« July 2006 | Main | September 2006 »

August 31, 2006

Ain't No Great Or Lesser Generations

I have to admit I was a bit stricken by a question posed at TAPPED today by my young and much esteemed friend Matt Yglesias: "Have I ever mentioned that I hate baby boomers?"Matt was reacting to a particularly confused NYT column by baby boomer Andrew Rosenthal complaining that today's antiwar crowd does not know how to do protests--an argument complicated somewhat by his use of an antiwar concert by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to show that the boomer example of how to sing and chant wars away has been lost. I couldn't agree more with Matt's assessment of Rosenthal, or with his broader argument that "protest politics," as opposed to the more conventional kind, is largely ineffective.But I have to say that Rosenthal's silly claim that boomers were politically superior to their children is no more objectionable than Matt's silly claim to the contrary. I'm certainly glad that after twenty years of post-boomer coherts of young folks who tended to vote Republican, the arrows turned during the Cinton era and have tilted left ever since. And I am more than aware that boomer progressivism has been vastly overrated; Nixon, after all, carried the Youth Vote in 1972 after the McGovern campaign pioneered direct appeals to first-time voters.But more generally, it's time to bury the idea that any generation--past, present or future--embodies virtue or vice in any great measure. We all know about the "greatest generation" of WW2, and its contributions to democracy are rightly praised; but I am more impressed with the previous generation of Americans who suffered through the Great Depression. They were just as moral and hard-working as any previous or later generation, but due to forces far beyond their control, roughly one-third of them were regularly unemployed, and an even higher percentage saw their dreams shattered and their lives blighted. Indeed, the example of that generation--along with the hard-working analogous people around the world who happen to live in dysfunctional societies and economies--is the main reason I reject the whole conservative and Republican social and economic philosophy.Virtue and success are not, in the end, identical, or even close to identical. Politics and policy do really matter, in terms of how life is actually lived by most of us. There are no great or lesser generations of Americans. There are just lucky and unlucky Americans, and whatever our generational background, the challenge is to make life a better bargain. I'm happy to be told that my twentieth-century experience makes it hard for me to understand twenty-first century realities. But let's don't claim any superiority for any generation, and let's hope a combination of new and old experiences will help progressives understand the complicated perspectives of an electorate that straddles the centuries.

August 29, 2006

Remembering the Disaster After the Disaster

You have to figure George W. Bush would have preferred to be anywhere else (with the exception of Iraq) today other than in New Orleans. But on the first anniversary of the virtual destruction of a city beloved by the whole world, had Bush been anywhere else, it would have reminded that whole world of his administration's absence when the levees broke.Now his marginally repentant words in New Orleans will simply be fodder for news reports that not only bring back the horrific images of 2005, but explain to a forgetful nation how bad things still are in the Crescent City. Here's CNN's wrap-up on that topic:

Only half of New Orleans has electricity. Half its hospitals are closed. Violent crime is up. Less than half the population has returned. Tens of thousands of families still live in trailers and mobile homes with no real timetable for moving to more permanent housing. Insurance settlements are mired in red tape. The city still has no master rebuilding plan. And while much debris has been cleared, some remains as if the clock stopped when the storm struck.
For more detailed reports on the disaster after the disaster--and the culpability of the administration for failing after its initial failures--you should check out the special section at TPMCafe.com called "After the Levees." It will likely make you, as it did me, angry all over again.

August 28, 2006

Harris Fights Legislating Sin

I know that criticizing Katherine Harris, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Florida, is sorta like shooting fish in a barrel. But Lord, does she ever flop arond in that barrel!Her latest nutquest is in an interview with a Florida Baptist periodical, wherein she goes way out of her way to attack the very idea of separation of church and state, and to suggest a religious test for candidates for office:

The Bible says we are to be salt and light. And salt and light means not just in the church and not just as a teacher or as a pastor or a banker or a lawyer, but in government and we have to have elected officials in government and we have to have the faithful in government and over time, that lie we have been told, the separation of church and state, people have internalized, thinking that they needed to avoid politics and that is so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers. And if we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women and if people aren’t involved in helping godly men in getting elected than we’re going to have a nation of secular laws. That’s not what our founding fathers intended and that’s certainly isn’t what God intended....If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, if you’re not electing Christians then in essence you are going to legislate sin. They can legislate sin. They can say that abortion is alright. They can vote to sustain gay marriage. And that will take western civilization, indeed other nations because people look to our country as one nation as under God and whenever we legislate sin and we say abortion is permissible and we say gay unions are permissible, then average citizens who are not Christians, because they don’t know better, we are leading them astray and it’s wrong.
Nobody ever accused Katherine Harris of any original thoughts, so we're offered up sort of a right-wing theocratic greatest hits: If you're Christian, you have to be obsessed with banning abortion and gay rights. Any political action that does not focus on these eccentric causes is un-Christian. And any silly constitutional scruples about religion-based policies offends the Founding Fathers, and leads to "legislating sin."I don't know whether this pronouncement is more offensive for its ignorance of Christianity, its ignorance of the Founding Fathers (particularly Jefferson, for whom freedom of and from religion was paramount in his constitutional thinking), or its affrontary to the significant majority of Americans who do not share her particular views of God's Will for Public Policy.Harris' rant reminds me of a moment back in the 1980s, when the House was doing one of those silly late-autumn round-the-clock sessions. As always, a junior Member from the majority was in the chair, and it happened to be Rep. Barney Frank at some wee-hours moment when a Republican was making a speech about America's status as a Christian Nation. Frank quickly replied from the chair: "If this is a Christian Nation, how come some poor Jew has to get up in the middle of the night to preside over the House of Representatives?"Katherine Harris decided a long time ago that her strategy for heading off any primary competition for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate was to combine total fidelity to the Christian Right with her GOP folk-hero status as the woman who helped hand the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000.But she hasn't quite gotten the Bushian knack of pandering to the Christian Right without coming right out and endorsing theocracy. There are actually still a lot of Baptists particularly, and conservative evangelical Christians generally, who are a little queasy about condemning the separation of church and state--a doctrine that has obviously had a lot to do with the freedom and growth of evangelical Christianity in this country, and used to be a mainstay of Baptist identity as well. Katherine Harris misses all the nuances, and like a woman sporting a lavish mink coat in warm weather, manages to raise tackiness to new levels every time she goes public.

August 24, 2006


The big news out of Washington today is that the FDA, after years of politically motivated foot-dragging, suddenly approved over-the-counter sales of the emergency contraceptive Plan B, a so-called "morning-after" pill. According to the Washington Post, this decision was part of a deal that will allow Bush FDA appointee Andrew von Eschenbach obtain a permanent position (the nomination had been held up by Sens. Hillary Clinton and Patty Murray precisely to obtain this result).Predictably, social conservatives blasted the decision and the underlying deal as another sell-out by the administration to business interests.

