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“If You Want to Send A Message, Use Western Union”

[ 419 ] March 4, 2014 |

In her fine recent piece, Michelle Goldberg makes a point about electoral nihilism I’ve never seen put so well:

But here’s the thing: arguments for ignoring electoral realities, for backing some quixotic third-party candidate or imagining that leftists can sway the system through ultimatums, are based on precisely this fantasy. Movements lead politicians, not the other way around, and simply deciding that the politicians we have aren’t good enough won’t will a movement into being. A left that absented itself from the dirty work of electing a president would be indulging in the very reflex Reed decries: trying to send a message to those in power rather than contending for power itself.

The right understands this; it has simultaneously, over decades, systematically taken over the GOP from the bottom up, built a huge network of interlocking intellectual, legal and political institutions and mobilized every four years to try to elect a Republican president.

Precisely right.

One curious thing about the Reed essay is that we don’t have to discuss the merits of electoral nihilism in the abstract — only a little more than a decade ago we saw a segment of the left declare war on the Democratic Party, assure supporters that there was no meaningful difference between the parties, and attract just enough support to produce catastrophe for the world. Reed’s attempt to deal with this obvious rebuttal was…not one of the stronger points of his essay:

This modus operandi has tethered what remains of the left to a Democratic Party that has long since renounced its commitment to any sort of redistributive vision and imposes a willed amnesia on political debate. True, the last Democrat was really unsatisfying, but this one is better; true, the last Republican didn’t bring destruction on the universe, but this one certainly will. And, of course, each of the “pivotal” Supreme Court justices is four years older than he or she was the last time.

I didn’t really understand at the time how anyone could have thought that a candidate who governed to the right of the Texas legislature, running with the Republican congressional coalition of 2000 on this platform, could have been seen as a harmless moderate not really different than Al Gore. But, OK, the candidate’s father was a fairly moderate Republican, Clinton was a fairly conservative Democrat — I can sort of reconstruct this peculiar blend of cynicism and wishful thinking however strongly I disagreed with it. But to continue making the argument after 8 years of George W. Bush? “Hundreds of thousands dead all over the world, arbitrary torture, two massive upper-class tax cuts, Sam Alito and John Roberts, letting New Orleans die, Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla Owen, John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales, total economic collapse — that compassionate conservative really didn’t work out too badly in the end!” If you think that was a price worth paying to send an ineffectual message to the Democrats, I just have to conclude that the premise is an unfalsifiable matter of faith.

“I made you, I can break you”

[ 51 ] March 3, 2014 |

The Self-Styled Siren on Kim Novak:

So let’s say — just as a hypothetical for-instance — you are an 81-year-old star whose last movie was in 1991 and who hasn’t been to the Oscars in many a long year. Not that you were ever nominated for one in the first place; you were, after all, a sex symbol for most of your career. As the evening approaches, the anxiety sets in. Harsh lights, you think. High-definition cameras. And a public that remembers you chiefly as the ice goddess whose beauty once drove James Stewart to the brink of madness.

And even back then, when you were 25 years old, you worried constantly that no matter how you looked, it wasn’t good enough.

So a few weeks before the ceremony, you go to a doctor, and he says, “Relax honey. I have just the thing to make you fresh and dewy for the cameras.”

And you go to the Oscars, so nervous you clutch your fellow presenter’s hand. And the next day, you wake up to a bunch of cheap goddamn shots about your face.

Nice system we got here, isn’t it.

No wonder Kim Novak, like Tippi Hedren, Doris Day and Brigitte Bardot, has long said she’d much rather spend her time with animals.

+1, as the cool kids who frequent blog comment sections might say. And do read the whole thing.

…see also.

Today In “Civil Rights Are Slavery”

[ 412 ] March 3, 2014 |

Shorter verbatim Tammy Bruce: “If we are able to coerce someone, via the threat of lawsuit and personal destruction, to provide a service, how is that not slavery? If we insist that you must violate your faith specifically in that slavish action, how is that not abject tyranny?”

