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March 31, 2005

DeLay's Statement on Schiavo

I know I'm violating my pledge to leave the sad Terri Schiavo case alone, but a reporter friend just emailed me Tom DeLay's statement on her death:

Mrs. Schiavo's death is a moral poverty and a legal tragedy. This loss happened because our legal system did not protect the people who need protection most, and that will change. The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today. Today we grieve, we pray, and we hope to God this fate never befalls another. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Schindlers and with Terri Schiavo's friends in this time of deep sorrow.
My friend asked for a "translation" of the first line and the "answer for their behavior" comment, and I responded:

If you hoped this was some sort of southern saying, or a quote from scripture, I'll have to disappoint you. It's just poor writing. The "moral poverty" line reminds me of that great Dick Gephardt epigram: "Markets are not a morality." Nor are advertisements an epistemology, but who cares?

The "answer for their behavior" bit is a nice example of deliberately menacing ambiguity, worthy of Tony Soprano, making you wonder if he's talking about Divine Judgment or a House Republican hearing or worse. Hopefully, Barney Frank or somebody will respond with a statement that says: "The political exploitation of Terri Schiavo is a moral poverty and a legal tragedy. And the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, and that time may be November of 2006."


More From the DeLay Archives

My colleague The Moose and I were talking this morning about an attack on Tom DeLay that was published by The Battalion, the Texas A&M student newspaper, which the Texas blogger Greg Wythe brought to our attention. I was curious about a reference Greg made to DeLay having once referred to A&M as a "den of iniquity," and The Moose (a native of Waco) enlightened me with a great link: a 2002 article in the Baptist Standard, the official voice of the Texas Baptist Convention. Turns out DeLay told an audience of Texas Baptists that they shouldn't send their kids to A&M or Baylor because these famously conservative schools weren't really conservative any more, and were tolerating all sorts of immoral behavior. (Read the whole rich story, which also reveals that DeLay was booted out of Baylor for a "prank" he committed at--you guessed it--Texas A&M). I don't know that much about Texas, but I do know two things: (1) there's no percentage in taking a stance to the right of Southern Baptists on issues of personal morality; and (2) you don't want to mess with the Aggies. DeLay papered over the furor from his disrespecting of Baylor and Texas A&M, but you never know how much ill-will got stored away for future reference. It's like the old saying: Be careful who you step on as you climb the ladder, 'cause it can earn you a long, lonely fall from the top.

DeLay's Counter-Offensive

In case you've missed it, Tom DeLay has begun a counter-offensive against those critics who are kinda wondering at what stage his egregious pattern of conduct--unethical, illegal, or just plain crass--will get either his party or his constituents to send him back to the exterminating business. DeLay's argument, of course, is that it's all just a lefty conspiracy, probably financed by George Soros, to "destroy the conservative movement." Now put aside for a moment the rather self-aggrandizing idea that the conservative movement would instantly fall to pieces without the Hammer's leadership. The more interesting assertion is that his growing cast of detractors--including the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal--is being orchestrated by the godless hordes of the Organized Left.You might want to take a look at the official take of that well-known leftist group, the Soros-controlled, Michael-Moore-loving Democratic Leadership Council, on DeLay's latest line of defense.


All I have to say about the death of poor Terri Schiavo is: may she rest in peace, in a place where she can laugh with the angels at the political usages of her last days.

March 30, 2005

Misunderestimating Alan Keyes

As I am sure some of you have already informed me by email, Alan Keyes has indeed make the trek to Florida, and does indeed have a few thousand predictably shrill opinions on the Schiavo case. And the fact that I hadn't noticed it indicates that the whole scene is so crazy that Keyes just doesn't stand out.Moreoever, my little joke about a Keyes Senate race in Maryland turns out to be right on the money as well. As Annie Linskey of the Baltimore Sun reported a week ago:

Since Keyes still has a house in Maryland, could he reverse his carpetbagging and come back here for a third attempt to finally represent the state?"I'm waiting for a response from him," said Connie Hair, a spokeswoman for Keyes. But she warned that Keyes is more engaged with an issue - this time in Florida.He is "completely focused right now on the Terri Schiavo matter," Hair said, referring to the debate over whether the brain-damaged woman should be kept alive with a feeding tube.
Keyes, in other words, is simply impervious to parody. But hey, why shouldn't he make another Senate run? After all, the whole Republican Party seems to be heading right in his direction.

And Speaking of Clowns....

The Moose and I were just discussing the Spectacle in the Sunshine when he asked an obvious question: where the hell is Alan Keyes? I mean, isn't this whole scene kinda tailor-made for him? I shudder at the very idea, but is this a tableau so bizarre that even Keyes wouldn't stand out?Or maybe the famous Illinois pol is just reacquainting himself with the State of Maryland in anticipation of another fine Senate race. Please.

An Insult To Clowns

A large number of bloggers have referred to the ongoing insanity outside a certain hospice in Florida as a "political circus." I think that's an insult to clowns and other circus performers. Indeed, if there is a Clown Anti-Defamation League out there somewhere, it needs to put out a press release deploring the comparison, before someone starts asking how many self-promoting political hacks and freaks can get out of a tiny car. So what is a legitimate way to illustrate the depths of this appalling spectacle? Jerry Springer Meets the 700 Club, on acid? Florida Surreal Estate Boom? Jabberwocky? The Trail of Alligator Tears? Ah, we're already missing Hunter Thompson.

March 29, 2005

A Nuclear "Trigger"?

How, you may wonder, is the Republican Party going to extricate itself from the political and legal thicket it entered through its forceful and feckless intervention in the Terri Schiavo case? Well, if you are Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard, you go back on the offensive by pivoting to the next big GOP outrage, the "nuclear option" for forcing George W. Bush's judicial nominees through the Senate, and you use the Schiavo case as a reason for doing it. I've been reading Kristol for a long time, and I usually disagree with him, but also usually find him smart and logical. But this screed is way over the top in sloppy reasoning and cheap demagoguery. Today's New Dem Dispatch eviscerates Kristol's argument, and explores the marriage of convenience between right-to-lifers who are extremists in the pursuit of principle, and GOP pols who are extremists in the pursuit of power.

March 28, 2005

And Speaking of Rx Drugs....

One of the persistent conservative complaints about the liberal tradition, dating back to the French Revolution, has been its anti-communitarian tendency to view every difficult social issue as a matter of individual rights. But increasingly conservatives themselves are adopting the rhetoric and logic of the once-hated Jacobins. Witness the emergence, as explained in today's Washington Post, of one of the least stirring Civil Rights struggles in living memory: the "Pharmacists' Rights" movement.The movement in question asserts the right of individual pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control pills, morning-after pills, or other drugs deemed to violate the druggist's moral or religious views. The Post's Rob Stein quotes Steven H. Aden of the Christian Legal Society as making this portentous prediction:

This is a very big issue that's just beginning to surface. More and more pharmacists are becoming aware of their right to conscientiously refuse to pass objectionable medications across the counter. We are on the very front edge of a wave that's going to break not too far down the line.
This "wave" is certainly carrying the pharmacy profession down a very slippery slope. The "Pharmacists' Rights" argument goes beyond simple yes-no propositions about "objectionable medications," into the claim that pharmacists should be able to become white-smocked judges of the worthiness of individuals--e.g., single women seeking birth control pills--to receive certain prescribed drugs.
An increasing number of clashes are occurring in drugstores across the country. Pharmacists often risk dismissal or other disciplinary action to stand up for their beliefs, while shaken teenage girls and women desperately call their doctors, frequently late at night, after being turned away by sometimes-lecturing men and women in white coats.
Where will it end? Birth control aside, do pharmacists have the "right" to second-guess doctors about the appropriateness of a particular medication for a particular patient? And will pharmacy cashiers be empowered to deny candy bars to the obviously obese; toy guns to the parents of toddlers; and cigarettes to everybody?It's funny: last time I paid attention to the political issues embroiling pharmacists, some decades ago, the big concern was to prevent giant drugstore chains from consuming owner-operated pharmacies through "unfair" price competition. Under a "Pharmacists' Rights" regime, the only viable pharmacies would be those large enough to staff several prescription stations: one where "objectionable" medications are not available; one where such medications are available only after an examination of the petitioner, who must perhaps take oaths and/or present a marriage license; and still another where brazen "liberal" pharmacists dispense medications freely.Or perhaps the market will drive us in another direction, with highly specialized drug stores where Pharmacists of Conscience can band together and and serve only those who share their views. Imagine signs advertising Righteous Peoples' Drugs, a safe haven for those who do not wish to fill prescriptions for, or rub elbows with, fornicators and abortionists. And then, in the big cities at least, you'd have Genie Drugs, "Where Your Doctor's Wish Is Our Command." And at the big discount retail chains, you'd probably have the chance to gamble for really low prices if a pharmacist who approves of your medication happens to be on duty.Only in America...

