I have not watched the Edwards trial and I am not intimately familiar with the details of the evidence. But like Amanda Marcotte, I’m glad he was not convicted. I hope the prosecution decides to let it go. Being a horrible person is not a criminal act. If it were, we wouldn’t be able to build enough prisons.
But Amanda explains the real reason why prosecutors should close this case. In this day and age, in this era of obscene electoral profligacy, the pursuit was simply ludicrous:
With the news of Karl Rove crowing about how he intends to spend $1 billion in untraceable funds to beat Obama in 2012, it looks particularly ridiculous for the government to waste resources on a showboat prosecution. Even the conservative news magazine National Review had to denounce the prosecution as a waste. John Edwards has been disgraced, humiliated and run out of politics. Bringing the full force of the law down on him on top of it all just seems greedy.
In my opinion it was a witch trial, done more to exorcise society’s demons than to serve as a rational application of the law. Edwards behaved abominably and his life is ruined because of it. But I long ago stopped being shocked by people who, in the midst of personal crisis, behave with a lack of character and morals. I’m afraid that at this stage in my life I’ve seen too much of it to be so very, very sure that I can sit in judgment from afar.
Arcane federal election law is flouted every single day in ways that seriously threaten our democracy; using it merely to further humiliate an unpopular cad is a serious misuse of resources. But I suppose we have to give credit where credit is due. Wall Street gamblers and high flying bankers have so far been smart enough not to do the one thing that can get important, high-profile, white males in trouble with the law: get caught paying for unauthorized sex. Other than that, it’s clear that pretty much anything goes.
If there’s any justice in the universe, Scott Walker will lose his job and never get another one that grants him power over the lives of other people ever again. Unfortunately, evidence of justice in the universe remains inconclusive at best, and downright contradictory at worst. And that’s not even taking luck into consideration.
For one thing, the recall effort is risky. If Democrats fail to unseat Walker on Tuesday, and Tom Barrett is defeated, Republican morale in the state is sure to surge, possibly leading to Wisconsin swinging for Romney in November. Meanwhile Walker will have even more of a mandate to tinker with workers’ rights, women’s rights, and education than ever before.
The Wisconsin protests last year were huge and impressive, but Walker has remained surprisingly popular. Budget concerns and middle class squabling between public and private sector workers have made Walker’s policies more popular than they would be outside of a recession.
Can Bill Clinton work his magic and rally voters to the polls? Maybe. But it’s going to be a close one.
As one who has long found the breathless election coverage of candidates’ personal lives to be puerile and voyeuristic, I’d usually be sympathetic to complaints about the “vetting” of Mitt Romney in the media this election cycle. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to run for office and put up with it, but then that’s why they’re them and I’m me.
Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary to President George W. Bush, said the personal coverage of Romney is silly and won’t cut it with voters, but that he finds the media inconsistency with regards to covering Obama to be galling.
“These stories are not unusual, except they were never done about then-Senator Obama in 2008,” Fleischer said. “The press never ran probing, sneering stories about candidate Obama, and yet The Washington Post and New York Times are on overtime covering who-cares stories about Mitt Romney.”
Please spare us the pearl-clutching, Ari. I don’t recall hearing any complaints from the former Bush press secretary about the coverage of Al Gore’s alleged “Eloise” childhood hotel home (a completely bogus story to boot) and the rest of the disgraceful GOP-fed coverage of that campaign. And Fleischer certainly didn’t step up to complain about the front page stories about John Kerry’s so-called butler or or his “elite” windsurfing habits. Certainly Kerry’s richy-rich wife was spared no mercy.
And it’s not true that Obama was “unvetted” (which is a favorite meme lately among the denizens of the right-wing fever swamps—one that ties directly into birtherism, by the way). There were front-page stories about his million-dollar house and his upbringing and his associations with various nefarious characters in Chicago. I don’t think anyone can say the media didn’t delve into Obama’s religious life. It’s true that few journalists rushed to Honolulu to examine the kerning on his birth certificate, because there was no reason to. He is, after all, an American.
The difference between the stories about Kerry’s and Romney’s wealth and Obama’s is quite simple: the Obamas weren’t wealthy by comparison. (Poor Al Gore was the one who was treated most shabbily, with a GOP-concocted tale of childhood wealth that wasn’t true.) And in this campaign, at this time of economic stress, the fact that Romney is extremely wealthy—and from a form of capitalism that is under extreme scrutiny—is a very relevant story. More relevant than usual, I’d say.