Actually, Bruce seems to be doing Erick Erickson one better here: not only are requirements that public accommodations serve people on equal terms tantamount to slavery, she seems to be arguing that private boycotts are tantamount to slavery. I guess the idea is that when you’re already up to your waist in derp you might as well just go ahead and submerge yourself entirely.

I hope that the “basic civil rights protections are slavery” meme becomes a prominent feature of the Republican celebrations of the imaginary Martin Luther King who was totally a Reaganite before his time that recur every January. And it’s not that Republicans oppose civil rights; they just support the Jesse Helms version, and I’m sure if Helms were alive today he’d enthusiastically agree that civil rights statutes are like slavery and denying arbitrary individual exemptions to generally applicable laws is the essence of tyranny.

Is Obama Tough Enough To Show the Leadership To Lead? With Leadership?

[ 127 ] March 3, 2014 |

Mike “pay for play” Allen’s daily newsletter, as widely read among political elites as it is terrible, identifies its PARAGRAPH OF THE DAY. Can you guess the source?

The Russian occupation of Crimea has challenged Mr. Obama as has no other international crisis, and … [Republicans’ Sunday-show] advice seemed to pose the same question: Is Mr. Obama tough enough to take on the former K.G.B. colonel in the Kremlin? … Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany told Mr. Obama by telephone on Sunday that after speaking with Mr. Putin she was not sure he was in touch with reality … ‘In another world,’ she said.

If you guessed that this inane foreign-policy-as-pissing-contest logic came from the Fred Hiatt editorial Paul spotted earlier, you’re sensible but wrong. Sadly, it comes from Peter Baker’s alleged straight news story in the New York Times. I think you can see why so much of the “liberal media” rolled over and died in the run up to Iraq. Say what you will about Bush, he never lacked toughioisty and resolvitivity!

More Oscar Stuff To Argue About

[ 73 ] March 2, 2014 |

Glenn Kenny ponders the Best Picture nominees while making the Sunday gravy. I was prepared to get on my favorite Eastwood fanatic for the overrated Million Dollar Baby, only putting it into the context of the kind of crap that typically gets honored makes me think that Eastwood fantatics have a point. I’m also happy to see that even shrewd critics were (like me) at least partially snowed by American Beauty on the first viewing. It holds up so badly it’s probably still to high on Glenn’s list, although I’d still rather watch it than snoozefests like Chicago or A Beautiful Mind or irredeemable hateful trash like Crash (if only for the humanity Benning is able to lend her disgracefully written character.)

Moving things to the present, I also liked his post about The Wolf of Wall Street, but I’ll get back to some of this year’s movies later this week…

In Fairness, At Least He Didn’t Mention Munich

[ 352 ] March 1, 2014 |

There’s not much to say about the mind-numbing “war is always the answer, and if that doesn’t work more war. And talking tough. And plenty of bombs” predictability of Krauthammer’s demand that Obama do…something in the Ukraine, preferably involving killing lots of people for purposes that will be made clear later. But I had to extract this gem:

What Obama doesn’t seem to understand is that American inaction creates a vacuum. His evacuation from Iraq consigned that country to Iranian hegemony…

It’s the strangest thing. At some point a little more than 10 years ago, the Iraqi state just kind of spontaneously disintegrated, creating a power vacuum that strongly advantaged Iranian interests. I blame Barack Obama! Anyway, the lesson here is the inevitable effectiveness of the application of American military force at achieving strategic and humanitarian goals alike.

Standing Athwart History Yelling “Derp”

[ 145 ] February 28, 2014 |

Shorter Verbatim Erick Erickson:

In December of 1865, the several American states ratified the 13th amendment, constitutionally ending involuntary servitude in the United States. In the 21st century, Americans are coming full circle. In a number of states, a black man can again be forced by the government to work involuntarily for a white man.

In addition to the obvious, on Erickson’s own idiotic terms (i.e. “requirements that public accommodations be open to all comers with deep common law roots are like chattel slavery”), this is now true in every state. Anyway, I’m sure equating civil rights with slavery will greatly aid in Republican minority outreach.

[Joke expropriated from Warren Terra and Zandar. The 13th Amendment is dead, after all.]

