April 30, 2006
Jay Rosen on Tony Snow
by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math
It's hard to figure out what to make of Jay Rosen's commentary on Tony Snow's job. Rosen, an NYU professor and media critic extraodinaire, believes the Snow appointment may signal a shift in the White House's press relations strategy, allowing for a more traditional give-and-take between the beat reporters and the Presidency. There are no guarantees, but maybe there's a chance. With all due respect to Professor Rosen, I have a hard time buying it.
Snow is a former HWBush speechwriter who worked for a blatantly partisan news outlet in his most recent gig. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But to suggest that he'll work to allow more press access because he's served on the other side of the anchor's desk just doesn't compute. It seems much more likely that Snow represents the second stage of what Rosen terms "Rollback" -- the elimination of opportunities to question the policy positions of the President. I suspect the White Hosue will continue to focus most of its PR energy on favorable news outlets: Fox, reactionary talk-radio, perhaps USA Today, magazines that might not be hostile to the President, and the more pliable local newspapers. Network news and the major national papers will be left with a choice—cover the President's beat, consisting of q&a with handpicked audiences and "reporting on the news" when he appears on Fox News or in a Washington Times interview, or cover nothing. Whether the Post/Times/ABC/NBC/CBS reporters will catch on to the new game, or think Snow represents a return to "business as usual", is the real open question.
Talking About Chickenhawks
After being treated to the strange spectacle of two right-wing bloggers (including one who should know better) calling out Amanda Marcotte for not going to Afghanistan, I think it's important to be clear about how this "chickenhawk" criticism actually works.
I've never thought the whole point of the thing was to criticize war supporters for lacking the physical courage to put their own lives on the line. There's actually something very sensible about wanting to avoid situations where you could get killed. The point is that they don't think enough about the lives of other people to apply this good sense to them.
There's plenty of good reasons why you might be in favor of a war, but choose not to fight in it. If you're doing AIDS research or something of similarly awesome value to humanity, keep doing that and don't go to war. If you're disabled or elderly, no obligation falls on you. And if we already have all the soldiers we need, there's no reason for you to go. There are probably a couple other reasons that I haven't thought of yet. But the selfish reason that the costs will fall on somebody else doesn't count.
In all the US military activities I've supported -- Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan -- there were good reasons for me not to go. We had plenty of trained personnel for these wars. But if it had turned out, for some reason, that America needed untrained, scrawny, too-wimpy-for-tackle-football guys like me to save hundreds of thousands of Bosnians from genocide, things might have been different. If I had been needed, and if I had known how carefully the Bosnian intervention would be conducted (zero combat fatalities) I'm pretty sure I would've signed up.
It seems to me that many supporters of the Iraq War are basically in that situation. Most people, probably including most war supporters, aren't curing deadly diseases or anything like that. (Having a family isn't enough of a reason not to go -- the government regularly sends parents to war, away from their spouses and children.) Lots of war supporters have the necessary physical capacity. And we need more troops, as stop-loss policies, the deployment of National Guardsmen, and Colin Powell will confirm.
War opponents often put the emphasis on the accusing side of the chickenhawk conditional: "If you think this war is such a great idea, why don't you sign up?" Personally, I think it works better the other way around -- "If you're not willing to sign up for this war, why do you think it's such a great idea?" Deep inside, all of us know what a shitty deal going off to fight in a war is. This isn't cowardice, it's knowledge. It's why we should be reluctant to send people off to war, why we should praise careful leaders who hold casualties to a minimum, and why we are so unwilling to sign up for military duty ourselves. Most war supporters have this knowledge -- it's why they don't go. My concern is that they don't apply their gut-level knowledge of the price of war when they decide to send others.
Defining the Center
Politically, defining the terms of the debate is important. A certain number of people are going to want to hold a nuanced, sophisticated middle-ground position on the Iran question. That's fine, that's the way the world works. The important question becomes what counts as nuanced and sophisticated. I took it as a good sign that in the latest New Republic Peter Beinart's column on Iran refers to my own column as "Not exactly subtle" and the main liberal take on the issue "too glib" while ultimately having much harsher words for Iran hawks. If that's the way things are going to play out, then I say so much the better for unsubtly and glibness on the part of those of us who'd prefer not to see another disastrous war.
