning towards the most senior male in the area, smart-as-a-whip in a bookworm kind of way, can throw together short, abstract, sophisticated arguments about their own esoteric subject at the drop of a hat, and has spent the last 8 to 10 years of his life being praised as the smartest guy in the room. They literally earn an "A" for their thinking and how it is received by the professors. It is a deeply incestuous and self-reinforcing environment.

In short, their entire sense of self-worth is tied up in winning verbal exchanges on subjects they are going to get tested on in the mid-term exams next month. Yak-yak between and amongst themselves (all under the approving eye of the senior male professor who will give them a recommendation on their job application to Podunk U.) is the fabric of their lives. They don't waste time with anything that doesn't mark them off as "clever" and "insightful" (as determined by the senior prof), and they get hostile when someone or something enters their carefully constructed cocoon and simply rips the foundations of their arguments out from underneath them.

Such as being told that, no, what you are saying is not just gendered, but pernicious and misogynist. Or, even more threatening, that their approach to the topic at hand is simply wrong and they have misunderstood the entire question. These are guys who are deeply invested in their (ahem) intellectual apparatus, in the correctness and insight of their opinion of what is. They literally don't know what to do with themselves if they aren't getting praised for saying smart things on demand. Deep down inside, they run on fear - that they will stop being the smart one, they will be cast out of the Ivory Tower and they don't know how to do anything else except be smart.

I know this terror because it is what kept me in academia far, far longer than I should have stayed. It is literally what a guidance couselor said to me as I struggled to figure out what to do once I knew I wasn't going to stay - "You aren't qualified to do anything, because all you've done is go to school." I had a professor sneer at my attempts to learn computer programming and leave grad school, "I see. You'll just settle for a job. I guess you aren't up to a profession." It made me very angry at the time, the way he belittled me, but I do see, now, that he was projecting his own fears onto me, that he was the one who couldn't keep up.

This is why people like Josh have flocked to the net. They can continue being big and important on the basis of their opinions and clever arguments and not on their ability to, you know, hold down a job. The way in which the rest of the world putters along very well without them and could not care less what their grand pronouncements are is inherently threatening to what makes them tick. It reinforces their deep fear that they are irrelevant and incompetant.

To my thinking, this is why the leading lights of the netroots on the left are so dangerously out of step with the Democratic grassroots. They are flocking to candidates and causes without concrete foundations to their positions, and they speak mainly among themselves, which further exacerbates their distance from the run-of-the-mill citizen. They seize on the formal argument and overlook the practical application. Worse, they cling to sophistry and the good-old-white-boys praise and promote systems of academia and journamalism, and insist their justifications are right. If they didn't, their entire raison d'etre would vanish and they might have to get a real job bagging groceries, fixing electrical lines, tending elders in nursing homes, or collecting garbage. Icky, dirty, hard things that they might not like and wouldn't be very good at.

This is intellectual elitism, yes, but even more a rather childish and frightening inability to distinguish the worth or weight of an idea in the context of an ordinary life.

For example, read Steve Lopez's column Points West in the LA Times today, "In Latino neighborhood, Clinton's experience counts," where he talks to Latino men about why they voted for Hillary. The men interviewed said the same things most online Clinton supporters say - she's got more experience, they trust what she'll do. What about machismo? They scoff and say they are educated and civilized, they don't fall for that BS. What about her Iraq vote? Yes, that is a problem and they hold it against her, but they also put it into context. Bush lied, the economy is flagging, she'll stop the war. They have engaged in moral reasoning and have reached a balanced and defensible position.

And I'll bet they didn't have to read a single blog to make up their minds.


Saturday, February 09, 2008

Huckabee, Caucuses and Media Whores

I think the real political story story tonight is Huckabee winning all three Republican contests.

McCain was polling well ahead of Huckabee in Washington State (52% to 22% among likely caucus goers), yet (with over 1/3 of precincts reporting), Huckabee is up by 4%. McCain may yet pull it out, but it's not likely. Huckabee won 60+% of the Kansas vote and is at 45+% in Louisiana. That wasn't supposed to happen.

As for the Democratic contest, Obama won Louisiana on the AA vote as everyone expected him to do, and did more poorly than usual with white voters, which made his winning margin narrower than expected. He won the Washington caucuses by the expected margin. There are no polls on Nebraska so there isn't anything to compare it to. In short, Barry underperformed his numbers by a bit and continued to win in states with small Democratic turn outs and few Electoral College votes. No surprises here folks.

