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The politics of narcissism con’t

[ 137 ] December 1, 2015 |


Salon decided it would be a good idea to run this piece by Walker Bragman:

I am a 27-year-old, politically active, progressive millennial voter. I am a political junkie; my background is political science and American history. However, if Hillary Clinton gets the nomination (a big “if”), I will likely not vote for her, and will instead write in “Bernie Sanders” … and I encourage my readers to do so as well.

I never thought I would be encouraging people to not vote for the Democratic nominee for president. Looking at 2012, history illustrates that the only way to change politics is through primary elections: If you want change, vote for the party aligned most closely to that change, and participate in primaries, but when it comes to the general, select the “lesser of two evils.”

OK, so why . . . ?

Debbie Wasserman Schultz has disappointed me as a young, active Democrat.

Look, “kid” — btw Keats had been dead for three years by your age — Debbie Wasserman Schultz disappoints people every day. In fact, that’s pretty much her day job: disappointing people. Being personally disappointed by Debbie Wasserman Schultz is not a good reason for handing the 2015 version of the Republican party effective control of the entire federal government of the United States. Please read that last sentence again, and if doing so doesn’t cause you to reconsider, you’ll, as Michael Corleone once said, disappoint me.

Anyway, what exactly is so awful about HRC that you’re going to go all Nadar Nader, while employing a pretty good-sized media platform to encourage your readership to do so as well? I mean you were 12 years old in 2000, so even for a young, active Democrat, the 2000 fiasco isn’t something you have to google or anything. I was 12 during Watergate, and I remember that just fine. (And we didn’t even have Google in those days. If something happened so long ago in the past that you couldn’t remember it, you had to find a book to read about it, or you would never learn anything, and would end up saying things like “Richard Nixon was more liberal than Barack Obama.” And we liked it that way!)

The DNC’s leadership has seemingly aligned itself with Hillary Clinton, someone who, in my opinion, is an unqualified candidate for the following reasons:

1) Hillary’s personality repels me (and many others).

So the #1 qualification for a presidential candidate on your list is that you like her personality? Turn off your political Tinder app — you’re not going on a date with her.

OK to be fair you then move on to a bunch of substantive reasons why you prefer Sanders to Clinton. But what’s the relevance of any of that to the question of what to do, individually and collectively (after all you’re publishing this piece, not just casting a lonely protest write-in vote), in the general? Your answer seems to be, because electing HRC now would make it harder to elect Bernie or Elizabeth Warren in some extremely hypothetical future. Also, those contradictions won’t heighten themselves:

From a political science perspective, I see American politics through the lens of realignment cycles. We Democrats have a limited time to get done what we want to get done, which is why I would rather lose this election cycle due to low turnout than waste four years. . .

The 2020-2024 election cycles are far more important than 2016. Both the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court of the United States will be up for grabs. I worry that Hillary in 2020 will be an even harder sell than she is now, given the direction the electorate is shifting. The fact is, Hillary is not a progressive. She’s barely even a liberal.

This is the “tanking the season before it even starts just to get the #1 draft pick” theory of politics. Except the result isn’t a bad win-loss record, it’s massive amounts avoidable suffering for tens of millions of your fellow Americans. And that’s the best-case scenario in a President Rubio administration. How about life under President Cruz? Or President For Life Trump?

I realize this article is click-bait, and that Salon (who I write for quite often, and which actually pays its writers) “needs” to run it, sort of, in the same sense that it “needs” to keep giving Camille Paglia a platform to continue to wreak havoc on American culture and the English language. But still.


College coach with $18 million guaranteed contract regrets win at all costs mentality

[ 35 ] November 30, 2015 |


University of Georgia head football coach Mark Richt got fired yesterday, just ten months after he got an $800,000 annual raise, which kicked his base compensation to $4 million per year, before “performance incentives,” which could have totaled another $1.8 million annually. Richt’s contract, which was originally signed in 2012, and extended in January through 2019, guaranteed him a minimum of $18 million over its term.