The group Concerned Women for America has led the opposition to wider availability of Plan B, and its president, Wendy Wright, criticized the administration last week for its apparent change of position. She called for von Eschenbach's nomination to be withdrawn, citing his "pandering to political activists and a drug company."
Whatever its motivation, the decision will presumably take distribution of Plan B out of the hands of those self-styled Pharmacists of Conscience around the country who have refused to fill prescriptions for panic-stricken and clock-watching women seeking emergency contraception.I guess now we can expect to see a new movement among Clerks of Conscience who refuse to ring up the over-the-counter drug.One thing is clear. Over on the demand side of the equation, the decision should encourage Men of Conscience to exercise a little responsibility for their own contributions to potential unwanted pregnancies by trotting their own butts down to the pharmacy and buying Plan B for their worried partners. Let them deal with the disapproving glares at the drug store counter for a change.

August 23, 2006

Poor Deluded Peeps

After reading Matt Taibbi's second straight Rolling Stone column about the satanic conspiracy I am apparently working for here at the DLC, I've decided he's a lot of fun, much like a particularly twisted roller coaster ride. You never quite know where he's going next, but he gets there pretty fast, with all sorts of dizzying upside-down turns.Taibbi's Big Insight, with which I suspect he will bludgeon readers regularly, is that American politics generally, and Democratic Party politics in particular, are fundamentally rigged by "the holy trinity of the American political establishment -- big business, the major political parties and the commercial media." In Taibbi-land, moreover, this Establishment is not simply benighted or corrupt; it is fundamentally determined to destroy democracy by denying actual voters any say in the political affairs of either party.And here's where the roller coaster ride gains momentum. Taibbi goes off on a loop-de-loop suggesting that the Holy Trinity is the only thing standing between Hillary Clinton's obscure primary opponent, Jonathan Tasini, and a Lamont-style upset. And then, suddenly, he goes upside-down:

It's a simple formula for running one-half of American politics; you decide on John Kerry two years before the presidential vote, raise him $200 million bucks, and let CNN and The New York Times take care of any Howard Deans who might happen to pop up in the meantime.
The People, according to Taibbi's logic, would have chosen Dean as the Democratic nominee if the Holy Trinity had not already decided on Kerry.This hypothesis is pretty interesting, to say the least. Maybe I'm just old and have a fading memory, but I seem to recall a very different situation in late 2003, the period just before The People had any say over the Democratic nomination for president in 2004--when the Holy Trinity really had a lot of power, and it was all about buzz and conventional wisdom and money.This last, pre-voter phase of the nomination contest was actually the high point of the Dean campaign and the low point of the Kerry campaign. Unless I'm just imagining this, Dean was kicking butt on the money front; he was raking in endorsements; the mainstream media had all but crowned him as the nominee; even Al From and Bruce Reed felt compelled to make it clear they would loyally support him if he won. Kerry had been gleefully, joyously left for dead by a Media Establishment that never liked him to begin with. Those bigfoot political reporters who had not already called the nomination for Dean, before a single vote was cast, were hyping Edwards or Clark.Then the Iowa Caucuses happened, in a state and on a terrain that were entirely friendly to the kind of activist-based, antiwar, energized People Power of the Dean campaign. Yet the Doctor began his decline while John Kerry rose from the dead. You'd have to be stone crazy to think the Holy Trinity scripted this series of events two years in advance.Don't get me wrong: I'm not bashing Dean here. His 2003-2004 take on Iraq--it was a mistake, but one that the U.S. was morally required to carry through to victory--would today put him on the right wing of Democratic opinion on the war. Moreover, Dean's campaign was very important in changing how campaigns are organized, run and financed, largely for the better. We'll never know whether he would have been a better general election candidate than Kerry.But what we do know is that for whatever reason, the Democratic electorate consistently chose John Kerry over Howard Dean, even when money, media, and the party establishment dictated otherwise. And we also know that people like Matt Taibbi who respect The People when they agree with him, and consider them disenfranchised and deluded when they don't, are just as elitist as anybody in DC. But Matt has to take us on quite a crazy ride to square that particular circle.

August 22, 2006

Barone's Decline

I may not agree with Charles P. Pierce of TAPPED about St. Paul, but I sure do agree with his assessment of a peculiar op-ed by Michael Barone posted at RealClearPolitics. It's sort of a Cliff Notes version of the ancient conservative argument that Moral Relativism is Destroying America, linked to a vague neo-McCarthyite suggestion that the shadowy academic missionaries of said Relativism are The Enemy Within in the war against jihadism.After rightly praising Barone's enduring contributions as co-founder and editor of The Almanac of American Politics, Pierce ends his post by saying:

Sorry, Michael, but I'm going to be subjecting the next Almanac to what you would call "fine-tooth-comb" analysis, just to make sure you haven't slipped any unicorns in there.
Well, I had the same thought last year, and took a close look at the 2006 Almanac in Blueprint magazine, concluding that Barone the conservative pundit was beginning to seriously undermine Barone the brilliant political analyst. It's a sad devolution; here's hoping Barone somehow snaps out of it and regains his grip.

August 21, 2006

In Defense of St. Paul

In a presumably tongue-in-cheek comment on a Baptist church that cited the First Epistle to Timothy as grounds for dismissing a woman from a Sunday School teaching post she'd had for 54 years, Charles P. Pierce of TAPPED proposed a little radical surgery on the New Testament:

Life would be so much better for a lot of us folks of faith if we could just run St. Paul's sorry ass out of the New Testament the way they snuffed the Gospel of Thomas. Granted, the Book of Revelation has caused an awful lot of trouble, but it has the saving grace of being gorgeously written. Not so with the Bill O'Reilly of Tarsus.
Now there's plenty of precedent for proposals to expurgate troublesome bits of scripture. The great heresiarch Marcion wanted to get rid of the Old Testament along with three of the four Gospels. Luther expressed a desire to expel the Book of Revelation as "fundamentally un-Christian." And more recently, Thomas Jefferson published a "Bible" that junked all the "dogma" interspersed amongst the sound ethical teachings.But before Mr. Pierce gets too far with his anti-Pauline crusade, he should be aware that there's a lot of doubt about the authorship of I Timothy. In fact, the late Fr. Raymond Brown, perhaps the preeminent New Testament scholar of recent years, suggested that about 90% of biblical experts thought that Paul did not write this epistle.This scholarly consensus does not, of course, cut much ice with biblical "inerrancy" fans, including the offending Baptist church in question, since the (probable) anonymous author of I Timothy identified himself as Paul. As my own grandmother back home in Georgia used to say when I ventured my own youthful sandbox theories of religion: "The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it."But given Paul's knack for allegorizing and reinterpreting the Law and the Prophets in the epistles, like Romans, that are indisputably his, I have a sneaking suspicion that despite his reputation as the favorite source for conservative abuse of scripture, Paul himself was no fundamentalist. And given his true legacy as the great and revolutionary advocate of Christian liberty, it makes little sense to consider him a conservative, either.