The Republicans are playing the refs and they are good at it. (And Politico sure seems to love a polarizing media story, all the more if it implicates its rivals.) But this is one time when a close look at a candidate’s wealthy lifestyle and how he acquired it is important. We’re in a new gilded age suffering from the aftermath of a Wall Street meltdown perpetrated by wealthy gamblers and vulture capitalists like Mitt Romney. It would be journalistic malpractice not to examine that. If the GOP doesn’t want the American people to know that they are in the grips of the wealthy financial elite, perhaps they shouldn’t have nominated one of their poster boys as their candidate.
Heather Digby Parton is guest blogging while Kevin Drum is on vacation.
Eight-term incumbent Silvestre Reyes won’t be returning to Congress next year. He was ousted from his El Paso district by pro-marijuana legalization candidate Beto O’Rourke. The two Democrats had very different ideas about the war on drugs, and apparently even the above “Just Say No” ad featuring a bunch of small kids is as dated as it is infuriating.
Why infuriating? For those of us who care a great deal about ending the war on drugs, and at the very least ending the federal ban on medical marijuana, the “do it for the children” argument rankles. I can’t recall how many times I’ve heard “the children” invoked when anybody suggests that maybe ending this violent domestic conflict against poor people could actually be really good for everyone, including children.
The war on drugs disproprtionally targets minorities. Communities ravaged by drug use are just as ravaged by the violent conflict that comes from the perpetuation of a black market. It’s expensive, and not just for the prison beds and police (though these are extremely expensive). It takes a human toll as well, removing fathers from their children and workers and consumers from the economy, driving away legitimate business investment and replacing it with coercive black market forces, gangs, and so forth. In Mexico, the war on drugs has taken an even bloodier toll, claiming tens of thousands of lives in just the past few years.
The simple answer is to say “I’m fighting to keep drugs illegal for the children.” It sounds nice. Drugs are bad, and children are good, and obviously the only way to keep the former out of the hands of the latter is to keep drugs illegal. Right?
Except that it isn’t working, and apparently voters in Texas and across the country are starting to figure that out.
Adam Serwer pointed out the other day that Obama actually had a pretty healthy relationship with marijuana as a youth. Many other politicians—including conservative Republican Mitch Daniels—have smoked pot in the past as well, and I’m willing to bet they’ve all inhaled. This dabbling with drugs didn’t hinder their careers or prevent them from attaining higher office—but that’s only because they never went to jail for it, and they didn’t grow up in communities where the war on drugs has a literal, and not just a figurative, meaning.
The gay-marriage debate hit a major milestone today. A federal appeals court has found section 3 of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.* The groundbreaking ruling will no doubt end up before the Supreme Court.
Interestingly, the three judge panel was comprised of two Republican appointees. The unanimous decision was made at least partly on federalist, states’ rights grounds.
“One virtue of federalism is that it permits this diversity of governance based on local choice, but this applies as well to the states that have chosen to legalize same-sex marriage,” Judge Michael Boudin wrote for the court. “Under current Supreme Court authority, Congress’ denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest.”
Now, there’s a dark and a light side to federalism. States’ rights—and really, we should put “rights” in quotation marks here—have been an excuse for plenty of atrocities, including slavery and segregation. The states in question are home to plenty of their own tyrannies, great and small.
On the other hand, right now a handful of states have stood in defiance of bad federal laws, including DOMA and the federal ban on medical marijuana. When gay couples married in Massachussettes are denied federal healthcare benefits, or when federal agents take down marijuana dispensaries in California, it’s hard not to sympathize with a little federalism. It’s a facet of our democracy that has, like democracy itself, been used for good and ill.
In other words, federalist arguments aren’t easily dilineated into conservative and liberal camps. I think this actually complicates things for the “traditional marriage” forces. We’ve already seen some major conservatives like Ted Olson take on the gay-marriage ban in California, and federalist/small govermnet arguments rest at the heart of Olson’s case.
These unlikely allies for pro-gay rights activists underscore why I’m mostly optimistic about the future of this country: However messed up the Republican party is, and however out of control the conservative movement may be, American conservatism is still rooted in a version of liberalism. Very little of the European traditionalism that defined conservatives in the past has survived in American conservatism.
Sometimes I think that’s part of the reason the conservative movement seems so off-kilter so much of the time—so quick to latch onto strict rhetorical and ideological positions that aren’t really guided by a coherent set of principles. But it also means that buried beneath the wreckage of so many contemporary conservative arguments is a strand of liberalism that actually does value progress, individual rights, and equality.