In addition, as is the custom among the lesser nobility in the New Gilded Age, the contract also provided him with various things that most people pay for themselves, such as the use of two new cars each year, with the insurance for them being paid by private donors, and a $3,600 annual clothing allowance.

Today Richt was noting how obsessed everyone seems to have become with winning football games: “Expectations have been built to a point where if you don’t win a championship it’s miserable around here,” he told reporters. I’m not picking on Richt in particular, since he’s merely repeating the lament of lots of big-time college coaches, who — no doubt sincerely — deplore the overt professionalization of big-time college sports. These days, it seems, it’s just like the NFL: either win big, or get fired.

Whatever happened to instilling character, teaching leadership skills, celebrating teamwork, and I almost forgot, helping “student athletes” get an education? The answer of course is that that’s not what he was getting paid $4 million per year to do. Like a comparably paid NFL coach, he was getting paid to win, period. In that regard, he was in the same position as his players, who, for all practical purposes, are just like NFL players. Except for the getting paid part.

Randall Kennedy on race and racism at Harvard Law School (and elsewhere)

[ 141 ] November 27, 2015 |


HLS professor Randall Kennedy has an excellent piece on the current controversies at Harvard and elsewhere (A few days ago, some unknown person(s) for unknown reasons put strips of black tape, across the portraits of tenured black professors that are displayed, along with the portraits of all tenured HLS professors, in one of the school’s buildings). I don’t like to excerpt it, since it seems to me a model of balance and good sense that really should be read in its entirety, but here is part of his argument:

Substantial numbers of onlookers believe that this episode is by no means isolated, that it offers a revealing glimpse into the soul of Harvard Law School.

They believe that the defacement is but an outcropping of shrouded, denied, but pervasive bigotry abetted by an unwillingness to redress subtle vestiges of historical racial injustice. The aggrievement felt by substantial numbers of smart, knowledgeable and capable students is evident. Their accusations warrant close examination and may well justify further reforms. There are exceedingly few, if any, major institutions in America that can be presumed to be racism free.

Activists who are demanding that universities do more to advance racial justice ought to be encouraged by what has transpired in recent weeks. On account of their interventions, difficult but earnest and probing conversations have blossomed. At Harvard, the dozen or so strips of black tape that prompted the crisis have been replaced by hundreds of brightly colored stickers expressing respect and appreciation, and rejecting bigotry.

Around the country, any administrator in higher education who neglects to take seriously plausible accusations of racism proceeds at his or her peril. Activists have succeeded in shoving to the top of the higher-education policy agenda the claims, dissatisfactions and aspirations of African-American students.

Successes, however, can generate or exacerbate destructive tendencies. I worry about two in particular. One involves exaggerating the scope of the racism that the activists oppose and fear. The other involves minimizing their own strength and the victories that they and their forebears have already achieved. . .

While some of [the activists’] complaints have a ring of validity, several are dubious. A decision by a professor to focus on a seemingly dry, technical issue rather than a more accessible, volatile subject involving race might well reflect a justifiable pedagogical strategy. Opposition to racial affirmative action can stem from a wide range of sources other than prejudice. Racism and its kindred pathologies are already big foes; there is no sustained payoff in exaggerating their presence, thus making them more formidable than they actually are.

Disturbing, too, is a related tendency to indulge in self-diminishment by displaying an excessive vulnerability to perceived and actual slights and insults. Some activists seem to have learned that invoking the rhetoric of trauma is an effective way of hooking into the consciences of solicitous authorities. Perhaps it is useful for purposes of eliciting certain short-term gains.

In the long run, though, reformers harm themselves by nurturing an inflated sense of victimization.

