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June 28, 2006

Supreme Confusion On Redistricting

The long-awaited U.S. Supreme Court review of the Tom Delay-orchestrated re-redistricting of Texas congressional districts finally came down today, and a splintered Court continued its recent habit of disarray on redistricting principles. It's clear a sizeable majority of the Court has decided that mid-decade reversals of redistricting plans are not barred by the federal constitutution, and a less-sizeable majority refuses to consider re-redistricting as grounds for strong suspicion that illicit political gerrymandering has occurred. But the Court appears to be all over the place, as it has been for more than a decade, in determining when if ever political gerrymandering can violate the Constitution. Meanwhile, a 5-4 majority of the Court ruled than one of the districts in the DeLay Map violates the Voting Right Act as a straightforward dilution of Hispanic voting strength. But the decision about how to deal with it was dumped back to a District Court in Texas, which must now decide whether there is anything they can do about it between now and November. Obviously, fixing one district could affect many others. You have to try, as I did, to slog through the whole 132 pages of concurring and dissenting opinions to see how divided and tentative the Court is on this whole subject. I'm no fancified constitutional or elections lawyer, and praise the Lord I left behind this sort of preoccupation when I decided to go into politics, but still, you don't have to put "Esquire" after your signature to figure out when the Supremes are a herd of kitty-cats. More troubling is the fact that the ruling on re-redistricting may not get the attention it deserves in political circles because it's becoming moot for this particular decade.Looking back, Republicans got away with re-redistrictings in Texas and Georgia. Democrats tried to retaliate in Ohio and Florida, but the former effort failed dismally last year at the ballot box, while the latter foundered in the Florida courts (it could possibly be revived and placed on the ballot in 2008, but that's awfully close to the next regularly scheduled redistricting anyway). A Republican-backed California re-redistricting measure also failed last year, but that was a bit of a special case, since it was poorly designed, and in any event was backed by a lot of non-Republicans. But no one should forget that the one place in which a DeLay-style GOP partisan re-redistricting foundered was Colorado, for the simple reason that the state's own constitution banned mid-decade redistricting. Looking ahead to the next decade, states should strongly consider emulating Colorado's ban on the practice of overturning congressional and state legislative maps every time partisan control of state government solidifies or flips. No one can any longer foster the illusion that the U.S. Supreme Court will do anything to stop the madness.

June 27, 2006

Plague O' Frogs

As you may have seen or read, the Washington, DC area is under what looks to be a semi-perpetual flash flood watch, with roads all over the place becoming impassable and basements flooding on everything other than high ground. Rain will more or less continue for the next few days, and there's a potential tropical storm brewing up off the Carolina coast that could really make things biblical in these parts. I don't know this for sure, but as The Nation's Capitol continues to get battered, those on both ends of the political spectrum who think of this city as the source of all iniquity may become quietly pleased that Big Beltway Types may be knee-deep in muddy water just like disaster victims elsewhere. For us small fry in the Emerald City, it will be a good time to hunker down, read and sleep, turn on some bad TV, get right with God, get together with dear friends, or just watch the rain pelt the windows and hope that mudslides are primarily a west-coast phenomenon. And let's hope that the Good Lord is not deep down a neo-populist of the Left or Right, and is visiting upon us a modern Plague of Frogs.

June 26, 2006

The Big Book of Conservative Disillusionment

Last week the editor of Blueprint Magazine and I had a casual conversation about a New York Times article about a mammoth new publication entitled American Conservatism: An Encylopedia. I just as casually agreed to review the book, not realizing the deadline was, well, now, and that the tome would land heavily on my desk the next morning. Thus, I spent a good part of the weekend slogging through the book and trying to get a handle on it.I won't scoop my own review, but suffice it to say that this encyclopedia is, among other things, a solid repudiation of much of the political and theoretical success of the very movement which inspired it. In the introduction, the editors flatly say they “do not see in the history of conservatism the inevitable development of an increasingly powerful and coherent ideology of any kind." And the book expresses a very lukewarm attitude towards virtually every conservative politician other than Taft, Goldwater and Reagan. The entry about W. says: “The presidency of George W. Bush has proved problematic for conservatives and the conservative movement,” and concludes: “Bush’s presidency revealed starkly the philosophical cleavages in the conservative movement as much as it also helped redefine political conservatism in the public mind.” I acknowledge and agree with those who view the current disenchantment of conservative journalists and activists with Bush and the GOP in general as in no small part an exercise in denial based on the failure of their policies and the unpopularity of their agenda. But American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia illustrates a more systematic disillusionment among conservative intellectuals with politics generally, and with the unity and integrity of their own tradition. For those on the Left who still believe in the elan of the Right Wing Machine, and want to emulate it, this book is a good reminder that the Machine's design is flawed, and the engine is sputtering.

