Scott Rasmussen tries to explain why his polls were terrible. I’m reading this over and over again but I keep missing the sentence that reads “My polls suck because I’m a partisan hack who values creating a narrative that favors Republicans over accuracy.”
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Well, there’s probably a lot of media low points.
But at least twice, John King (URI grad as is, oddly, Christiane Amanpour) tried to delegitimize Obama’s victory by switching from his state map to a county map to show how red huge spaces of this country are. This is a sophisticated, technology-forward way of saying that a victory only counts if you win rural white men. Please tell me what I am supposed to learn by a county map. All of western Nebraska probably has less than 100,000 people. All of Wyoming has less than 500,000 people. New York City has 8 million people. But somehow because those gigantic western counties with 1000 residents take up a big chunk of the map, they have extra legitimacy?
[SL]: I don’t always watch Fox News. But when I do, it’s after MSNBC has called the tipping point state.
…[SL] Karl Rove is complaining that the election was prematurely called. Karl Rove. Swear to God.
Scott has provided the fundamental case for Obama’s reelection, no matter how disappointed with him you might be. I want to build on that a bit by summarizing a few thoughts I’ve had about the left during the election cycle. Frankly, I’m a bit disappointed in many of those who consider themselves to be on the left. We have created some self-mythology that we are the reality-based community, the ones who have an understanding of history and government, and who take policy seriously and learn from the past and present.
This is obviously not true.
Within left politics in 2012, the big story has not been Occupy or any other social movement. It hasn’t been building on the Wisconsin protests to create long-lasting change. It’s been a discussion of this question: Has Obama been so horrible that we can’t vote for him?
I’m really disappointed in the left in this conversation.
I would like to think that we on the left actually do understand history. We do not. There is a clear path to change. Conservatives understand this. You take over the party structure. That’s what they did in the 1950s and 1960s when they were disgusted by the moderate Republicanism of Dwight Eisenhower, Earl Warren, and Nelson Rockefeller. They took over party structures and local offices and turned them into bastions of energized conservatism. Note that conservatives basically don’t run 3rd party campaigns. Libertarians might talk about doing this–but they almost all vote Republican in the end because they know that they are moving their agenda forward by doing so.
Any reading of history shows that change within the American political system does not come through third party campaigns. It comes through the hard work of organizing our communities to demand change. Eventually legal and political changes are necessary–but only after people are organized to demand them. Look at the major movements in the last century. The labor movement, African-American civil rights, the women’s movement, gay rights movement. Each of these movements spent decades (or a century) organizing for change. For each of them, there was a moment when it all came together and they could demand transformations of federal and state law, which for gay rights is happening right now.
Note that not a single one of these transformational social movements used a third party mechanism as an important strategy.
At times, a 3rd party could theoretically make sense. The last one that made any difference was the Populists. But there are two caveats to using that as an argument in favor of a 3rd party today. First, as historian Jeffrey Ostler has shown, in reality Populists thrived primarily in 1-party states after the Civil War. For reasons of regional identity coming from the Civil War, corruption, and political violence, many states had only one functioning political party. That meant that there was no way for the Populists to get their voices heard. They were really operating as a 2nd party. In states that were legitimately contested by both parties such as Iowa, the Populists had a very hard time gaining traction. Second, the Populists came out of nearly 20 years of organizing among angry farmers. It was the voices of millions of bankrupt farmers coming up through the system. Unable to see the changes they wanted on a local or state level, they eventually went national.
There has not been a single 3rd party campaign since World War II that has come out of grassroots organizing. Every one of them has been about a nationally known figure (or a rich self-funder) deciding to make a point and through a 3rd party presidential run. That’s true whether we are talking about Henry Wallace, Ross Perot, or Ralph Nader. The only possible counterexamples to this are the segregationist runs of Strom Thurmond and George Wallace, but that’s obviously such a different phenomenon as to be irrelevant to this conversation.