Real Crisis, Still No Plan

According to the (subscription-only) Wall Street Journal today, the Bush administration quietly announced that the premiums Medicare beneficiaries pay for doctor's visits and other outpatient care are expected to jump 12 percent next year. And that number could ultimately drift up towards the 17 percent increase that was imposed this year if Congress, as expected, boosts Medicare payments to physicians to keep them from abandoning the program. Administration officials are said to hope the impact of this premium spiral will be cushioned by the advent of the new Rx drug benefit next year. But there's a catch, of course: most beneficiaries will have to pay additional premiums to get that coverage, which is itself pretty limited. Does the administration have a plan to deal with the growing Medicare crisis? Of course not. That would involve admitting the GOP didn't "fix" Medicare two years ago, and might also distract attention from the administration's relentless drive to gain acceptance for a "plan" that's not really a plan, to deal with a Social Security "crisis" that's not really a crisis. And these guys sure wouldn't interrupt themselves from one mistake to admit another.

Conservative Christians and Schiavo, One More Time

I have every intention of leaving the Schaivo tragedy alone for the foreseeable future, but there's one more point that needs to be clearly understood in the wake of the Catholic Church's tardy but emphatic embrace of the Schindler family's fight to oppose the withdrawal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube.As Manuel Roig-Franzia documented in an excellent backgrounder in yesterday's Washington Post, the Vatican's position on end-of-life issues has changed in important ways over the last few years, with the Schiavo case serving as a key catalyst in that shift. Here's the key graph:

Before this case, before the pope's statement, even conservatives such as [the U.S. Conference of Bishops' Richard] Doerflinger say there was enough of a debate about the Catholic position that a person could choose which side to take: continue or discontinue tube-feeding. But now the pope and the cardinals have made much more definitive statements that Doerflinger and his polar opposites agree seem to require Catholics to continue with tube-feeding, as long as it "provides nourishment" and "alleviates suffering."
Indeed, this new position arguably overrules centuries of theological precedent holding that withdrawal of food and water in "hopeless" cases, whether self-administered or decided upon by family members and medical personnel, represents a surrender to natural death, not suicide or homicide.While the Vatican claims its current stance is simply a refinement of traditional teaching to reflect technological developments, it's hard to avoid concluding that what this is really about is an adjustment of end-of-life ethics to comport with the Church's bright-line, hard-lne position on beginning-of-life ethics, i.e., abortion. If so, that shift parallels the same sudden interest in end-of-life issues being exhibited by conservative evangelical Protestants (who are themselves relatively recent converts to the anti-abortion cause).And that brings me to a broader issue of potentially momentous significance to American religious and political life: the ongoing reduction of theology among Christian conservatives of every stripe to ethical legalism. Check out Laurie Goodstein's useful review of this conservative Christian convergence in last Friday's New York Times.Many centuries of differences over scriptural interpretation, church structure, liturgy, and every branch of theology other than ethics are rapidly being subsumed in the service of an interdenominational obsession with reproductive, marital, and now, medical ethics. Nearly all of this convergance, moreover, has happened in the last few decades. It's breathtaking.Now, conservative Christians would argue that this ethical tunnel-vision is a prophetic (or in the case of Catholics, pastoral) response to a secularized modern world that is losing its moral bearings in a way that is unprecedented since the Christianization of Europe under Constantine.This is, to put it mildly, a rather tough case to make when you consider the savage excesses of ostensibly Christian Europeans over the centuries, not to mention the belief of the early Reformers that Catholic Europe had become actively Satanic. But that's where both the Vatican and its erstwhile critics seem to be headed. And that's why some of us are worried that conservative Christianity, Catholic and Protestant alike, is being seized by a counter-secularization that confuses defense of traditional, worldly cultural values with fidelity to the Faith.To be sure, there remain a number of obstacles to a full-fledged conservative religio-political alliance in this country, including the Vatican's increasingly vocal opposition to the death penalty, and to the idea that the United States can define "just wars" as it wishes. And there's plenty of ferment in conservative Protestant circles as well, particularly in terms of the ethical demands of the New Testament, which are not terribly consistent with conservative political orthodoxy on subjects ranging from the environment to care for the poor.But for the moment, the Schiavo case looks like it may represent an historic highwater mark of the pan-Christian conservative movement, and all the Christian flock should take a good look at where its various shepherds are leading them.UPDATE: The flip side of the "conservative convergence" I talked about in this post is the ongoing fracture of centuries-old denominations on terms dictated by ethical legalists. See this sad tale from WaPo's Colbert King, about a Ugandan Anglican bishop who refused desperately needed AIDS relief from an Anglican diocese in Pennsylvania as a protest against the ordination of a gay bishop in New Hampshire.

March 26, 2005

Never Mind

This is hardly a surprise for us cynics, but suddenly, even as legislative action becomes the sole hope of the Schindler family in the Terri Schiavo case, their biggest supporter, Rep. Tom DeLay, seems to have dropped off the face of the earth. Sure, it's Congress' Easter Recess, but that was true last week as well when DeLay and Bill Frist called Congress back into "emergency session" to prevent what DeLay called "murder" and "medical terrorism." Now that the whole thing hasn't worked out too well from anybody's point of view, DeLay seems to have decided it's no emergency at all. Carl Hulse and Adam Nagourney explore this development, and the broader question of whether DeLay has made the mistake of his political life, in today's New York Times.


I took a Good Friday break from blogging yesterday. Years ago, I heard a Catholic priest deliver a Good Friday sermon that began: "Today we commemorate the victory of absolute evil." Since then, my practice has been to spend some time on Good Friday thinking about the nature of evil. No, not just the evil that we Christians believe was perpetrated on Jesus of Nazareth (a preoccupation newly adopted by many conservative evangelical Christians thanks to Mel Gibson), but more to the point, the evil that Christians have perpetrated in Jesus' name, most notoriously on Good Friday, date of countless pogroms over the centuries. It's the cruelest irony of all: Christians marking the Crucifixion of their Jewish Savior by (figuratively) building crosses and crucifying Jews.The Good Friday Pogrom is, so far as I know, a thing of the past, but at a time when blind self-righteousness, fear and hatred of The Other (whether it's gays and lesbians, Muslims, or "pagan" liberals), and highly selective attention to Jesus' teachings are again on the rise here among Christians in America, it's probably a good time to remember the whole point of the Passion story, in which Jesus' own disciples denied and betrayed Him.This, the evil done precisely by those speaking in Jesus' name, was probably best expressed in Johann Heermann's seventeenth-century hymn:Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,that man to judge thee hath in hate pretended?By foes derided, by thine own rejected,O most afflicted.Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee:I crucified thee.

March 24, 2005

Gender and Opinion

There's been a simmering debate of late in op-ed pages and the blogosphere about the prepoderance of men in the political opinion biz. As an old white guy with no significant influence over who gets to say what in any venue, I figured there was no reason this side of masochism for weighing in, but as a final Lenten discipline, I'll offer a few scattered thoughts.There are at least three separate issues being kicked around. One is the small number of women represented on the op-ed pages of Big Opinion Leading newspapers like the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. A second is the male domination of influential but seletively read political magazines like The New Republic, The Nation, The Washington Monthly, etc. And the third is the decisively masculine cast of well-linked and well-supported political blogs.The first two issues, in reality, have to do with the ancient canons of the traditional journalism profession.Op-ed columns in all but the largest circulation newspapers have often served as the Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow for that hearty, underpaid tribe of political reporters. (I learned this personally when I tried to make a lateral transfer from government policy work into editorial writing, and was informed that giving me a job would screw up the entire career ladder). Thus, today's columnists are yesterday's ink-stained wretches, which means that the Editorial side of the business should eventually catch up with the growing gender balance of the News side.For the Big Papers, though, the problem is that there are so few editorial spots available, and, unlike their smaller competitors, no real market pressure to turn things over. I don't want to name names, but in my judgment, nearly half of the columnists in the Big Papers, most of them white men, are just filling up space with Left-Right CW that could be, and for all I know, may be written by a computer.That's why I think an aggressive affirmative action program for Big and Small Paper editorial staffs makes sense, so long as some care is taken to give some protection to those relatively few White Guys, regardless of seniority or connections, who have actually expressed an original thought now and then. It shouldn't be that hard to find them. Perhaps we can have a Survivor-type contest.Political magazines are a different matter, partially because of ideological factors that complicate the usual "professional" issues about bylines. But as Katha Pollit of The Nation points out, some magazines have selection criteria that tend to discriminate against women. Of course, one magazine she fingers, The New Republic, has a reputation for discrimimating against anybody who didn't get an Ivy League education (which doesn't keep Un-Ivied me from reading every line). And many magazines discriminate against writers who doesn't tow the party line, which gives the white guys who've been towing this or that party line since adolescence yet another advantage. The only quick way I can imagine to loosen up the magazines is to encourage them to keep losing money, which might in turn encourage them to diversify their voices, in many cases by tapping the more diverse voices they already feature in online editions.And then, ah yes, there's the blogosphere, where the gender bias can't exactly be blamed on Old Guys like me, since the median age of notable bloggers is about 25. And here there is a chicken-and-egg dilemma, since the demographic of inveterate blog readers seems to echo the smart-ass-white-boy demographic of blog writers.But the good thing about blogs is that for all the complaining about sponsors and back-scratching links and mainstream infestation, any woman can get out there and compete, and the recent effort to get more notice for female bloggers is an example of healthy market-based initiative.Personally, I'm paralyzed by ignorance and inertia from providing blogroll links to much of anybody I didn't know about when I started this thing last fall. If that means I'm paying less attention to wo-bloggers than I should it's certainly not a matter of bias; I've long considered myself a lesbian trapped in a man's body. So I'm more than happy to discover and link to women who share my general point of view, and/or have something distinctive to say.In the end, the best way for women to get their fair share of the bloviating biz is for us all to push for a meritocracy that elevates talent and a distinctive voice over "representantive" versions of the same old Left-Right CV. And unfairly but inevitably, women will earn those prized high-profile journalistic gigs by performing at a level that makes bias or tokenism or role-playing irrelevant. It will require, in the words of Lucinda Williams, "real live bloody fingers and broken guitar strings."UPDATE: I have been reliably informed that The New Republic's staff isn't any more Ivycentric than any other publication in Washington, which goes to show how stereotypes persist even when they are wrong. I should have known that, since I work at a place reputed to be the stomping grounds of Southern White Men, which is in fact led by a Hoosier and an Idahoan and is loaded with Californians. I regret the error.

