2012 - %3, May

Chris Hayes Is Right About Heroes

| Tue May 29, 2012 5:27 PM EDT

On his show on MSNBC this Sunday, Chris Hayes dedicated an hour to the subject of Memorial Day. During the show, Hayes admitted that labeling all fallen American soldiers as "heroes" made him uncomfortable.

"It is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the word hero. Why do I feel so uncomfortable about the word hero?" Hayes said. "I feel uncomfortable with the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. And I obviously don't want to desecrate or disrespect the memory of anyone that has fallen. Obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is tremendous heroism. You know, hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers, things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that's problematic, but maybe I'm wrong about that."

The backlash was as swift and fierce as one would expect.

Breitbart.com's Kurt Schlichter argues that "the real problem for Chris Hayes is that he actually said what he thinks. He thinks our soldiers are suckers and fools at best, brutal sociopaths at worst. At a minimum, he feels that honoring those who died for this country might encourage people to see that actually defending our country is a good thing. He's not quite ready to make that leap; after all, most progressives are ambivalent about this whole "America" concept, if not actively opposed to it."

This is obviously silly. American conservatives carry on endlessly about the value of individualism, but when it comes to praising soldiers on their individual merits, rather than en masse, it's suddenly downright anti-American. Chris Hayes is practically spitting on the troops, according to Schlichter, who does his very best to avoid context and nuance in favor of ad hominem and vitriol. It's par for the course with all-things-Breitbart, but does a good enough job illustrating the cultural divide animating this dispute.

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Chris Hayes, Social Distance, and the Tyranny of Personal Experience

| Tue May 29, 2012 5:19 PM EDT

I don't have a whole lot to add to what's been said by Conor Friedersdorf, Peter Beinert, and Michael Tomasky about the Chris Hayes flap. My instinct is to say nothing in the hopes that it fades quickly, but since it's still being debated, I guess I might as well weigh in.

I would guess that anyone who knows my work knows that I'm not one who thinks that Hayes said anything untoward. He's an intellectual who hosts an unusually thoughtful show on week-end mornings for people who like to watch unusually thoughtful conversation on TV. I feature a segment or two every week on my blog and have touted his new book numerous times. This week, most of the discussion centered on the social distance between the realities of war and the people back home and between those who are part of military culture and those who aren't. His comments about "heroism" were a small part of the entire conversation, all of which was extremely respectful.

And this, I think, explains Hayes' apology. I suspect that it was less the response he got from the right-wing noise machine, which is inevitable at some point for any public liberal, than the average families who were upset by his comments once the flap blew up and they heard about them. It seemed to prove his point about social distance and he felt the need to address that. (And in my opinion he did that with humanity and humility, which is what we've all come to expect from him.)

But it does raise a question in my mind about "social distance." Chris apologized saying that he "sounded like a typical out-of-touch pundit seeking to discuss the civilian-military divide and the social distance between those who fight and those who don't, I ended up reinforcing it, conforming to a stereotype of a removed pundit whose views are not anchored in the very real and very wrenching experience of this long decade of war. And for that I am truly sorry." I've always thought this "social distance" was a useful thesis, helping to explain why the Villagers are so out of touch with the average person. But what I hadn't reckoned with until now is a sort of tyranny of "walking the walk" that results once you acknowledge it.

Mitt Romney Wants the Biggest Military Ever, Regardless of Cost

| Tue May 29, 2012 3:13 PM EDT

Mitt Romney wants a bigger government, so long as its the kind with more guns and fewer social programs.

"We have two courses we can follow: One is to follow in the pathway of Europe, to shrink our military smaller and smaller to pay for our social needs," Romney told a San Diego crowd of some 5,000 on Monday outside the Veterans Memorial Center and Museum. "The other is to commit to preserve America as the strongest military in the world, second to none, with no comparable power anywhere in the world."

Notice the obligatory reference to Europe. In the parlance of the modern-day right, Europe means several things: weakness, socialism, un-Americanism. Europe is not so much a swear-word as it is a sneer-word.

Notice also the implication that in order to pay for "social needs" Romney believes we would have to cut military spending. This is an odd admission, remarkable for its honesty. In a country so hostile to raising revenue in order to pay for social programs or military adventures, we either need to cut defense spending or continue to pile on debt. That or dismantle the welfare state entirely, a venture too many conservatives these days unthinkingly support—even while fear-mongering about Medicare spending cuts during the healthcare debate.

Either way, Romney not only wants a bigger military, he wants the biggest, most amazing military the world has ever seen, regardless of cost. This declaration is meant to differentiate Romney from the current "European" Obama administration, even though defense spending has risen to record levels under the current president.