It reminds me of something Paperwight once wrote:
Let us imagine that the choice put to the American People is "Death or Cake".
Democrats: What? Are you insane? Cake.
Centrists: Look, here Democrats, you need to back off of this shrill cake position and be reasonable. Compromise a bit. How about a cookie and a maiming?
Democrats: What? How about just a cookie, no maiming?
Centrists: Now, Dems, be reasonable. You have to meet the Republicans half-way. They want death. Seems to me that a little maiming isn't too much to ask.
Democrats: Wha? But death is insane. A cookie and a maiming is still insane. That's not much of a compromise. Why don't you ask the Republicans to ask for something that's not insane?
Centrists: Well, they did win the last presidential election by around 3% of the popular vote. That's clearly a mandate. You need to go their way. Do you want to be in the minority forever? Be reasonable. Maybe just a little maiming, like losing a foot or a couple fingers on your off hand?
Democrats: I really think just cake is the way to go. Maybe pie. Or some kind of food. But no death or maiming. I don't care if that's the Republican position. It's really insane.
Centrists: Well, you're going to lose my vote. I can't understand why you're so unreasonable that you won't accept some maiming.
All Hail Colbert
If you missed Stephen Colbert’s vicious takedown of Bush and the press at last night’s White House Press Correspondents dinner, I encourage you to head on over to Crooks and Liars and watch what they’ve got of it right now. You may also be able to catch rebroadcasts on C-SPAN throughout the day.
Editor & Publisher also has a nice recap with some of Colbert’s best lines:
Colbert, who spoke in the guise of his talk show character, who ostensibly supports the president strongly, urged the Bush to ignore his low approval ratings, saying they were based on reality, “and reality has a well-known liberal bias.”
He attacked those in the press who claim that the shake-up at the White House was merely re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. “This administration is soaring, not sinking,” he said. “If anything, they are re-arranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg.”
Colbert told Bush he could end the problem of protests by retired generals by refusing to let them retire. He compared Bush to Rocky Balboa in the “Rocky” movies, always getting punched in the face—“and Apollo Creed is everything else in the world.”
After he was through, Bush and Laura stomped out of there like they’d just witnessed themselves being burned in effigy—which they pretty much had.
Colbert got a very cool reception (which is a nice way of saying he bombed), but I don’t think he expected anything less. You don’t make any friends among an audience comprised of Beltway journalists with material like, “You should spend more time with your families, write that novel you've always wanted to write. You know, the one about the fearless reporter who stands up to the administration. You know—fiction.”
And the whole time Colbert the pitbull gnawed on Bush’s jugular, he continued to periodically turn and look evenly at Bush, holding his gaze and addressing him directly as “Mr. President.” Bush looked back at him with a face of stone (save for one time when Colbert flubbed a set-up). Standing in front of a room full of people who didn’t, couldn’t, laugh, letting them have it with everything he’s got, sweating bullets, Colbert would look dead at Bush and never blink. In the midst on the onslaught, he even dared, “Mr. President, I’m so pleased you’ve agreed to be on my show. How does Tuesday work for you?”
Brass balls, baby. Big ones.
Off To The Great University in the Sky
RIP, John Kenneth Galbraith, 97, and one of the giant's of modern liberalism. I still think his countervailing powers theory is the single most powerful and illuminating concept for those seeking to understand the nature of the modern economy and the reasons we need an activist government coupled with a vibrant labor movement.
April 29, 2006
This Is Nuts
The LA Times stripped Michael Hiltzik of his column because he posted some anonymous comments on rightwing blogs? He didn't lie, or misrepresent the facts, or buy into spin, or lose his intellectual vibrancy, he just assumed a pseudonym to engage some detractors in their comment sections? And so they killed his column, which was one of the most informative, erudite, and sharply written efforts in the country? And while Hiltzik, with his deep understanding of complex policy matters and his skill for distilling them for laypeople, languishes in the paper's purgatory, Jonah Goldberg and Rosa Brooks will continue tossing up their banal entries week after week?
Something's wrong here.
This Shit Doesn’t Happen in a Void
A topic about which I write with some frequency at my place is the role played by conservative media shills as conduit between conservative extremists and their mainstream representatives in the conservative movement, putting an acceptable sheen on radical turds and passing them along into the epicenter of movement thought. It’s one of the most important services provided on behalf of the increasingly socially radical GOP by the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, and Michelle Malkin, and it’s the primary reason—even greater than their mendacity, their hubris, their general loathsomeness—that I despise them.
