October 31, 2005
Food For Thought
You know, until I actually put it this way, I didn't really comprehend how offensive the Alito nomination really is. If Alito wins confirmation, there will be more Justices from Trenton, New Jersey than there will be women on the Supreme Court.
Think about that for awhile.
Politics of Alito
Politically speaking, I think John Cole's new guestblogger Tim is exactly right on all this. Bush had no choice other than to nominate Alito (or Luttig, or someone similar) to the Court. And that's important in mentally framing the debate: George W. Bush is running this nomination from a place of weakness. He did not nominate a hardliner because he trusted in his own strength, he nominated a hardliner because he learned he was no longer strong. Alito is a sop to the right, a base closer, red meat for radicals. And Democrats should remember that.
Scott's got lots of Alito resources over at this here link dump.
It's Not About Alito
My initial reactions to Alito are very. very bad. Some of my colleagues are more sanguine, but this truly does seem like the nominee we were all fearing. Alito is the reason I wanted to confirm Miers. We can argue back-and-forth over how much power the Supreme Court actually wields, but whether you believe them the most powerful branch or consigned to the margins, you still don't want them ruling the wrong way. This is a guy, then, who's fundamentally opposed to most everything I believe in, who advocates positions that I judge insane and strikes down laws (like the Family and Medical Leave Act) that're the bare minimum of what society should promise its citizens.
The Supreme Court is a symbolic institution. And the visions pursued by those perched there matter. Alito's vision of America is a dark place, and Democrats should be sure that voters know it. We may not be able to stop this nominee, but there are other ways to win the fight. Alito may prove more useful if rammed onto the Court atop voter objections. If we can win the debate about his ideology and force Republicans to rally round and confirm an unpopular nominee, he may prove more troublesome for them in success than failure. For decades now, Democrats have been losing the argument on Roe, getting tooled on the desirability of regulations, and being generally smoked on judicial issues because winning in the Courts had allowed us freedom to indulge losses in the public arena. Alito, if played right, can change that. The media attention will be there, the paper trail is there, and the stories of women with abusive husbands and workers who needed time off for medical treatment abound. This isn't about Alito, it's about competing visions for the country.
I've been trying to settle on the right word for the Bush administration's decision to start Alito off with a photo-op in front of Rosa Park's casket. For now, I'm going with "despicable", which just barely beat out "repulsive" and "enraging", but I'm open to other suggestions. This, is, by the way, an open Alito thread, share your links and knowledge.
You can see my first post on the guy over at Tapped. More to come on this soon.
David Sirota and I got into a big fight in the comments of a previous post. He referred to one of my comments criticizing him for misinterpreting other Democrats as a "smelly, steaming pile of manure." Manure is the dung of barnyard animals, and Sirota's comment might thus be taken to liken me to a barnyard animal. This would certainly be a happy thing -- the last two people I know of who were likened to barnyard animals by Sirota were Matt Yglesias and Mark Schmitt. I am pleased to be in such august company!
If you're offended that I just interpreted Sirota's manure comment in a way that doesn't fully comport with his actual intentions, please don't venture below the fold. I'm going to discuss some misreadings by Sirota that are far more drastic.
Yglesias says my point about the DLC disparaging so-called class warfare isn't true, nor is my point that they consistently tell Democrats "not to hammer corporations for their misbehavior and not to push for a serious crackdown on corporate excess." Not true? Bullshit. As just one example, see this where Will Marshall characterizes populism as so-called "anti-business" and "class warfare," claiming it will turn off voters – exactly what I said in my piece.
So what does Will Marshall actually say about class warfare?
The other pitfall Democrats should avoid is trying to trump cultural populism with economic populism. It drives liberals crazy that downscale voters who don't benefit much from GOP economic policies nonetheless backed Bush on cultural grounds. But since most voters don't neatly compartmentalize their ethical and economic concerns, simply turning up the volume on anti-business and class warfare themes isn't likely to change their minds. And heartland voters aren't likely to miss the unflattering implication that they're too dim to realize where their best interests lie.