Americans are increasingly becoming more pro-gay rights, and the next generation will be even more so, across all polititical ideologies. Maybe conservative acceptance of gay marriage will be based on federalist or small-government arguments, but I suspect a lot of it will eventually be about freedom.
This post has been updated to clarify the scope of the ruling. Erik Kain is guest blogging this week while Kevin Drum is on vacation.
Others have written much more eloquently about the recall story in Wisconsin than I ever could. Rick Perlstein, for instance, a homeboy who wrote this epic piece just before the primary election in which he made the case for why we should all care about the governor’s race:
Here’s why: the voting in Wisconsin this spring “will be the first national test of the possibility of democracy in the Citizens United era,” writes Ruth Conniff of the Madison-based magazine The Progressive, referring to the historic Supreme Court ruling that allowed unlimited spending on polticial campaigns. If conservatives succeed in breaking public unions in Wisconsin, they will try the same thing everywhere, with mind-blowing seriousness. Already by this February, Walker, taking advantage of a loophole that allows donors to recall targets to blow through the state’s $10,000 contribution cap, had raised an astonishing $12.2 million dollars; then, by April, he had added $13.2 million more. […] So, $25 per vote from reactionary out-of-state donors versus three bucks and one million petition signatures from regular old Wisconsinites: which one of them will prevail in June will tell us what American democracy will look like – if it will look like democracy at all. It’s like one of those posters I saw in Madison last year said. It quoted the Gettysburg Address: “Now we are engaged in a great civil war testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived or so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.” The picket sign added: “MADISON is that battlefield.”
And E.J. Dionne went right to the heart of the matter with this piece on Wednesday:
Walker is being challenged not because he pursued conservative policies but because Wisconsin has become the most glaring example of a new and genuinely alarming approach to politics on the right. It seeks to use incumbency to alter the rules and tilt the legal and electoral playing field decisively toward the interests of those in power.
It’s hard to overstate just how important this race is to progressives. The polls this week range from a dead heat to Walker leading by up to six points. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.
But in looking at the Marquette University poll just out yesterday, I couldn’t help but be somewhat surprised by this:
Voters say they feel their current governor would be better at creating jobs than his recall challenger. Half say they think Walker would do a better job, while just 43 percent pick Barrett. And Walker holds a 51 percent favorable rating and 46 percent unfavorable, while his rival is at 41 percent favorable and 46 percent unfavorable.
It’s almost unbelievable to me that voters would believe that when job creation has been the biggest issue of the campaign—and it hasn’t been good for Walker:
Much of the debate over job creation started when the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics released numbers that showed Wisconsin lost 23,900 jobs from March 2011 to March 2012, the worst performance of any state in the country. Barrett seized on the news, attacking the governor in a press conference and in an ad claiming that, under Walker, Wisconsin lost a job every hour. But Walker’s team insisted that the numbers were wrong. By the time the April figures came out last week, showing a gain of 4,500 jobs for the month, his administration had tried to build a case that the monthly estimates were unreliable.
Even though Walker is being recalled mostly because of a fight with workers and the state is dead-last in job creation, 50% of the voters think he’ll be better at job creation than the other guy? Nobody in the country has done worse!
This strikes me as yet another success of conservative talking points. I think many people have simply absorbed the oft-repeated notion that Republicans are the advocates for “job-creators” with their low taxes and deregulation and even in the face of clear evidence otherwise they can’t really see how anything else would work. And you can’t really blame them all that much. Nobody’s really telling them another story, at least not one that would make them think that Democrats would be better advocates for the “job creators.” So they default to the conventional wisdom or plain old tribalism.
Still, that’s just one question and despite everyone being understandably concerned about unemployment, people will base their votes on many factors. This race is close enough that it could go either way. Perhaps the good citizens of Wisconsin will go into the voting booth and realize that they just can’t afford another two years of Scott Walker’s mess. A handful of very wealthy plutocrats have poured a ton of money into the state for the past year betting that they won’t. It would be nice if that money turns out to have been wasted.
Heather Digby Parton is guest blogging this week while Kevin Drum is on vacation.
Sometimes I wonder if amidst all of our world-weary cynicism we are even cynical enough. It’s hard to wrap your mind around the immensity of the problem of money in politics, but it’s this part of it that still shocks and depresses me. Thomas Edsall wrote this column earlier this week:
Four years after the 2008 collapse, the finance industry has regained its dominant position in American politics. Perhaps the development of deepest significance is an absence: the failure of a powerful anti-Wall Street faction to emerge in either the House or the Senate. This is in contrast to the response to previous financial crises, when Congress enacted tough legislation—after the Savings and Loan implosion of the 1980s, for example, and more recently after the bankruptcy of Enron and WorldCom in the early 2000s.
