Category Archives: Politics

Roger Ebert will snatch you out your car and beat you down in front of your girl

For reasons known only to himself, Ben Stein, former Nixon speechwriter, made a movie called eXpelled, which argues in favor of Intelligent Design. (And may we hope it will improve the IDers’ opinion of we atheists to note the Christ-like generosity I’ve displayed in using the word “argue” in that last sentence?) The proponents of Intelligent Design claim that it’s science all the way down to believe there’s no way life could arise in the universe without some anthropomorphic sentience behind it, and that ID totally has nothing to do with any religion like for instance lets just say Christianity. That unimpeachable lack of religiosity notwithstanding, eXpelled was distributed in a scripturally-resonant manner, in that it came and went from theaters like a thief in the night. If you asked me why Roger Ebert never reviewed eXpelled, that would be my guess as to the reason. Ben Stein is a professional conservative with a movie to promote, though, so if you ask him why Roger Ebert never reviewed it, he might say it’s because Ebert’s in the tank for Big Evolution. In fact, tonight via Pandagon I saw that he apparently did say something like that.

Stein must have confused Roger Ebert for a Democratic Senator or something, rather than a movie reviewer – a man whose job it is, among other things, to publicly declare awful movies to be awful, and explain why he thinks so. And of course, not only does Ebert do this job, not only has he done it for decades, but he is very, very successful at it. Maybe the most successful of anyone, ever. Why Ben Stein didn’t know better than to pick this fight, I couldn’t say, but god bless him that he did, so I could get to read Ebert pwning him so hard his trilobite ancestors probably felt it.

As I hate war, it is with a heavy heart that I shall start a bunch of them.

I’ve heard a disturbing number of people, all of whom I know to be otherwise sane, tell me that they think John McCain would make a good President, or even tell me that they might vote for him. This is nuts. He would be an awful President. Of course, you wouldn’t know that by watching the news or reading the paper, because the narrative of John McCain among the political press is that of the Saga of Commander Maverick of the Straight Talk Brigade. Never mind that the guy has no coherent domestic policy, nor does he seem particularly interested in one. Never mind that his foreign policy, which is supposed to be a his strength, seems to be nothing more than Bush’s “Obey, or be destroyed,” applied even more widely.

I’ve been trying to figure out how I wanted to approach building my own little counternarrative for you, my audience, because I love all eight of you, and want you to be thoughtful, skeptical consumers of political media. If along the way I can convince you that the contemporary Republican Party is a cancer on the American body politic, so much the better.

Anyway, my quandary is solved: Ezra Klein reminded me that it’s McCain week at the American Prospect. The first article, by Matt Yglesias, is called “The Militarist.” Ezra comments, in part, thus:

He was humble. Bipartisan. A nice guy, liked by partisans on both sides of the aisle. An instinctual moderate who’d constrain America’s foreign policy ambitions and ably manage our finances. He was George W. Bush, and despite what the press said, he was none of those things. Rather, the truest understanding of Bush’s candidacy came from those who had read his policy plans. The shockingly regressive tax cuts, the dismissive attitude towards international treaties, the inattention to our unraveling health care system, the denial of our energy problems — it was all there. The press assured us that those plans were just election-year pandering. Turned out they were his governing agenda.

Similarly, John McCain, we’re told, is a moderate. A nice guy. Respected on both sides of the aisle. Conscious of the limits of American power and the constraints of our fiscal situation. His plans? That hugely regressive tax cut, radical dismantling of the health care system, appetite for endless war? Oh, you know how elections go.

Bullshit.

Ezra’s own article is about McCain’s godawful health care plan.

Quote of the day

The only thing more annoying than Joe Lieberman himself is his conceit, which many people indulge out of habit, that he is some kind of “centrist.”  Perhaps if we think of the political spectrum as a series of rings surrounding a cavernous abyss (or perhaps a pit like the Sarlaac), then Lieberman and McCain can fairly be called “centrists.”

 –Daniel Larison in The American Conservative

Entire selection bitten from Matt Yglesias.

Going to the polls today

Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s voting for Obama in New York:

I know perfectly well that Obama, for all his idealism, is well inside the “centrist” consensus on how America ought to conduct itself in the world. He was against the Iraq war from the start, and that means a lot to me, but he’s also not someone who’s going to make the kinds of radical changes to American foreign policy that I would make on Day One if I were in charge. He’s not an insurgent; he’s the standardbearer for a faction of the country’s political elite. I believe that, on balance, this particular faction happens to comprise many of the the smartest and most conscientious individuals from within that elite. So I’m supporting Obama and his train, people like Samantha Power and Robert Malley and Lawrence Lessig, just as a peasant might cheer for an aristocratic faction made up of reasonably decent individuals against other factions made up of out-and-out thugs. Not because the peasant doesn’t know the game is rigged, or doesn’t have the wit to imagine a better world. But because incremental change matters, and because the right incremental changes can lead, like water flowing downhill, to bigger and more profound ones.