Texas Executed An Innocent Man Update

[ 66 ] February 28, 2014 |

“There are three forms of evidence against Cameron Todd Willingham — 1. Junk science. 2. Baseless conjecture. 3. Uh, uh, uh…get me another Tito’s and Ambien!”

The case of Cameron Todd Willingham now has a not-at-all surprising development:

In the 10 years since Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham after convicting him on charges of setting his house on fire and murdering his three young daughters, family members and death penalty opponents have argued that he was innocent. Now newly discovered evidence suggests that the prosecutor in the case may have concealed a deal with a jailhouse informant whose testimony was a key part of the execution decision.

The battle to clear Mr. Willingham’s name has symbolic value because it may offer evidence that an innocent man was executed, something opponents of the death penalty believe happens more than occasionally. By contrast, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote seven years ago that he was unaware of “a single case — not one — in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit.”


What has changed is that investigators for the Innocence Project have discovered a curt handwritten note in Mr. Webb’s file in the district attorney’s office in Corsicana. The current district attorney, R. Lowell Thompson, made the files available to the Innocence Project lawyers, and in late November one of the lawyers, Bryce Benjet, received a box of photocopies.

As he worked through the stack of papers, he saw a note scrawled on the inside of the district attorney’s file folder stating that Mr. Webb’s charges were to be listed as robbery in the second degree, not the heavier first-degree robbery charge he had originally been convicted on, “based on coop in Willingham.”

In a sense, this new evidence is superfluous. Webb’s story — a jailhouse snitch asserting that someone who ended up getting executed because he wouldn’t cop a plea decided to spontaneously confess to a prisoner in another cell — doesn’t have a lot of room to get less credible. It underscores that the state of Texas always had nothing.

Admittedly, this isn’t an idea case to address Scalia’s claim, because this isn’t the kind of case (like a rock-solid albil) where we can know to an absolute certainty that Willingham is factually innocent. But there wasn’t even enough evidence for a responsible prosecutor to consider charging him, and as a condemnation of the death penalty that’s more than enough.

“Dont think of it as ‘stolen.’ Think of it as ‘Gone Galt.’”

[ 193 ] February 28, 2014 |

The group of people who would see this nothing-to-see-here reassurance on Bitcoin convincing would surely constitute the most valuable set of contacts for con artists since the Glengarry leads.

On the “I Am Outraged That Jan Brewer Would Veto This Meaningless Legislation” Argument

[ 161 ] February 27, 2014 |

It seems that the latest strategy to defend Arizona’s recently deceased anti-civil rights bill is to assert that it’s really nothing, essentially a reiteration of rights that already exist.  Via Roy, Rich Lowry exemplifies this approach: “The legislation consisted of minor clarifications of the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has been on the books for 15 years and is modeled on the federal act that passed with big bipartisan majorities in the 1990s and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.”  If these are just “minor clarifications to already-existing federal rights, what’s the big deal either way?  Well:

If you’ll excuse a brief, boring break from the hysteria to dwell on the text of the doomed bill, it stipulated that the word “person” in the law applies to businesses and that the protections of the law apply whether or not the government is directly a party to a proceeding (e.g., a lawsuit brought on anti-discrimination grounds).

This is, as Ian Faith would say, considerably more than minor.  That the existing RFRA should be read as applying to businesses is, at best, extremely questionable. The claim was an unprecedented invention of the endless ad hoc legal war against the Affordable Care Act, and it was unprecedented because the idea that secular businesses can “exercise” religion is incoherent gibberish on its face.  And in the context of civil rights law, giving business rather than individuals a religious exemption to neutral laws is a big deal, particular if the Supreme Court ends up defining the ludicrously trivial burden of the contraception non-mandate as “substantial.”  An individual exemption would rarely create an exemption to civil rights statutes, but a business exemption is a whole different story.

Needless to say, Lowry then proceeds to “you’re the one that’s intolerant” routine — which has the inevitable problem of being just an argument against the concept of civil rights legislation. The history of “religious freedom” being used as a pretext to justofy discrimination is a long and inglorious one.