Look at the current political environment this way: if Mitt Romney’s campaign and the Romney-supporting super PAC Restore Our Future were a public company, the financial services industry would have a controlling interest. President Obama, in turn, has been noticeably cautious in his critique of Wall Street, trying instead to focus on Romney’s former company, Bain Capital. Obama’s ambivalence about speaking out is a tacit victory for the industry.
The American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes,” Obama promised. “There will be no more taxpayer-funded bailouts. Period.”
Two years later, Dodd-Frank is groaning on its deathbed. The giant reform bill turned out to be like the fish reeled in by Hemingway’s Old Man—no sooner caught than set upon by sharks that strip it to nothing long before it ever reaches the shore. In a furious below-the-radar effort at gutting the law—roundly despised by Washington’s Wall Street paymasters—a troop of water-carrying Eric Cantor Republicans are speeding nine separate bills through the House, all designed to roll back the few genuinely toothy portions left in Dodd-Frank. With the Quislingian covert assistance of Democrats, both in Congress and in the White House, those bills could pass through the House and the Senate with little or no debate, with simple floor votes—by a process usually reserved for things like the renaming of post offices or a nonbinding resolution celebrating Amelia Earhart’s birthday.
So maybe they stop this. It’s an election year and a little sunlight might make them think twice. But it won’t be the end. As we’ve seen with JP Morgan’s recent little 2 billion (and counting) boo boo, the regulators aren’t regulating and even if they did, it’s entirely probable that the Volcker Rule wouldn’t have applied. I don’t know what to do about this and I haven’t heard anyone come up with anything systemic that this Congress will pass or that this Supreme Court will allow to stand. It’s a paralyzing problem, which is why we avoid thinking about it too much, I suppose. (Taibbi has a fun idea that certainly can’t hurt.)
It’s also why I feel nearly frantic at the idea of the Democrats eagerly buying into the idea of Grand Bargain redux as we face the so-called “fiscal cliff” after the election. I see very little reason to believe any of the Bush tax cuts will be allowed to expire. That ship sailed when the Democrats didn’t bother extending only the middle class cuts early in Obama’s term. If a deal is struck—a big if—the most probable outcome I see is for the Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dumb of deficit reduction, Simpson and Bowles, to make a comeback (they’re already in tryouts) and for the “deal” to be tragic cuts to the safety net in exchange for “tax reform.”
“Tax reform” is commonly understood by just about everyone to mean “lower the rates, broaden the base, close loopholes, end tax expenditures.” Now go read that Taibbi article about the fate of Dodd-Frank if you haven’t already and tell me just how likely you think it is that such “reform” will end up being a worthwhile exchange for cutting vital programs and America’s safety net. Right. Those “reforms”, to the extent they attempt to raise any taxes on corporations and millionaires, will be quickly dispatched to the dustbin. Indeed, it’s likely that the only people to see their taxes raised are those at the lower end of that broad base.
So, even though it’s vitally needed, any kind of financial or tax “reform” in the near future is going to be subject to this tidal wave of money that’s overtaken our political system. When you have the level of income inequality and corporate profits we have today, buying the political system is a very cheap investment. Until that problem is solved, I’m afraid that any “balanced approach” that puts the well being of average Americans on the table in exchange for shared sacrifice from the one percent is a fools errand.
President Obama and President Bronislaw Komorowski of Poland in May 2012.Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune/Zuma
For most Americans, referring to a Nazi death camp located in Poland as a “Polish death camp” makes clear sense. That it was a Nazi camp simply goes without saying. To my knowledge, virtually no American has ever blamed Poland itself for a part in the death camps. After generations of films, video games, and novels about World War II and the Holocaust, Americans are as familiar with the Nazi camps as we are with our own Civil War. So with President Obama referring to a Nazi camp as a “Polish death camp” we understand clearly that he is referencing the location of the Nazi camp, not implying that it was somehow Polish.
Or we would, if it wasn’t the president, and this wasn’t an election year, and our political discourse was slightly more elevated than it actually is.
The president intended to honor Jan Karski, a Polish-born U.S. citizen, who died in 2000. Karski was a hero of the Polish resistance, the courier who brought to the outside world the irrefutable proof of the Nazi extermination campaign against the Jews of Eastern Europe. But instead of honoring Karski, the president stumbled into the single most offensive thing he could possibly have said on this occasion.
Here’s what the president said:
Before one trip across enemy lines, resistance fighters told him that Jews were being murdered on a massive scale, and smuggled him into the Warsaw Ghetto and a Polish death camp to see for himself.