Those who are calling for a 3rd party run today have no interest in party building, just as Nader didn’t in 2000. They are angry at Obama and want to shove it in the Democrats’ faces by throwing the election to Romney. That shows a massive ignorance of how change works in this society, as well as a hyperactive fetishized individualism coming out of our consumer capitalist society that privileges these sorts of positions and stands over organizing.
There’s also been a leftier than thou aspect to this, which again is a spawn of our individualistic fetish. Politics have become like a tattoo for many on the left–how you mark yourself means how cool you are. If you argue with Matt Stoller directly about his inane arguments, as I have, he will just call you an Obot. There’s no intellectual engagement from him–he just simply dismisses you as some kind of centrist blind follower of Dear Leader Obama. That kind of non-argument has been a major part of the discussion from a lot of people who provide red meat to the left–Stoller, Greenwald, and others. This is all just silly. There’s a reason socialists and communists worked to reelect FDR in 1936 and 1940, even though they thought he was a sell-out to the capitalists. They knew he was the best hope they had to build the kind of society they wanted and that by running some kind of 3rd party, they would completely alienate the base of people they wanted to organize.
I don’t disagree with Scott when he calls Obama the 3rd most progressive president of the last century, but obviously Obama has been disappointing on a lot of foreign policy and civil liberties issues. Of course, FDR threw the Japanese in concentration camps and LBJ invaded Vietnam. You can certainly make the argument that every single president of the United States has been fundamentally evil and has done terrible things. It’s not a hard argument to make. It’s also an intellectually cheap argument to make. But then intellectually cheap arguments have been par for the course from much of the left in 2012.
1. Change happens outside the election cycles–elections are for institutionalizing the changes you have attempted to make in the past 4 years.
2. Every single U.S. president has blood on his hands. Voting in a presidential election is always a choice between two evils.
3. We need to think less about our own personal moral position in voting. It’s not about you. It’s about the community where you live. Even if you vote for Jill Stein, the blood of Pakistani babies killed in drone strikes is on your hands. You cannot wash off that blood without changing the system–something that 3rd parties have never done. You want clean hands–organize the American public around the issues you care about. It will take the rest of your life. That is the timeline of real change.
4. There actually are lessons from the past on these issues. There are lessons in how to organize. And there are lessons about what third parties do and do not do. When someone can tell me what value a third party has had to pushing the agenda to the left in the last 80 years, I’ll be real interested in hearing it.
5. We need a tougher and smarter left. The self-described left punditry and journalists in 2012 has been individualistic, holier than thou, disorganized, and narcissistic. The real story of the left this year is smart and tough–the Chicago Teachers Union. That’s how you demand and make change. Writing editorials obscuring the differences between Obama and Romney and encouraging well-meaning people to protest vote is worse than worthless–it’s mendacious and serves as a tool for conservatives to continue pushing this nation back to the Gilded Age.
I found these proposals to re-reengineer New York City pretty interesting. Essentially there are 3–create marshlands on the edge of Manhattan to serve as a buffer against rising sea levels and big storms while also placing permeable roads that would allow storms to seep into the soil, create oyster beds which do the same and also help with water quality, and a storm barrier/drawbridge to protect Staten Island. Not sure about the last one, but the first two provide some very good ideas. Marshlands, managed retreat from the lowest lying areas, oysters, permeable streets–these are plans that make a lot of sense. Huge engineering projects like building barriers in the ocean are not only ungodly expensive but also are not likely to work over the long term–and it only takes one failure for a complete disaster to strike. Blending the big and small makes a lot of sense on a number–likelihood of success, aesthetics, ecology, and cost. Oyster beds and marshlands might not seem very New York what with its Empire State Building and Museum of Modern Art and hub of world modernity, but a move away from futuristic modernist thinking is in order to deal with climate change realistically.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of political will out there to pay for any reasonable kind of public works to protect our low-lying cities. If there were, we would first allow the Mississippi to flood naturally and rebuild the marshlands that protect New Orleans, but since Hurricane Katrina seven years ago, there’s been only the tiniest of progress on this while more of the swamps turn into open water, leaving New Orleans more vulnerable than ever.