The Leftward Drift of the Democratic Party

[ 335 ] February 27, 2014 |

I didn’t expect to agree with the bottom line, but having seen several smart people recommend the new Harper’s piece by the genuinely brilliant Adolph Reed Jr….I was expecting it to be better.  It certainly has more interesting insights than similar arguments advanced by the Matt Stollers of the world, but I think what he says that’s true isn’t actually controversial and what is controversial isn’t true. A few points:

  • The core of the argument is the assumption of a “Democratic Party whose center has moved steadily rightward since Ronald Reagan’s presidency.” I find the idea that the Democratic Party has moved right since 1980 frankly bizarre.  A party whose leadership consisted of O’Neill, Byrd and Carter is more progressive than Pelosi/Reid/Obama?  On what planet?  The former Democratic Party controlled the White House and both houses of Congress for 4 years — where’s their progressive achievement comparable to  the ACA or the repeal of DADT?  Right on economics since the (all too anomalous) LBJ era I’ll buy, but I find the nostalgia for the only Democratic president of the last century to govern to the right of (a not very progressive) Congress baffling.
  • Nor do a buy the idea that the left has been “subdued” by the Democratic Party.  Reed asserts that short-term thinking has prevented the left from pursuing goals like single payer.  My question — how many people on the American left, not just radicals but left-liberals, don’t support single-payer (or a similar European health care model?)  His argument seems premised on the idea that it’s impossible to walk and chew gum at the same time, that nobody could see the ACA as a significant achievement and be aware that it remains greatly inferior to the alternatives in other liberal democracies and so should be a beginning, not an end, of reform.  I don’t think this makes sense in theory and I don’t think it’s true in practice.
  • In addition to minimizing the large and increasing gaps between the Democratic and Republican parties — we’ve been through this enough — Reed says that “[m]ost telling, though, is the reinvention of the Clinton Administration as a halcyon time of progressive success.”  He does not cite anyone who has believes this, I would assume because for all intents and purposes they don’t exist.  (Personally, the only people I’ve seen do this are bloggers attacking Obama from the left, which is baffling on many levels.)  I’m not the one who thinks that the Democratic Party is to the right of where it was in 1996, even though I certainly don’t believe that there was nothing to differentiate Al Gore and George W. Bush.
  • Calling Obama a “neoliberal Democrat” suggests that the term has ceased to have much meaning beyond “a politician I don’t like.”  Obama is certainly not a person of the Left, a point Reed establishes in great detail (although, again, it’s not clear to me what non-Republican ever believed that he was.)  But the ARRA or the ACA simply aren’t Reagan/Thatcher or even Clinton private-centered neoliberalism — name me some neoliberals who were big fans of expanding the single-payer program for the poor.  (Yes, the optimal stimulus would have been even larger, but leaving aside the fact that Obama wasn’t the primary reason it was too small compare it to most other liberal democracies, where it was a huge outlier on the left.)  Since the contours of the term have become so elastic I guess I can’t say it’s wrong to call Obama a “neoliberal” — but doing so essentially renders the term useless.  “Moderate liberal” seems more accurate.  Is that the stuff of dreams?  Indeed not.  Is that superpar for a president of the United States? Most certainly.
  • In terms of his conclusion, I certainly agree that ailing in the rebuilding of labor is an urgent task.   But I disagree with the rest of the fatalism.  The left has more influence on the Democratic Party that it has at any point since 1968, with the defeat of Larry Summers and the removal of Chained CPI from the budget the latest wins.  (And not that the golden age of labor influence that Reed cites was a period in which a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats controlled Congress for more than two decades, not only thwarting progressive reform efforts but passing Taft-Hartley with veto-proof majorities.  Progressive change has never been easy.)  The goal should be to keep moving in this direction, not to walk away in despair.

Clarence Thomas’s Silence — An Interesting Trivia Question, Nothing More

[ 50 ] February 27, 2014 |

As soon as Jeff Toobin’s argument about Clarence Thomas people on various social media anticipated my response, and I can’t disappoint.

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