Outside of election season it’s hard to see how Frum and other commentators could get so worked up about a statement like this.
On the one hand, the Poles themselves have been extremely sensitive over this phrase for years now. They’ve issued public statements discouraging its use, even going so far as to request that UNESCO change the name of Auschwitz Concentration Camp to former Nazi German concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. In all fairness, president Obama likely should have been aware of this. The president is diplomat-in-chief, and he’s visited Poland in the past (where he received one of the most unique diplomatic gifts of all time). It’s not that much to expect the American president to do his homework.
And yet the uproar over these statements seems to imply that the president was being purposefully insulting at worst, and hopelessly ignorant at best. The right is doing its level best to affect the same outrage as the Polish people, using the cultural sensitivities of a European country to attack the president—an irony that I’m still struggling with.
Even the Polish reaction to this strikes me as overwrought. There were death camps set up by the Nazis all across Europe, and these are often referenced as either Nazi death camps, by their individual names such as Treblinka or Auschwitz, or by their geographical location. Yet even if the camp is referred to as a Polish or Hungarian death camp, everyone talking about it knows full well that it was run by the Nazis.
Respecting the sensitivity of the Polish people is one thing—and I think it’s absolutely fair to respect Polish wishes and stop using the phrase to as great an extent as possible. They’ve suffered untold hardships, first at the hands of Nazi Germany, then at the hands of the Soviets. It’s not so hard to say “Nazi death camps located in Poland” after all.
But turning honest mistakes into petty feuds is another thing altogether. And either way, this gaffe and the overblown reaction to it are an excellent distraction from actual issues, feeding the American political circus yet another non-troversy to keep the proverbial show rolling.
This article in TheNew Yorker sounds the alarm about the economy not working in Obama’s favor for the November election. I really doubt the economy will have any beneficial effect for the president unless something dramatic happens. It’s been my personal observation that most people are about a year to 18 months behind the reality of economic performance—at least on an emotional level. (There is a lot of varying data and analysis on this, so take it for what it is.) But it’s getting late, and even if the economy were to dramatically improve in the next few months I doubt very seriously that anyone is going to be persuaded or change his or her vote because of it. This has been a painful slog and people have seen too many “green shoots” that turned brown to have any trust in numbers at this point.
This is where we stood as of a couple of weeks ago in terms of voters’ perceptions, and I’d be very surprised if anything changes substantially in the next few months:
Partisans continue to differ sharply in their perceptions of the tone of economic news. Republicans and independents are much more likely than Democrats to say they are hearing mostly bad news about the economy. More than four-in-ten Republicans (44%) and 36% of independents say this, compared with 19% of Democrats. About one-in-ten Democrats (11%) say they are hearing mostly good news about the economy, compared with 3% of Republicans and 5% of independents.
In April, nearly twice as many Democrats (20%) said they were hearing mostly good news. More Democrats now say they are hearing mixed news about the economy (69%) than did so in April (59%). Opinions among Republicans and independents are little changed from one month ago.
It doesn’t look as if very many Americans think it’s “Morning in America.”
It would be nice to think that the two presidential contenders will fight it out on the basis of competing visions of how to fix things, but from the looks of it, we’re going to have a monumental mudfest instead. And maybe that says more than might immediately be obvious—maybe it says that neither of them has a vision of how to fix things. Or maybe they disagree less than we think.
Heather Digby Parton is guest blogging this week while Kevin Drum is on vacation.
Having organized 43 plaintiffs—including the archdioceses of New York and Washington and the University of Notre Dame—to file 12 different lawsuits against the Obama administration last Monday alleging the administration is violating the religious freedom of Catholics, the Catholic bishops of the United States are now preparing Catholics for what may be the most massive campaign of civil disobedience in this country since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and early 1960s.
“Some unjust laws impose such injustices on individuals and organizations that disobeying the laws may be justified,” the bishops state in a document developed to be inserted into church bulletins in Catholic parishes around the country in June…
The bulletin insert reminds Catholic parishioners that the bishops have called for “A Fortnight of Freedom”—which they have described as “a special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action”—to take place from June 21 to July 4.
Catholics overall are generally more supportive than the general public of the contraception coverage requirements. Nearly two-thirds (65%) say that publicly held corporations should be held to this requirement. Roughly 6-in-10 report that religiously affiliated social service agencies, colleges, hospitals, and privately owned small businesses should be required to provide health care plans that cover contraception. Less than half (47%) say churches and other places of worship should be required to provide this coverage.
