March 06, 2007
On Macho, Macho Men And Manly, Unshaven Girls
I really liked Glen Greenwald's take on the (latest) Ann Coulter bit of blather. He discusses a conversation on Fox last night between Kirsten Powers, Bill O'Reilly and Michelle Malkin; Malkin makes the observation that Coulter is "very popular among conservatives", and Greenwald makes the following point:
This is why -- the only reason -- Coulter's remarks are so significant. And the significance lies not just in this specific outburst on Friday but in the whole array of hate-mongering, violence-inciting remarks over all these years. Its significance lies in the critical fact that Malkin expressly acknowledged: "She's very popular among conservatives." The focus of these stories should not be Coulter, but instead, should be the conservative movement in which Ann Coulter -- precisely because of (not "despite") her history of making such comments -- is "very popular." (Note, too, that Malkin urges that Coulter be shunned not because her conduct is so reprehesensible, but because her presence "is not going to be a help" win the 2008 election).
Coulter's use of a gay epithet to try to insult John Edwards was wrongheaded on many levels, not the least of which is the fact that persons who are gay are rightly offended that the state of being who they are--and the language used to describe this state--was, and is, being used to engender slurs with which to attack another person who clearly isn't gay (in this case, Edwards). They object to people using "gay" and "faggot" and worse as slurs because so doing implies that the word, and the state of being, is somehow negative. Surely thoughtful persons of all political persuasions would agree that it's time to denounce, and put a stop to, this nasty habit. Coulter didn't literally mean that Edwards was gay; rather, she used the word to imply that John Edwards was a sissy, a girly-man, a person who isn't macho. And to a large sector of her conservative audience, machismo--or, more pointedly, the appearance or outright illusion of machismo--is the be-all and end-all of electability. Greenwald notes:
As critical as it is to them to feminize Democratic and liberal males (and to masculinize the women), even more important is to create false images of masculine power and strength around their authority figures. The reality of this masculine power is almost always non-existent. The imagery is what counts. [.....] Just as what matters is that their leaders prance around as moral leaders (even while deviating as far as they want from those standards), what matters to them also is that their leaders play-act as strong and masculine figures, even when there is no basis, no reality, to the play-acting.
Ronald Reagan never got anywhere near
the militarywar (claiming eyesight difficulties to avoid deployment in World War II), and he spent his life as a Hollywood actor, not a rancher, yet to this day, conservatives swoon over his masculine role-playing as though he is some sort of super-brave military hero. Meanwhile, Jimmy Carter, who actually graduated the Naval Academy and was assigned to real live nuclear submarines, is mocked as a weak and snivelling coward who should not have a ship named after him.
And the ultimate expression of faux, empty, masculine courage and power is, of course, the Commander-in-Chief himself -- the Glorious Leader whom John Podhoretz hailed in the title of his worshippful cult book as The First Great Leader of the 21st Century -- with the ranch hats and brush-clearing pants and flight-suit outfits that would make the Village People seethe with jealousy over his costume choices.
Exactly. As a progressive, feminist woman who writes online, I'm often the target of such comments as "You're just another grubby man-hating liberal chick who should consider shaving her legs and looking in the mirror once in a while, " or worse. And this from people who have never met me, who know nothing about me. Based on my limited experience thus far with this relatively new medium (blogging), I second Greenwald's observation: there are an awful lot of conservatives out there wishing to masculinize progressive women while feminizing progressive men. One has to wonder what sort of confusion they must face every day, going out into a world in which female pilots, male nurses, gay football players, and straight male ballet dancers are now so commonplace as to be unremarkable. To my mind, this persistent need to pigeonhole people according to a narrow set of gender-based attributes signifies a troubling lack of awareness, not to mention a profoundly starved imagination. When all else fails (and all else is failing rather spectacularly, I'd say), call your male opponent a sissy or suggest that your female one is ugly or hairy and "can't get a man". It's beginning to look a bit desperate, don't you think?
And just for the record, this progressive woman--one who not only managed to "get herself a man" but also gestate and birth three smaller versions thereof--does wear makeup. And I do shave my legs. But I also climb trees, swear like a longshoreman, drive really fast, and loathe doing the laundry. Perhaps I'm a centrist after all!