McCain's Pivot

Yesterday's New York Times included a brief but useful summary by John Broder about Sen. John McCain's progress in reinventing himself from the brave maverick of GOP politics into the Chosen One of Republican elites, including many key veterans of George W. Bush's two campaigns.I've long been a skeptic about McCain's ability to propitiate the conservative ideologues that still own the Republican Party without losing the reputation that would make him a formidable nominee in 2008. But he's off to a pretty good start, given his consistent front-running status in early GOP '08 polls; his love-fest with prominent Bushies; and the high esteem he still enjoys from many mainstream media types. And lest we forget, the combination of very high and relatively positive name ID and insider backing is what lifted McCain's former nemesis, George W. Bush, to the nomination in 2000.Broder's summary of McCain's pivot does not mention one factoid that the photo accompanying it illustrates: McCain yukking it up with attendees of the Iowa State Fair. He famously skipped the Iowa Caucuses in 2000, after conspicuously disrespecting the Ethanol Subsidy that ranks just behind the State Fair's Butter Cow sculpture as Iowa's Most Sacred Cow. McCain has now flip-flopped on ethanol, and is spending a lot of time in Iowa.McCain's pivot, of course, most depends on the panic of Republicans who see the White House slipping away in 2008, and figure only a "maverick" like the Arizonan can save their bacon. The same underlying dynamic may doom a McCain general election candidacy, and thus his "electability" appeal, particularly if he continues to flip-flop on domestic issues, while championing the Bush administration's disastrous course of action in Iraq.And even if McCain goes into the presidential cycle as the clear GOP front-runner, there's no question many conservative movement types will continue to cast about for an alternative. At one point, Sen. George Allen of VA looked like a strong possibility for the Anybody-But-McCain (ABM) effort, but his sparse positive qualifications are clearly being overwhelmed by his current troubles. Right now the big debate about Allen is whether he's a racist obnoxious jerk, or an equal-opportunity obnoxious jerk. No less an authority than Charlie Cook is already saying Allen's presidential star has fatally fallen, and for that matter, Georgie is now in danger of losing his Senate seat.At present, the insider buzz about GOP alternatives to McCain revolves around Mitt Romney of Massachussets. Aside from the improbability of the Right readily embracing a guy once thought of as a northeastern moderate, whose most notable recent accomplishment was signing a quasi-universal health insurance bill, there's the Mormon Issue. Last year Amy Sullivan wrote an important article examining probable conservative evangelical concerns about a Mormon candidate, but the problem could go deeper, since the unusual nature of LDS doctrines could discomfit some Catholics, mainstream Protestants and secular conservatives as well as evangelicals.The real darkhorse for the ABM mantle remains Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Expect a boomlet to form around him at some point in the near future.

August 18, 2006

Bushonomic Silver Lining Turning Dark

Not that long ago, one of the prime White House/GOP talking points was that Americans just didn't appreciate how well they had it in terms of the national economy. With polls showing persistent unhappiness with Bush's economic stewardship, W. and his minions fanned out across America touting growth, productivity, inflation and unemployment stats, and discounting concerns about job and pension insecurity; energy, health care and college costs; the federal borrowing binge; and general pessimism about the future of the U.S. economy.Well, Reuters reported today that Bush was "huddling" with his economic advisers to consider "options" for dealing with higher interest rates, a cooling housing market, higher unemployment, and fresh inflation fears, aside from all those continuing problems the GOP keeps telling Americans they shouldn't worry about.I'm guessing one option won't be to suggest to voters they should suck it up and accept some sacrifices because there's a war on in Iraq.

August 17, 2006

Revisionist History of Welfare Reform

Next week will mark the tenth anniversary of the landmark 1996 welfare reform legislation. And as a host of former opponents of this legislation now attest, it largely worked.No, it did not drastically reduce income inequality in the United States. Yes, its initial success depended in no small part on a red-hot late 1990s economy that in particular supplied an enormous number of entry-level jobs. Certainly, there should be a continuing debate over how best to help the dispossessed in our society get into the economic and social mainstream. And moreover, given the currently sluggish and insecure national economy, and the decision of congressional Republicans to reauthorize the 1996 act with no debate and in the dark of the night, with toughened work requirements for single mothers and little or no resources for child care--current law deserves some new scrutiny.But what's annoying to me, having been heavily involved in the welfare reform debate of the mid-1990s, is the revisionist history being peddled by Republicans, who continue to claim the 1996 legislation as their own, when it's just not true.Check out this line from a National Review editorial commemorating the anniversary of the 1996 act:

President Clinton vetoed conservative welfare reform twice before Republican resolve finally secured his signature on legislation that held cash welfare to a five-year limit and imposed work requirements on its recipients.
This has long been the view from the Right--and some precincts of the Left--about what happened in 1996: Republicans sent their bill up three times, and the third time Clinton signed it on the advice of the triangulating Dick Morris, in order to guarantee his re-election.Didn't happen that way.The first congressional welfare reform bill sent to Clinton was a House-based package that disqualified unmarried mothers--obviously a large segment of the welfare population--from any public benefits. He vetoed it. The second bill was Senate-based, and essentially turned the entire public assistance system into a block grant, with no real incentives for finding jobs for welfare recipients, and every incentive for states to just slash eligibility and call it a day. Clinton, calling the bill "tough on kids, weak on work," vetoed that one as well.The final bill was indeed a compromise. It eliminated the personal entitlement to public assistance, but did not disqualify big categorties of Americans (other than legal immigrants, a provision which Clinton vowed to change, and did in no small part before he left office), and created significant incentives for states to help welfare recipients find jobs immediately. Clinton famously agonized over signing this bill, but the idea that he simply caved in to Republicans is not at all accurate. Ten years later, the revisionist history of welfare reform is, like the bizarre belief of conservatives that Ronald Reagan created the 90s boom, just another bit of delusion in the service of propaganda.

August 16, 2006

Unsexy Coulter

There's been an odd blogospheric interchange over the last 24 hours about why Democrats are particularly offended by Ann Coulter. It began with a piece by Elspeth Reeve on the New Republic site suggesting, if I'm not mistaken, that male liberals demonize Coulter because of some inverted desire to sleep with her. Over at TAPPED site, Ezra Klein and Charles Pierce joust about Reeves' hypothesis (follow the links from Ezra's last post to read the exchange), with all sorts of side discussions of TNR generally.As a Coulter-disparager who doesn't watch much TV and is only dimly aware of her "leggy blonde" persona, I have to interplead that you don't have to watch or listen to Ann Coulter to intensely dislike her. My own major attack on her was based on her written words. In reacting to her poorly researched arguments and her contemptible efforts to claim the entire Judeo-Christian tradition for her particular ideology, I did not really care if she was a "leggy blonde," a squatty four-foot-ten brunette, or for that matter, a Man named Ann. I haven't spent much if any time looking at her on the tube, and given her vicious and casual slurs on the truth and on people like me, I would not find her lovely if she were a certified Super-Model.Then again, I was a fan of Dolly Partin's music before I had any idea what she looked like.Now that I've been informed of her exceptional sexiness, I won't hold Ann Coulter's looks against her, but I'll be damned if I have to cut her slack because of an attraction to her that I do not have. There's nothing sexy about hate and lies.