White Catholics make few distinctions between churches and other religiously affiliated employers. Less than half of white Catholics believe that churches (43%), religiously affiliated colleges (43%), social service agencies (44%), and hospitals (48%) should be required to include contraception coverage in their insurance plans. However, a majority of white Catholics believe that non-religiously affiliated employers, including privately owned small businesses (55%) and public corporations (61%), should be required to provide employees with contraception coverage.
They may be able to muster a campaign of civil disobedience with the help of evangelical protestants but the problem is that the Catholic Church is the church that employs large numbers of people in non-church institutions. On the other hand, they signaled some time back that they were going to enlist like-minded private employers in their fight (a signal that Roy Blunt heard loud and clear when he filed his Amendment allowing a “conscience” opt-out in the name of religious freedom.)
It remains to be seen if this will turn into massive civil disobedience. And it’s hard to know exactly how they define such a thing. But it certainly sounds as if it’s something beyond employers refusing to comply with the Obamacare rules. I can hardly wait to see what they have in mind.
Heather Digby Parton is guest blogging this week while Kevin Drum is on vacation.
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’sKurt 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.
“What our post-9/11 national conformity insisted was that we heap praise on the police, firefighters, and the military without any discrimination between individuals or any judgment of their particular characters,” writes Freddie deBoer. “This, in fact, is not praise. It’s actually a profound assault on the possibility of real praise; it denies the existence of moral differences and squashes all actual praiseworthy conduct into a homogeneous, bland affirmation.”
If everyone is a hero, nobody is. The tyranny of mediocrity rears its ugly head.
In transforming our soldiers or police automatically into “heroes” we ignore the atrocities our own side commits. In doing so we also ignore the real moments of heroism. We give a free pass to anyone with a uniform and a gun regardless of their individual merit, and lend unwitting support to every war, from Iraq and Afghanistan to the War on Drugs, in the process.
I do find it strange that conservatives, so willing to defend individualism and up-by-the-bootstraps economics, would so fiercely defend what can only be described as a sort of collectivist militarism.
Certainly many soldiers are heroes. As Hayes himself points out, in an all-volunteer force each of these men and women have chosen to place themselves in terrible danger, often fighting for a vague cause in a distant land. Too often we as a society turn our back on this bravery, first by blithely sending our young people into poorly reasoned wars, and then by ignoring their plight once their service has ended. There is always enough money for weapons, but never enough for the broken young men who carry them.
I understand why Hayes has backtracked. Conservatives have been playing the patriotism card to their advantage for years. Liberals are uncomfortable with overt displays of patriotism in much the same way Hayes is uncomfortable calling all fallen soldiers heroes. For conservatives, heaping praise on the military and boasting about the greatness of America is a sort of signaling. Not so for liberals. The signaling is different on the left. The right confuses the left’s lack of patriotic-signaling for a lack of patriotism. But it’s more akin to different Christian denominations. Some wear their faith loudly on their sleeve, while others believe it impolite to publicly discuss their faith. Neither is inherently right or wrong. But simply saying more loudly that you believe in something doesn’t make it so.
At some point political discourse needs to abandon signaling and ground itself in actual ideas which convey actual meaning. Not every soldier is a hero. Some are mass murderers, torturers, and terrorists. We do a great disservice to the actual fallen heroes when we scrub away the meaning of the word and hand it out indiscriminately to all comers, out of some reflexive need to signal just how much we love our country—or how much we love our country more than others whose politics we dislike.
Erik Kain is guest blogging this week while Kevin Drum is on vacation.
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.
All citizens have a right and an obligation to participate fully in American civic life. If we are now going to say that those who haven’t “walked in the shoes” of whomever is directly affected by a policy are not sanctioned to have an opinion, we are essentially saying that we are only responsible to ourselves rather than the body politic. It becomes a fragmented sort of social responsibility in which we substitute experience and expertise for democratic participation. And the truth is that Hayes may have a social distance from those in the military, but he was speaking for plenty of those who don’t.
Brandon Friedman is a writer, veteran, and civil servant. He is the author of the combat memoir The War I Always Wanted and currently serves as the Director of Online Communications for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Friedman is a Fellow with the Truman National Security Project.
Here’s what he said on twitter in regards to Hayes’ comments: Or, you could listen to retired Colonel Andrew Bacevich. Or my right wing career military father (and veteran of two wars) who winced at all the reflexive “thank you for your service” comments that became the vogue after the Iraq invasion.