One reaction to this kind of an argument is that it plays into the hands of right-wingers, who are categorizing the various protests at Yale, Missouri, Princeton, Harvard, etc., as nothing more than the manifestations of a combination of illiberal “political correctness” and hyper-sensitive whining by over-privileged children of the helicopter parent generation. Another reaction is that the former reaction itself plays into the hands of those who want to wrongly minimize the continuing salience of race and racism in American society, by refusing to consider making distinctions between valid, less valid, and spurious complaints.

These are difficult and important questions, and Kennedy’s willingness to engage with them in a nuanced way is admirable.

Trump, Rubio and Cruz (an unlimited liability partnership)

[ 73 ] November 26, 2015 |

cruz coloring book

Ezra Klein interviews political scientist Alan Abramowitz:

I certainly don’t think [Trump is] a strong favorite, but there’s no way of really coming up with an accurate prediction of these things. Forecasting nomination contests is a fool’s game, I think. I saw what Nate Silver posted on FiveThirtyEight, and what he’s saying is reasonable based on the history of these presidential nominations, but there are a couple things I think are different this year.

Silver makes the case that the polls at this point don’t necessarily mean much, and you can get big swings in voter preferences in relatively short periods of time. And that’s true. What I think is different is Republicans are tuned in to a much greater degree than they were at this point in previous nomination contests. You can see that in polling when you ask whether voters are paying attention, and you can see that in ratings for the debates. The idea that voters aren’t tuned in yet and won’t make up their minds till January or later may not prove as true as it has in the past.

Because of the higher level of interest and attention this year, these early polls may be more predictive of what’s likely to happen.

The second point is Trump isn’t only leading in national polling. He’s leading in every state poll I’ve seen. He seems to be ahead in Iowa, in New Hampshire, in South Carolina, Nevada.

Voters say he’s a strong leader who will shake up Washington, and that’s what they want. He’s the leader on big issues like immigration, terrorism, the economy. And the Washington Post/ABC News poll found a plurality — even more voters than actually support him — think he’s the candidate with the best chance of winning in November.

If Trump does start to fade out, the good news, from the standpoint of Republican leaders and strategists, is that Ben Carson seems to be beginning to fade in support. The bad news is that the guy who is really well-positioned to pick up Carson and even Trump supporters is Ted Cruz. And Cruz right now is right on Trump’s heels in Iowa. He has a very strong organization there, and it’s an electorate he could do very well with.

So, to me right now, it looks like there are three potential Republican nominees, and that would be Trump, Cruz, and Rubio.

Klein acknowledges that a lot of pundits, including himself, “have a sort of Underpants Gnomes theory of Marco Rubio’s chances. Step one is Rubio is the only acceptable nominee to Republican elites. Step two is … something. And step three is Rubio wins the nomination.”

The impending conclusion of the Ben Carson Griftathon has cemented Cruz as the other anti-establishment alternative to Rubio, thereby complicating things further. Right now I’d say it’s difficult to predict which of these three candidates will win, but I think it’s fair to say that all three have a very real shot, including Der Donald.

Everybody’s in show biz

[ 54 ] November 25, 2015 |


I’ve spent much of the last two decades “doing” both conventional academic work and freelance journalism, and over that time I’ve come to appreciate that academia and journalism share some similar problems. The one that interests me the most at the moment is the practical problem of producing what in many ways is or ought to be a public good, while at the same time needing to sell this good in or on the market.

In academia, this is reflected by the corporatization of the university, which comes down to giving students, conceptualized increasingly as just another species of customer, what they want, or think they want, as opposed to what they need. It’s an axiom of the market that the customer is always right, but that axiom is by definition inimical to the very idea of education, which is based on the idea that students are persons in need of edification, rather than conduits for the delivery of ever-more profitable forms of consumer satisfaction.

Journalism faces a similar conundrum, summed up nicely by Matt Taibbi:

What we call right-wing and liberal media in this country are really just two different strategies of the same kind of nihilistic lizard-brain sensationalism. The ideal CNN story is a baby down a well, while the ideal Fox story is probably a baby thrown down a well by a Muslim terrorist or an ACORN activist. Both companies offer the same service, it’s just that the Fox version is a little kinkier.