August 15, 2006

Worn Out Flypaper

Like many of you, no doubt, I've been following the wide-ranging debate about the domestic political implications of the British terrorist bust of last week. It has come as no surprise, of course, that Republicans and their conservative allies have seized on the foiled plot to claim, for the thousandth time, that it shows how important it is to have a party focused on national security in charge in Washington, even if the consequences of its Iraq policies are looking more disastrous every single day. (The GOP's comcomitant campaign on the theme that Joe Lieberman's loss in Connecticut proves there's only one party committed to fighting terrorism, absurd as it is, is Part B of its longstanding implicit argument that however much Bush is screwing up, he's screwing up with the right intentions). But I do wonder if the revelation of an advanced plot to replicate 9/11 on a large scale isn't going to unravel the whole line of "reasoning" that has reinforced the persistant gap between public feelings about Bush's performance in Iraq, and the GOP's general reliability on national security. We're all familiar with the "flypaper" theory, so often articulated by Bush himself, that whatever else is going on in Iraq, the insurgency there is drawing jihadist attention and resources away from attacks on the U.S. ("We can fight them here or we can fight them there," as Bush routinely says). And I personally think this factually crazy contention has been far more important to Bush and the GOP than most of us would like to accept. Back during the last presidential campaign, I became convinced, mainly through conversations with undecided voters back home in Georgia who would up voting for Bush's re-election, that the most powerful thing the incumbent had going for him was a rough and unsophisticated argument that went like this: Some Arabs came here and killed a bunch of Americans. George Bush went over to Iraq and killed even more Arabs. Since then there have been no attacks. He must be doing something right.Anything and everything that reminds Americans that the Iraq War has not done a thing to reduce the terrorist threat against the United States will erode that argument, and with it, the GOP's belief that any and all concerns about national security will benefit it at the ballot box. To the extent that clearly focusing on what they would do to deal with the actual terrorist threat undermines both parts of the Republican argument, while connecting public unhappiness with Iraq with residual concerns about terrorism, Democrats should hammer away on this subject every day. This administration has been a national security disaster. The "flypaper" has worn out, leaving us with a horrific mess in Iraq, an energized and growing jihadist threat, and a country more exposed than ever to terrorism. It's time for a dramatically new direction.

August 12, 2006

Way Over the Line

Some days you open up your email and a message just jumps off the screen and flies up your--well, your sensibilities. That happened to me today when I read a toxic little note from self-styled populist avatar David Sirota ripping me apart for a post I did about Russ Feingold's recent indictment of the DLC for doing things it did not do (e.g., creating the Clinton Health Plan). My post, written in a tone of bored sarcasm, was described by Sirota as a "temper tantrum," a "meltdown," and an "attack" on his very self, reflecting my "rage" and moreover, my "fear" at the rising tide of people-powered politics, etc., etc. This is all standard Sirota rhetoric aimed at anyone who disagrees with him, but he also called me a liar, which where I come from is pretty damn serious, and way over the line.I have a strange history with David, who is as reasonable and conciliatory offline as he is frantically abusive online. I first became aware of Sirota back in 1997, when I interviewed him (then just barely out of college) for a writer-researcher job with the DLC. He got sent up for a final interview with Al From, along with two other people, and didn't get the gig. That was obviously the right decision for all concerned.Next time I noticed David was when he blazed into political journalism with not one, but two, nasty, slur-ridden attacks on the DLC and party "centrists" generally, towards the end of 2004. The American Prospect invited me to rebut one of them, and then Matt Yglesias--no big DLC fan--did a definitive smackdown of the factual inaccuracies of the other.But in no small part because of his willingness to pick up the phone or the keyboard and say abusive things about anyone, particularly Democrats, who dared to differ with his exact views, Sirota has become a major blogger and mainstream media quote-meister. He has also, to credit his considerable energy, written a book, Hostile Takeover, that is earning him serious attention with the same sort of indictment of both Republicans and Clintonian Democrats as part of a vast corporate conspiracy to enslave the nation.In a TPMCafe discussion of Hostile Takeover, I said nice things about Sirota's analysis of D.C. Republicans, and actually agreed with most of his suggested policy agenda, but then had to say something else about his habit of demonizing people who don't agree with him:

David's approach creates a political as well as a moral hazard. The attribution of corrupt motives and systematic mendacity to anyone questioning his brand of "populism" and everything that goes with is what leads him to think of Bill Clinton as a "sell-out," or to describe Rahm Emanuel as a politician obsessed strictly with his status within the "corrupt establishment," and to confidently assume that anyone working in Washington, DC, spends his or her spare time toadying up to "elites" at "Georgetown cocktail parties"..... It's how you wind up believing that all the vast differences that separate Ds from Rs are completely meaningless... [a]nd it's ultimately how you forget the real-life consequences--which Hostile Takeover examines so thoroughly--of Republican rule as compared to that of "corrupt" centrist Democrats like Bill Clinton.
All these qualities are illustrated for the umpteenth time by David's latest post, supposedly motivated by my "attack" on him for praising Feingold's remarks. As consumers of Sirota's rhetoric know, anyone who disagrees with him, however mildly or briefly, is invariably "attacking" him and "lying" about him. He can sure dish it out, but for a blogospheric street-fighter, he has a hard time taking it. What's hilarious is that the "lie" David accuses me of comes from my suggestion that maybe the DLC isn't the political behemoth its more paranoid critics always assume it to be. Why is that so offensive to Sirota? Maybe because if the DLC is not the ultimate Giant, then David Sirota ain't no giant-killer, either. The Sirota style is perhaps best illustrated by his choice of words to describe yours truly: "formerly a Zell Miller staffer," underlined with a link to a news report about Miller's despicable 2004 Republican National Convention speech. The reader is presumably to understand that my secret fidelity to the GOP cause--which of course, I am lying about--is exposed by this association. Here's the thing: I worked for Zell from the fall of 1992 until the end of 1994, in a period when absolutely no one thought of him as anything other than a very loyal and partisan Democrat--indeed, as a bit of a "populist." And I have written far more sad and angry words (here, here, here, and here) about Miller's slide into apostasy and his eagerness to serve his old enemies in the GOP than anybody else you will meet. So my work for Zell Miller in the early 90s is clearly no more relevant today than David Sirota's interest in working for me and Al From in 1997. If I did a post casually referring to Sirota as a "disappointed job-seeker at the DLC," he'd be rightly offended. But he shouldn't be able to have it both ways.Lots of bloggers I talk with have the same private opinion of David Sirota's tactics as I do, but think he's useful to The Cause, precisely because he matches the single-minded energy and "take no prisoners" style of bloggers and pundits on the Right. Indeed, that's what Matt Yglesias concluded in his American Prospect review of Hostile Takeover--a review, BTW, that sparked a long Sirota post repeatedly accusing Matt of various forms of dishonesty, including "dishonest regurgitation of Big Business's talking points."If that's so; if Sirota's type of fulmination actually contributes to the goal of expelling the venal GOP gang that's running our country right now, then I suppose the offense caused by his chronic character attacks on fellow Democrats is just acceptable collateral damage. But I really don't see that calling people like me or Matt liars serves any purpose other than to start stupid fights that aggrandize Sirota's self-image as a brave truth-teller fighting the godless and omnipotent Washington Establishment. I wish some of his friends who find his talent for invective so useful would have a private word to him now and then and suggest there are a few lines in intra-party debate that should not be crossed.