June 25, 2006

Secret Plan

When I wrote on Friday that the Bush administration was probably planning troop withdrawals to begin shortly before the fall elections, I didn't know this is precisely what the U.S. Commander in Iraq, General George Casey, was discussing with his superiors in a classified Pentagon briefing written up today in the New York Times. It appears the Pentagon is planning troop withdrawals later this year, and substantial troop withdrawals next year, even as the White House and congressional Republicans blast Democrats for thinking along the same lines. Michael Gordon of the Times connects the dots:

[A]fter criticizing Democratic lawmakers for trying to legislate a timeline for withdrawing troops, skeptics say, the Bush administration seems to have its own private schedule, albeit one that can be adjusted as events unfold.If executed, the plan could have considerable political significance. The first reductions would take place before this falls Congressional elections, while even bigger cuts might come before the 2008 presidential election.
So there you have it: the administration's secret plan for Iraq, all ready for a fall rollout. Amazing.

June 24, 2006

Duncan Drops Out; O'Malley Steps Up

The big non-congressional political story of the last week here in the Emerald City was Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan's announcement that he was dropping out of the Maryland gubernatorial race due to a recent diagnosis of clinical depression. Duncan also emphatically endorsed his former primary rival, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who will now get a clear shot at incumbent Republican Governor Bob Ehrlich, and vice-versa. I used to live in MoCo, and have also been around Duncan at DLC events, and appreciate him as a first-rate administrator who has come to dominate political life in a jurisdiction whose citizens, heavily including top-level federal employees, have extremely high standards for local government services. I obviously wish him well in his recovery from depression, but at the same time am relieved that he has abandoned an uphill fight against O'Malley that definitely required a negative campaign for which Duncan was temperamentally unsuited, and that would have helped Ehrlich in the general election. As for O'Malley, he has his detractors in Baltimore and elsewhere, but the man really does possess a notable "it" factor that led a lot of people to start talking about him as a potential presidential candidate about two minutes after his first election as mayor. His personal charisma is authentic and strong, and not only because women tend to find him very attractive (I once asked a young female colleague what she thought about O'Malley, and she simply smiled and said: "Meeow!" Appropriately, O'Malley is very scrupulous about avoiding situations where he is alone with women to whom he is not married). In fact, O'Malley, along with Barack Obama, has long been a candidate for the much-longed-for Bobby Kennedy role in the Democratic Party: a politician whose appeal transcends party or faction and potentially could create a new majority. Like RFK and Obama, O'Malley is hard to shoehorn ideologically; he's always been close to the DLC (hosting two of our annual meetings), but he also endorsed Howard Dean's presidential campaign. Like Bill Clinton, the closest thing we've had to Bobby since his assassination, O'Malley is a policy innovator who is completely open to new ideas, wherever they come from. But now he must face Ehrlich, the guy who in 2002 snuffed the potential national political career of RFK's actual daughter, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Ehrlich will almost certainly run a nasty negative campaign against O'Malley, and the mayor's ability to rise above the fray and seek new allies for the progressive cause will be tested as never before.