Are Negative Campaigns Good for Democracy?

| Tue May 29, 2012 2:24 PM EDT

"POLITICS, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage." ~ Ambrose Bierce, from The Devil's Dictionary

Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary may have been largely tongue-in-cheek, but he stumbled upon plenty of hard satirical truths. Certainly politics brings out the worst in people, and it brings out the very worst in our political leaders. In a democracy, this is on constant, gaudy display, becoming only more pronounced in the Fox News era, in which "organic" grassroots movements like the Tea Party are fertilized by talk radio and cable television and the blogosphere.

This year's Republican primary was politics at its best, or ugliest, depending on how you look at it. Hardly even bothering to masquerade as a "contest of principles," the GOP primary was more a contest in who could speak the language of the right most fluently, and who could run the furthest with each talking point. And, in the end, who was deemed most electable by likely GOP voters.

Citizens United has allowed more money than ever to trickle into American electioneering, making this primary season one of the dirtiest and most revealing in years. President Obama was able to sit idly by and let the GOP nominees do the negative campaigning for him. Unsurprisingly, despite the negativity directed at Mitt Romney by his opponents, Romney emerged as the party's presumptive candidate.

Why Obama Is in for a Very Tough Reelection Fight

| Tue May 29, 2012 2:09 PM EDT
Obama at a San Francisco campaign rally in 2011

I will never understand why political campaigns think it's helpful to telegraph their plans in public, but here's the obligatory "inside the Obama campaign strategy" piece by John Heileman in New York magazine. To the extent it isn't spin, it's quite interesting, and since so much of it is unflattering, I'd have to guess that's most of it.

The campaign principals (much like the administration itself in the first two years) are as convinced as ever that when it comes to brilliant strategy, they are the toppermost of the poppermost and show a level of confidence that borders on hubris. What seems to have changed since the last time around is that they are very, very worried about money.

As the piece reveals, the 2008 tale of the plucky campaign with its starry-eyed volunteers collecting its vast sums in $5 increments from school children and grandmas was pretty much a myth. They did break records for small donations, but the Obama campaign, like all presidential campaigns, collected most of its money from big donors—and Wall Street in particular. (As bank robber Willie Sutton said, "That's where the money is.") This time the Masters of the Universe are having themselves a monumental pout because the president hurt their feelings a couple of years ago when he called them fat cats, and so they're giving more of their money this time to their soul brother Mitt Romney.

It's Hard Out There for a Harvard Alum

| Tue May 29, 2012 1:27 PM EDT
Somewhere in the Northeast.

Harvard graduates often tell acquaintances they "went to school in Cambridge" and the Boston Globe is on it:

She does not like dropping the H-bomb, which is how Harvard students and alumni describe the moment they use the name of their university.

It's a loaded word. And everyone who has ever been a student at Harvard University - the school minted about 7,000 new graduates this month - is acutely aware of the perils of using it. They have been through it many times, seen the bomb explode in different ways. Each has an approach, goals for how it should go off.

When confronted with questions about their education, many elect simply for a kind of dodge, the most famous being the Boston method. "I went to school in Boston." Sometimes it’s "near Boston." Or perhaps even "Cambridge.’"

Harrowing. The Globe cites examples which purport to show a Harvard connection backfiring—including the Massachusetts Senate race—and asks about a handful of alumni to explain why they refrain from dropping the H-bomb at all cost.

One thing the piece neglects to point out, though, is that telling someone "oh, I went to a small little academy on a river near Somerville" is somewhere between 50 and 100 times more annoying than simply telling someone you went to Harvard. I'm not sure what it is that Harvard grads expect will happen if they reveal the true source of their diploma—people will faint, the skies will open, Nazis—but generally speaking, people can handle it.

Well, most people.

Tim Murphy is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.

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Quote of the Day, Part II: "I’ve Been Known as Being a Very Smart Guy"

| Tue May 29, 2012 11:44 AM EDT
Donald Trump

Donald Trump is still talking:

"I never really changed—nothing’s changed my mind," Trump told CNBC, reassuring that his birtherism is as rock solid as it was last year when he briefly led Republican primary polling. "And by the way, you know, you have a huge group of people. I walk down the street and people are screaming, 'Please don’t give that up.' Look, a publisher came out last week and had a statement about Obama given to them by Obama when he was doing a book as a young man a number of years ago in the '90s: 'Born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia.'"

...

"I've been known as being a very smart guy for a long time," he said.

Can we get Politifact on this?