What happens when voters want to cast in-person absentee ballots in Miami-Dade County? Close the polls for no reason and start towing the cars of people waiting in line.
Republicans will do anything to win this election, including shenanigans both on Tuesday and after to challenge voters, go to court, anything.
At the intersection of our hyperactive 24-hour news cycle media culture and the long-term effects of environmental inequality lies what the post-colonial literary scholar Rob Nixon calls “slow violence.” Nixon argues that the long-term cumulative effects of climate change, toxic dumping, deforestation, and other environmental catastrophes both escape the developed world’s short attention span (the slow violence that the developed world doesn’t think of as violence) and eventually lead to what he calls “the environmentalism of the poor.” That is a very different style of environmentalism than the wilderness and biodiversity environmentalism of the wealthy United States; these movements are about the poor defending themselves from the corporate and state environmental exploitation they face that steals their water, poisons their soil, and makes them sick.
Nixon’s Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (usefully summarized in this Chronicle piece) has multiple audiences. Nixon creates a Venn diagram of influences in his preface, placing himself where Edward Said, Rachel Carson, and Ramachandra Guha meet. His choices have a point–scholar-activists who transcended discipline and audience to speak to the world. Nixon is frustrated with how postcolonial studies (and literary studies more broadly) have retreated into a jargon-heavy cocoon of the academy, dooming itself to growing irrelevancy. Nixon wants to use textual analysis to make a difference in the world and to bring environmental literary studies and postcolonial studies together. He rightfully notes that literary environmentalism has too often taken on an American cast with an American conception of environmental problems while postcolonial studies has repeated the beliefs of postcolonial states that environmentalism is a colonial movement with the nefarious goal of preventing Africa, Asia, and Latin America from rising to world power.
As an environmental historian and not a literary scholar, I can’t speak to the literary criticism or Nixon’s critique of his field with any great insight. He uses a broad range of texts, focusing heavily on writers of the developing world such as Ken Saro-Wiwa, Jamaica Kincaid, and the towering Cities of Salt by Abdul Rahman Munif (reading about John Updike’s condescending critique of the book as not properly formal or within the Euro-American tradition was both amusing and eye-rolling at the same time). He also focuses on non-fictional texts, particularly from Wangari Maathai and Arundathi Roy, with the broader goal of elucidating the relationship between writers and social movements.
I can however offer my insights into the broader idea of slow violence, which I think is tremendously useful. Think about the Haiti earthquake in 2010. As Nixon wryly notes, slow violence doesn’t mesh with media and electoral cycles in the United States and Europe, so it drops out of sight quickly. Despite Anderson Cooper’s noble attempt to keep the story in the news cycle longer than such an event normal’s coverage, it has almost totally disappeared off our radar screens. Yet the people of Haiti still deal with the long-term implications of this every day. The Haiti earthquake isn’t a direct act of corporate or state violence, but like most natural disasters, the aftermath was created by social and economic inequalities developed over a long period of time. The long history of French slave colonialism, Euro-American isolation of the black republic after independence, and American interventions and support of dictators in the 20th century means that Haiti does not have the political, social, or economic resources to recover from catastrophic events.
Eventually, poor people often organize around the slow violence to their environments, health, and lives. Wangari Maathai’s Greenbelt Movement was a tremendous challenge to the Kenyan state of Daniel arap Moi. The Ogoni Rebellion that led to Ken Saro-Wiwa’s execution was a response to the Nigerian government-oil corporation alliance to exploit the Niger delta and allow the tribes who make that once fertile area home live with widespread pollution and violence every day. These are landscapes that Nixon notes are rendered disposable by capitalism; faraway and with no media attention paid to them, corporations can make alliances with corrupt local elites to trash a region and its people for short-term profits. If they do get called out in the United States or Europe, their public relations people can draw on talk about the resiliency of nature to undermine calls for regulations or to punish their behavior. Meanwhile, the slow violence continues, whether it is Indians in Bhopal still suffering from the aftermath of the Union Carbide disaster or Iraqis dying from depleted uranium exposure.