When you make the news into this kind of consumer business, pretty soon audiences lose the ability to distinguish between what they think they’re doing, informing themselves, and what they’re actually doing, shopping.

And who shops for products he or she doesn’t want? That’s why the consumer news business was always destined to hit this kind of impasse. You can get by for a long time by carefully selecting the facts you know your audiences will like, and calling that news. But eventually there will be a truth that displeases your customers. What do you do then?

Although there’s always a danger of romanticizing the past, there was a time not that long ago when most of higher education in America was primarily about something other than making money (although of course it always had to be about that too). I don’t know nearly as much about the history of American journalism, although I know enough to realize that the likes of William Randolph Hearst ruled much of that world many decades before Rupert Murdoch washed ashore. But that history also includes the likes of Edward Murrow, who apparently worked at a news division that was expected to lose money, since the bills were being paid by the entertainment side of the business, and it was understood by the William Paleys of the world that reporting the news had to be about something more than making a buck, or it wouldn’t be real reporting for long.

For a generation now, America has been bombarded by the message that the market is the proper measure of all things, and that pretty much everything ought to be sold to the highest bidder. The result is the disgusting spectacle of Trump campaign, which probably started out as a shameless publicity stunt, but is now getting such great ratings that there’s a non-trivial chance he could become president of the United States.

Crime in the city

[ 54 ] November 25, 2015 |


Jason Van Dyke murdered Laquan McDonald more than a year ago, and a lot of people throughout the city of Chicago’s power structure were well aware of that at the time. Those people did everything they could to cover up the facts in the case, and they would have gotten away with it if not for a police dashcam and a few muckraking journalists:

“The real issue here is, this terrible thing happened, how did our governmental institutions respond?” Kalven said. “And from everything we’ve learned, compulsively at every level, from the cops on the scene to the highest levels of government, they responded by circling the wagons and by fabricating a narrative that they knew was completely false.” To him this response is “part of a systemic problem” and preserves “the underlying conditions that allow abuse and shield abuse.”

In April, the Chicago Tribune revealed Van Dyke’s name and his history of civilian complaints—including several brutality complaints, one of which cost the city $500,000 in a civil lawsuit—none of which resulted in any disciplinary action. In May, Carol Marin reported that video from a security camera at a Burger King on the scene had apparently been deleted by police in the hours after the shooting.

“This case shows the operation of the code of silence in the Chicago Police Department,” said Futterman. “From the very start you have officers and detectives conspiring to cover up the story. The question is, why are they not being charged?”

Van Dyke’s history “also shows what happens when the police department consistently chooses not to look at patterns of abuse complaints when investigating misconduct charges,” he adds. This failure “is one of the reasons an officer like Van Dyke has an opportunity to execute a 17-year-old kid.”

Rather than acknowledging the systemic failures, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is now trying to frame the issue as the action of one bad officer, as the Tribune reports. “One individual needs to be held accountable,” he said Monday.

Kalven calls Emanuel’s “reframing” of the narrative “essentially false.” He points out that “everything we know now, the city knew from Day One. They had the officers on the scene. They knew there were witnesses. They had the autopsy, they had the video…. They maintained a false narrative about those events, and they did it for a year, when it could have been corrected almost immediately….They spent a year stonewalling any calls for transparency, any information about the case.”

Part of the coverup was a five million dollar settlement McDonald’s family reached with the city. The settlement was reached even before any lawsuit was filed, which indicates how eager everyone in the city’s power structure was to make this incident go away without actual the facts of the case ever becoming public.

Rahm Emanuel’s behavior through all this has been particularly dubious. As of two days ago he was claiming he had never seen the video that was the key piece of evidence driving the city’s settlement/coverup of the killing — a claim that is equally disturbing whether one believes him or not.