My colleague Adam Serwer has a term for the DC/New York media fixation on substance-free nontroversies as a way of filling dead air between now and election day: Dumbgeist. President Obama "spiking the football" on the Osama bin Laden raid: Dumbgeist. Hillary Rosen waging a war on moms: Dumbgeist. Democratic politicians with ties to the financial services industry defending the financial services industry: Dumbgeist.

Mitt Romney's bromance with Donald Trump (they're holding a fundraiser in Las Vegas) certainly fits the bill. The GOP nominee's refusal to condemn Trump's racist conspiracy theorizing—actual quote: "You know, I don't agree with all the people who support me, and my guess is they don't all agree with everything I believe in"—is pretty weak, as far as these things go. But it's worth noting that we in the media also brought this upon ourselves by taking Donald Trump seriously at around this time last year, hanging on his every word, and dutifully writing up his adventures (guilty!). Trump's political commentary was never anything more than a free media strategy, and it's worked fantastically—a quick search through Politico's archives returns 996 articles related to Trump since last February.

Which brings us to this:

 Courtesy of PoliticoCourtesy of Politico

Don't let it happen again, America.

Tim Murphy is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.

 

Rick Scott Concerned About Non-Citizens, Citizens Voting

| Tue May 29, 2012 10:08 AM EDT
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R)

With the White House potentially at stake—not to mention control of Congress—Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is taking some extra precautions ahead of the November election. Scott has set about updating Florida's voter rolls to purge names of people who aren't eligible to vote in state elections. Sounds like a plan. Except, as Think Progress' Judd Legum tells us, it's actually kind of a disaster:

Late last year, Governor Scott ordered his Secretary of State, Kurt Browning, to “to identify and remove non-U.S. citizens from the voter rolls.” But Browning did not have access to reliable citizenship data. The state attempted to identify non-U.S. citizens by comparing the voting file with data from the state motor vehicle administration, but the motor vehicle data does not contain updated citizenship information. The process, which created a list of 182,000 people, was considered so flawed by Browning that he refused to release the data to county election officials. Browning resigned in February and Scott has pressed forward with the purge, starting with about 2600 voters.

Much of the discussion of Mitt Romney's failings with Latino voters centers on his purported plan to win them over. Maybe he can woo Hispanic voters by talking about jobs and education. Maybe he can soften up on immigration. Maybe he can select Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as his running mate. Maybe he can play up his Mexican roots! But really, it's looking more and more likely that his best plan for dealing with the Hispanic gap is to just let Republican governors make it harder for Hispanics to vote, either through strict voter ID laws, or by purges. As Legum notes, "Hispanics comprise 58 percent of the list but just 13 percent of eligible voters."

Tim Murphy is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.

Progressive Group to Pump $100,000 Into Wisconsin Recall

| Tue May 29, 2012 10:04 AM EDT
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the man trying to oust Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin's June 5 recall.

With a week to go until election day in Wisconsin's cash-drenched recall battle, the Washington, DC-based Progressive Change Campaign Committee announced plans on Tuesday to pump $100,000 into get-out-the-vote efforts in Wisconsin to oust Gov. Scott Walker.

As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent reports, the PCCC's latest move comes in the wake of Wisconsin Democrats' complaints that the Democratic National Committee hasn't fully invested in the Walker recall effort. The DNC, for its part, says it has directed $800,000 to Wisconsin since November, with $250,000 of it going to the state Democratic Party. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz will also host a fundraiser this week for Walker's challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Adam Green, PCCC's director, said in a statement that the Walker recall is "a top national priority for progressives—and it should be for the national Democratic Party." Green went on, "When we heard that the Democratic National Committee wasn't giving Wisconsin Democrats the resources needed to get out the vote, the PCCC made a strategic decision to do less fundraising for our own Wisconsin TV ads and instead focus our attention on righting the DNC’s wrong. We're proud that in the last 9 days, thousands of PCCC members helped us raise $100,000 for Wisconsin Democrats to get out the vote in the final stretch."

Green said the PCCC's new get-out-the-vote cash infusion brings the group's total investment in Wisconsin to about $230,000. The group has already spent $100,000 on TV ads and contributed $30,000 to local Democratic committees.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 29, 2012

Tue May 29, 2012 9:32 AM EDT

US Navy honor guardsmen stand at attention May 27, 2012, as military and civilian leaders enter the USS Arizona Memorial for the USS Arizona Memorial 50th anniversary commemoration ceremony in Honolulu, Hawaii. The memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1962. Since its construction, the memorial has stood as a place to remember the tragedy, and honor the dead. US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael Holzworth.