Instead, Democrats should do a better job of linking their economic interests and moral outlook.
I bolded the "simply" because it's really important. If you're looking for the "anti-business" and "class warfare" bits, they're later in the same sentence. Marshall isn't saying that there's anything wrong with the anti-business class warfare stuff -- he's just saying that you have to do some other stuff too. You have to present it in a different way -- a morally charged way. One of the reasons I like John Edwards so much is that he's good at presenting good solid Democratic economic populism in a morally charged (and patriotic) way -- exactly the way that Will Marshall likes. If Sirota had read carefully, he wouldn't have been upset with this discussion of class warfare, unless he's opposed to moral rhetoric for some reason. He'd just say, "wow, Marshall says I can have all the class warfare and anti-business rhetoric I want, as long as I frame it in solid moral terms. I am a happy Sirota! I love the DLC!" Okay, maybe not that, but you get the idea.
The next bit of wild and wooly Sirota action in the comments is this:
Yglesias says this statement in my piece is untrue "On taxes, self-described "centrists" like Senator Joe Lieberman, a senior DLC leader, attacked proposals to repeal the Bush tax cuts to pay down the deficit." Then Yglesias goes on to admit my point was, in fact, true, admitting that Lieberman "said was that it would be a mistake to advocate (as Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt did) repealing all of Bush's tax cuts." Exactly.
Tell me -- where in Debunking "Debunking 'Centrism' does Matt say that statement is untrue, as Sirota claims? Matt's point, rather, is that Sirota is misleading. If Sirota had been more conscientious in his original piece, he would've pointed out that Lieberman wanted to repeal the parts of the Bush tax cuts that liberals most want to repeal -- the parts that go to the rich. Nowhere in Sirota's piece, "Debunking Centrism," does Sirota let the reader know that Lieberman wanted those most objectionable parts of the Bush cuts to go away. An innocent reader who came to Sirota's piece without knowing about Lieberman's actual tax proposal would think that Lieberman wanted to preserve the Bush tax cuts in their entirety. This wouldn't be an altogether terrible thing for someone to think, since there are plenty of reasons to be upset with Lieberman. Still, authors should strive to not write misleading things.
Now for the last verse, same as the first:
Finally, Yglesias said it was untrue that the DLC urges, as I said, "Democrats to jettison economic populism, which has been used to elect Democrats in various red regions in America." He claims that the document I cited – the DLC's heartland strategy – doesn't exactly say that.
Here we need the untrue/misleading distinction again. Yglesias doesn't say that Sirota said anything untrue -- he just juxtaposes partial quotes from Sirota with their context in the DLC pieces, and says, "that's rather different." The "heartland strategy" document Sirota is talking about is the very one that had the "anti-business" and "class warfare" stuff that was cited at the beginning of this post, and the points Matt made are a lot like the points I made, though he didn't extend the quote to pick up the moral stuff that I liked. (He did include the "simply", though.) Now, about that "Heartland Strategy" document -- Will Marshall never says that Democrats should jettison economic populism. He says they need to infuse it with moral rhetoric and make it all John Edwards awesome. (Marshall does not actually use the phrase "John Edwards awesome.") To show that Marshall isn't an enemy of economic populism, let me just quote another bit from the Marshall piece:
Just as religious advocates of the "Social Gospel" infused early 20th century progressivism with moral fervor, Democrats should couch their social initiatives in the language of faith and morality. The sad truth is that since Clinton's departure, Democrats have had little to say about growing poverty and inequality in America. Surely, they are moral issues no less than abortion and gay marriage, and they give Democrats an opportunity to speak unambiguously of right and wrong.
It's fairly populist to recommend saying more about "growing poverty and inequality" in a morally charged way. If someone were telling you to jettison economic populism, they probably wouldn't be saying something like that.