June 24, 2006
If You Can't Find a Donkey, Ride the DINO
Whenever I read posts like this by Jedmunds, I feel a need to say something about what a Senate majority means. Jedmunds is rooting against Sen. Maria Cantwell in her re-election race because she has dumb views on the Iraq War and voted against the Alito filibuster. I think Cantwell's views are dumb too, but it's important to keep the big picture in mind here. In some cases, a Senator contributes more to progressive causes as a mere matter of party affiliation than by her actual votes.
Control of the Senate, whether by one vote or a dozen, means a Democratic majority on every Senate committee, Democratic chairmanship of all committees, power to subpoena witnesses when investigating the executive branch, and a number of other procedural powers that must not be left in Republican hands. Winning either chamber of Congress in 2006 would allow us to conduct real investigations of the Bush Administration. The betting markets give us only a 19% chance of retaking the Senate this year, but I think we stand a pretty good chance of getting it in 2008, when many more Republicans than Democrats are up for re-election.
And can you imagine what it'll look like if January 2009 rolls around and we control both chambers of Congress, and John Edwards is president? It's time for universal health care and fixing poverty and taxing the rich and raising the minimum wage (which Cantwell supports) and appointing judges who respect women's rights. Even if Cantwell votes against us sometimes (or hell, even if she votes against us all the time), she'll help simply by allowing for Democratic chairmen and a Democratic majority on all the committees that we need to pass our proposals through. And no matter who's president, I'm a lot happier with subpoena power in Democratic hands than in Republican ones.
If you don't want to vote for Cantwell for Cantwell's sake, that's okay. Then vote for her for the sake of Barbara Boxer and Russ Feingold and Ted Kennedy and Barack Obama and Chris Dodd and (let's hope) Sherrod Brown and Sheldon Whitehouse and Ned Lamont, all of whom will be more powerful under a Democratic majority, because they'll rise in power on their committees, get to serve on more powerful committees, and get subpoena power for any investigations they want to conduct. And vote for her to smooth the passage of so many wonderful things if we get President Edwards or another good Democrat in 2009.
April 02, 2006
I've seen people remark on this phenomenon in a couple of places, but nobody seems to have a good explanation for it, so I'll just bring it to your attention and see if anybody has any hypotheses. When you look at the net approval ratings of our nation's governors, the most popular Democrats are almost all from red states. Of the top 12 Democratic governors, 10 are from red states and 2 are from blue states. The effect spans all regions of red America -- the West, Midwest, and South all have their popular Democrats. Then there's a big gap, and you get the bottom nine Democrats, only one of whom is from a red state. With Republicans, the correlations are much weaker, but it looks like the general direction is similar. I wonder how long-standing this phenomenon is -- back in '94, Democrats Jim Hunt of NC and Evan Bayh of IN were the nation's top governors just after the GOP landslide.
It makes sense that governors would be somewhat insulated from national sentiment, since they don't have to obey the party leadership and they can focus on more local issues. But this inverse effect is just weird. What's going on?
March 19, 2006
Laws are for Lawyers, Politics is for Politicians
Despite my anti-Feingold broadside below, I think that there is a reasonably good political case to be made for censure. It's important that we see how this case goes.
First let me explain how it doesn't go. There is no great mass of voters out there who will learn the law, look at what Bush did, determine that Bush broke the law, and come to support the Democrats because they support censuring Bush for his illegal acts. For this to happen, Americans would have to learn the law. Any plan that involves the American people applying laws that they did not know at the end of junior high school will fail. If we try to educate them on the law, they will not learn. Republicans will advance bullshit interpretations of the Constitution on which Bush can invent eight new laws each day, the media will go he said/she said on everything, and the only people who will be convinced by us will be the ones who were disposed to agree with us from the start.