August 11, 2006

The Limits of GOP Joemania

You'd think from what we're hearing this week from Republicans all over the country that Joseph Lieberman is indeed the Bush Lite politician that his Democratic detractors insist he is. Virtually every major national Republican pol has weighed in with crocodile tears for Lieberman's narrow primary loss. And in a really odd development, Senate Republican candidates have begun endorsing Lieberman's indie run in Connecticut. I can't imagine that these hugs and kisses are any more welcome in Liebermanland than was Bush's famous "kiss" at State of the Union Address. It's not like Joe needs Republican help in Connecticut; in the absence of a viable GOP candidate in the race, there's not a whole lot of doubt that Nutmeg State Republicans would overwhelmingly prefer Lieberman over Lamont in November without any encouragement from on high. And all the love directed at the incumbent from national Republicans could seriously erode his support among Democrats and independents. But here's what I really want to know: are all these national Republicans embracing Joe Lieberman willing to support anything he stands for other than his position on Iraq, which they claim crazy lefties have illegitimately targeted him for? Will they suddenly develop an interest in dealing with global climate change? Will they agree that labor laws need to be revised to make it easier for workers to organize unions? Are they on board with Lieberman's ambitious proposal for a federally funded National Center for Cures to speed new medical treatments? Will they take a serious look at Joe's 2004 tax proposal, that would have made income tax rates actually more progressive than they were before the Bush tax cuts? Will they push for a systematic attack on corporate subsidies in the federal budget and tax code? Not hardly. But don't expect any honest disclosures that their professed Joemania is about as genuine as Meat Loaf's vow of eternal love in the classic rock song Paradise by the Dashboard Lights. The GOP's love for Lieberman is just for one night. And he should inform them to go home and grow up.

August 10, 2006

Third-Party Chimera

My colleague The Moose is off grazing somewhere in the North Woods, and is not blogging at present. But he seems to have gotten into the head of David Brooks, whose New York Times column today channels the Wittmann-esque fantasy of a third-party movement headed by John McCain and Joe Lieberman.I understand the basic idea: the significant share of the electorate that's palpably sick of partisan wrangling and polarization, and of politics-as-usual in Washington, might gravitate to a new coalition led by two notable heretics from each party.And I also get the premise that third parties tend to emerge based on a radically different set of priorities than those advanced by the two major parties (e.g., the rapid emergence of the Republican Party in the 1850s when Democrats and Whigs were national coalitions determined to ignore the issue of slavery). Thus, theoretically, the vast differences between John McCain and Joe Lieberman on a host of domestic issues might not matter if they represented a consensus on something more important to voters.But that's where the Brooksian hypothesis breaks down, because he proposes this as the "slavery issue" of our era:

The McCain-Lieberman Party is emerging because the war with Islamic extremism, which opened new fissures and exacerbated old ones, will dominate the next five years as much as it has dominated the last five.
Fine, but as Matt Yglesias notes, it's not like John McCain or Joe Lieberman exemplifies some sort of unrepresented and massive point of view on how to deal with the war with Islamic extremism. A sizeable majority of the American electorate simultaneously believes we must fight and win a war with Jihadism, and that the Iraq engagement is at best a distraction from and at worst a real handicap in said war. Lieberman and McCain notably believe the two issues are completely inseparable, a position that most Democrats and a growing number of Republicans have already abandoned, based not on ideology but on the terrible facts on the ground in Iraq and elsewhere. So if national security is the fulcrum of the political revolution that could create a McCain-Lieberman third party, it's not clear either man is particularly well-equipped to lead the charge. Maybe some sort of odd coalition involving Wes Clark and Chuck Hagel could do that, but not John and Joe. And indeed, Joe Lieberman's struggle to hang on to his Senate seat will heavily involve efforts to remind voters, just as he did during his near-miss primary fight, of his positions on all those issues that separate him from John McCain. Brooks, of course, hedges his bets and suggests that maybe elements of the alleged party of McCain and Lieberman could conquer one of the two major parties. And guess who might have a chance to do that? John McCain, of course, who is not going to join Lieberman in a third party effort, and who is in fact the early front-runner for the GOP nomination in 2008.Here Brooks follows his predictable pattern: distance yourself from both parties, gliding far above the messy partisan fray, but somehow wind up in a position of endorsing the GOP approach, whatever it is. The blunt reality is that we aren't going to see a successful third-party movement in 2008 and if there is a third-party effort, it won't be led by McCain or Lieberman. If, as Brooks professes to believe, the overriding imperative in American politics is to rid the system of polarization and the paralyzing influence of interest groups, the best and simplest way to make that happen is to get the current managers of Washington, who very deliberately created this polarized climate and have given interest groups far more privileged access than we've seen in Washington in a century, out of power. Then us Democrats can have our debates and our fights, and sort out those few issues on which our agendas for the country truly diverge.

Feingold Exposes Centrist Plot

David Sirota said he "boldly did what so few Democratic politicians are willing to do: he told the truth about the corporate-funded Democratic Leadership Council" Charles P. Pierce at TAPPED called it "the best argument yet made against the DLC by someone not named David Sirota."I was naturally curious to read what motivated all this gushing, and discovered a rather peculiar rant by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) to a group of Wisconsin reporters that blamed the DLC for all the sins of the Democratic Party in the last decade or so.I was particularly interested to learn from Feingold that the DLC "came up with the health care plan with the Clintons that was so complicated nobody could understand it." Gee, I seem to remember that the DLC actually opposed the Clinton Health Plan. "They are the ones that coalesced with the big corporations to pass unfair trade agreements that hurt America." Funny: I thought maybe this guy named Bill Clinton--following the tradition of every Democratic president going back to Martin Van Buren--had a bit more to do with, say, NAFTA than anybody at the DLC. And here's my favorite "bold" attack: "Feingold said DLC consultants 'instill fear in Democrats' by saying opposition to the war would be taken as not supporting the troops.... "It’s the DLC that has cut off our ability to say things like, ‘Let’s get out of Iraq because it’s a bad idea."Until now, I had no idea what vast powers we exercise around here. Al From or Bruce Reed or somebody gets quoted in the papers, and Democrats fall silent in terror. And the stuff about "DLC consultants" is beautifully vague. Unless I'm forgetting something, the chief political consultant for the last two Democratic presidential candidates was named Bob Shrum, whose relationship with the DLC is about as warm as Ned Lamont's with Joe Lieberman.Look, folks, what the DLC does is to write policy papers, hold conferences, publish a magazine, and network among state and local elected officials. Three of us do blogs. Our staff is small by Washington think tank standards; our budget is a fraction of CAP's. Democrats are free to take the DLC's advice or leave it. It's hilarious to be told that attacking us represents some sort of profile in courage; it seems to have done wonders for the career of David Sirota, whose willingness to spit venom at the DLC has helped make him a quote machine in both the blogosphere and the mainstream media.So why the gratuitous outburst from Russ Feingold? It's not like many actual voters have ever heard of the DLC; hell, it took my own family about five years to internalize the fact that I worked for the DLC rather than the DNC. You have to figure Feingold was sending a signal to the segment of Democratic activists, old and new, for whom those three letters "DLC" have come to represent a sort of Unified Field Theory of recent Democratic electoral losses.You probably know the rap: soulless, poll-driven centrists in Washington sold out their principles for corporate cash, blah blah blah, lost Congress and the states, blah blah blah, spend all their time on Fox News defending Bush and attacking Democrats, blah blah blah, denied Gore his victory and "took down" Howard Dean, bark bark woof woof. It takes a lot of words, and maybe a few actual facts, to say all that, so just intoning "DLC" and hearing the instant cheers is a nice shorthand, and less politically risky than, say, frontally attacking Bill Clinton. The fact that this sort of code and the lurid narrative it signals makes the messenger sound a bit like a Larouchie off his meds is, I suppose, a small price to pay for the message it sends to listeners eager to hear it.The odd thing is that Russ Feingold is actually pretty popular here at Centrist Conspiracy HQ. He's usually refreshingly direct, and willing to be unorthodox in all sorts of different directions. But there's nothing in Democratic politics today more tediously orthodox than DLC-bashing. I do offer one suggestion to other bold, brave politicians out there: if you're going to do this, try and get the basic facts straight.