March 23, 2005

The Schiavo Case: Law, Fact, Dogma

It is clearer every day that the politico-legal furor over the sad case of Terri Schiavo has already drifted over the line from a question of law and fact, to one of religiously determined definitions of life and death, and of homicide and suicide.Initially, the case being made by congressional Republicans, the White House, and many supporters of the Schindler family was that the Schindlers simply needed a new judicial review of the case in a sympathetic court--i.e., a court not bound by seven years of Florida rulings. And the subsidiary arguments had to do with matters of fact: Was Michael Schiavo correct in saying his wife had made clear her opposition to living on in anything like her current condition? And did the medical officials in Florida who repeatedly diagnosed Terri Schiavo as being in a "persistant vegetative state" somehow get it fundamentally wrong?But as the legal case for the Schindlers fades with each adverse judicial ruling, and absent any real evidence of medical error (unless you believe the diagnosis made by Bill Frist, M.D. from a videotape of Terri Schiavo has any real standing), what remains is essentially a religious case. And that case has merged with the extra-constitutional claims of the more militant elements of the Right to Life movement, which have become conspicuously involved with the Schindlers.In the hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Whittemore that was forced by Congress, the Schindlers' attorney relied heavily on the argument that Terri Schindler could not have conscienctiously given consent to the withdrawal of her feeding tube because it was contrary to Catholic teaching; indeed, it would have put her immmortal soul in peril of damnation, he suggested! In other words, since the act itself is abhorrent, she couldn't consent to "suicide" any more than she could give her husband the right to "murder" her.This line of reasoning, of course, was fully anticipated by the prime enabler of the current crisis, Tom DeLay, who has consistently referred to the course of action dictated by Florida law and pursued in many thousands of cases around the country as "murder," "barbarism," and "medical terrorism."So for the Schindlers' backers, including Tom DeLay, the object here is not about law or fact, or for that matter, about Terri Schiavo--it's about finding some way to fundamentally change the laws of Florida and the United States to accord with a particular religious view of the ethics of the end of life.Best I can tell, the Catholic teaching that withdrawal of nutrition from a brain-dead person represents "euthanasia" is relatively new, laid out in 1995 in the papal encyclical "Evangelium Vitae."As explained by Father Thomas Williams, dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome, the encyclical draws a very sharp distinction between "an action or omission which of itself and by intention causes death, with the purpose of eliminating all suffering," which is murder, and the "decision to forgo so-called 'aggressive medical treatment,' in other words, medical procedures which no longer correspond to the real situation of the patient, either because they are by now disproportionate to any expected results or because they impose an excessive burden on the patient and his family." The latter decision is morally fine, even upright. "That distinction is subtle but extremely important from a moral perspective," said Fr. Williams.I think we would all agree the distinction is subtle, much like the Vatican's long-standing distinction between "natural" and "artificial" contraception, or its distinction between "contraception" and "abortion" with respect to birth control methods that interfere with the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterine wall. American Catholics have largely ignored these "subtle" but "extremely important" distinctions in the area of reproductive ethics, and if the public opinion surveys about the Schiavo case are any indication, they will probably ignore this one as well. Which is why, in the end, the Schindlers and their crusade is ultimately becoming just another battle in the right-to-life movement's long war to force a redefinition of life and the legal protections afforded it from the moment of conception to biological death.We all need to understand this this is what the case is really about, and (a) ignore the legal and factual arguments being thrown out as tactical maneuvers by the anti-abortion activists and Republican politicians pursuing this issue, because they don't mean them for a moment, and (b) recognize that for most of the protestors marching in support of the Schindlers, the photos of poor Terri Schiavo (may she someday rest in peace) they wave are just this week's version of the fetus posters they brandish every day of the year.ADDENDUM: Before anyone emails me to accuse me of anti-Catholicism or something, I want it on record that I am about as philo-Catholic as any Protestant you will ever meet. And I completely respect (but do not share) the views of right-to-lifers, especially those, including most recently the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, who make a point of opposing capital punishment on the same grounds, and express greater concern than today's Republicans for the health and prosperity of the sick and the poor. My plea in this post is simply for honesty, especially among those politicians who want to exploit the Schiavo case without embracing the logic of where it is inevitably leading.

March 22, 2005

Reform As Meta-Message

If there's one thing you can find at least tentative agreement on across the spectrum of Democratic opinion these days, it's that the Donkey needs to squarely represent "reform" at a time when the GOP controls, and continues to abuse, total power in Washington. But sometimes it's hard to shake the old belief that election reform, redistricting reform, budget reform, tax reform, campaign finance reform, etc., are at bottom "goo goo" process issues that are too boring to provide much fodder for real political action.The new issue of Blueprint magazine has an article by a Democratic pol who now wishes he had used a "reform" mantra to counter the very simple message of the GOP last November. Former U.S. Rep. Brad Carson, who lost a once-promising Senate race last year to wingnut Republican Tom Coburn, lays it all out, and it's worth a careful read.

March 21, 2005

Tender of Goats

In one of the two big off-year political contests that will eventually transfix political junkies everywhere, GOP Attorney General Jerry Kilgore has formally launched his candidacy for governorship of the Commonwealth of Virginia, stumping around the state with an unlikely ally in tow: United States Senator John Warner, who has pretty much parted company with the gubernatorial candidate on the major issues facing Virginia in recent years.The Richmond Times-Dispatch's Jeff Schapiro referred to the Warner-Kilgore road show as a "Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis act," a cultural reference that's funny and apposite to us old folks who remember, however dimly, the 1950s show-biz partnership between the debonair Martin and the clownish Lewis (not then known, even in France, as a genius)."That Warner and Kilgore are coming together is evidence that the Republican Party is still coming apart, divided between the fading moderate bloc embodied by Warner and the dominant right wing that birthed Kilgore," Schapiro wrote.The GOP unity signs in Virginia are very deceptive. Schapirto put it well:"How does [Kilgore] simultaneously satisfy the anti-taxers who control the GOP and also the Main Street-type Republicans, like Senator Warner, who will support a tax increase as an investment in essential services?"The no-new-tax forces, notably the Grover G. Norquist-led Americans for Tax Reform, are furious that Kilgore has pledged to support for renomination House and Senate Republicans who backed additional taxes for education, human services and public safety."And moderate Republicans worry that the state's finances will bleed again if Kilgore has his way on transportation. He wants to divert sales and income tax revenue that finances schools, police and programs for the poor to roads, rather than rely on higher fuel taxes and other fees on motorists."So far as I know, Virginia Democrats are completely united behind the candidacy of Lieutenant Governor Tim Kaine. But Kilgore, aside from the challenge of uniting his own partisans, is having to deal with an independent candidacy from Republican state senator Russell Potts of Winchester.Everything I know about Jerry Kilgore suggests to me that he's not exactly the kind of deft politician who can herd sheep, much less cats. And indeed, the most common definition of the original Scotch-Irish meaning of the surname I share with him is: "Tender of goats." That's a pretty good description of the Attorney General's leadership position in the Virginia GOP.

March 20, 2005


Sorry for the absence of posts this weekend, but I'm guest-blogging for Josh Marshall on his mammoth Talkingpointsmemo.com site. Given the snail-like speed of my internet connection down in Amherst, Virginia, it's really hard to multi-task, much less multi-blog. We definitely need another four years of Democratic governance in Virginia to bring us high-speed internet access in rural communities in the Commonwealth, or our down-home wisdom will continue to be transmitted in spoons, not buckets. And that would be a cryin' shame.

March 18, 2005

Exposing the Bush Security Gap

We've all been reminded in recent weeks that George W. Bush's domestic agenda is as dangerous and irresponsible as ever. But Democrats often forget to point out that skewed tax cuts, ever-escalating debts, dependence on oil, indifference to homeland security needs, and indeed, Karl Rove's divisive political strategy of polarization, all undermine America's national security posture. For a comprehensive take on the Democratic opportunity to put "security first," check out today's New Dem Dispatch.