So what is the political case for censure? It depends on the American people not liking Bush very much, and being spurred to vote against candidates who protect him. As SUSA shows us, no competitive state likes Bush very much -- Ben Nelson has no strong opponent in 49-48 Nebraska, while Montana has turned against Bush 44-49. For Bush, it goes downhill from there. One problem I noted with Lizza's TNR piece was that he used Bush's performance in 2004 to determine whether a state likes him -- essentially using polling data that is 16 months old. I don't think that this is anywhere near the best issue on which to attack -- polls show that we're doing better on lots of other things than on censure, but it's one that can be tied to Bush himself an especially direct way. Using this issue to link DeWine and Burns and Chafee to Bush is basically what we're trying to do.
As Ezra points out in the post immediately below this one, censure isn't a big deal. And even if we actually moved heaven, earth, and moderate Republicans to pass a censure resolution, Bush would just shrug it off and keep doing the illegal stuff that he is doing. The idea that Feingold is actually doing something to harm Bush by pushing this resolution has no basis. (His Patriot Act battle was, obviously, different -- there was actual policy embedded in there.)
February 26, 2006
Don't Feed the Regionalism Monster
Atrios is talking about boycotting South Dakota in light of their near-total ban on abortions. Roxanne and Amanda don't think that's a good idea. I'm with the ladies on this one -- as they point out, a boycott would harm lots of poor hard-working women, and it's very unlikely that it would accomplish anything.
The point I'd like to add here is that one of the least-understood forces causing trouble for progressives everywhere is red-state regionalism. Making the abortion issue look like some kind of battle between left-wing coastal elitists and ordinary Americans from the flyover states will make it even harder for us to fix things in the Dakotas and elsewhere. Here I want to quote one of the best comments from my personal blog, which my Nebraska ex-roommate posted shortly after the 2004 elections:
Red-staters (myself included) have a serious inferiority complex with respect to people on the coasts. Whether easterners consider themselves elite or not is really besides the point. The fact is people in the Midwest (I don't know the South) suspect that easterners think we're just a bunch of ass backwards hicks, and we worry and worry about showing that (i) we're not, and (ii) we don't care what they think anyway. Part of the reason Bush goes over so well in the Midwest is that he's one of "us" -- yeah, yeah, he's privilleged, but he speaks naturally in religious terms, which counts for a lot. Voting for Bush is actually a sort of populist move for many red-staters: it's a way of saying fuck you to the elite easterners who think they know everything and put us down. I actually think the gay marriage results are partly (though certainly not entirely) a reflection of this sentiment.
People in the Mountains, the Midwest, and especially the South are deeper into their regionalism than people on the coasts are, so having a particular position coded as the Midwestern/Southern view makes it politically stronger than having it coded as the NY/DC/California position. (By the way, if you haven't read John Rogers' brilliant post on regionalism and what Democrats can learn from standup comedy, please do. I'm probably going to vote for it as post of the year when the Koufax voting gets on.)
I'd guess that the greater appeal of regionalism in the interior of the country is part of why the predominantly coastal punditocracy tends to underestimate its significance. David Brooks is one of the few pundits who really understand regionalism. Of course, he expresses his understanding not by describing it, but by doing whatever he can to intensify and increase it. Part of his job in the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy is to feed the media caricature machine with pictures of Democrats as sophisticated elitists who sneer at the salt-of-the-earth working folk from the plains, and he does his job well. Elsewhere, you see Bush clearing brush on his Crawford ranch, making sure that years in Washington don't dilute perceptions of him as an ordinary fella from Texas. After eight years and more in DC, Al Gore stopped looking like an ordinary fella from Tennesee, and that was the end of him.
Making the abortion ban into another gay-marriage kind of issue with which red-staters can say "fuck you" to blue state elitists, then, is a very bad idea. So what do we do? I like Amanda's suggestion of using this issue to rally support among unmarried women everywhere, though I don't know the numbers on how many extra votes we can pick up that way. (As she points out, they're already a reliable Democratic bloc.) The other big thing is to defend our values without inciting regionalism by running a pro-choice red-state Democrat with common-man appeal in the next presidential election. You know who I'm thinking of.