I'm trying to figure out where to get numbers for total turn-outs for the caucus states so I can do some tangerine to oranges comparisons, instead of apples to oranges. Also, from here on out, I will NOT be using the MSNBCcrosstabs for my electoral analysis. I'm not giving the bastards any site traffic or support after the Shuster shit.

I agree with Armando on TalkLeft that Josh Marshall is simply a liar. Marshall is so deeply in the tank for The Golden One that he compulsively spins everything Hillary does as some horrible crime against humanity, and that she has no legitimate grounds for defending herself or her family because, y'know, they're Clintons. It is really horrifying to watch someone who was once an incredibly insightful and thoughtful liberal blogger turn into such a media whore. Once, TPM was my home page, the first thing I saw in the morning when I opened up my web borwser. Now, I won't go anywhere near it.


Friday, February 08, 2008

To watch for in Washington State

Survey USA did a follow up poll conducted yesterday and today (though probably missing the turmoil over the Shuster statement) that has Hillary up 5 points to 45%, and has Obama dropping from 53% down to 50%. If the primary counted in the state, I think Hillary could probably win. Unfortunately, the primary does nothing and all delegates are chosen through the caucuses. Washington has been a caucus state for a long time. While the survey doesn't give HRC supporters thrilling news, it does provide a way to see if trends from Super Tuesday are continuing.

Poll crosstabs for 2/07 - 2/08
Poll crosstabs for 2/03 - 2/03

The biggest difference in the polls is that Survey USA has adjusted the gender demographic. The first two columns are the old poll, the second two columns are the new poll:


First of all, they shifted the gender ratio to be more like the turn out in Super Tuesday. What is very interesting is that HRC's support among both men as well as among women has increased - 4% for men and 5% for women. She still polls lower with women in Wshington than she did in most other states. The undecideds who made up their minds have gone for HRC, which reinforces the trend we've seen in both the Super Tuesday exit polls and in the Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls. Undecided voters are more likely to decide for her.

Survey SA also changed its ethnicity balance, to include a larger portion of the non-white public in the sample. The columns indicate White, Black, Hispanic and Asian, with the oldest poll in the first four columns and the newest poll in the last four:


Hillary's percentages go up among all groups except AA voters. HRC is now at parity with BHO with white voters, and has improved her margin slightly with Hispanic voters. The Asian voter columns are the most dramatic with her support almost doubling and the change clearly coming from both undecideds and Obama defectors. Even so, she still lags with this group. It is a larger constituency than Black or Hispanic voters in the state.

The bad news, though, is that only 33% of those who intend to caucus say they will vote for Hillary. Less than 40% of Democrats say they will caucus at all, so Obama "wins" (assuming Survey USA is accurate and this number holds for tomorrow) with less than 25% of Democratic voters. The survey also shows that the majority of Obama supporters have no intention of going to the state primary, which is where state measures are voted on as well as conducting a straw poll of the presidential candidates.

HRC is in the lead with voters in the western portion of the state, though lags in the Seattle metro area. She is slightly behind in eastern Washington, which is rural and very conservative, much like rural Nevada and Idaho.

If Washington was a primary, Hilary would be very competitive, and she might even win. There is also the fact that a significant number of voters don't even know that the delegates are only chosen from the caucuses, not from the primary. Given the difficulties of caucusing, it is unlikely she can pull out a win. Someone is doing a huge GOTC (Get Out The Caucus) effort with Asian voters, however.

Old Poll26%42%27%19%
New Poll29%73%36%52%

The percentage of a given ethnic group that said it would caucus is shown in the columns. The first row is the results of the first poll, the scond row is the newer poll, and the final row is the percent increase. Whites show the least increase. AA and Asian voters are increasing by over 30% each. This increase in Asian turnout is phenomenal. A note of caution about these last caucus numbers - they mix Republican and Democrat together, so this shouldn't be seen as poll movement exclusive to Democrats.

Overall, it looks like HRC's percentages with voters have gone up by a statistically significant amount in Washington, mostly attributable by the greater weight given to women voters in the voting sample. Male voters are also more likely to support her than a week ago (everybody likes a winner...). At the same time, though I do think she is gaining strength in Washington, I don't think it is enough to overcome the structural advantage Obama enjoys with caucuses.