The Bottomless Crack Pipe

As all you budget junkies know, the Senate followed up its rejection of the essential PAYGO amendment to the congressional budget resolution by approving amendments taking out instructions to cut Medicaid and Community Development Block Grants.While I join most Democrats in applauding the Medicaid and CDBG votes (which, among other things, have maintained a slender hope that the whole budget exercise, which will actually increase the federal deficit, will go down in another intra-GOP dispute), there's no question the overall outcome was intellectually incoherent.Mark Schmitt deserves major props for unraveling these votes, and nailing the four Republican Senators who voted against PAYGO and for rescinding the Medicaid cuts: Sens. Norm Coleman, Gordon Smith, Mike DeWine and Arlen Specter.These aren't brave "moderates" fighting Bush's budget priorities; they are either (a) free-lunchers who want to support popular spending and tax cuts simultaneously, or (b) starve-the-beasters who want to constrain government without the political grief involved in specifying actual cuts. And actually, (a) and (b) are pretty much the same thing--which is why I always say Bush's fiscal policies offer Republicans the political equivalent of a bottomless crack pipe.

SO Busted!

Some of you may have read my snarky little post about "Episcopalian Sociology" yesterday, expressing a desire to attend the next conference of sociologists within commuting distance. Seemed like a harmless little joke. But instantly, my friend Amy Sullivan let me know via Political Animal that in fact, there's a Sociology Conference going on right now in Washington. Unfortunately, I didn't read her post until the just now, the shank of the afternoon, when, in my experience, most professional conferences have wound down to the friends, relatives, and research assistants of those condemned to the Last Panel. And much as I truly (and sincerely) wish I could head over tomorrow to hear the panel on political writing that Amy, Garance Franke-Ruta, Noam Scheiber, Ramesh Ponnuru, and others are conducting, I have to head down to Central Virginia tonight, where the livestock require tending. It's a classic Blue State/Red State conflict--feed your mind, or feed your farm animals. But duty calls, and I'll just have to wait for the DVD.

March 17, 2005

Sociological Insight

Like a lot of people, when the internet was young I subscribed to a lot of list-serves that fed me little items to brighten my day and provide an excuse not to do real work. One I've retained as an expression of solidarity with my beleagured Faith Community is the Episcopal Church's list-serve, which also provides a handy way to keep current on the endless Human Sexuality fights that have made Anglicans sound like the last die-hard disciples of Freud. But I just got an email with a headline that really made my day:"Episcopalian sociologist finds that most teenagers are inarticulate about their faith." This created in me an overpowering urge to attend the next major conference of sociologists within commuting distance to seek out its Episcopalian subgroup, which will definitely sponsor the best-stocked open-bar reception. But it also made me sad for the millions of religiously confused Americans who must now look elsewhere for the theological guidance our teenagers are incompetent to provide.


Well, in the Senate yesterday the Feingold-Chafee Pay-As-You-Go amendment requiring offsets for new budget-busting proposals went down 50-50, which means GOPers will likely get themselves a congressional budget resolution and the power to ram through tax cuts and some screw-the-states-and-the-poor budget cuts on a time-limited, simple majority vote. In addition, an amendment authorizing funds for oil-drilling in the Alaskan Wilderness reserve passed 51-49. As in last year's elections, close losses have big consequences. I thought the beginning of March Madness might at least distract me from these bad vibes, but with the men's tourney barely underway, my bracket's already a shambles, thanks to Pitt and Iowa. So far, my brilliant picks are losing to the whose-mascot-would-win-in-a-fight system.

March 16, 2005

Nuclear Deterrence

Harry Reid and Senate Democrats have thrown down the gauntlet, in no uncertain terms. If GOPers follow through with their threat to pursue the so-called "nuclear option" (a procedural maneuver that would outlaw filibusters on judicial nominations and allow them to slide through on a simple majority vote), Senate Dems will stop cooperating with all the legislative lubricants (many of which require unanimous consent) that keep the chamber operating.According to (subscription-only) Roll Call today, every Senate Democrat is on board with this strategy, and while Republicans claim to have 50 solid votes for upholding the rule change that's at the heart of "going nuclear," their ranks are shaky, beginning with Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter.There are several smart things about the way Reid has approached this fight.First, he's made it clear that Democratic resistance will not extend to issues like support for U.S. troops, urgent national security matters, or the basic functioning of the federal government. This will avoid some of the parallels the media, in its two-sides-to-every-argument approach to partisan issues, would otherwise draw to Newt Gingrich's defiant and hugely unsuccessful government shutdown of 1995.Second, Reid is treating the "nuclear option" not as a procedural matter, or even as a defiance of Senate traditions, but as part of a broader pattern of abuse of power by the Republicans who control Washington. As such, he is linking Democratic opposition to this tactic to a broader message of reform, which is exactly what Democrats ought to be doing every day of the year. If nothing else, it will help remind the roughly one-third of the population that doesn't know who runs Congress that Republicans can no longer pose as the anti-Washington party, because they are in charge of the whole federal government.And third, in terms of the underlying dispute over the judiciary, Reid is linking Democratic resistance to a long bipartisan tradition of opposition to one-party and executive-branch control of the federal bench. I hope Democrats take every opportunity to remind people that these are lifetime appointments we are talking about, which could have a profound impact on the laws of this country for decades.Now, Democrats obviously have a Big Bertha in reserve: the GOP's real goal, which is to pave the way for Supreme Court appointments designed to overturn Roe v. Wade, the long-delayed payoff to the cultural conservative foot-soldiers of the Republican base. As a self-proclaimed (if moderate) pro-lifer, Reid may well have special credibility in opposing an indirect assault on the right to choose, by GOPers who know they would lose any straight fight on abortion.Add it all up, and you've got a formula for raising the stakes on this obscure-sounding conflict, and that's what Democrats need in order to win. Some real drama is required to overcome the media perception that this is just cloakroom maneuvering by the partisan pols in Washington, over a snoozer of an issue.Maybe the Democratic battle-plan will act as a deterrent to the deployment of the nuclear option. Some GOPers, after all, want to use the so-called Judicial Obstruction issue as a conservative fundraising and crowd-pleasing device going into the 2006 elections. And even more of them won't be happy with the consequences of provoking a partial shutdown of the Senate, interfering with all sorts of opportunities for pork-barrelling, constituency-tending, and beast-starving (not to mention those handy little bills naming some home-state highway interchange after a big contributor or local potentate).But deterrent or not, this is a fight well worth having, and a fight that can only be won if Democrats are serious and systematic about waging it with a large reform message.

March 15, 2005

Big Doings in the Senate

Suddenly, the World's Greatest Deliberative Body, the U.S. Senate, is full of meaningful activity this week, thanks to the annual debate on a congressional budget resolution. Today Bill Nelson of FL offered a sense-of-the-Senate resolution expressing opposition to any Social Security proposal that involved "deep benefit cuts or a massive increase in debt." It failed on a 50-50 vote, but as Sam Rosenfeld noted at Tapped, its big-tent wording not only attracted support from every single Democrat and five Republicans, but also put 50 GOPers on record as having no problem with "deep benefit cuts or a massive increase in debt," a gift to Democrats that will keep on giving for many campaigns to come. And it was a particularly smart move for Nelson, a prime target for Republicans in 2006 in a state where messing with Social Security is just not something you want to do. But as Mark Schmitt of The Decembrist has explained, the Senate will consider another amendment tomorrow with perhaps bigger implications: an amendment to the budget resolution cosponsored by Democrat Russ Feingold and Republican Lincoln Chafee that would reimpose pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) rules for spending increases AND tax cuts. This amendment would block the current administration/GOP leadership effort to extend some of the 2001 tax cuts without offsetting spending or revenue measures. If it passes--probably an even bet at this point--PAYGO might well replicate last year's House-Senate Republican impasse over the budget resolution, which means GOPers would not be able to ram through their specific budget plans (not only tax cuts, but some nasty spending measures, especially on Medicaid) without the usual 60-vote requirement to avoid a Senate filibuster.In other words, this is a key step in unravelling the whole Bush legislative agenda for the year, and in stopping the insane tax and fiscal priorities that will eventually disable our government from doing much of anything to meet big national challenges. The vote tomorrow merits some real attention and energy.