August 9, 2006

Bipartianship Sliced and Diced

In the wake of the Lieberman/Lamont campaigns, past and future, there's a renewed preoccupation across the progressive blogosphere about the nature of "bipartisanship." The general story line is that corrupt and weak Democratic centrists, lusting for the approval of the Two David B.'s (Brooks and Broder), are determined to cave in to Bush and the GOP in the name of "bipartisanship." This jogged my memory about a New Dem Dispatch back in January of 2001 about the likely trajectory of "bipartisanship" in the Bush era. Just for grins, and for the instruction of those who think the DLC is blind about Rovian partisanship, here it is again. Yes, it's long, but the subject is important and complicated.DLC New Dem Daily January 9, 2001Ten Kinds of BipartisanshipGeorge W. Bush's transition has been surrounded by a mist of unfocused talk about bipartisanship, which is said to be, along with an uncompromising commitment to his conservative campaign agenda, the most important principle guiding the first days of his administration. We thought it might be useful to bring a little clarity to the subject by outlining ten distinct types of bipartisan coalitions that have been put together over the years, and then considering which types we might see in the near future.1. The Base-In CoalitionThis strategy, pursued most successfully by President Ronald Reagan in his initial budget in 1981, involves uniting one party in Congress and then picking off sufficient members of the other to put together a majority.2. The Center-Out CoalitionAs the name suggests, this strategy begins with a bloc of like-minded moderates from both parties and gradually adds members from each side until a majority is achieved. The NAFTA, GATT and China PNTR trade bills during the Clinton Administration were enacted by center-out coalitions.3. The Outside-In CoalitionThis variety, typically used by incoming Presidents during their "honeymoon" period, involves the aggressive, direct stimulation of public opinion to push members of the opposing party, especially those from states or districts where the President is popular, to come across the line.4. The Inside-Out CoalitionBy contrast, the Inside-Out Coalition is put together through selective deal-making among members, and then sold to the public as a coherent product. Also known as "logrolling," the Inside-Out strategy reached its zenith in the last highway reauthorization bill crafted by the King of Asphalt, the now-retiring Rep. Bud Shuster (R-PA).5. The Big Barbecue(Rare and messy.) This is a variation on the Inside-Out Coalition, but on a grand scale, involving horse trading among the leadership of both parties and aimed at a near-universal consensus. The infamous 1990 budget agreement, which led President George I to violate his no-new-taxes pledges, is an example of a Big Barbecue.6. The Emergency CoalitionThis coalition traditionally emerges in support of the President during military actions, or, occasionally, during economic emergencies. The budget summitry that briefly emerged after the 1987 stock market plunge is an example of the latter.7. The Ideological CoalitionThis strategy was the standard operating procedure in Congress during the period between the New Deal and the Great Society when there were large numbers of liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, and ideology replaced party loyalty on many issues. Such coalitions still emerge on some issues, such as international trade, where coalitions of pro- and anti-trade Democrats and Republicans are common.8. The Regional CoalitionOn some issues, especially agriculture and energy policy, regional factors regularly trump party. There are some signs of regional fault lines on trade and technology policy as well.9. GridlockIt's not common to think of it this way, but partisan stalemate represents a bipartisan decision to maintain the status quo until the electorate provides a decisive election and the clear governing majority -- an event that the two parties have now been waiting for since 1980.10. Partisan "Bipartisanship"This strategy, which is not, of course, genuine bipartisanship, involves a sustained campaign to convince the public that the opposing party is the only obstacle to bipartisan progress, and that one's own party has an agenda that represents the real interests of all Americans. President Clinton's success in projecting his agenda as representing "progress, not partisanship," was the key to his recurring victories over Congressional Republicans in budget showdowns. Which of these ten types of bipartisanship are likely to be pursued by the new Bush Administration?The answer isn't yet clear, but it's important to remember the defining dilemma the President-elect has posed for the Republican Party. From the moment he announced his candidacy, George W. Bush has tried to achieve the maximum feasible change in the image of the Republican Party through the minimum necessary change in its ideology and agenda. He campaigned to "change the tone in Washington," to create a "different kind of Republican Party," and to pursue a new ideology of "compassionate conservatism," but was the unquestioned candidate of the conservative "base," and embraced a platform that was mostly composed of the age-old demands of the conservative movement.Given that dilemma, you'd have to guess that he'd like to redeem his pledge to pursue bipartisanship as quickly and as cheaply as possible so that he can then pursue his orthodox conservative agenda. That means he will promote the types of bipartisanship that involve the fewest real concessions to the opposition: Base-In Coalitions to pick off a few Democrats; Outside-In Coalitions to bring public pressure on the opposition; perhaps Inside-Out Coalitions on the Texas model to cut Democrats in on legislative deals; and above all, the Partisan "Bipartisanship" of constantly claiming that he embodies the genuine interests of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans.If that's the case, Democrats who are interested in real bipartisanship should refuse to accept the cheap variety, and raise the price for bipartisan cooperation. Then George W. Bush will finally be forced to choose between his rhetoric and his agenda, and we'll find out how different the real Republican Party actually is. Considering that this was published before the true Rovian nature of Bush's agenda became clear, and at a time when the mainstream media were assuming Bush would "go centrist" because of the nature of the 2000 election, I think this analysis was rather prescient, if I say so myself. But no matter what you think, it should be understood that Democratic "centrists" don't miss the point of Rovian polarization and what that means for genuine "bipartisanship." There are legitimate differences of opinion about how Democrats should respond to polarization, but no real argument that the word "bipartanship" has many meanings, some of them legitimate, some not so: at least ten.

Incumbents Lose

Now that virtually all of the votes are in, it's clear that Joe Lieberman narrowly (52%-48%) lost to Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary in CT, and that Cynthia McKinney decisively lost her congressional seat (59%-41%) to Hank Johnson down in Georgia-4. Lieberman indicated he'd go on to compete for his seat in November, as an independent. While McKinney's camp complained earlier tonight of supposed election machine irregularities, Johnson's margin of victory makes any sort of challenge by the incumbent impractical.