In any case, Emanuel’s attempt to cover up the city’s cover up by turning a story of systemic legal and political corruption into a banal tale of one trigger-happy cop is just a continuation of an ongoing crime.

. . . per this analysis, police misconduct has cost Chicago more than a half billion dollars over the past decade in settlements, fees, jury verdicts, and associated legal costs.

Fair and balanced

[ 13 ] November 23, 2015 |


Earlier today I wondered how the media are going to handle the tricky situation created by the fact that the front-runner for the GOP nomination is both a racist demagogue and a pathological liar. How many “journalists” will surrender to the professional bad habit of framing brazen no-two-ways-about-it lies as “controversial” statements, about which there can be a variety of legitimate opinions?

Consider this nugget from Cory Bennett of the Weekly World News Hill:

However, the percentages do, in some ways, align with Department of Justice (DOJ) findings from several years ago. A DOJ study released in 2011 reported that 93 percent of black homicides were committed by other blacks between 1980 and 2008.

In 2014, that figure was roughly 90 percent in 2014, according to the latest DOJ numbers.

The category tweeted out by Trump that doesn’t fit with DOJ statistics is “Whites Killed by Whites,” which Trump’s tweet indicated was 16 percent.

According to the department’s 2011 report, 84 percent of white homicides were committed by whites between 1980 and 2008. That number was 82 percent in 2014.

Contrary to Bennett, the category of interest here is “whites killed by blacks,” which Trump’s tweet claimed made up 81% of all murders of whites (the true percentage is a sixth of that).

Trump’s claims are true “in some ways,” in the trivial sense that they contain assertions that nobody has ever questioned, along with the crazy lies that should be the exclusive subject of journalistic commentary, because it’s the crazy lies that are newsworthy.

In other words, claiming that Trump’s racist lies regarding this subject “in some ways” reflect the actual facts is no different than saying that the claims of Holocaust deniers “in some ways” reflect reality, because after all, as deniers argue, a lot of Jews did die as a result of harsh conditions in labor camps, as opposed to being directly murdered. It’s just that the other stuff about how millions weren’t gassed and shot in an extermination campaign happens to be false.

America’s Got Fascists: This fall’s hit reality TV show (now also known as “reality”)

[ 86 ] November 23, 2015 |


Scott notes that yesterday Donald Trump appropriated a fake graphic created by a neo-Nazi, who had made up some wildly false crime statistics for the purpose of racist fear-mongering.

It was a busy weekend for Trump. On Saturday at a Birmingham, Alabama, rally some of his supporters beat up a black protester, and Trump suggested the victim was only getting what he deserved. He also had this to say:

“I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.”

Yesterday, he doubled down on this claim on ABC’s This Week:

There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down. I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down — as those buildings came down. And that tells you something. It was well covered at the time, George [Stephanopoulos]. Now, I know they don’t like to talk about it, but it was well covered at the time. There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it, a heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down. Not good.

In response to this toxic nonsense, Stephanopoulous politely demurred, merely noting that “the police say it didn’t happen.” (The relevant exchange takes place between 6:45 and 7:32 here).

Notice that even the Snopes takedown linked above tries to rationalize Trump’s behavior somewhat, by noting that people often think they remember seeing things that didn’t actually happen. (That’s true, but presidential candidates should probably be held to a higher standard, especially if they’re using their demonstrably false “memories” — if this isn’t just a pure lie from Trump, which is more likely — to incite racial and religious hatred and violence).

The media are in a tough spot here, because both the informal propaganda apparatus and a good part of the base of one of the two major parties has decided that a racist demagogue who lies pathologically about everything ought to be president. This means coverage of this person has to be “balanced,” which in turn means you can’t just point out over and over again that Trump is a racist demagogue who lies pathologically about everything, because that wouldn’t sound very balanced now would it?

. . . see also Dylan Matthews.