DeLay Wants To Talk

Funniest lede of the day? This one, from AP (via CNN):"House Majority Leader Tom DeLay strongly denied wrongdoing Tuesday in connection with two overseas trips financed by outside organizations, and said he is eager to discuss the facts with leaders of the House ethics committee."I like that "strongly denied." What's he going to do? "Weakly" deny wrongdoing? It reminds me of a great Hunter Thompson fantasy (we miss you, man) from Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, wherein a doomed candidate denies reports he's withdrawing from the race and "predicts total victory in all states." DeLay's alleged "eagerness" to talk about his junkateering--especially the little casino-financed jaunt to the U.K.--is pretty funny, too. Yeah, I bet he just can't wait to lay out all the details. The way this story's going, it'll probably turn out he made the trip on Hooters Air.But the best part is DeLay's designated confessional box: the House Ethics Committee. Good thing he had the foresight to neuter the watchdog committee completely in a series of moves earlier this year. Making his case to those guys is the functional equivalent of sticking it in a bottle and dropping it in the ocean. But maybe he should wait a week or two before he gets chatty about his latest series of ethical lapses. At his current pace, there will be two or three more, er, ah, situations to explain by Friday. DeLay, of course, is blaming all his problems on a partisan Democratic witch-hunt. He's giving us way, way too much credit for industry and imagination. Nobody could invent this level of ethics recidivism. And with more smoke in the air than a roadhouse on Saturday night, DeLay could burst into flames any day now, with or without Democrats helpfully offering some lighter fluid.

On Second Thought....

One of the inherent risks of blogging is that once you hit that "publish" buttom, it's Out There and you can't really take it back. My last post defending myself and the DLC from a tirade by Kos will likely earn me lots of emails and links deploring my involvement in this "fight" (vindicating the school-yard axiom that nobody really cares who hits first or hardest; the Assistant Principal will punish everybody). What I should have done is to link to the screed, and then quote Woody Allen's words to the Christopher Walken character in Annie Hall:"Excuse me, Duane, I have an appointment back on Planet Earth."

Beams and Motes

Well, it was just a matter of time, I guess. Perhaps upset at occasional bouts of Sympathy for the Devil being posted on his own page, Kos of DailyKos has more or less called for kicking the DLC out of the Democratic Party for being mean to other Democrats. Or at least I have no other way of understanding today's characterization of myself and my colleagues as "the media's handy tool for Democratic bashing. Enemies of unity of the left. Self-important fools who exist merely to advance the other side's agenda." Nothing much ambiguous about that, eh?The crowning "outrage," apparently, is the recent suggestion by Al From and Marshall Wittman that maybe the leadership of MoveOn doesn't speak for the Democratic Party as a whole, a suggestion Kos chooses to interpret as a call for the party to "purge millions of supporters from its ranks." (Oh, yeah, Al also mocked bloggers; I somehow managed to get over it, down there in my basement).Man, talk about beams and motes. The vitriol that's been poured on the DLC by Kos and several other netwarriors in the last couple of years is endless, personal, often obscene, and frankly, a little nuts. If we're as irrelevant as he keeps insisting we are, why bother? Just ignore us, and we'll go away, right? If our only value, as Kos suggests today, is to provide right-wing media with anti-Democratic quotes, then you have to wonder why so many elected officials bother to identify with us and come to our events (e.g., one today attended by Sen. Joe Biden)?Indeed, that question seems to bother Kos as well, since his very next post begins a process of "calling out" DLC-friendly Democratic pols and asking them to disassociate themselves from us. He even took the trouble to dig down in our web page--bypassing a few hundred thousand pages of policy work, which is what we do to pass the time while waiting for the next call from Fox News--and discover that Sen. Barack Obama is still listed in our data base! Scandal! (He's in there because he recently joined the Senate New Democrat Coalition, all of whose members are in our database, which is about as controversial as a phone book). Hillary Clinton? Evan Bayh? Better get away from those people, or risk the consequences.This is more embarrassing than anything else, to tell you the truth. If Kos was screaming at us for alleged agreement with Bush or something, he'd at least have the beginnings of an argument. But being called "divisive" by a guy who's way around the bend in hating this particular group of Democrats is just a bad joke.Well, I for one ain't going anywhere. And having contested this particular guy's right to show me the door, I will say no more about this or future Kos temper-tantrums. After all, I've got some of that deceptive Republican-bashing to do, and a few of those issues to work on that nobody cares to hear from me about. And despite this terrible anathema, I remain ready to break bread with anybody in the party who wants to talk, self-important fool that I am.UPDATE: Turns out I was misinformed about Obama's being a member of the Senate New Democrat Coalition. The misunderstanding was based on the two different meanings of "New Democratic Senators," but we were wrong about that, and have removed his name from our Directory. Still love the guy, though.

Changing the Subject on Security

Thanks to the American Prospect's apparent new policy of hiding content to sell actual magazines, I've been waiting, and waiting, and waiting to write about a fascinating new Matt Yglesias article on Democrats and national security. I read a bootleg copy, but didn't want to discuss it until I could steer eager readers to a link.But fortunately, in a Tapped post today, Matt did a nice summary of his basic hypothesis:

On forward-looking issues there are, to be sure, disagreements among Democrats. But in my experience those disagreements don't split the party into two camps, don't map onto a hawk-dove divide, and don't have a great deal to do with the Iraq War. The bigger divide is just between people of various persuasions who are determined to continue focusing on national security and find a way to make the Democrats competitive on the issue versus those who'd prefer to put their heads in the sand and hope for a revival of '90s-style "it's the economy, stupid" politics.
In the full article, Matt goes on to suggest that this politics of evasion on national security is partly attributable to the constituency-group mindset of so many Democrats. If there ain't a Big Democratic Group that cares about a subject, why should the rest of us care, right?I'll do a fuller treatment of Matt's article when the fine folks at the Prospect put it online, but it does remind me of a satori moment I experienced back in the 90s when the constituency-group focus of my party became clear to me. Shortly after Roy Romer became general chairman of the DNC, a colleague ran into my office with a big fat book, crying "Look, Romer's already making a difference over there; this is an actual issues book for Democratic candidates!" Together, we excitedly looked at the table of contents, only to find that the "issues" were all organized by constituency group ("Public Employees Issues," "Asian-Pacific Islanders Issues," etc., etc.). Made us want to howl at the moon.

March 14, 2005


Like many Americans, I have temporarily put aside poltical differences to focus on the NCAA basketball tournament.Unlike many Americans, I am searching for analysis of the women's, not the men's tournament.In part that's because my preferred school, the University of Georgia, is not in the men's tournament, while its women's team, as always, is in the hunt, seeded sixth but considered dangerously capable of going higher.But in part it's because the women's college game is more fun to watch from a purist's perspetive. They always block out. They rarely miss layups. They generally hit their free-throws. And their 3-point shooting is usually strategic, not egocentric.Aside from my attachment to the Lady Dogs, my interest in the women's game goes back to early childhood, when I had several aunts who played small-town high school basketball down in Haralson County, Georgia. One year I attended a regional championship game with my Aunt Sylvia, who spent the entire 48 minutes screaming at the refs to call "3 seconds in the lane" and other technically accurate but rare penalties. I learned then that women in many respects took the game more seriously than men.So I'll watch the men's tournament, but will reserve my real passion for the women's game, where all the old virtues of basketball, with few of the new moneyed vices, live on.

Is There Life in the Mainline?

In a long-delayed response to the emergence of the Religious Right, there are stirrings of life on the Religious Left, reports the intrepid Amy Sullivan in (subscription-only) Salon. Her departure point is a press conference held last week by leaders of five mainline Protestant churches (the Protestant Episcopal Church, the United Methodists, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) denouncing George W. Bush's proposed budget as "immoral."While greeting this development, Sullivan goes on to indict "liberal" Protestants (the primary components, outside the African-American churches, of the "Christian Left") for a self-marginalizing, secularized approach to political engagement in the past, complemented by a hands-off attitude towards religion by these churches' natural allies in the Democratic Party. She also notes that mainline churches have been frequently paralyzed by internal denominational fights in recent years, exemplified by the current travails of the Episcopalians over same-sex unions.If anything, I suspect Amy's being too nice to her fellow (and my fellow) mainline Protestants. Look at that list of denominations represented in the anti-Bush press conference again. They were once the dominant religious, cultural and political forces in America. They have been shrinking in numbers, and in influence, for decades, even as fundamentalist and pentecostal denominations grow like topsy. There are certainly demographic and sociological reasons aplenty for their decline, but you don't have to be a conservative to understand that religious liberals have largely lost their prophetic voices somewhere between weekly worship services and the host of civic and political organizations they support with great energy and commitment.The steady secularization of mainline Protestantism over the second half of the twentieth century is an old and familiar story. But its relationship to the counter-secularization now championed by the Christian Right is less well understood. It's fairly safe to say much of the political and social teaching being hurled at congregations across the religious spectrum is dangerously disconnected from its scriptural and theological roots. This gives religio-political conservatives an advantage, given the natural tendency of religiously minded people to value what they understand as "traditional values." And it gives fundamentalists a crucial advantage, because they can selectively find "inerrant" scriptural support for any number of right-wing cultural and political positions.That's why the revival of mainline Protestantism as a religious force, and as a poltical and cultural force, point in exactly the same direction: a movement to rediscover and proclaim the profoundly un-conservative message of the Law, the Prophets, the Gospels, the Church Fathers, and Church History, with a minimum reliance on modern sociology or Identity Politics.Let the Christian Right be the faction of bad physical and social science, bad economics, and distorted, selective history. Let them be the ones who dress up secular agendas in "God Talk."Sure, the Religious Left needs to adopt better organizational methods, better communications strategies, and better tactics. But above all, "liberal" Christians need to save themselves as religious communities before they can fulfill their calling to help redeem the world for truly Christian values.