Also, while I am a radical in analysis, I am an incrementalist in practice, because life is short.

And all that said, I don’t loathe Hillary Clinton. I’ll support her against any of the Republican candidates, certain against John McCain, a man whose basic foreign policy position is War With Everyone, Forever. And I think if she’s the nominee, she can beat McCain. I have a lot of reservations about some of the people she’s liable to bring in her wake, and the thought of a “Clinton Restoration” makes me tired. But the particular variety of frothing hostility she inspires in a lot of people makes me more inclined to support her, rather than less. And if she should become the nominee, two words will constantly remind me why I should get off my ass and vote for her: “Supreme” and “Court.”

You should, as they say, read the whole thing, even if you’re not voting today.

…and if you need any more convincing, Obama has the vital XKCD endorsement.

UPDATE: That’s what I’m talkin’ about! All love to my Nutmeg Souljaz.

Holding out for a citizen

Via Graham, this is a rather impressive collection of celebrities singing along to one of the most impressive speeches a politician has made in my lifetime.

I’m voting in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, which is the first election with national implications since 2001, when I moved up to Massachusetts, in which my vote might actually make a difference. I’m voting for Obama, but not because I think that we need some Great Leader to save us. I don’t think democracy works that way. Or at least, I don’t think democracy should work that way, if it’s working correctly. Democracy should depend on the rule of law, it should depend on institutions, and it should depend on frustrating, tortoise-slow bureaucracies that exhibit not a whit of common sense, but function in the aggregate to produce the most opportunity for the most people. Obama’s not going to deliver us. No one person, certainly not a politician, can make a country great, or save it from peril. Bonnie Tyler notwithstanding, heroes are for comic books and fascists.

The reason I’m voting for Obama is, quite simply, because I like what he’s telling the nation. I have problems with some of his policies, and I have no love whatsoever for his habit of adopting Republican tropes when trying to criticize Clinton on Social Security or health care. I’m wary of his economic team. But he’s running for President, not Personal Embodiment of the Legislative Majority, so I’m more concerned about foreign policy, and what he’ll do with the bully pulpit. As far as foreign policy goes, he seems just fine (and if I’m being completely truthful, I have to say that it would make me proud of my country’s place in the world again, after such a long, long time, to elect a black man President). As far as the bully pulpit goes, holy shit. I realistically don’t think I could ask for a better figurehead for my country, or for the political party that’s going to have to clean up the Republicans’ mess again. When I vote for Obama on Tuesday, it’s not going to be a vote for a savior. It’ll be a vote for a little of that hope he keeps talking about – not more, but pleasingly, surprisingly, not anything less, either.

UPDATE: Added some links for context.

Quotes of the day

Both from LGM, both concerning the mesmerizing campaign of Benito Giuliani.

My question is this: if Giuliani does indeed endorse McCain, will he and Joe Lieberman have to fight it out for biggest asshole on the McCain campaign trail? And who would win?

Bean, discussing what may be the mightiest gathering of Men of Principle in our time.

The Florida firewall strategy had no chance of working, but that’s because nothing can work when active campaigning actually hurts your numbers.

Scott Lemieux, on the secret of Rudy’s charisma.

Without the white male vote, the Republicans aren’t a viable political party

Awesome post about Obama, Clinton, and South Carolina at Jack and Jill Politics.

The Media’s Three-Fifth’s Compromise

What upset me was the dismissiveness towards the South Carolina Primary.

A prevailing attitude comprised of, if Barack Obama wins South Carolina:
1. He only won because he’s Black
2. It doesn’t REALLY count as a win because of the sizeable Black population in South Carolina.

The press has not been subtle about what they think the real, true voter looks like. They’ll talk about Clinton automatically getting the women’s vote as though that’s an extra, marginal bit that gets added on to the real vote, and the same with Obama and the black vote. Bring up the fact that Ronald Reagan, say, couldn’t have won without the white, male vote, and prepare either for a blank look or to have it taken as a joke.

Just as an aside, I may have talked about privilege before, and I probably will again, and the above is an illustration of privilege – being the default, never having to think of yourself in terms of “the black vote” or “the woman vote,” you’re just a voter.