Nixon’s conception of slow violence has usefulness for our understanding of the past as well. Certainly capitalism viewed the forests of the Pacific Northwest as utterly disposable and wanted to leave local people to deal with the consequences, like it had done in Alabama and Maine and Minnesota. People like Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot could respond to the very visible environmental damage done to the forests, but the lives of loggers were more hidden. Getting sick and dying from the industrialized landscape of the forests, loggers themselves were forgotten about, even by most regional reformers. The Pacific Northwest was a center of Progressive and socialist politics, yet it’s amazing how completely off the radar screen the region’s struggling itinerant labor force was to reformers, suffering from violence slow and distant enough even to fall out of the media cycle of a century ago. I am arguing in my book that loggers created their own environmentalism of the poor, to use Nixon’s term, between 1910 and 1950.
Nixon’s book is not only important reading within literary studies, but to anyone thinking about environmental justice and the relationship between the developed and developing world. Even leaving aside what I assume are quite valid critiques of his academic subdisciplines, Nixon helps to rethink both the role of the writer as activist and the relationship between the media cycle, violence over space and time, the corporate-state alliance, and environmental organizing among the world’s poor.
The idea of putting a statue of Christopher Hitchens in a British park is enough to make me choke on my shawarma. At least someone is standing up to what would be the 21st century’s least defensible public monument.
I’m a bit outraged by Paul Anderson’s piece arguing essentially that NFL players have the right to play after they’ve had a concussion. Anderson argues that our national concussion outrage should focus on college football–and he’s right about that. During last week’s Arizona-USC game, Arizona QB Matt Scott was leading his team down the field for a go-ahead touchdown. Near the end of the drive, Scott scrambled and took a knee to the head. He immediately puked on the field and was clearly concussed. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez left Scott in the game to complete the drive. This was an egregious violation of player safety. College football is absolutely terrible on this issue.
But Anderson’s piece also basically feels like an apology for the NFL. He rightly notes that the lawsuits currently under litigation are about old players and the old NFL and that in today’s NFL, everyone knows the risk of concussions. Since those players are getting paid, the have the right to work after concussed. But from my perspective, this feels an awful lot like employers in other high risk workplaces abnegating responsibility for their actions by invoking labor’s “freedom to work.” Sure that coal mine is egregiously unsafe, but I’m not forcing the worker to go down in the hole! Now there is some difference of course between the two situations–NFL players are highly paid and coal miners aren’t. But most NFL players are looking at a very short career and within NFL culture, any sign of not putting your body through extreme hell is considered soft and a good way to find yourself unemployed.
Moreover, and this seems so obvious as to not need saying, when you have just suffered a concussion, you are not in the right mindset to make a rational decision about continuing to play. Yet Anderson portrays concussed players as rational actors who will make the best decision for themselves. That’s totally absurd. He argues that they can apply for workers’ compensation if they are permanently hurt, but anyone who has gone through that system can tell you it’s neither easy nor does it fully compensate your pay.
Anderson is supposed to be some of sort concussion expert, but to me he’s sounding an awful lot like a libertarian who is happy to put workers at risk in favor of larger principles of “free will” for which he personally will never face the consequences.
Excellent story about a reporter in Williamson County, Texas (deep red suburbs north of Austin) trying to vote with a utility bill as an ID. Mind you, Texas doesn’t require photo ID for voting since its law is being challenged in the courts. But precinct workers are demanding it. This reminds me of the old Jim Crow era literacy tests, where local election workers got to decide who voted and who didn’t. A white person who is going to vote for the powers that be and is illiterate–go right ahead! A black college professor–not literate! America’s decentralized election system creates and exacerbates power inequalities through allowing for intensive intimidation of voters. In states with voter ID laws, you have older Republicans making decisions over who can vote in Republican dominated counties. I don’t see any way these laws lead to greater democracy. Which is exactly the point.
No evening is complete without a track from the album Senator Sam Ervin put out after the Watergate hearings.