Hayes may have “social distance” from military culture but he didn’t say anything that plenty of veterans don’t say every day. He wasn’t speaking from the perspective of a wealthy Villager who pretends she is just an ordinary WalMart shopper who speaks for Real Americans when she demands “sacrifices”—he really was speaking for millions of Americans. Unfortunately, we are rapidly turning into a society in which the only people who are not subject to the bludgeon of “military correctness” is the military. And that’s not healthy.
A democracy becomes very weak when dissent from the conventional wisdom or sacred ritual can be shouted down simply because the person who’s doing it hasn’t “walked the walk.” Its success depends upon the people being able to make decisions about many policies with which they have no personal experience or affect people from whom they are socially distant. Moreover, it’s important that they do so. For instance it’s necessary to have the perspective of women on the issue of combat or of men on the issue of abortion or of any number of contentious subjects which may not personally affect us but which affect our country and our countrymen. It’s a mistake to completely outsource your opinions to “experts” or those who are personally involved. (Look what’s happened with banking regulation…)
Ironically, Chris Hayes’ example shows that in an odd way, acknowledging the “social distance” that makes many elite pundits and analysts out of touch with average Americans may just be leading to a different sort of elitism. And judging from his body of work, I’m fairly sure that’s the last thing he intends to do.
Heather Digby Parton is guest blogging this week while Kevin Drum is on vacation.
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.
According to a recent survey from Gallup, Romney already has the veteran vote wrapped up, leading Obama by double-digits among the country’s military vets. One thing the right has done very well is paint Obama as a weak military leader despite his successes, which include (but are not limited to) killing Osama bin Laden and overthrowing the Libyan regime. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Obama’s foreign policy, painting him as weak or dovish is dishonest at best.
But we’ve learned by now that honesty is no more one of Romney’s virtues than small government is a desired end-goal of the right. In that sense, Romney is exactly the man for the job, a nominee the Republican party truly deserves.
Erik Kain is guest blogging while Kevin Drum is on vacation.
“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.
There’s a tension between the ugliness of politics, especially in the 24-hour news era, and the benefits to voters that this ugliness provides. For one thing, our political leaders are rarely angels. We sometimes pine for an age in which politics were not so bloody, but whether or not this Utopia ever existed, it’s hard to imagine that such a thing would benefit voters.
Politics is the apportioning of power without violence. In a stable, rule-based democracy it is ideally the apportioning of power without bribery, corruption, or the threat of violence. But it is still fundamentally about power, and the haves almost always come out on top. We’d like to think that democracy gives the little guy a shot, but even in the most progressive democracies, the scales inevitably tip toward those with wealth and power. One of the only things the have-nots have going for us is the ability to see the ugly underbelly of our political contenders in such garish detail during campaign season.
All of which is to say that, the uglier an election becomes, the more human and fallible our politicians become. This is a good thing. We don’t simply elect these people to office; we grant them vast power, including on life and death matters. The more we glimpse of our leaders’ shortcomings, the better prepared we are to grapple with their failings once in office—and the less surprised we should become when those leaders take advantage of the power they’ve been loaned.
“Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so,” Gore Vidal once said. And surveying the Republican field this past primary season was evidence enough that Vidal was on to something. This paradox drives the mad dance of American politics, where the weight of necessary evils presses down on us like gravity.
This is also my fumbling attempt at an introduction post. I’ve been blogging about politics for years now, mainly at the blog The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, but also at places like Balloon Juiceand True/Slant. I am a liberal, a pessimistic progressive, and a bit of a romantic. This is fitting, I think, since politics are romantic and pessimistic all at once. I’m also extremely grateful to everyone here at Mother Jones, and to Kevin Drum in particular, for having me on to guest blog while Kevin is on vacation. More to come.
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.
And unfortunately, the traditional liberal fat cats aren’t giving in nearly the amounts they expected, partially because the campaign, as is its wont, prematurely declared victory by touting its own fundraising prowess and telling everyone they were going to raise a billion dollars. Now all the rock stars and heiresses are saying, “Why do you need my measly quarter million?” (Also the super-PAC culture is much smaller on the left for a lot of reasons, including that the 2008 Obama campaign instructed big donors not to give to outside groups.) Still, they do expect to eke out a billion or so, while the Republicans will raise 50 percent more. Dear God.
Nobody knows what effect the tsunami of cash that’s about to crash on contested states will have on the voters. As David Axelrod says: “We’re actually about to test the limits of what money can do in politics, because there’s gonna be so much of it concentrated in so few states. The real question is, at what point is so much too much?” Those of you who live in those states should probably just plan on recording your favorite shows or reading a lot of books for the next few months. It’s not going to be pretty.