June 23, 2006

Ambiguities of War

Now that the Senate's had its debate on Iraq policy, the GOP spinmeisters are working overtime to draw attention to Democratic divisions. It's true there's a difference of opinion between the 13 senators who voted for the Kerry-Feingold fixed deadline resolution and the rest of the Caucus. But in the end, all but six Senate Dems voted for the Levin resolution calling for a beginning of troop withdrawals by the end of this year and demanding some sort of public strategy for the Iraq endgame.I have to strongly disagree with my colleague The Moose, who characterized the Levin resolution as "withdrawal lite." Last year a majority of senators from both parties voted for a resolution calling 2006 "a year of transition" for the U.S. military presence in Iraq, which means some troop withdrawals. The administration's own position is that we should all look forward to troop withdrawals as soon as is possible; the Bushies simply want to keep their plans a secret until that first photo op of soldiers and marines coming home, probably right before the November elections. And this is not just a matter of focusing exclusively on U.S. needs: it's clear Iraqis overwhelmingly want a tangible indication that the build-up of Iraqi security forces, which will soon meet its original targets, will produce a reduction in the U.S. military presence, if not a full withdrawal.The idea that the Levin resolution represents some sort of party-wide tilt to the antiwar cause strikes me as simply wrong. Nobody can accuse, say, Sen. Hillary Clinton of being unwilling to upset a large number of Democratic activists by remaining committed to the possibility of a successful conclusion to the horribly botched Iraq occupation. Yet she was a cosponsor of the Levin resolution and spoke forcefully for it in the Senate (as did DLC Vice Chairman Sen. Tom Carper).It's certainly true that the Levin resolution is worded in an ambiguous way, leaving open the timetable for withdrawal depending on conditions in Iraq. But the situation on the ground in Iraq is ambiguous as well. Our military leadership is clearly ambiguous about our future role in Iraq. For all its happy-talk, the administration is ambiguous about the political stability of Iraq. And the American people--a majority of whom favor a decisive shift towards Iraqi responsibility for Iraq's security, even as they oppose a quick withdrawal--are about as ambiguous as you can get.In the end, the Levin resolution reflected a simple call for a change of course and a strategy for moving towards the goal we all share: an end to this war. A large majority of Senate Democrats supported it. And I am personally convinced Republicans will rue the day when they decided to draw even greater public attention to the Bush administration's record in Iraq, and the GOP's united support for its incompetent leadership. They're just not as crafty as they think they are.

June 22, 2006

Inconvenient Truth

In case you've missed it, there's an increasingly toxic conflict going on in the blogosphere between Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos and Jason Zengerle of The New Republic. Without going into the numbing details, suffice it to say that Jason leaked some Kos comments from an off-the-record blogger email exchange about the brouhaha over Jerome Armstrong's supposed conflicts of interest and then accused him of trying to silence discussion of the issue, and Markos responded about like you'd expect him to.Personally, I'm not supportive of all the follow-the-money innuendo being aimed at lefty bloggers in recent days. I don't like these kind of ad hominem attacks when David Sirota aims them at anybody who dares disagree with him, and don't like it any better when the arrows are being fired towards the left instead of the center-left. But unfortunately, instead of just barbecuing Zengerle, Markos went ballistic on his employers:

[Th]e New Republic betrayed, once again, that it seeks to destroy the new people-powered movement for the sake of its Lieberman-worshipping neocon owners; that it stands with the National Review and wingnutoshpere in their opposition to grassroots Democrats.
He goes on at considerable length to mock TNR as a "dying" institution (which in Kos Speak presumably ranks it a bit above the "dead" DLC), just before encouraging readers to write letters to the allegedly moribund journal complaining about Zengere. But just as Markos picked a bad time (shortly before an annual meeting that will attract record numbers of state and local elected officials from around the country) to declare the DLC dead, he picked an especially bad day to label TNR a self-conscious organ of the Right Wing Conspiracy. After all, TNR just posted an article by its editor-in-chief, Martin Peretz, endorsing Al Gore for president in 2008. As regular readers of Daily Kos know, Gore has become the runaway favorite for 2008 among Kossacks. Inconvenient but true, eh?I had an immediate mental image of Markos and Marty sitting uncomfortably together on an Al Gore campaign bus (perhaps emblazoned with signs reading "Re-Elect Gore To A Third Term") rolling through rural Iowa a year or so down the road. That's probably cynical of me, but I gotta tell you, if Gore does run it looks like he'll have the most incongruous set of supporters since Mo Udall and George Wallace both endorsed Jimmy Carter in 1976.

June 20, 2006

Cool New Things

There are two new publications just launched on the web that merit special attention this week. The first is The Democratic Strategist, edited by three of my favorite people, Bill Galston, Ruy Teixeira and Stan Greenberg, which offers a unique place for far-ranging and inclusive debates on--you guessed it--Democratic political strategy. The first issue offers essays by Democrats ranging from Will Marshall to Bob Borosage, which pretty much spans the ideological spectrum of the party. There's also a daily blog on the site. The second new entry is Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, edited by two well-known Class of '92 New Democrats, Andrei Cherny and Ken Baer. This quarterly is notable for the fact that it solicits gigantic (5,000 word!) articles on public policy, which is virtually unheard of these days, but which might supply a future Democratic Congress or administration with some serious brain food. At a time when so much progressive cyber-journalism is balkanized into factional camps, both these offerings can help provide a welcome opportunity for genuine, open debate. Please do check them out.