March 13, 2005

A New Series?

Today's latest Washington Post installment of the Jack Abramoff/Indian Casino/Ralph Reed story is especially surreal. James Dobson puts in a guest appearance in a supporting role to Reed in pledging to whip up evangelical Christian opposition to a rival to Ambramoff's client. The senior leadership of the U.S. Department of the Interior drifts in an out of the story as they weigh various Indian casino bids and warily eye politically connected suitors. Huge amounts of money change hands. Golf junkets abound. If you didn't know this was nonfiction, you'd almost swear the whole spectacle was a promo for some new HBO series called The Cross and the Croupier or Indian Givers or Triple Cross or something. If this doesn't become the Watergate of this era, it's not for lack of drama, intrigue, or tragi-comedy. Don't wait for the DVD; pop some popcorn and read it now.

March 12, 2005

Blogs and "Connections"

Garance Franke-Ruta's recent American Prospect article on key differences between Left and Right bloggers has created an interesting and useful debate. But I suspect she may be spurring a different, but equally useful, debate in a new post on Tapped that challenges the idea that bloggers are mainly "citizen-journalists" who represent an entirely new phenomenon in political commentary.Franke-Ruta goes through a whole list of leading Left and Center-Left blogs, including this one, and notes the various credentials--in terms of background, experience, institutional ties, and even social connections--their authors bring to the keyboard. Her post will probably set off a backlash among bloggers who (a) fear the blogosphere is being taken over by Washington and/or Establishment Types, and (b) really freak out at the idea that Washington and/or Establishment Types are eating, boozing, and shmoozing together in order to promote each other at the expense of their less-connected peers.I did a long post last fall providing my own, tentative take on the relationship between blogs and other forms of political expression, and concluded that the whole phenomenon represents the confluence of a new technology with a classic market failure in political journalism and advocacy.Alternatives to market failures create all sorts of new outlets for creativity and expanded involvement, and that's been the case with blogs. But alternatives to market failures also produce a market response, and that's why so many Washington political institutions have started up or blessed blogs.So: does that mean the Establishment is neutering the blogosphere? No, for two major reasons.First, the Establishment response to the growing influence of online competition has loosened up the Establishment itself in significant ways. Kos is now a player in Democratic campaign planning. Nobody involved in Democratic strategy on the Social Security issue can ignore Josh Marshall. And institutional blogging is changing institutions. The stable of young bloggers at the Prospect is changing that staid journal's image and emphasis significantly. I can tell you a lot of people seem to be taking a new look at the DLC thanks to this blog and The Moose. The Center for American Progress and the New America Foundation are now sponsoring blogs, along with most political magazines. Co-optation of market-share-threatening trends is generally a two-way street. So the invasion of the blogosphere by the Establishment is a tribute to the medium's influence.But secondly, whatever advantages Establishment bloggers have, everybody else remains just a click or a google-search away, and the quality and value-added of non-Establishment blogs continue to bubble up. I'm forever discovering that some blog I read now and then is being written by somebody living in America rather than Washington--someone with a day job who is light years away from getting a hand on the greasy pole of print or electronic journalism, or from a gig with a major political outfit or think-tank. Like most low-mid-major bloggers, I get a constant stream of email from people wanting me to link to their blogs, and the backlog of requests is a constant source of anxious guilt.But they are there, in far greater numbers than the people lining up for interviews with Establishment outlets, and boasting qualifications--like the ability to write, and an actual knowledge of actual conditions around the country--that their Ivy-educated peers often don't have.Yeah, many bloggers are people who'd be doing faily well in the punditocracy if the internet did not exist, and yeah, the internet has created opportunities for intelligent commentary and advocacy by a whole lot of folks who didn't go to Harvard and thus can't get in the door at The New Republic. Let's hope the supply and demand curves ultimately begin to converge. In the mean time, there's space for us all.

March 11, 2005

Res Ipsa Loquitur

Since I just made a point of bragging about my good-ol'-boy populist credentials, I should hasten to explain this title, which alludes to one of the few concepts I remember from law school, means "The damn thing speaks for itself like a deacon caught in a ginmill."And here's the hook: according to the subscription-only Congress Daily, during a congressional hearing on child care funding in connection with the endless effort to reauthorize the 1996 welfare reform law, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) said this: "The issue of child care is a Washington-based issue. It is not an issue out in the states." Methinks ol' Rick will be explaining that one to the working parents of Pennsylvania for a good while as he barnstorms the state posing as the avatar of "compassionate conservatism" during his re-election effort next year. Kinda reminds me of the moment during the 2000 presidential debates when George W. Bush said: "Insurance...that's a word they use in Washington, DC!" Sometimes the truth peeks through the demagoguery. And it speaks loudly.

Jacko-Free Blogging

We political bloggers sometimes fall prey to our own obsessions, and I'm sure some of us are gripped by the delusion that the whole hep world is breathlessly tuned into the Social Security debate, the bankruptcy bill, or the various machinations of Karl and Grover and HoHo, or the jesuitical DLC. But let's get real: none of this stuff is more than a tinny little sound compared to America's real preoccuption these days: the trial of You-Know-Who.Now I'm sure that traffic-savvy bloggers like Wonkette (or the Substitute Wonkette, or the Wonkette-Mini-Me, or whoever the hell is womanning that sex-and-booze-soaked Font of Hilarity these days) will constantly find ways to use interest in the West Coast Offense to draw readers to the latest batch of Washington Gossip. But I'm going to be a Real Democrat and stand up for my values here, and declare NewDonkey an official Jacko-Free site. I don't care if political news gets so slow that I'm writing about GAO reports on traffic-light synchronization; I just won't go to Santa Maria.Although it violates the religio-ethical principal of Avoiding the Near Occasion of Sin, I am not swearing off references to anyone named "Jackson." Jesse, Scoop, Andy--these are all legitimate Jacksonian topics. But no Moonwalking, I swear.In taking this hard line against Jackocentrism, I expect at least a few emails accusing me of blogo-snobbery. That's not fair. I'm one of the few political bloggers who regularly uses "ain't" and "sho nuff" and other crackerisms. Unlike David Sirota, I learned my populism at my grand-daddy's knee back in the day, not by working on some 2004 campaign. And with March Madness on the horizon, I'll certainly be watching a lot of cheesy beer-and-junk-food commercials and heading for the kitchen with Pavlovian regularity.But you have to draw a line somewhere, and as Martin Luther famously said: "Here I stand; no other can I do."

March 10, 2005

"Stop, Thief!" Cried the Burglar

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan made a big speech at the Council of Foreign Relations today deploring the federal government's fiscal profligacy as representing the single largest threat to the economy's future. Bigger than trade deficits. Bigger than low savings rates.So maybe that's why he recently called for making the 2001 tax cuts that largely created the fiscal mess permanent, along with additional measures to enable high-income Americans to shelter even more income from taxation through savings accounts.Hate to sound like a broken record about this, but it still just blows my mind: four years ago, Greenspan endorsed the Bush tax cuts on grounds that the United States was in danger of prematurely retiring the national debt. And now he's endorsing new tax cuts as a way out of ever-rising national debt. Just like his buddies in the Bush administration, Greenspan has a single answer for every question and every circumstance, and that's why his credibility is collapsing like a grossly overvalued stock in a bear market.

Not-So-Clear Skies for Bush

As the heir of a long line of debtors, from a state founded as a debtors' prison, I was genetically unhappy with today's Senate passage legislation tightening grounds for filing bankruptcy.But there was better news on a more celestial issue this week: the Bush administration's lame-o "Clear Skies" air pollution proposal got stopped again in the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, and may be dead for the year. (It's too complicated to get into in one blog post, but the biggest problem with "Clear Skies" is its avoidance, contrary to a 2000 Bush campaign promise, to impose any limits on the most dangerous greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.)And even as the administration lost an environmental battle on earth, it's not exactly storing up treasure in heaven. Leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals spent much of today in Washington working on a statement endorsing strong action on global climate change. They were addressed by Joe Lieberman, who with John McCain is cosponsoring the most prominent proposal for capping carbon dioxide emissions and guiding the U.S. towards something like a parallel track with the Kyoto process that Bush unilaterally abandoned. The small remaining band of moderate Republicans (exemplified by McCain and by Lincoln Chafee, who helped stop Clear Skies in the Senate) is already in revolt against the administration's retro environmental policies. If a slice of politically active evangelical Christians get a little greener as well, we could finally see the end of a long period of gridlock on environmental policy, and a stretch of better weather.