College football coaching salaries, excellence demander edition

[ 55 ] November 22, 2015 |

todd graham

(1) Arizona State won its sixth game in eleven outings yesterday, effectively guaranteeing head coach Todd Graham a $225,000 bonus, as his contract sweetens his three million dollar base salary with that sum if the team appears in a bowl game (all major conference teams with a non-losing record now appear in a bowl game).

Since ASU had three automatic wins on its schedule at the start of the year — Cal Poly, New Mexico, and Colorado — that means he only had to win three of nine games against legit to semi-legit opponents to collect a bonus which by itself would put him at close to the 99th percentile of individual wage income.

It’s also probably way more than he got for his role as the covert cyborg Ash in Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi horror film Alien.

(2) LSU is about to fire Les Miles, who they’ve paid about $40 million over his eleven years as the Tigers’ head coach. If they do so they will owe him an additional $16 million in liquidated damages (buyout) money over the next eight years, although that sum will be offset by any money he makes from subsequent employment over that time (he’s 62 so he might just retire).

Official salaries for the labor force that generates the income that pays for all this (and much, much more) remain stable at zero.

Refugees and guns

[ 56 ] November 19, 2015 |

the nuge

I have a piece on the GOP’s somewhat different analysis of the risk posed by Syrian refugees, and the risks posed by having 250 million mostly unregulated guns floating around:

Republicans are willing to let an apparently unlimited number of children drown to avoid the minuscule risk that letting a few of them and their parents into this country might conceivably lead to “another Paris,” when in fact another Paris is taking place in America this very day, and another will happen tomorrow, and another the day after that, into perpetuity.

And what do the leaders of the GOP propose to do about our daily Paris-level gun massacre? The answer, perversely enough, is the same one they give to the refugee crisis: Absolutely nothing. Indeed, it’s practically an article of faith for Republican politicians that any effort, no matter how modest, to decrease the number of Americans getting slaughtered by guns on every single day of the year is too much.

Any restrictions on assault weapons are too much, and any waiting periods are too much, and even barring suspected terrorists who are on no-fly lists from buying guns is too much.

According to this peculiar moral calculus, it is better, on the one hand, to let a thousand, or ten thousand, or one hundred thousand innocent refugees die horrible deaths, than to take the risk that one American might conceivably be harmed as a consequence of engaging in the slightest gesture of humanity toward the desperate victims of ISIS. On the other, it’s also better to let another Paris happen, right here in America, on this day and every other day, than it is to try to do anything to save the life of even one of the many dozens of Americans who will be killed on this very day by gun violence.

People who can believe both of these things at the same time are not going to be troubled by any level of cognitive dissonance. Apparently, another name for this state of mind is “the contemporary Republican party.”

The politics of narcissism

[ 206 ] November 19, 2015 |


Are people getting increasingly narcissistic about politics and/or voting? How would one measure this? Anecdotally speaking, there sure seems to be a lot of this kind of thing going around:

I’m tired of compromising my beliefs because others are apathetic and unwilling to stand up to the DNC. Pertaining to the powers of a president (war, foreign policy and vetoes), a Trump and Clinton presidency won’t be that different. Congress will decide gun laws and Planned Parenthood debates, not the president. I will not vote for Hillary Clinton because my vote means something, and I won’t allow anyone to intimidate me into choosing the lesser of two evils.

That, believe it or not, is far from the silliest thing in an article that someone got paid to write, as opposed to a post on a petulant teenager’s Facebook page, although it may be that too. Speaking of which, is this all Facebook’s fault? (Facebook being a synecdoche here for the constant self-dramatizing preening enabled by the brave new world of social media. It’s like everyone is now Camille Pagila).