Sirota's last claim (which wasn't discussed in "Debunking 'Centrism'" or criticized in the Yglesias piece, as far as I can tell):
In fact, that is what the DLC does – attack economic populism. Al From, the DLC's president, actually publicly BRAGS about this. As reported in the American Prospect, he told reporters that in the 2000 election he "gave [Gore] a game plan to try to contain the populism."
Now let's see the context:
I talked to [Bob] Shrum, [Stanley] Greenberg, [Carter] Eskew, and Tad Devine," he says. "I did a memo to Gore. I actually gave him a game plan to try to contain the populism in a way that would do the least damage."
Wait... it looks like Sirota actually got the context right this time! Hooray for you, David Sirota! That didn't hurt, did it? Because that's what it feels like when you quote something correctly and in a non-misleading way. If you're ever wondering whether you're citing people the right way or the wrong way, look back at that statement, because that's the right way to do it! You have successfully shown me that Al From tried to hold back Gore's populism, and I believe you.
For the time being, however, it might be best for us not to put too much weight on Sirota's citations of other people, until he gets used to attributing views to those who hold them in a non-misleading way. As I said in the comments, I actually agree with him on a fair number of things, and I think he's a pretty solid and productive activist. There's nothing wrong here that a good education in reading comprehension and correct citation from a friendly barnyard werewolf couldn't cure.
October 30, 2005
Do Sexists Fall in Love?
Via Matt Yglesias, I see that Phoebe Maltz and Amy Lamboley have done their part in attacking an old conservative line about how women shouldn't have premarital sex with men if they want to get married -- "Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?" It seems to me, though, that the obvious answer has not yet come up.
Why would a single man marry a woman who's already having sex with him? Obviously, because he loves her, and wants her to be with him for the rest of his life. Maybe he also wants to be the father of her children. Being in love inspires men to do big things like marrying a woman and raising a family with her. Women have many wonderful attributes beyond being people whom one can have sex with. Some of these attributes might cause one to wish to be in a particular woman's company for the rest of one's life. (I feel like I'm stating excessively obvious things here, but the conservative view seems to depend on denying them. So I state the obvious things.)
If a man is getting married just so he can have lots of sex with a woman who wouldn't have him otherwise, he's making a mockery of marriage and an awful decision. Do the old sexists who say these things see their marriages as long-term prostitution contracts? Is the emotion of love entirely foreign to them?
What the Ohio Senate Discussion Should Be About
After reading the Majikthise-Dadahead exchange on Paul Hackett, I'm not especially happy with the arguments of either side. I haven't yet decided who I want to win the Ohio Senate primary, though I'm leaning towards Brown. (Like everybody else, I donated to Hackett's House race this year.) Below, I'm going to criticize both of their arguments, and present the state of the debate as I see it. I'm open to being convinced, but I don't think the arguments given so far are convincing.
Lindsay says that "The reason to support Hackett over Brown is simple -- if Hackett wins (and he can win), the progressive blogosphere makes history." She discusses Hackett's "ability to harness the power of the blogosphere" and says that he "owes the blogosphere." These arguments really don't move me. I care about helping poor people, preserving individual liberties from persecution, and having an intelligent and humane foreign policy. The progressive blogosphere making history is not very high on my list of interests. Even if it was, Hackett's Senate campaign is unlikely to be as closely tied to progressive blogs as his House campaign.
Hackett was able to harness progressive blogs because he was an aggressive opponent of the Iraq War whose military record made him surprisingly electable in a very red district. It's also because of the structure of a special election -- there were no other candidates that month to compete for bloggers' money, the relative news vacuum got Hackett national media attention, and some bloggers (like myself) saw fit to exploit the news vacuum by filling it with an attractive candidate's message, which would reflect well on Democrats. Many of these factors don't apply to the 2006 Senate race. Maybe a Hackett Senate campaign will get more money than his House campaign got, but he won't get enough to power a hard-fought Senate race in a big state while bloggers are also donating to defeat Katherine Harris and Rick Santorum, win open Senate seats in several states, and take back the House. It's also possible that a Hackett campaign might draw funds away from other important races.