March 9, 2005

Bolton and Nuclear Terrorism

Lots of people (including, today, the New York Times) have gone to town on U.N. Ambassador-designate John Bolton's rich record of extremist foreign policy views. I did the same myself yesterday. But of all the stuff he needs to be held accountable for in his confirmation hearings, the really important thing is the job he has been primarily responsible for at the State Department over the last four years. It just happens to be the single most important national security issue of all, according to no less a figure than Vice President Dick Cheney: avoiding nuclear terrorism.But as arms control chief at Foggy Bottom, Bolton is responsible for a set of policies that have left us unconscionably vulnerable. Who says so? Former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, hardly a big-time partisan Democrat these days (disclosure: I was once on his staff). Nunn, co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, didn't mention Bolton's name in remarks at the National Press Club today, but his indictment of how seriously this administration has taken the threat of nuclear terrorism is unmistakable:

In measuring the adequacy of our response to today’s nuclear threats, on a scale from one to ten, I would give us about a three, with the recent summit between Presidents Bush and Putin moving us closer to a four.American citizens have every reason to ask, "Are we doing all we can to prevent a nuclear attack?" The simple answer is, "no, we are not."… Increasingly, we are being warned that an act of nuclear terrorism is inevitable. I am not willing to concede that point. But I do believe that unless we greatly elevate our effort and the speed of our response, we could face disaster…I am not sure we fully grasp the devastating, world-changing impact of a nuclear attack....I believe that preventing the spread and use of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction should be the central organizing security principle for the 21st century. During the Cold War, we saw what it looks like when world leaders unite, when they listen to each other, when they cooperate against common threats. It is my hope that we will soon employ this model of international teamwork in responding to the threats from North Korea and Iran, in securing nuclear materials around the globe, and in confronting the danger of catastrophic terrorism anywhere in the world.
Fine advice for Bush, and an implicit rebuke to the policies supervised by Bolton. It's bad enough that Republicans who are determined to bankrupt the public treasury are focused on cracking down on bankruptcy filings by regular citizens. To follow that up by sending Mr. It-Ain't-Worth-Doing-If-We-Can't-Do-It-Our-Way, John Bolton, to the U.N., is even worse, when it comes to deadly threats to our security that demand an effective international response.I'll say it again: Bolton needs to load up a jumbo platter of crow, and start chowing down, or expect a potentially successful challenge to his confirmation.

March 8, 2005

Punishing Success

If there was a truly bright spot for Democrats last November anywhere in red-state America, it was surely in Colorado (with Montana running a close second). Of all the Democratic candidates in close U.S. Senate races, Ken Salazar was the only winner. His brother, John, pulled off one of the few gains Democrats were able to make in U.S. House seats. And Democrats won control of both branches of the state legislature. Now they look poised to take back the governorship next year, and run the whole shooting match.With Democrats around the country looking to Colorado Democrats as role models, you'd think Chris Gates, the state party chair who oversaw this remarkable election day would be on an extended victory lap. But no: yesterday the state party's executive committee ousted him as chair in favor of environmental activist Pat Waak (Gates is contesting the outcome based on a claim that certain proxy votes didn't get counted).According to press reports, the coup against Gates was basically an act of revenge by "activists" unhappy with his less-than-secret support of Salazar in his Senate primary against fellow-activist Mike Miles. Presumably, Gates' perfidious maneuvering, in tandem with virtually everybody in the national party who wanted to win a Senate seat, was responsible for Salazar's photo-finish 73-27 win over Miles in the primary.I don't live in Colorado, and thus don't know if something else is going on, but it sure as hell looks like suicidal cannibalism of the highest order. And it poses a real challenge to those outside Colorado who keep insisting that the post-election activist insurgency in Democratic circles is "not about ideology, but about Democrats winning." I know some people are unhappy with Salazar about his vote to confirm Gonzeles (which I disagreed with myself), but Jesus, folks, if the Democratic tent isn't big enough for Ken Salazar--a guy recently touted by no less a fire-breather than David Sirota as a hero of "populist progressivism"--then we better get ready for permanent minority status.The Colorado Coup is especially bad news for new DNC chairman Howard Dean, who may now have to treat one of the most successful state party organizations in the country as yet another basket case. And it doesn't much help that at least a few of his more vocal and visible supporters are touting the Coup as part of a "silent revolution" spurred by the Dean movement. I know Dean has other fish to fry right now, and is trying to keep a relatively low profile. But if he should happen to feel the need for a bit of a Sister Souljah moment to instill a sense of political reality in Activist World, this would be a really good occasion to indulge it.UPDATE: As I said, I'm not a Colorado Democrat, but if you want to see what they are saying out there, check out this interesting, wide-open Colorado politics site where the subject is being aired fully, with plenty of comments from both sides. I get the sense some sort of unity effort may get underway when the atmosphere of 2004 score-settling dissipates.

In Yer Face

I've worried in the recent past that Democrats will fail to pick their fights carefully on Bush administration appointments, and just submerge their principled objections in a white noise of white-hot rage. But Bush sure seems inclined to pick our fights for us, as evidenced by the, shall we say, rather provocative choice of John Bolton for U.N. ambassador. Is there a single constructive impulse in administration foreign policy that Bolton hasn't mocked or rejected in the past? Hard to think of one. U.N. reform? Bolton seems to think the organization is inherently an affront to U.S. power. Collective action to stop genocide? Bolton has opposed any U.N. role in "civil conflicts," up to and including genocide, and as the country's best-known critic of U.S. cooperation with the International Criminal Court, he's certainly not in a good position to propose any immediate effort to bring the Darfur murderers to justice. Engagement with China to bring that country more fully into the community of rules-observing nations? As a former hired hand of the Taiwanese government, and an outspoken proponent of formal Taiwanese independence, Bolton isn't likely to get onto drinking-buddy terms with Beijing's representatives at the U.N. And then there's the really big issue on which Bolton has had formal responsibility in his current gig at the State Department: trafficking in nuclear materials. It's no big secret that the administration until recently treated this rather urgent threat to our lives and limbs as a second- or third-order problem, on the bizarre theory that terrorists are too frightened of George W. Bush to consider setting off a nuke in one of our cities. The current Proliferation Security Initiative that Bolton has directed is a lot better than nothing, but typically, Bolton has pushed it in the direction of ad hoc, U.S.-led action to interdict and inspect suspect cargo, rather than the full-fledged, top-priority international effort to prevent "leakage" of nuclear materials that we need. Aside from his foreign policy views, Bolton is also a stone partisan warrior. I did a couple of radio shows with him back during the madness of the 2000 election cycle, and found him to be genial and cerebral until the mikes went live; at that point, he was indistinguishable from Tom DeLay. I'll never forget turning on the tube during one of those Florida court hearings on the presidential vote and seeing Bolton sitting there in the front row of the phalanx of GOP lawyers, hour after hour. Since I don't think the Bush legal team was in need of foreign policy advice, it was clearly an act of hyper-partisan solidarity. (According to this morning's Post, Bolton even got into the chad-counting act at one of the county-level election boards). Soon we will begin to hear suggestions that Bolton's appointment may be one of those Nixon-to-China things: you know, let's go out and find the most abrasive unilateralist in the administration to patch up our relations with the rest of the world. This only makes sense if the Bushies are afraid a more constructive attitude towards the U.N. and the world in general will make them vulnerable to criticism from the almightly Conservative Base. But if this is what's really going on, then Bolton better make it pretty damn clear during his confirmation hearings. He's sort of the Robert Bork of foreign policy nominees: a guy with enough material in his public record to script two or three days of tough Democratic questioning. If he expects any Democratic votes at all, he'd better start wolfing down a lot of crow. Otherwise, this is just another in-yer-face appointment that begs for a fight.

March 7, 2005

Now We Are Three (Percent)

Maybe I just don't browse around enough, but so far today, I haven't seen any blogo-references to an interesting little note buried in the Washington Post about a survey on exactly how many people pay attention to us.

[A] new CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll...found that nearly three-quarters of the public -- 74 percent -- is "not too" or "not at all" familiar with the sites. Blogs (short for "Web logs") are online journals in which amateur, and sometimes, not-so-amateur, pundits discuss whatever is on their minds, from television shows to political candidates. The remainder of those polled were divided between those who said they were either "somewhat familiar" (19 percent) or "very familiar" (7 percent) with blogs.Three percent of the respondents said they read blogs every day; 12 percent said they visit them at least a few times a month. Forty-eight percent said they never look at the sites, and 24 percent said they do not have access to the Internet.
(I can't seem to find this survey on the CNN or Gallup sites, but will assume the Post didn't just make it up).I'm sure the number of people reading, and for that matter, writing, political blogs is going up rapidly. And quite certainly, the percentage of politically active people who read blogs is much higher, and among political journalists, much higher still.But the overall degree of penetration at the moment should perhaps give pause to those who have made quasi-totalitarian claims about the collective importance of blogs and other internet-based political activity to politics in general, and to Democratic politics in particular.The "netroots," significant as they are, simply are not synonymous with the "grassroots" of the Democratic Party, particularly if "grassroots" means the broad universe of elected officials, activists, and rank-and-file voters around the country. And in judging particular claims to speak for the "grassroots," we should remember this ain't horseshoes, where "closer" wins the contest. Even the largest and fastest-growing activist groupings are basically islands in a very large sea. That's why we have primary and general elections, as opposed to online referenda or early-nineteenth century style party caucuses to figure out what the true "grassroots" want, and that's why public opinion surveys, infernally misleading as they sometimes are, still matter.I write this knowing that for some bloggers, "disrespecting the netroots" is the political Sin Against the Holy Ghost, the one truly unforgivable act. But the political potential of the netroots, and more importantly, the political prospects for the Democratic Party, require some perspective, and at least a bit of the humility which "netroots" advocates rightly demand from everybody else claiming to speak for Democrats. Nobody other than Democratic voters has the standing to decide who is and isn't a "real Democrat." While we can argue back and forth about who's right and who's wrong, and whose advice should be accepted or rejected, we'll never be a majority party again if we forget about the 74% of Americans who don't know a blog from a frog.