The campaign is placing its hopes on a couple of electoral-college strategies and demographics (the big new thing in Democratic circles) and intense fearmongering about the other side. Although that’s a much punier vision than the soaring promise of hope and change, I find it refreshingly realistic. It’s rooted in a realization that, in my opinion, came much too late.
Here’s Heileman describing how that happened:
The previous eight months had been hell for Obama. After the self-described “shellacking” his party suffered in the 2010 midterm elections, the president had sought to find a way to work with Republicans, to reestablish the post-partisan métier that animated his election. “For the first part of the year, he played what was largely an inside game,” says Obama’s longtime counselor David Axelrod. “The ideas being (a) maybe we can reason with the Republicans and come to some rational conclusions, and (b) maybe people really wanted to see cooperation. But that obviously didn’t work.”
Not just obviously, but screamingly so, as evinced by the reckless Republican brinkmanship over the debt ceiling and the collapse of the grand bargain on deficit reduction that Obama labored long to fashion with John Boehner. By the time the president took off for vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, recalls a senior White House official, “he was as frustrated as I’ve ever seen him.” Most irritating to Obama was the portrayal of him, on the right and left alike, as a terminally weak leader. “We found ourselves in the worst possible situation,” says Pfeiffer, “in which Republicans and some Democrats were using the same talking points to describe the president. That’s a moment of great political peril.”
Indeed it was. And while it may be impolite to point out how daft that entire strategy was, let me be rude: It was clear from the beginning of his term that the Republicans would not cooperate. They said it out loud and demonstrated it over and over again. It didn’t take the “shellacking” and its aftermath to understand their obstructive pattern. In the end, all that eight months of “outreach” did was shift the debate so far to the right that Democrats now consider it a victory if they can get the top 1 percent to throw in some tip money in exchange for slashing the social safety net.
I can understand why the White House might have gone that way. At the time the entire political media establishment was talking about the glory of being “the only grown-up in the room” and had visions of a Barack and Boehner version of their cherished Tip ‘n Ronnie trope. If the White House was listening to them during that period it’s entirely possible they thought this was a legacy moment.
Be that as it may, the campaign says the president learned his lesson just in time for the election and now he feels “liberated.” Certainly his rhetoric is sharper. What’s clear from this article is that Obama Campaign 2.0 is sure it is in for a very tough fight. Obviously the economy is the most important factor, and it seems they are just hoping to limp over the finish line on that one. The die was cast on that some time ago. The rest will be sound and fury. What remains to be seen is if it signifies anything important about a second term.
Speaking of which, has anybody heard anything about an agenda for that second term?
Heather Digby Parton is guest blogging this week while Kevin Drum is on vacation.
Somewhere in the Northeast.<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/cat.mhtml?lang=en&search_source=search_form&version=llv1&anyorall=all&safesearch=1&searchterm=Harvard&search_group=#id=47943157&src=db1a6ce591e065a6e5ef8ff7db80975c-1-1">Pincasso</a>/Shutterstock.com
Harvard graduates often tell acquaintances they “went to school in Cambridge” and the Boston Globeis 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.
“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 Politico
Don’t let it happen again, America.
Tim Murphy is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R)<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/scottforflorida/5321064684/sizes/z/in/photostream/">Scott for Florida</a>/Flickr
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.
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is bored out of his mind in Sacramento.Kevin Sullivan/The Orange County Register/ZumaPress.com
Being governor of California is a grueling job. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, faced with a $15.7 billion shortfall (again) has proposed $8.3 billion in budget cuts; a two-thirds majority vote by the state legislature is required to increase taxes, which makes it prohibitively difficult to raise revenue.
Being lieutenant governor of California? Not so grueling. The Sacramento Beechecks in with the state’s current number-two, former San Franciso mayor Gavin Newsom, who has found himself with enough downtime to start his own talk show on Current TV:
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose cable talk show premiered this month, was in the studio between segments Thursday, catching up with Chip Conley, his next guest and old friend.
Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/05/28/4520611/gavin-newsom-breaks-boredom-in.html#storylink=cpy#storylink=cpy
“How often are you up in Sacramento?” the hotelier asked.
“Like one day a week, tops,” Newsom said. “There’s no reason.”
It can be slow at the Capitol.
“It’s just so dull,” Newsom said. “Sadly, I just, ugh, God.”
Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/05/28/4520611/gavin-newsom-breaks-boredom-in.html#storylink=cpy#storylink=cpy
Stay strong, Gavin.
Tim Murphy is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.