October 24, 2005
With much of the blogosphere all aflutter about Sherrod Brown's decision to redirect his ads towards ActBlue's fund for whoever wins the primary, it's worth calling his move what it is: savvy. Not charity, not kind, but a spot of smart political jujitsu. Brown's got an impressive war chest, a large fundraising base, and a huge financial head start. By giving the undecideds online the option to simply contribute to whomever wins, Brown is drying up funds that Hackett was hoping to have.
Now, there's nothing wrong with that, it's brilliant and speaks very well of his political abilities. But we in the blogosphere shouldn't get so snookered by it. It's not a classy move and it's not an act of selflessness. The couple tens of thousands the netroots would've given don't matter to Brown, but they're Hackett's financial lifeblood. I should say, here, that so far as I have a dog in this fight, it's Brown, who I think would be a far superior senator, should still call a spade a spade. Further, that spade is advertising on my site, and since I want Brown and think he'll win, I encourage you to donate. Ads on your left.
October 21, 2005
Put Down The Race Card
This is absurd. Hillary Clinton's lack of support for Fernando Ferrer's mayoral campaign can be construed as a lot of things, from a conviction that Ferrer isn't a good candidate to an a cravenly opportunistic decision to avoid a sinking ship. But you know what it isn't?
For Armando to label Clinton's tepid backing for Ferrer as a lack of commitment to minorities is beyond nonsensical, it's wrong. Contemporary politics includes a number of pitched battles that have real, resonant effects on underprivileged ethnic groups, and if Clinton is fighting against Section 8 housing, Medicaid funding, or financial aid, you've got your case. But she's not. After hosting Ferrer's largest fundraiser and having Bill Clinton record robocalls for him, her support for an underwhelming candidate is being called lackluster. And, compared to her support for other, better, candidates, the description's apt. But she's in good company, since, so far as I can tell, New York's response to Ferrer is substantially less enthusiastic than even Clinton's.
So if you want to tag Clinton for her lack of party fealty, go do your thing. But unless you're willing to criticize her bigoted decision not to raise money for Maryland's Michael Steele -- a black man! -- leave race out of this. Ferrer's a poor candidate and politicians have the right to offer lukewarm support to mediocre, clearly losing campaigns. Call it bad strategy if you want, but it's not race-related.
October 10, 2005
Yes, But Is It Working?
Over at The Washington Monthly's place, Jacob Hacker and and Paul Pierson are doing the guest-blogger thing, explaining and working through ideas from Off Center. Should be fun. But while they're around, I'd like to see them reexamine their premise a bit. While the continued electoral success of ideological extremists is a bit of a head scratcher, the furtherance of their agenda has not, so far as I can tell, been going according to plan:
In this first entry, however, we want to focus on what we consider the biggest and most important puzzle. If the GOP has moved so far off center, why hasn’t it provoked a backlash, or, at a minimum, found its agenda completely stalemated?
But haven't they? I mean, sure, they've passed some candy-and-ice-cream proposals like tax cuts, they've been bright about under-the-radar regulatory changes that can have far-reaching impacts, and they've engaged in some fairly impressive foreign policy adventurism, but their agenda, such as it goes, can't count much to its name. Slashing taxes without cutting spending -- and both Bush and Newt have tried and failed to cut entitlement spending, notable on Medicare and Medicaid -- is no great feat, it's just kicking the reckoning down the road. Social Security privatization failed, the expanded drug benefit passed; abolishing the Department of Education failed, expanding federal funding and regulatory control through No Child Left Behind passed; the federal marriage amendment failed, stem cells passed; and so on.
The question of how extremists get elected is a good one. At the national level, Bush ran as a moderate in 2000 (and lost the vote) and then campaigned as a warrior in 2004, so that may be part of it. So too does the traditional GOP lead on national security appear to be paying dividends now -- while Republicans may wave buh-bye to the center domestically, they tend to represent large swaths of it in their attitude abroad (though that may now be changing). But the fact remains that while the moderate middle hasn't kept the crazies out of office, neither Gingrich's Revolution nor DeLay's Parliament has been able entrench the conservative agenda. The easy sells, like tax cuts, are sunsetted and, without spending slashes, heading for certain reversal. The tough sells, like privatization, have failed outright. And the cost of continued power has been the institution of a raft of liberal-sounding policies, from an expanded Medicare program to NCLB.