(via Spencer Ackerman)

Quote of the day

Caroline Kennedy’s Political Romanticism

She says that Obama could be a president like her father. I assume that means that he’ll be overrated, not that he’ll bring us to the brink of nuclear war.

Ramesh Ponnuru at NRO. The guy’s an asshole, but in this case* funny is funny.

(via Matt Yglesias)

*The most important feature of this case being that it is located in what I assume is the sliver-thin overlap on the Venn diagram of our political ontologies.

Go read something

I have nothing interesting to say, so I’m going to link you to interesting things others are saying:

Glenn Greenwald describes Your Harry Reid-led Senate in action:

Harry Reid — who has (a) done more than any other individual to ensure that Bush’s demands for telecom immunity and warrantless eavesdropping powers will be met in full and (b) allowed the Republicans all year to block virtually every bill without having to bother to actually filibuster — went to the Senate floor yesterday and, with the scripted assistance of Mitch McConnell and Pat Leahy, warned Chris Dodd, Russ Feingold and others that they would be selfishly wreaking havoc on the schedules of their fellow Senators (making them work over the weekend, ruining their planned “retreat,” and even preventing them from going to Davos!) if they bothered everyone with their annoying, pointless little filibuster.

To do so, Reid announced that, unlike for the multiple filibusters from Republican colleagues, he would actually force Dodd and company to engage in a real filibuster. This is what Reid said:

[I]f people think they are going to talk this to death, we are going to be in here all night. This is not something we are going to have a silent filibuster on. If someone wants to filibuster this bill, they are going to do it in the openness of the Senate.

That is what Democrats have been urging Reid to do to the filibustering Republicans all year — in order to dramatize their obstructionism — but he has refused to make them actually filibuster anything, generously agreeing instead that every bill requires 60 votes. Instead, he reserves such punishment only for the members of his own caucus trying to take a stand for the rule of law and the Constitution, those who are trying finally to bring some accountability to this administration.

Digby comments on Glenn’s article, and has a chart.

Scott Lemieux posts on another insipid article about abortion from William Saletan: How About Everyone Agree With Me Instead?

Anil Dash on Google, and what does it mean to be evil, anyway?: Google and Theory of Mind (And he named Ill Doctrine one of his blogs of the year – we here at this blog will already be familiar with Jay Smooth’s fine work.)

Evolving understandings of the term “last refuge” in contemporary scoundrel studies

Since I didn’t post yesterday, making my planned week of daily posts a success for exactly one day, I’ll give you two today.

Here then is a link I’ve been meaning to post, to a review by Rick Perlstein of Jane Fonda’s War: A Political Biography of an Anti-war Icon, by Mary Hershberger. A little bit of American mythology, like George Washington and the cherry tree, or Al Gore’s lying habit, or whatever.

Themes

Atrios describes perfectly, in my opinion, the Democratic frontrunners:

Shorter Candidates

Obama: The system sucks, but I’m so awesome that it’ll melt away before me.

Edwards: The system sucks, and we’re gonna have to fight like hell to destroy it.

Clinton: The system sucks, and I know how to work within it more than anyone.

I still like Edwards, by the way, for those of you keeping score.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein agrees that this is a good distillation of Edwards’ message, but responds, essentially, “Great. How?”

Matt Yglesias again

This serves as kind of an expansion/reinforcement of the last post, for me. It’s a theme Matt returns to pretty regularly, and one I completely agree with.

The mechanism by which we decide what to do is called “politics” and it exists so that individuals and organizations with somewhat divergent interests and ideas can make collective decisions about how to tackle common problems. The rhetoric of anti-politics isn’t just an analytic mistake, it’s part of the problem. A public that doesn’t believe divergent interests can be reconciled and common solutions devised for common problems — a public that doesn’t believe in politics — is going to be a public that doesn’t believe there’s anything that can or should be done to prevent catastrophic climate change.

The demonization of “politics” functions as a demonization of the practical methods of our system of governance. The only way you get government without politics is in a utopia or a dictatorship, I think – and utopias, as we know, don’t exist. I think it’s legitimate to criticize someone for practicing politics in bad faith, but that’s different from scorning the process of politics as a whole, which is often the form that criticism takes in our superficial political discourse.

The evils of partisanship

Matt Yglesias has made this point a few times before, and I think it’s worth noting, and remembering when we hear people use “partisan” as a synonym for “bad” (and “bipartisan” for “good”).