June 15, 2006

Wolfe on Conservatism and Incompetence

As conservatives try to disassociate themselves from the ongoing disaster of the Bush administration and the Republican Congress, and progressives argue whether incompetence and corruption or ideology is the right target for their critique of the GOP, Alan Wolfe offers a typically brilliant analysis of the situation in the latest Washington Monthly. Today's Republicans are authentically conservative, he says, and their ideology virtually guarantees incompetence and corruption. You really, really should read the entire essay, but here's a sample:

Contemporary conservatism is a walking contradiction. Unable to shrink government but unwilling to improve it, conservatives attempt to split the difference, expanding government for political gain, but always in ways that validate their disregard for the very thing they are expanding. The end result is not just bigger government, but more incompetent government.
I've agreed with Wolfe's point of view for a long time, having watched conservatives from the Reagan administration on, in Washington and in many states, turn government agencies they don't have the guts to abolish into pork machines and jobs programs, precisely because it's the only useful thing they can imagine using them for. When combined with tax-cutting mania and the opportunity to serve up vast corporate subsidies--another way to bribe voters and campaign contributors, while offering the illusion that government will someday have to shrink--it offers conservative politicians the equivalent of a bottomless crack pipe. But eventually, the chickens come home to roost with the consequences of misgovernment, and that's what is happening right now.

June 14, 2006

Baptists, Bloggers and John Calvin

I was a bit startled yesterday to read a Nathan Newman post at TPMCafe suggesting that bloggers had pulled off a coup in helping elect one Frank Page as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. I did a little research, and found that indeed there was a grassroots effort, spread in part by bloggers, to promote Page against the conservative establishment candidate Ronnie Floyd of Arkansas.But it would be a bit too much to assume that Page's election represents some sort of sea-change in Baptist political theology. He's a supporter of "biblical inerrancy," and by his own account has supported the conservative theocratic takeover of the SBC. The big argument for his candidacy has mainly revolved around the need for congregational support for Baptist mission work, which has been lagging of late. And if you actually google around and read some of the blogs about the contest for the SBC presidency, there's an underlying tension among Baptists that Page exploited: a neo-Calvinist movement in the Baptist seminaries that threatened the denomination's commitment to evangelizing the world.This is a very old conflict among Baptists; in the nineteenth century, it produced two denominational spinoffs: the Primitive Baptists (two of my great-grandfathers were ministers for this group) who rejected missionary activity as a waste of time given the doctrine of predestination of souls; and the Free Will Baptists who rejected predestination altogether.The neo-Calvinists, who often overlap with the politicized right-wing leadership of the SBC, have exposed a lot of underlying Baptist angst about the drift of the denomination away from its roots. Page's outspoken resistence to neo-Calvinism, and his advocacy of a more open and inclusive Baptist attitude towards unbelievers, may have been crucial to the success of his candidacy.So there's more going on here than some grassroots rejection of "fundamentalism." But Page's election does in fact indicate that internet-based organizing is particularly relevant to a denomination with a strong tradition of local, congregational autonomy (vitiated so much by the conservative takeover of the SBC). Moreover, the upset probably indicates an understanding among Baptist clergy that the denomination's massive growth in recent decades has slowed, and that Southern Baptists have lost the initiative to pentecostal churches, and to the nondenominational megachurches where right-wing politics are not the central message from the pulpit.I was raised as a Southern Baptist, and know a lot about the denomination and its membership. And althought rank-and-file Baptists have not vocally dissented from their Christian Right leadership, there's a lot of snickering going on behind those Broadman Hymnals every Sunday on which the preacher suggests that divorce, feminism, extramarital sex, or homosexuality are unknown among the Godly. Maybe Page's election will ultimately help energize the sensible if silent majority of Baptists. I certainly hope so.