To wit: Via Paul the Spud, Michelle Malkin recently commenting on the Spanish National Anthem (non)issue, singing a refrain that has long been a standard in her collection of greatest hits: “Whose anthem, whose flag, whose country is it, anyway?” You’re only a patriot if you sing the National Anthem in English, dammit—a barely cleaned-up version of the the smugly issued, “This is America; speak English!” that gets barked at even people with thick accents (like my Scottish immigrant husband, whose native language is English) by xenophobic idiots who apparently don’t realize we are a nation of immigrants. Then, yesterday, President Bush on the same topic: “[T]he National Anthem ought to be sung in English. And I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English, and they ought to learn to sing the National Anthem in English.”
“Learn how to speak English!”—a contemptuous shorthand for only English-speakers are real Americans—has been screamed at immigrants for decades by nationalistic tools. Malkin and her cohorts gussy it up a bit, and frame it as a “national security” and “economic” issue associated with undocumented (mostly Hispanic) workers. Bush and Co. turn it into a policy issue. Suddenly, my grumpy old neighbor’s muttered “Damn furners!” has become the basis for a federal initiative. It’s not that there aren’t legitimate security concerns to be considered, for example, but the real impetus of the policy is turning out the base vote by appealing to prejudice.
Yesterday, I spent nearly the entire day writing about a case in a predominantly white Houston suburb in which two white teens—at least one of whom is known as a white supremacist—beat, sodomized, stabbed, and poured bleach on a Hispanic teen while shouting racial epithets, because, they allege, he had “tried to kiss a Hispanic 12-year-old girl at a party,” a claim investigators have not yet confirmed. The teenage victim remains in critical condition, hovering between life and death, after his attackers kicked the PVC pipe they had used to sodomize him so far up into his body that he was left with “major internal injuries and organ damage.”
Investigators are suggesting that because the two perpetrators were using drugs and alcohol, a fight was simply inevitable and race isn’t a factor—even in spite of their shouting racial slurs during the attack and at least one having a history of parading around with swastika-emblazoned flags through his neighborhood on Martin Luther King Day.
And all I can say is: Get real. This shit doesn’t happen in a void.
When we read that nearly 20% of American high school students experience physical assault on the basis of sexual orientation, and a doctor who performs abortions—and was already shot by a radical anti-choicer—has become the target of a campaign to hold him “accountable for his actions that have caused untold misery and loss of life,” and a Hispanic teen is beaten and raped within an inch of his life by two white teens as they hurled racial epithets at him, we must necessarily consider what forces legitimize such actions in the minds of the perpetrators. And we need look no further than the GOP and their ever-so-helpful message enablers, as each incident is representative of one of their key wedge issues: gay marriage, abortion, and immigration.
When real people are used as fodder to garner votes born of bias, those real people are inevitably endangered. Politicians and their well-paid water carriers cannot continually demonize a group of people and then claim naivety that the fuckwit homophobes, radical anti-choicers, and racists on whose votes they are dependent for their continued supremacy actually treat those groups as demons, monsters under the bed who threaten our very way of life. We should expect nothing less for a disingenuous wedge issue designed by the likes of Karl Rove to exploit the prejudices of the GOP base to translate into action that leaves victims of policy also victims of violence.
The GOP, now so inextricably dependent upon bigotry to put them (and keep them) in office, is no longer a legitimate political party. They are a collection of hatemongers who overtly seek to convince poor white bigots that they are privileged, and that their privilege can be used to oppress the weak, convincing them with the help of their loyal enablers that life would be better if only gays and feminists and racial minorities weren’t around. They use these people’s hatred of others to mask the real reasons life sucks for poor whites—tax breaks for the rich, rewarding companies who offshore, largesse toward corporations designed by lobbyists at the expense of Americans’ pocketbooks. As long as the gays, feminists, and racial minorities stand between the GOP and their poor base with targets on their backs, the GOP will continue to hide behind them, shouting, “Ready, aim, fire!”
This shit doesn’t happen in a void.