More broadly, though, it’s unfair to Bush to blame him for the lack of the sort of “bipartisan cooperation” we saw in the past, and it’s equally unfair to blame Democrats for not reviving it. Bipartisan competition will tend to be rarer when the parties are ideologically coherent. And that’s what we have right now — almost every Democrat in congress is more liberal than almost every Republican. That makes bipartisan cooperation difficult. The roots of this polarization, however, are structural and not really lamentable. The old era of bipartisan cooperation was grounded in the parties having substantial ideological overlap and that, in turn, was a consequence of Jim Crow and the existence of a weird one-party state in the apartheid South where the one party was the Democrats even though the region was generally more conservative in ideological terms. That era’s not going to come back and we shouldn’t want it to come back, even if we deem certain aspects of its passing to be lamentable.

But most of all, we shouldn’t urge the congress to take courses of action that are wrong on the merits out of a deluded sense that doing so might revive a past era of bipartisanship.

Building from there, I’ll just say that I wish Democrats would be a little less obsessed with coming across as bipartisan, and would actually make a public case for why voting for Democrats is better for the country than voting for Republicans.  In other words, why are they Democrats instead of Republicans, and what does that tell us about how they’ll do their jobs?  I already know Republicans believe that voting for Republicans is better, because they keep telling us so, and keep telling us why (low taxes, strong defense, yay Christianity).  It seems to me that Democrats usually make their criticisms situational – they’ll tell us why the other side’s policies are wrong or character is suspect, but they never turn that into a broader ideological argument.  If properly done, expressions of partisanship give the impression that you know what you stand for, and you believe in your platform.  Republicans know this, and win elections because of it, and I wish the Democrats would figure it out, and start acting like they believe they’re right, instead of coming across as wishy-washy chumps all the time.

Moral relativism

Digby has a post up at the Campaign for America’s Future about right-wing postmodernism. I avoid the word conservative because “epistemic relativism,” as Digby puts it, is rather radical.

I’m not sure if it’s that we’ve become used to it or the administration has used less of it recently, but I don’t find myself pounding my head on the desk as often I once did at some Bush official (or often the president himself) essentially saying “you can believe me or you can believe you lying eyes.” Creationism, the denial of global warming (indeed, all scientific inquiry), the Enronization of the budget, even the continuing insistence among many that there were WMD in Iraq — there are examples around us everywhere of conservatives(particularly regular Fox News viewers) who, because they are delivered by a “trusted” source, believe things that have long since been proven wrong or make no sense.

But just as I’ve become somewhat inured to this right-wing epistemic relativism over time, I’ve become more and more astonished at the right’s simultaneous rejection of some of the great moral taboos of human history. After all, even more than their assault on liberals for rejecting rationalism or universalism, for years they characterized liberal social tolerance as despicable “moral relativism” and excoriated those who sought equality as threats to the foundations of civilization itself. It’s more than a little bit stunning to see these so-called conservatives suddenly dancing on the head of a pin trying to defend the immoral act of torture by saying it all depends on what the meaning of waterboarding is.

I’d like to draw attention to two articles she links to: the Josh Marshall article on “The Postmodern President“, and most especially this essay by a former SERE instructor.

The carnival-like he-said, she-said of the legality of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques has become a form of doublespeak worthy of Catch-22. Having been subjected to them all, I know these techniques, if in fact they are actually being used, are not dangerous when applied in training for short periods. However, when performed with even moderate intensity over an extended time on an unsuspecting prisoner – it is torture, without doubt. Couple that with waterboarding and the entire medley not only “shock the conscience” as the statute forbids -it would terrify you. Most people can not stand to watch a high intensity kinetic interrogation. One has to overcome basic human decency to endure watching or causing the effects. The brutality would force you into a personal moral dilemma between humanity and hatred. It would leave you to question the meaning of what it is to be an American.

We live at a time where Americans, completely uninformed by an incurious media and enthralled by vengeance-based fantasy television shows like “24”, are actually cheering and encouraging such torture as justifiable revenge for the September 11 attacks. Having been a rescuer in one of those incidents and personally affected by both attacks, I am bewildered at how casually we have thrown off the mantle of world-leader in justice and honor. Who we have become? Because at this juncture, after Abu Ghraieb and other undignified exposed incidents of murder and torture, we appear to have become no better than our opponents.

With regards to the waterboard, I want to set the record straight so the apologists can finally embrace the fact that they condone and encourage torture.

No they don’t, silly. Because the fact that they embrace it means it isn’t torture. Q.E.D.