June 13, 2006

Revisionist History in the Making

Given all the attention currently being paid to the conservative revolt against George W. Bush, I strongly recommend you read Jonathan Chait's new piece for The New Republic questioning the "apostate" label the Right is plastering on W, and its (and the news media's) assumption that Bush's lagging approval ratings are attributable to same. To summarize Chait's argument:1) All of Bush's supposed "moderate" heresies are either imaginary, or were present back when the conservative commentariat was idolizing W. as a Churchillian figure standing astride the world like a colossus.2) Had Bush taken the Right's advice, he'd be in even more trouble than he is today.3) Contra the conservative chatter, Bush's support levels from rank-and-file conservatives, while down a bit, are still crazily out of synch with the rest of the public.4) We've been here before: conservative movement types always seem to support Republican politicians when they're successful, and accuse them of wimping out when they're not.Chait doesn't generalize his argument into a broader meditation on the nature of ideological thinking, but there is a bit of an analog on the Left, where elite opinion about Bill Clinton's fidelity to Democratic principle has long diverged from rank-and-file progressive appreciation for the Man from Hope, and has also merged with a strange revisionist argument that Clinton's alleged heresies from The True Path were responsible for every Democratic electoral setback since 1994.While Democrats can and should rightly enjoy and exploit the implosion within the GOP, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. A lot of progressives these days seem to think the rise of the conservative movement should serve as a template for Our Side, and if so, we should look at the self-deception going on in conservative circles with an occasional glance in the mirror.

June 12, 2006

Steny's Doing His Job

Given the lionization of Jack Murtha as a lightning rod for antiwar sentiment in recent months, and the demonization of House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer by people like purge-meister David Sirota, I figured Murtha's announcement that he would challenge Hoyer for Majority Leader if Dems retake the House would ignite a widespread netroots campaign for the doughty Pennsylvanian.So I was pleased to see a post today at MyDD by Jonathan Singer reminding his colleagues of the right measure for this position:

Regardless of Hoyer's propensity to diverge from progressive talking points -- and indeed votes, at times -- he has been more effective in this respect than any other Democrat in the position in recent memory. According to a report by CQ in January, House Democrats were more unified in 2005 than at any other point since the periodical has tracked votes. Likewise, House Democrats more strongly opposed President Bush in 2005 than in any other year....So unless Murtha can prove in some way that he would be more effective than Hoyer in wrangling together the disparate factions of the House Democratic Caucus, I just don't believe the Democrats would be best served by getting rid of Hoyer, whether they're in the majority or the minority.
Singer's exactly right. Hoyer has been an extraordinary Whip; his legacy is a far more united House Caucus than anybody had any reason to expect, and that shouldn't be an afterthought in determining whether he moves up in a Democratic-controlled House.

June 8, 2006

Zarquawi's Dead; Now What?

The death of Abu Musab al-Zarquawi, the murderous al Qaeda leader in Iraq, presents a clear example of how killing is sometimes necessary to protect life. This man represented the worst of a bad cause: a jihadist whose rage against the infidels extended to any Muslim who did not embrace his Salafist creed, including all Shi'a. His elimination by an American bomb was clearly the best gift our country has given Iraq since the capture of Saddam Hussein.But the question has to be asked: now what? Will Zarquawi's death demoralize the Sunni-based insurgency, or al Qaeda itself? Over at the New Republic's site, Spencer Ackerman suggests this event may actually help al Qaeda by erasing a controversial and counter-productive leader, and may hurt the U.S. by eliminating a scapegoat for all the violence in Iraq. Whether or not Ackerman is right, no one should harbor the illusion that Zarquawi's death will somehow "moderate" al Qaeda in anything other than a tactical way. It may actually parallel the destruction of the leadership of the Brownshirts in Nazi Germany in the famous "night of the long knives," which made Nazism ostensibly more respectable even as it solidified the power of the genocidal maniacs of the S.S. Here in the U.S., the snuffing of Zarquawi may give the Bush administration a small and temporary lift, demonstrating that even a blind hog will find an acorn now and then. If, however, the violence in Iraq does not significantly abate, then all the administration's focus on Zarquawi may ultimately backfire. It's one thing to acknowledge that Bush got re-elected mainly because millions of Americans bought the idea that by fighting jihadists in Iraq, he was keeping them from perpetrating terrorist acts here; who could prove otherwise? But if things don't get better in Iraq now that Zarqauwi's gone, the administration's whole Iraq-War-Is-The-War-On-Terror argument will quickly unravel.