August 8, 2006

Where the Votes Are

I have no idea if anyone will be checking this blog tonight, but as of 9:30 p.m. EDT, the results from Connecticut and Georgia are showing that you don't know nuthin' if you don't know where the votes are coming from.Ned Lamont has a narrow lead over Joe Lieberman in CT with a little over half the precincts reporting, but who knows exactly what that means? The CW in the Nutmeg State is that the urban precincts come in much later than the 'burbs, which might mean Lieberman's surge is yet to come. But I'm only guessing here.I have a much better idea about where the votes come from in GA, and I have to tell you, the early reports showing that Hank Johnson is demolishing Cynthia McKinney in Georgia-4 are very premature. Yes, he's winning 3-1 with 18% of the precincts reporting, but every one of those precincts are low-vote, majority-white, Republican leaning precincts in Gwinnett and Rockdale Counties. Until boxes finally start coming in from Dekalb C0unty, where probably 95% of the votes in this runoff will be cast, there's no way to know what's really happening in this race.For those who care, the early returns from Georgia indicate that Jim Martin will almost certainly beat Greg Hecht for the Democratic nomination to run against Casey Cagle (the guy who beat Ralph Reed in a Republican primary) for Lieutenant Governor. Hecht's whole campaign was based on trying to generate an anti-Atlanta vote against Atlantan Martin; but early returns show Martin winning in Savannah, Macon, Columbus, and a number of other south and central Georgia counties. And he's winning easily in the north Atlanta suburbs as well.More later, if events justify it.

Finally August 8

Well, August 8 is finally here, and no matter what happens in the Connecticut Democratic Senate primary, it will be nice to read about something else in the progressive blogosphere for a while. Apparently turnout is remarkably high, and it's anybody's guess who that favors, though Joe Lieberman's campaign has repeatedly said its strategy depends on getting as many Democrats to the polls as possible. The polls will close in two and a half hours, so we'll know sooon enough. But I will also be paying attention to the 4th congressional district Democratic runoff in Georgia, where the very latest poll had incumbent Cynthia McKinney still trailing challenger Hank Johnson 53-40. Turnout there seems to be light.

August 7, 2006


As a baby boomer, I have a lingering affection for The Rolling Stone, and not only because I read its music reviews obsessively back in the day. The Stone also gave Hunter S. Thompson a platform for his brilliant quasi-political ravings.Musical trends being what they are, I stopped reading Rolling Stone a good while ago, but after getting quoted briefly in a piece about MoveOn last year (an event that impressed my teenaged stepson more than all the NPR appearances imaginable), the DLC press office gave me a copy. What struck me most was the 10-1 ratio of upscale apparel ads to all the other content put together, but what the hell, somebody's got to pay the bills.Still, I was moderately intrigued a few weeks back when my colleague Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, told me he had taken a call originally intended for me, from a Matt Taibbi, who was writing a piece for the Rolling Stone."Jesus, Will," I replied. "Don't you remember Matt Taibbi? He's the guy who did the New York Press piece a while back exposing you as the author of the 'loathsome' NewDonkey blog. You know, that fine bit of reportage accompanied by the crude grade-school drawing of Marshall Wittmann being sodomized by a moose.""Wish I had remembered his name," said Will. "I've done hundreds of interviews with hostile reporters over the years, but nothing like this. The guy apparently just wanted to shriek at me; he already knew the answers to all his questions."Taibbi's piece, which appeared last week, was about what you'd expect from a guy who knows all the answers before he asks the questions. The crux of his "analysis" was a lurid interpretation of the use of the terms "liberal fundamentalism"and "purge" in a New Dem Dispatch (which I drafted as editor of the NDD, but which, as always, reflected an institutional take, not necessarily my own) about the national campaign against Joe Lieberman. Check this out:

Let's be clear about what we're dealing with here. These people are professional communicators. They don't repeatedly use words like "purge"and "fundamentalist" -- terms obviously associated with communism and Islamic terrorism -- by accident. They know exactly what they're doing. It's an authoritarian tactic and it should piss you off. It pissed me off.
Aside from the fact that Taibbi appears to be perpetually P.O.'d without any particular encouragement, his "reasoning" on this point is a classic example of a smear posing as the exposure of a smear. As the NDD in question explicitly noted, the DLC started warning about the perils of "liberal fundamentalism" back in the 1980s, when nobody outside the CIA had ever heard of Osama bin Laden; then as now, "fundamentalism" refers to any set of intolerant, self-righteous beliefs. And I don't know where Matt Taibbi gets the idea that the word "purge" is any more associated with communism than with any other political movement. I probably know as much as any blogger in Christendom (with the exception of my colleague The Moose) about the history of communism, and I sure as hell don't "obviously associate" the term with Reds of any hue.But nevermind. Taibbi's shrewd explanation of my nefarious intentions was the necessary windup to the mighty anathema that concludes his piece:
The DLC are the lowest kind of scum; we're talking about people who are paid by the likes of Eli Lilly and Union Carbide to go on television and call suburban moms and college kids who happen to be against the war commies and jihadists.
The fact that nobody at the DLC has ever actually "gone on television" to say anything like that is inconvenient to Taibbi's "analysis," and thus not worth researching, much less modifying or discarding. As for the tedious "corporate paymasters" crap, Taibbi does not bother to find out, much less explain, why an organization "paid by the likes of Eli Lilly" opposed its top legislative priority of the last decade, the Medicare Rx drug bill. Or why us "paid agents of the commercial interests" have loudly, consistently, and repeatedly opposed Bush's economic policies, most especially each and every one of his tax cuts. Or why the "organization founded to help big business have a say in the Democratic platform" practically invented the term "corporate welfare," and has endlessly and redundantly called for ridding the federal budget and tax code of corporate subsidies.But why bother with such complications when you already know what the DLC is up to?Maybe the editors at The Rolling Stone, or some of its readers, think of people like Matt Taibbi as successors to the explicitly non-objective political commentary of Hunter Thompson. And to be sure, HST was capable of prophetic abuse like no one else. But he generally relied on his own interpretation of actual facts, not just his prejudices, and was more than capable of non-predictable positions, like his early support for Jimmy Carter's nomination for president in1976 (a position that would, if extrapolated to today's inter-progressive politics, undoubtedly be excoriated as support for Holy Jimmy, a reactionary corporate-backed warmongering southerner).Matt Taibbi's style of gonzo journalism, if that's what he's trying to practice, is more reminiscent of The Doctor's sad declining years, when he could still write the abusive catch-phrases, but forgot how to give them life, or a sense of decency and truth. Taibbi's sophomoric jibes are only ha-larious to people who already agree with him, and aren't particularly interested in any sort of nuance or persuasion. And the cheerleading for his piece in various segments of the progressive blogosphere is far more discouraging than all the fact-based DLC- or Lieberman-bashing past, present or future.