Dadahead has criticized Hackett for claiming that Brown is "too liberal." If Hackett had actually said anything like this, it would be a problem -- I like liberal Democrats, and I dislike any Democrat who tries to damage another Democrat's electability by making them seem extreme. But it's not clear that Hackett actually said this. Dadahead gets his quote from David Sirota, who cites a sloppy Toledo Blade article in which Hackett is never quoted as saying any such thing. The reporter puts the "too liberal" charge in Hackett's mouth, but doesn't present any quotes to substantiate it. What Hackett actually seems to be saying is just that he'll have a wider appeal:
"I believe in the core values of the Democratic Party," Mr. Hackett said. "I'm not afraid to fight for them and my values. Some of them are conservative, including on Second Amendment rights.
"A Democrat in Ohio can get all of the Democratic votes in the northeastern and central parts of the state and still not get elected," he said. "It's got to be somebody who believes in the values of all Ohioans, and that takes winning over independents and conservatives."
So he's conservative on the gun issue. If you're big on gun control, vote for Brown. But I don't see the "too liberal" charge anywhere, except in the vague "values of all Ohioans" way that only touches Brown by a faint implicature. Maybe Sirota knows more than we do about this. But given his egregious history of misrepresenting the positions of Democrats he disagrees with, I'm not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Hackett's military background will be resistant to the kinds of attacks that Republicans wheeled in against Kerry. Hackett's cocky, aggressive attitude meshes much better with his military background than Kerry's stiff, senatorial persona did with his, and it'll earn Hackett a powerful media image. While Americans didn't see the relevance of Kerry's Vietnam service 30+ years ago to his attitude to Iraq today, Hackett's more recent service in Iraq gives him instant credibility on that issue.
To make my decision about whom to support, I'll need to know more about the candidates. I like Hackett's public persona, which will help him unseat DeWine. I also like the idea of having a somewhat stereotypical military man aggressively defending Democratic foreign policy views and strengthening our party's image on national defense. But he has to show me that he will actually be a strong force for liberal positions. (Somebody ask him about health care, please?) As for Brown, I'm in near-total agreement with his voting record -- I'm probably more of a free-trader than he is, but everything else, including his vote against the war and his support for foreign aid, looks pretty much right. I've heard great things about the organization he's set up in Ohio, which will help him beat DeWine. Brown still has to show me that he has an appealing enough public persona to win the election and help Democrats win media battles as a Senator.
So try to convince me. Tell me what Hackett's policy positions are, and tell me what kind of persona Brown has. Those are the areas that I and other undecided folk are in the dark about, and it's up to these candidates and their supporters to enlighten us.
Tough Talk With Chuck Schumer
By Pepper of the Daily Pepper
New York's Chuck Schumer gave "Face the Nation" viewers a treat this morning with the following line:
And the president ought to do his own internal investigation of the vice president's office, see what happened, set some standards, and if need be, take the vice president to the woodshed.
I'm more accustomed to imagining Cheney spanking Bush. I think that's a more likely scenario, but I like the sudden role reversal. But what would Bush say if he takes Cheney out to the woodshed? "I'm sorry, Dick, but this hurts me more than it does you?"
Bob Schieffer latched on to this statement like a kid who learned a new dirty word, asking two guests, Lindsey Graham and WaPo's Dan Balz, if indeed Bush should "take Cheney to the woodshed." Hearing Bob Schieffer talk that way was kind of fun. Now that the media has a hot new phrase, courtesy of Senator Schumer, is it a sign that they too will take the administration to the woodshed?
Reuters is already all over it, plugging Schumer's line into a recent story summarizing the Sunday-morning-talk-show call for investigation into the vice-president's office. Democrats have been in search for good bumper-sticker slogans, but now I think that the call should be "take 'em to the woodshed!"