June 6, 2006

Here We Go Again

The purpose of this week's gratuitious "debate" in the U.S. Senate on the so-called Defense of Marriage Amendment doesn't even qualify as an open secret: it's more like an open sore. A panicked GOP, under direct threats from self-appointed Christian Right leaders like James Dobson and unable to deal with any real issues, is trying to shore up its hard-line cultural conservative base by pretending to do something about the Awful Specter of Gay Marriage. You might even call it Rove's Last Stand: with growing majorities of Americans rejecting Bush and GOP policies on almost every conceivable subject, the idea is to repolarize the electorate with cultural wedge issues and reenergize the theocratic element of the God 'n' Mammon coalition that's been so noisily falling apart of late.Tired and transparent as this ploy is, it does fit neatly into GOP plans to make the November elections not a referendum on Republican misgovernment, but a lesser-of-two-evils choice between the incumbent party of power and those crazy Christian-hating, terrorist-appeasing, Bush-impeaching Democrats.Right on cue, the Right's most promiscuous slanderer, Ann Coulter, is coming out with a new book under the fair-and-balanced title Godless, which "exposes" liberalism as a vast and all-powerful conspiracy to ban Christianity, introduce mandatory Paganism, and reduce the human race to the status of beasts.If you think I'm exaggerating, check out the excerpt from Godless posted at townhall.com, but you might want to keep some hand-sanitizer close by in case you accidentally touch your computer screen. Here's a characteristic passage:

Liberalism is a comprehensive belief system denying the Christian belief in man’s immortal soul. Their religion holds that there is nothing sacred about human consciousness. It’s just an accident no more significant than our possession of opposable thumbs. They deny what we know about ourselves: that we are moral beings in God’s image. Without this fundamental understanding of man’s place in the world, we risk being lured into misguided pursuits, including bestiality, slavery, and PETA membership.
Those of you who have risked exposure to Coulter's nasty oeuvre will recognize in this last sentence her signature move of tossing a leaden "jest" into a series of gross calumnies, thus enabling her conservative defenders to excuse her as a practitioner of good, clean, hate-filled fun.Normally I wouldn't pay any attention to Coulter's ravings; it's depressing enough to realize that Godless, like her earlier screeds, will probably wind up on bestseller lists. But a particular passage in the excerpt caught my attention:
If Democrats ever dared speak coherently about what they believe, the American people would lynch them. So they claim to believe in God, much as Paul Begala claims to go “duck hunting” (liberal code for “antiquing”). At the beginning of the 2004 presidential campaign, the Democratic Leadership Council held briefings to teach Democratic candidates how to simulate a belief in God. To ease the Druids into it, the DLC recommended using phrases like “God’s green earth.” (The DLC also suggested avoiding the use of phrases such as “goddamned, motherf—ing Republicans!”)
The last paranthetical sentence, of course, is another Coulter bon mot. It does not seem to occur to this self-proclaimed Defensor Fidei that she should eschew violations of the Second Commandment (or, for that matter, that she is exceptionally ill-equipped to accuse Paul Begala of elitism). But the previous two sentences happen to refer to a quote from yours truly, delivered at a conference on cultural issues in Atlanta in the autumn of 2003. Since I was, you know, actually there, and know a lot more about what I was saying that Ann Coulter's research staff, I can report that the audience was a group primarily composed of southern state legislators, roughly half of them African-Americans. I strongly suspect none of them were tree-worshipping Druids, and moreover, that most of them have forgotten more about the theory and practice of Christianity than Ann Coulter will ever know. And in my remarks to the group, far from teaching anyone to "simulate belief in God," I was actually suggesting that people of faith who are Democrats shouldn't hide the fact, and could take a lesson from George W. Bush in how to weave scriptural language into policy discussions, especially insofar as W. seems to ignore half the Law and most of the Gospels.This particular passage of Godless is just a wolf-cub in the snarling pack of Coulter's lies, but it does give you a sense of her respect for facts. I've personally been accused on occasion of indulging in unfunny humor, but to use another "bestial" metaphor, anyone who finds the Clown Princess of right-wing invective hilarious probably likes dead-kitten jokes, especially in the company of those PETA-loving liberal Druids.