There used to exist a gap (some might argue quite a small one; I think it was bit greater than that) between extremist conservative elements and the insitutional GOP, but a bridge has been built by those willing to transfer and legitimize extremist thought, to turn prejudice into policy. On 24 hour cable news networks, on talk radio, in newspapers, in blogs…they serve as channel and filter, moving so much fetid sewer water through until it comes out drinkable on the other side for those who are desperately thirsty and not especially picky.
O’Reilly, Coulter, Hannity, Malkin—we often treat them as jokes, but they are not amusing. They are translators of a vicious language that would not have a place in the public sphere were it not for their careful redesign.
David Neiwert at Orcinus regularly delves into this topic with passion and eloquence, which is why he is one of my favorite bloggers (even though I nearly always manage to spell his name wrong). If you’re not a regular reader, check him out.
It All Makes Sense Now
I'm often confused by the energy in the anti-estate tax movement. I mean, a somewhat serious tax on massive inheritances seemed so broadly, obviously supportable to me that I could never quite understand how politicians and activists were generating such enthusiasm for its repeal. But this report (via The Labor Blog) from Public Citizen and United for a Fair Economy clarified things in a hurry:
"Members of a handful of super-wealthy families have quietly helped finance and coordinate a massive campaign to repeal the estate tax.
These families – the members of which own the first and third largest privately held companies in the United States and hold about a 40 percent share in the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart – stand to save a whopping $71.6 billion if their bid succeeds.
They have relied on their fortunes, the resources of their companies and their business connections to marshal a massive anti-estate tax juggernaut that has reported nearly a half-billion dollars in lobbying expenditures ($490.3 million) since 1998."
Republicans, and certain vichy Democrats, love to warn against the dangers of class warfare. And they're right, it is dangerous. But only to the working class, who are being routed in a conflict that the intelligentsia keeps assuring us isn't actually happening. And this report won't change that consensus. The Joe Kleins of the world will hunch down, kindly tousle our hair, and assure all of us that, figuratively speaking, there is no spoon. And soon, there will be no estate tax, either.
Tim Cavanaugh is writing in bad faith:
what's the clear categorical distinction between intervening in Iraq (which I think it's fair to say Clooney and many other Darfur hawks opposed) and this one? Why does it always seem like progressives support any intervention that clearly does not advance any American interests? (I don't think invading Iraq advanced our national interests, but people made that case, which you definitely can't in the case of Sudan.)
The crucial question here is, of course, what constitutes the national interest. Cavanaugh doesn't think invading Iraq was in the national interest, and nor did Clooney, or many of the "Darfur hawks" (it's indicative of the post's intellectual dishonesty that Cavanaugh tags Clooney for denying the benefits of a war Cavanaugh thought senseless and harmful). So they didn't support the invasion. Seems about right. Indeed, Cavanaugh seems to forget how few recent American invasions actually have been clear cases of the national interest. The Afghanistan invasion, which "Darfur hawks" supported, was such a case, and the unanimity around that venture demolishes Cavanaugh's implication.
As for his plaintive query regarding all these humanitarian hawks who support invasions that don't measure up to the cool calculations of foreign policy realists, what he's actually talking about is support for genocide interventions in Rwanda, Kosovo, and Darfur. And while such instances may not be exemplars of the national interest, many of us believe that stepping in to prevent the wholesale extermination of a people is in our interest as human beings. Cavanaugh wants to spin that into some wooly-eyed weakness or, better yet, subtle attempt to undermine the country's international welfare. That, it seems, is his interest.
The Common Good and Iran
by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math
Matt Yglesias levels the most effective criticism of the Tomasky-Teixeira-Halpin Common Good/Politics of Definition recommendations, which is that it sidesteps issues of foreign policy. All the domestic reframing in the world will not eliminate the Republican advantage on
launching ill-advised wars national security and related issues. Over one third of voters cited "Iraq" or "terrorism" as the most important issue, and Bush won these voters 59-41.
While I find the "common good" frame incredibly seductive, Matt's almost certainly right. Reframing support for universal health care, the minimum wage, and fighting global warming as self-interest best expressed as group interest—that's the easy part. Finding convincing foreign policy principals to compete with, to paraphrase The Onion, "kill the bastards" [$1 to whoever can find a link to the article I'm talking about] is the difficult question that's not getting enough attention.