March 6, 2005

A Mellow Christian Right?

The Style Section of today's Washington Post has a typically odd but interesting Hanna Rosin feature about how Christian Right activists are settling down and getting in touch with their Inner Moderate now that they are landing serious day jobs in George W. Bush's D.C. The poster people for this alleged domestication of the Christian Right are a couple named Jeff and Lyric Hassler, whose grinning, wholesome visages are displayed on both the cover and jump page of Style. She's a political consultant who worked on the Bush campaign; he's a staffer for Sen. James Inhofe (the somewhat-less-crazy of the two Republican Senators from Oklahoma).The basic idea is that people like the Hasslers, although they haven't changed their views on much of anything, now view the extremist tactics of the Movement's salad days as, well, kind of embarrassing. "No more thundering sermons on Wiccans and floods and child molesters," Rosin says in summarizing the change of tone. "They may believe all the same things," evangelical scholar Michael Cromartie tells her, "but they aren't going to go on 'Larry King Live' and say all homosexuals should die. They've learned how to present themselves."You get the idea from the piece that folks in the Christian Right have been engaged in their own form of Lackoffian "re-framing," now that they are, well, partially in charge of running the country and all. But you wonder how deep the makeover has really gone.The climax of Rosin's feature is the revelation that the Hasslers have become Episcopalians, of all things, after settling down in Fairfax County. Indeed, she quotes Lyric Hassler burbling about how much she's come to love "High Church" stuff like vestments and traditional hymns.Smart as Rosin is, she seems to miss the joke: the particular church the Hasslers are attending is the notorious Truro evangelical Episcopal parish, home to Ollie North and Clarence Thomas, and one of the main protaganists of the right-wing movement to pull congregations out of the Church to protest the ordination of a gay bishop, and other offenses to cultural conservatism. Entering mainline Protestant Christianity through Truro is sort of like getting to know African-American opinion by listening to a lot of Armstrong Williams. I noticed looking at the church's calender that it's featuring a Jews-for-Jesus presentation on Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday). That shows a fine sensitivity to Jewish concerns about the supercessionist themes that have so often led to anti-Semitic violence during Holy Week, eh?Maybe the Hasslers and hundreds of their peers who have laid down their fetus posters and picked up the reins of power have mellowed, but in part that's because Washington has moved in their direction. Speaking of how a superior in the Bush campaign looked at her, Lyric Hassler commented that she no longer "stood out," saying: "Ten years ago she [her boss] might have thought I was a total freak. But now she just thought I was a little weird."

March 4, 2005

Alan Shrugged

Like my colleague The Moose, I was stunned by press accounts of Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan's testimony to the administration's tax reform study commission yesterday. Back in 2001, you may recall, Greenspan endorsed Bush's tax cuts on the bizarre theory that otherwise the national debt might disappear and the federal government would have to start buying equity in private businesses to dispose of excess cash. More recently he has returned to his pre-Clinton administration doomsaying about federal budget deficits. So what does he propose now? Draining more revenues from Washington by creating big, fat tax-free savings vehicles to enable high earners to shelter investment income from taxation.To be sure, what Greenspan actually wants is a national consumption tax, and endorses tax-free savings vehicles as a back-door means to that goal. This approach, of course, is a big part of the Grover Norquist "starve the beast" strategy of deliberately engineering large budget deficits in order to force big cutbacks in federal spending, or a shift in the tax base towards wage income or consumption, or all of the above.And the convergence of the Norquist and Greenspan approaches represents a stunning demonstration of how politics has completely debased a large part of the U.S. libertarian tradition.In Grover's case, the big deal with the devil was his acceptance of the idea that repealing any sleazy corporate tax break represented a verbotin "tax increase." Thus, instead of championing a level playing field for business competition and for tax policy, Norquist is now the tribune for corporate favoritism and reverse-Robin-Hood fiscal strategies, which help finance and politically drive an agenda that is "libertarian" only to the extent that it screws up government in a way that might eventually cause its general demise.Greenspan's own Faustian Bargain stems from his famous "pragmatism"--barred by the limited role of the Fed, and by political realities, from actively promoting the free-market paradise he has long espoused, he consistently reaches out to endorse "politically feasible" policies that indirectly achieve his ends--typically, the free candy of tax cuts and tax breaks.Thus, both men embrace a stealth libertarianism that isn't libertarian at all in its means. We all know Grover's many ideological and rhetorical vices, but for all his legendary power and influence, he's essentially just another Washington jive-ass thriving at the intersection of money and politics. But it's beginning to become more apparent every day that the oracular Chairman has an equally twisted agenda.The Moose's post today linked to an AEI article by Bill Bradford aboutGreenspan's much-reported but oft-forgotten association with the Objectivist cult of novelist and proto-libertarian Ayn Rand. I thought I knew the story pretty well, but two things really startled me in Bradford's piece: (1) Greenspan went straight from Rand's inner circle (ironically but accurately known as "The Collective") into the 1968 presidential campaign of Richard Nixon. In fact, Greenspan was already knee-deep in conventional Republican politics when he signed onto Rand's bizarre excommunication of her protege and former lover Nathaniel Brandon. (2) When asked during various Senate confirmation hearings over the years if he still adhered to Randian dogmas like abolition of all regulations and a return to the gold standard, Greenspan gave no sign of a change of heart or mind.Given Greenspan's current status as a close ally of George W. Bush, you kinda wish someone had recently asked him if he still regards belief in God as a deadly "mysticism of the mind" (corresponding to socialism, the "mysticism of the muscle"), a key tenet of the Objectivist canon. But whatever his political prudence and well-rehearsed routine as a mere economic technocrat, it is becoming clear that his formative extremism has not gone away--just the candor with which his mentor always expressed her oppressively dogmatic views about ends and about means.

March 3, 2005

Reform Democrats

One thing that most Democrats--or at least those of us who are not in denial about last year's election results--seem to agree on is that we must become known as a "party of reform." "Reform" may mean different things to different people, but as regular readers of this blog know, for me it means a commitment to a complete, root-and-branch progressive agenda for fixing our political system, our budget processes, our tax code, and generally, a federal government that has descended to Harding-era standards of special interest-tending and partisan featherbedding under the stewardship of George W. Bush's GOP. For us New Democrat types, embracing this kind of reform agenda represents a return to our insurgent roots prior to the 1992 Clinton campaign, and that's the subject of an interesting article published today on the New Republic site by by Kenny Baer.As Kenny suggests, New Dems got a little fat and happy during the Clinton administration, and also got a little too loose about loaning the "brand" to Democrats who were more interested in positioning themselves to get business contributions than in supporting any real agenda for change. But that's all over now, and for those of you who are more interested in what we stand for as a party than in the usual Kabuki Theater of left and center stereotypes, give Baer's take a close look.

March 2, 2005

Wayward Christian Soldiers

There's some interesting ferment going on in evangelical Christian circles at the moment which may spell trouble for the God-Mammon Alliance the Republican Party has so painstakingly put together. As Rob Garver explains in an American Prospect online piece, the National Association of Evangelicals, with 50,000 church affiliates representing 30 million or so people, is meeting next week in Washington, where it will consider a manifesto on "civic responsibility" that might cause Karl Rove some heartburn. To be sure, the manifesto reiterates familiar Christian conservative positions on abortion, gay marriage, and so forth, but also has surprisingly bold sections on economic justice, environmental stewardship, and even war and peace. This is a development worth watching. I'm sure GOP leaders think of these folk as reliable foot soldiers in the conservative movement. But they do, ultimately, report to a Higher Authority, who once said:"The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear its sound, but don't know where it comes from and where it is going. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8).

The Yul Brynner/Roy Moore Connection

As you may know, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case today involving a Ten Commandments monument on the Texas State Capitol grounds. But you probably don't know--I certainly didn't until I collapsed into hysterical laughter at the NPR report on the subject this morning--where the monument really came from: Hollywood!That's right: the organization (called the Fraternal Order of Eagles) that actually put up the monument, and several hundred like it around the country, was being massively subsidized by Cecil B. DeMille as part of his effort to promote his movie, The Ten Commandments. In fact, DeMille sent Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner out to appear at a number of the monument dedications. So when guys like Judge Roy Moore haul around their Ten Commandments monuments for the edification of a chastened populace, they are unwittingly carrying on the last stages of a Tinseltown Promo. Talk about worshipping golden calves....