June 5, 2006

Primaries and Purges

Over at MyDD, Chris Bowers reacts to the DLC's recent argument against a nationally-driven purge of Joe Lieberman by shouting "hypocrites!" Where, he asks, are Lieberman's defenders when it comes to other primary challenges like Ed Case's against "the arguably more progressive" Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii? Having firmly planted the axiom that the case for Lieberman is all about rejecting the very idea of primary challenges to incumbent Democrats, Chris fulminates for a while about "establishment" types trying to deny Democratic voters their legal right to choose their nominees for office.I respect Chris Bowers, but this time he's missing a very basic point. The DLC is not arguing against the right to "primary" incumbents; if Connecticut Democrats want to replace Joe Lieberman with Ned Lamont or anybody else, that's fine by me. It's the national effort to dump Joe, evidenced by the heavy involvement of national organizations like MoveOn and Democracy for America, that's objectionable. And as Chris knows, much of the progressive blogosphere is nearly as obsessed with the Lamont candidacy as it is with delivering a Democratic Congress this November, for reasons that have zippo to do with the vindication of the sovereign rights of Connecticut Democrats to choose whomever they want (has anyone other than Ned Lamont himself pledged to support Lieberman if he does win the primary? If so, they're pretty quiet about it). The level of abuse being aimed at Lieberman is, quite frankly, a close second to the abuse being aimed at George W. Bush.Comparing the national effort to get rid of Lieberman to Ed Case's primary challenge to Daniel Akaka is just weird. But Chris is determined to follow the line of argument. A few weeks ago, he said this:

If anyone has the gall to claim that progressives are wasting Democratic resources in 2006 by challenging incumbents like Lieberman, just point to Hawaii where conservatives are doing the same thing. How dare the DLC waste Democratic resources like this! Don't they know the real target should be Republicans?
Upon reading this post at the time, my first thought was "Huh?" Aside from the fact that the DLC doesn't raise money or endorse candidates or recruit volunteers, I'm quite sure nobody at the DLC was more than dimly aware of the Case challenge to Akaka, which is apparently more about Akaka's age than anything to do with ideology. This is clearly not a "nationally-driven purge," just as it's equally clear the anti-Lieberman campaign is exactly that. And any "so's your old man" argument to the contrary is a bit like saying that Super Target is identical to Super WallMart because they sell some of the same items.Primaries are fine. Purges are not, and I don't think there's much doubt which is which when it comes to the intraparty politics of 2006.

June 2, 2006

White Rabbit Day

Yesterday the blogosphere was full of talk about Unity '08, a nascent third-party effort with a twist: the idea is to build a party online, agree on an agenda, draft candidates to run for president and vice president in 2008, and then get them on the ballot across the country.I found the talk especially interesting because two ol' pols from my home state of Georgia, Ham Jordan and Gerald Rafshoon (both veterans of the Carter presidential campaigns) are in the forefront of the effort, along with Hotline founder Doug Bailey and former independent governor of Maine, Angus King. My old boss Sam Nunn is being mentioned as a possible candidate (don't hold your breath, folks; Nunn's got bigger fish to fry, like saving us all from loose nukes).My colleague The Moose hailed the effort but warned it would have a hard time overcoming the various institutional barriers to a third party. Over at Daily Kos, diarist Redshift notes that Unity '08's "crucial issues" list looks a lot like that of Democrats.My reaction was a little different: third-party efforts that begin with the concept of an agenda and the idea of a candidate tend to take its promoters through the looking glass in pursuit of White Rabbits they can never quite catch. Some of you may remember a similar effort back in 1995-96, organized by a group of former elected officials dubbed "the secret seven" (Bill Bradley, Dick Lamm, Tim Penney, Lowell Weicker, Paul Tsongas, Gary Hart and the self-same Angus King). Their deal was to promote "intergenerational equity," a bit of a code word for entitlement reform, and the press got all excited by the possibility that the group would run one of its number for president as a third-party candidate in 1996.By a pure coincidence, I was moderating a panel at the Minnesota conference where Lamm, Tsongas and Penney showed up with the promise to reveal the "secret seven's" plans. After much hype, the three did a long presentation on the budget and entitlement spending, admitted they had no plans for a candidacy, and then basically disappeared from view as the horse-race-deprived political media lost interest. My advice to the Unity '08 crew is that they better get some serious candidate possibilities out there to define their effort and make sure their interactive agenda-building initiative doesn't become a freak magnet. Otherwise, they'll be chasing White Rabbits until their potential constituency disappears through the looking glass.