Speaking of Hillary Clinton not making lefties of various stripes quiver with that very special feeling, it’s just seems bizarre that after the last fifteen years people of even the vaguest progressive persuasion broadly defined could care about things like how a particular politician makes them “feel” about casting their vote. The coming presidential election, for those of us in this category, will consist of ordering one of three things for dinner: pizza, Indian food, or anthrax. For me Sanders is pretty good Indian food, while HRC on her worst days is Pizza Hut pizza, but the choice between Pizza Hut and anthrax is not a choice in any conceivable sense of the word, and having any sort of argument about this in 2015 as opposed to 2000 seems really ridiculous.

The politics of decency

[ 265 ] November 17, 2015 |


Kevin Drum makes a provocative argument:

Here’s the thing: to the average person, it seems perfectly reasonable to be suspicious of admitting Syrian refugees to the country. We know that ISIS would like to attack the US. We know that ISIS probably has the wherewithal to infiltrate a few of its people into the flood of refugees. And most voters have no idea how easy it is to get past US screening. They probably figure it’s pretty easy.

So it doesn’t seem xenophobic or crazy to call for an end to accepting Syrian refugees. It seems like simple common sense. After all, things changed after Paris.

Mocking Republicans over this—as liberals spent much of yesterday doing on my Twitter stream—seems absurdly out of touch to a lot of people. Not just wingnut tea partiers, either, but plenty of ordinary centrists too. It makes them wonder if Democrats seriously see no problem here. Do they care at all about national security? Are they really that detached from reality?

The liberal response to this should be far more measured. We should call for tighter screening. Never mind that screening is already pretty tight. We should highlight the fact that we’re accepting a pretty modest number of refugees. In general, we should act like this is a legitimate thing to be concerned about and then work from there.

Mocking it is the worst thing we could do. It validates all the worst stereotypes about liberals that we put political correctness ahead of national security. It doesn’t matter if that’s right or wrong. Ordinary people see the refugees as a common sense thing to be concerned about. We shouldn’t respond by essentially calling them idiots. That way lies electoral disaster.

This seems wrongheaded on a number of levels.

First, unless Drum thinks ISIS poses an actual threat to the national security of the United States — which is difficult to believe, unless a threat to national security is defined as “something bad happening,” in which case “national security” is a meaningless concept — then the proper response to calls for an end to accepting Syrian refugees is to point out that such a policy is grotesquely inhumane, as it buys Americans an infinitesimal decrease in the already infinitesimal risk that we as individuals will be victimized by jihadist terrorism, at the cost of failing to do anything to ameliorate the vast suffering of the actual victims of ISIS, 99.99% of whom are in Syria and Iraq.

Second, turning to the pragmatics of electoral politics, the idea that random liberals mocking conservatives on social media will have some sort of effect on actual electoral outcomes is highly implausible. Furthermore, arguing in this way helps create a Broderite frame in which sensible, moderate, serious etc etc people search for the reasonable middle ground between cowardly xenophobia and simple human decency.

Finally, even if we accept for the purposes of argument that it’s true that resisting cowardly xenophobia (repackaged here as “simple common sense” — note to Kevin Drum: at moments of intense social and political panic, the most despicable ideas are often as presented as “simple common sense” by opportunistic politicians) is politically costly, that doesn’t seem like a very compelling argument for not resisting it. Specifically, does Drum think it’s a bad idea for Barack Obama to respond to the despicable Ted Cruz in the manner in which he did?

Ted Cruz, a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has announced plans to introduce legislation in the Senate that would bar all Muslim Syrian refugees from entering America.

That stance has been greeted with widespread ridicule and disgust by Democrats who insist that keeping people out of the U.S. is anathema to the founding principles of the country. “That’s shameful,” President Obama said in a speech addressing the Paris attacks on Monday. “That’s not American. It’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”

While the idea of presidential leadership, the bully pulpit, and so forth gets much well-deserved mockery on this blog, that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments for actual moral leadership from the nation’s political leader. This is one of those moments, but apparently Drum, Charlie Pierce et. al. are more concerned about hurting the feelings of people who would prefer to indulge their baser instincts, without any reminders of the better angels of our nature.

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