August 3, 2006


Having just praised a Kevin Drum post, I have to register a dissent from another one. Reacting to a blogospheric colloquoy, extending to Matt Yglesias and Noam Scheiber, about generational differences in perceptions among Dems that I seem to have sparked with a recent post or two about Lieberman, Kevin scolds us old folks for worrying about the influence of the Left in the Democratic Party at a time when we should all be focused on the opposition:

Why should anyone even moderately left of center spend more than a few minutes a week worrying about a barely detectable liberal drift in the Democratic Party? Will the tut-tutters not be happy until CEOs make 1000x the average wage instead of the mere 400x they make now and the 200x they made during the Reagan years? How much farther to the right do they want Dems to go?....Worrying about lefties in the Democratic Party when the GOP is led by a guy named George Bush is like worrying about the Michigan Militia when a guy named Osama is driving airplanes into your buildings. The fogies need to get real.

Let's put aside the slur about "fogies" wanting Democrats to move "farther to the right." I sure as hell don't, and I don't think the quite young Noam Scheiber does, either. And I plead innocent as well to the charge, made by Kevin elsewhere in his rather angry post, that Democrats whose formative experiences were in the 1980s and early 1990s are obsessed with the need to play off lefty excesses to establish their mainstream credibility. Maybe Mickey Kaus feels that way; clearly my colleague The Moose--who is not, for the record, even a Democrat--thinks that's what Democrats should do. But I don't. And let's remember why we are having this conversation. It's not because hysterical centrists are scouring the political landscape looking for lefties to demonize or expel; it's because there is a large and vocal body of opinion in the Democratic Party, some of it ideologically driven, some of it just partisan, that is deeply wedded to a particular interpretation of how the two parties got to their current condition. This interpretation heavily relies on the belief that in the 1990s and the early years of this century, a centrist, Clintonian Establishment sold out progressive principles, refused to fight against a disciplined Right, happily gave up Congress and a majority of the states, and essentially conceded defeat, in the pursuit of power and comfort, and the praise of David Brooks and David Broder. This is, indeed, a narrative widely shared in the netroots, and it has helped energize netizens to enlist in a conscientious effort to cleanse the Democratic Party of the centrist malefactors who let this happen.To the extent that this narrative is based on "facts" that some of us old fogies find to be empirically wrong, I don't think we should be blamed for pointing that out. Because in the end, this is really and truly a debate among Democrats about how--not whether--to drive Republicans from power in Washington and elsewhere. I'm happy to "get real" about that, but reality does involve an honest discussion of how we got where we are today.

The Minimal Wage

Props to Kevin Drum of Political Animal for noticing that the GOP's minimum wage-estate tax abomination increases (to $10 million) and then indexes for inflation the exemption from the estate tax, but does not index the mimimum wage at all. I guess that's not surprising, since most GOPers want to kill the estate tax altogether, and many would be happy if the minimum wage went away as well. Still, it's an interesting contrast: it's okay to let the value of the minimum wage continuously erode, affecting the most vulnerable working Americans, but not okay to let inflation snag a few wealthy families into paying the estate tax each year. I'm reminded of the term used by the character Jones in A Confederacy of Dunces for the statutory floor set on his earnings as a janitor at a New Orleans strip-joint: "the minimal wage." That's what it is, all right, and where it will remain if Republicans get their way.

August 2, 2006

Talkin' 'Bout Their G-g-g-g-eneration

At TAPPED, Matt Yglesias wrote a typically acute reaction to my post about the very different perceptions among Democrats of Joe Lieberman, the "D.C. Democratic Establishment," and the Clinton legacy. Matt thinks the disconnect is primarily generational.I agree in part. It has certainly occurred to me before that people coming of political age in recent years have experienced a truly weird series of events: (a) the first impeachment of an American president since 1867; (b) the first presidential election to go into overtime since 1876; (c) the first quasi-military attack on the continental U.S. since 1812; (d) the first successful presidential candidacy since 1948 wherein the winner eschewed the political center and appealed mainly to his ideological base; (e) two consecutive midterm elections that broke all the rules about the performance of presidential parties; (f) the first unsuccessful major U.S. military engagement since Vietnam; and of course, (g) the rise of a whole host of hyper-partisan media outlets, from Fox News to the blogosphere.But I have to dissent in part as well. It's not the reaction to recent events that gives me pause about the netroots interpretation of political life; it's the ex post facto take on much older political developments. There are two tenets held fiercely in the netroots that are particularly suspect: (a) the development of the "right-wing noise machine" of conservative think tanks and media outlets was the primary reason for the conservative ascendancy associated with the rise of George W. Bush; and (b) Clintonian "centrism" was primarily responsible for the loss of congressional and state-level Democratic majorities in the 1990s.This is not the time or place to supply a systematic smack-down of these two premises, beyond the observations that (a) both the rise of the GOP and the decline of the Democratic Party in the 1990s were rooted in an ideological realignment of the two parties that favored the Right, and (b) the pre-Clinton Democratic orthodoxy had much more to do with the decline of down-ballot Donkey fortunes than anything Clinton did or did not do.But the big point is that even if you think us old guys don't get it in terms of the current political climate (as a consistent chronicler of GOP responsibility for polarization, I plead nolo contendere), when it comes to the netroots pre-history of how Democrats got to where they are today, my g-g-g-eneration deserves a hearing.

August 1, 2006

Drinking Yourself Anti-Semitic

The psychodrama involving Mel Gibson's admitted anti-Semitic and sexist outbursts during a DUI arrest is one of those few occasions wherein celebrity antics reveal something a bit deeper than the fatuousness of Celebrity Culture generally.Gibson has owned up to what he said to arresting officers during the bust, including a plenary indictment of Jews for being "responsible for all the the wars in the world," and at least one nasty comment about a female officer on the scene. He's abjectly apologized and all. But his suggestion that his bigoted remarks were attributable to Demon Rum, and to a "struggle with alcoholism," are a bit strange, and represent an appeal to the Therapeutic Culture in whichno one is responsible for what they say or do Under the Influence of anything.It's a well-established truism, based on millennia of human experience with hootch, that the kiss o' the hops tends to peel back inhibitions and expose the true feelings of inebriants. Some would even say that up to a point (and Gibson's blood-alcohol rating during the bust did not indicate black-out levels of drunkenness at all), inebriation tends to cultivate a certain clarity and honesty about Life in the Big Picture. So it's not at all clear to me how taking the cure for booze-o-holia is going to cure Gibson of atavistic attitudes towards Jews or women.The whole issue, of course, stems from the well-founded concerns of Jews and Christians alike that Gibson's self-proclaimed cinematic masterpiece, The Passion of the Christ, played into anti-Semitic stereotypes of the relationship between Jesus Christ and his fellow Jews--the very sterotypes that fed many centuries of Christian persecution of Jews, culminating in the Holocaust.It wouldn't surprise anyone if Gibson decided to interpret the rejection of The Passion of the Christ by mainstream Hollywood as motivated by Jewish hostility to the lurid associations reinforced by his film. But given the vast profits he made, and the pervasive influence he's had on the conservative Christians who flocked to the cineplexes to see the flick and held showings in their sanctuaries, he's hardly in a position to pose as a victim.So: fine, let's all accept Gibson's apologies for what he said, and give him a chance to make amends. But it would be nice if ol' Mel would stop blaming John Barleycorn for his issues, and maybe admit his ongoing complicity in the most ancient and horrific of Christian heresies: anti-Semitism. It comes out of an entirely un-Christlike heart, not out of a bottle.