October 09, 2005
Mystery of the Missing Voter
The key statistic from the post below is a striking one indeed. Shakespeare's Sister points out that in 2004, the national median income was $35,100, while the median income of the electorate was $55,300. In other words, poor people are voting at a much lower rate than rich people. Then she cites Cernig's view that "they don't vote simply because neither Republicans nor Republican-Lites have policies that address their concerns!" There's some truth in this claim, but a lot more error.
Democrats support a bunch of policies that directly benefit poor people -- in particular, raising the minimum wage and expanding the EITC. Republicans, by contrast, push for cuts in all sorts of antipoverty spending, from Social Security to Section 8 housing vouchers to Medicaid to home heating assistance. When you add superior Democratic economic management, this all makes a difference -- the poverty rate fell from 15.1% to 11.3% over Clinton's two terms, and rose each year in Bush's time. We certainly could offer a lot more than we're offering, and I think we absolutely ought to. But the fact that poor people aren't coming out at the same rate as the rich and voting for Democratic policies that are clearly better for them makes me suspicious of claims that larding on more genuinely helpful initiatives will be enough to turn out more poor voters. I wish I could regard increases in antipoverty spending as a means to win elections, but barring some really special stuff (which I'll describe further down) I'll have to regard them merely as an end in themselves.
The problem is compounded by the fact that Democrats don't control the government, and have controlled it for only 2 years of the last 24. If we actually could pass some ambitious antipoverty policies like free health care for kids, we could make it immediately obvious to poor people that the Democrats are their friends. (Make no mistake, we tried real hard in our two years, with a plan for universal health care. And at midterm elections, we were completely crushed. O poor huddled masses, where were you?) When you're not in power, you just have to argue that your policies will be better. And then you're subject to the difficulties Nick points out:
They look at Kerry talking about his health care plan, they look at Bush talking about his health care plan, and in the rush of a few 90 minute debates, it can be very hard to tell the difference. So, they look at the personal qualities of the candidates, with the idea that those personal qualities will somehow reflect the behavior of the candidate once he's in office. Some voters are in fact looking at the candidate's views on abortion and gay marriage in that way.
I see two things we can do about this. First, we can offer antipoverty measures so bold and exciting that Republicans won't be able to offer an obfuscatory proposal with a similar name that can be confused with our awesome proposal. Given the awesome ability of Republicans to obfuscate and the total inability of the media to cut through their obfuscation, this is going to be a tall order. I really don't know how the obfuscation games will play out -- if we offer a plan that funds health care for all children, and the Republicans offer tax deductions for childrens' health care, will poor people know that our plan helps them a lot while the Republican plan does nothing for them? I hope so, because otherwise it's hard to see what we can do.
The second thing is to make sure we absolutely blow away the Republicans in the "personal qualities of the candidates" game. If we want to show that we are the party that will help poor people, it'd be great to have a candidate whose public persona and media profile are fundamentally associated with helping the poor. We need to nominate someone whose background and mannerisms don't set him apart from the voters we're trying to attract. The ability to give powerful speeches about income inequality would help too. Of course, the candidate should actually have a good set of policy proposals to deal with the issues -- some of which have a shot at overcoming obfuscatory Republican counterproposals. Where, o where, can we find such a candidate?
October 08, 2005
The Mostly Unfuzzy Math of William Galston & Elaine Kamarck
Posted by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math
William Galston and Elaine Kamarck, authors of the seminal work "The Politics of Evasion: Democrats and the Presidency", a post-game analysis of the 1988 election that heavily influenced the DLC's (and therefore Bill Clinton's) electoral strategy, have updated their ideas for the modern electoral environment in "The Politics of Polarization". In a noticeable shift from the the 1988 elections, the paper does not claim that Democrats have to "move to the center" in order to win the next Presidential election. Instead, it presents a muddled view of the electorate that suggests Democrats have some "hard decisions" that they must make before they will be able to win the Presidency, as long as foreign policy remains the key strength of Republicans. It recommends several possible changes, and thus has become something of a Rorschach test for various center-left members of the commentariat.
In reality, despite Galston & Kamarck's concerns, the long term demographic picture for Dems is not terribly gloomy, and small changes on the margins may be enough to solve our current electoral puzzle.
First, let's debunk the notion that long term demographic trends are stacked against Democrats. Looking at the issue poll on page 33, we see that Kerry lost the most ground among married women and white Catholics. All that talk about "security moms" turned out to be right -- like most Bush voters, they placed more emphasis on Iraq and terrorism than Kerry voters. But, the "security moms" deserted Bush immediately, as they were one of the first groups of Bush voters to oppose his Social Security schemes. Likewise, the continued bungling of Iraq and Katrina has damaged their confidence in conservative governing style. Security moms want a government that works for them and protects us from the hard edges of terrorism, natural disaster, and financial uncertainty. Taking a wrecking ball to our economic safety net and staffing FEMA with political hacks won't earn their support.
But we shouldn't rely on external events to return Democrats to power; after all, the facts on the ground in Iraq may change very quickly. So it behooves Dems to find ways of attracting voters in other ways. In addition to placing higher priority on fighting "terrorism" than the general public, married women were more concerned with Terrorism and Moral Values than their single counterparts. Likewise, white Catholic voters also placed a larger-than-average emphasis on "Moral Values". But before you roll your eyes and whine about anti-choice, anti-gay working class whites "voting against their own interests", let's look at what poll respondents said "moral values" meant to them. Half of the Values Voters gave the standard GOP reponses of abortion and gay marriage. But a quarter chose "candidate qualities" and a sixth chose "religious preferences". What, on earth, do these muddled responses mean?
The truth is, most voters think politics is too complicated for them. That's not a knock on voters -- they have better, more interesting things to do with their time, like sitting down with their kids to read, watching playoff baseball, or going fishing. They look at Kerry talking about his health care plan, they look at Bush talking about his health care plan, and in the rush of a few 90 minute debates, it can be very hard to tell the difference. So, they look at the personal qualities of the candidates, with the idea that those personal qualities will somehow reflect the behavior of the candidate once he's in office. Some voters are in fact looking at the candidate's views on abortion and gay marriage in that way. Some are looking at how "churched" he is (despite being a weekly churchgoer, Kerry's patrician Catholic language on Christianity sounds very foriegn to many Baptists, Presbyterians, and other assorted conservative Christians). But others are looking for the presence of conviction, a sign that they have personal beliefs and not just policy positions, and can withstand the Republican onslaught of being a Serial Exaggerator or Flip-Flopper. And you don't need to rebut the charge directly; Slick Willy accomplished this not by trying to be more honest than George HW Bush -- though "read my lips" helped on that front -- but by out-empathizing the incumbent President. Technocratish Dems -- the New Yale, as Matthew Yglesias puts it -- forget that these personal qualities serve as important indicators of a candidate's decision making process for many people.
"The Politics of Evasion" had a very clear message: working class white voters see Democrats as soft-on-crime, tax-and-spend liberals who can't be trusted to manage the economy. If you nominate a pro-death penalty, budget-balancing governor of a state that's moving in the right direction, moderate your image on welfare and crime, you'll have solved most of your problems.
The conclusions of "The Politics of Polarizaton" are much less clear. There many paths to victory at the national level for Democrats. Go "Sistah Souljah" on Michael Moore. Rachet up the rhetoric on Pakistan. Find some pro-life convention speakers and focus on the common ground goal of reducing the number of abortions. Pick a candidate who uses "I believe that ..." to mean "I know in my heart that..." rather than "Having looked at the available data, my opinion is ...". Use the phrase "this is not rocket science" when trashing the prescription drug's lack of bulk bargaining and reimportation. Get their hands dirty and start disparaging the personal qualities of Republican candidates (I hear Bill Frist killed cats when he was in Med School. Can we work up personal opposition to Brownback, McCain, Huckabee, Giuliani ... any of these other guys?). But none of these are terribly large changes in substance, and none of them are radical changes in style, either; the Democratic machine needs a tune-up, not an overhaul.