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Don’t Trust Uncritical Stenographers

[ 0 ] February 10, 2007 |

A reminder.

Good one.

That Smear Would Taste Better With A Dash of McCarthy

[ 0 ] February 10, 2007 |

Any garden variety Republican operative can run with the farcical non-scandal ginned up from someone requesting on behalf of the Speaker of the House of Representatives the legal privileges claimed by her predecessor as well as low-ranking Republican cabinet officials, even though she’s not only a Democrat but a woman. It also has some standard applications, like using it as an even-more-feeble-than-usual pretext for not caring about global warming like your friends at Dow 36,000 Central, because everyone knows that global warming turns on the individual choices of one’s political enemies and not actual public policy. But it takes a truly shameless and innovative brand of Republican hack to add to this less-than-pseudo-scandal some demagoguery about how Democrats hate the troops!!!!!!ONE!!1111! I give you Ann Althouse:

Yes, it’s a question of distance between you and ordinary mortals. Can someone explain how Nancy Pelosi has the nerve to tell a group of veterans that her desire to avoid having her plane stop to refuel is all about security?

What could possibly give her the idea that this policy had anything to do with national security? Even Howie Kurtz can get this right:

Did you know she was entitled to a military plane? Neither did I. But under legislation passed after 9/11, it’s legally mandated for security reasons. Dennis Hastert had such special transport for five years.

So what gave Pelosi the crazy idea that this had something to to with security was the fact that the relevant legislation was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by a Republican President as a security measure after 9/11. Amazingly, she failed to notice either the fact that voting for this legislation is spitting in the face of the troops or the troubling implications of the fact that powerful people don’t take the Greyhound from D.C. to San Fransisco like an honest proletarian when it was Republicans taking advantage of the law. What could possibly explain it?

To summarize, then, Howie Kurtz understood that this was an idiotic non-scandal, and yet still tried to push it by cherry-picking blogs that didn’t exist on January 31st, one of which has one post in its history. Ann Althouse is a considerably more egregious Republican hack.

…in light of the ad hominems predictably being flung against me, I thought it would be worth flashing back to this example of Althouse’s law-school-trained close reading skills and legendary impartiality about Democratic politicans. Althouse, you may recall, claimed that John Kerry was “outrageously lying” when he claimed that a botched joke wasn’t referring to American troops, although even the most cursory read of the context would make clear that the joke only made sense if he was referring to George W. Bush (and certainly at a very minimum Kerry’s reading was plausible, making flat-out claims that he was lying outrageous.) Something similar is evident here. Obviously, Althouse isn’t applying some sort of pre-existing principle holding that the jet used by Denny Hastert is acceptably close to the experience of the people but a jet that can fly to direct to California is evidence that one sees themselves as being above ordinary mortals, for the obvious reason that nobody could believe such nonsense. It’s just an opportunity to propagate a well-coordinated right-wing smear campaign against a politician she dislikes, with the extra bonus of claiming that she’s insulting the military (just like John Kerry likes to!) by simply telling the truth about why the jet was requested on her behalf. That’s all that’s going on here, and we’ve seen it countless times, and I’m not going to stop criticizing such arguments whenever I see them. As Bob Somerby once again pointed out, these pseudo-scandals and transparently bad faith attempts to portray Democrats as unpatriotic out-of-touch elitists on the most spurious grounds may seem silly, but they’re what gave us Bush in 2000, and they’re not going to stop doing it as long as it’s working.

…I should also add that I’m assuming that people will click through to the Greg Sargent link to explain what’s going on with the “Pelosi requested a luxury jet, not the good Republican cloth jet that was good enough for Denny Hastert” smear. For those who aren’t familiar with the facts, 1)Hastert’s plane couldn’t reliably fly direct to California, 2)Pelosi (entirely reasonably) wanted to make direct flights and offered to fly commercial, 3)but the law requires the Speaker to use a military jet for security reasons, and then 4)the House Sargent-At-Arms–not Pelosi– requested a a plane on her behalf that could make direct flights to California. So, in other words, Pelosi was just telling the truth by saying that the jet was mandated by national security concerns, and to conceive of this as an insult to the troops is silly. And as for the faux-populist resentment that opens Althouse’s post, given the facts what could the argument be here? Again, is it acceptable to have a direct flight to Illinois but not California? Is there some pre-existing, precise level of expense at which the use of a private jet is insufficiently plebeian, even if more expense is justified by perfectly reasonable requirements? Does anybody think that this precise, rarified populism, rather than simple partisan rancor, explains Althouse’s attack on Pelosi? Look, Althouse supports the Iraq War, she supports Bush, and would (logically enough) like to see Republicans in control of Congress–that’s her privilege. But to pretend that she’s an above-the-fray non-partisan despite these kinds of obviously specious attacks on Democratic politicians is simply an insult to our intelligence. And she and her defenders are the ones with a shaky grasp on the facts here.

…Since I’m tired of explaining this in comments, let me elaborate one last time. It is, as it happens, true that Althouse doesn’t understand the basic facts of the non-scandal. There is uncontroverted evidence that the Sargent-at-Arms–not Pelosi–requested the jet for security reasons. The very story Althouse cites is inconsistent with her interpretation. The Bush Administration acknowledges that the request was for legitimate security reasons. I left this to a link rather than elaborating upon it because I don’t really care–this would be a non-scandal even if the charges against Pelosi were true. If someone–Republican, Democrat, 3rd in command, lower-tier cabinet secretary–who has to use a jet wants one that can fly home directly just like Denny Hastert had, fine with me. Who the hell cares? The point of my original post, rather, was simply that 1)the allegedly non-partisan Althouse wedges the discussion of this triviality into two predictable Republican smear narratives–”Democrats are chardonnay-sipping elitists!” “Democrats hate the troops!” and 2)the self-and-by-nobody-else described “feminist” Althouse is willing to smear Pelosi with uppity-woman narratives being pushed by feminist-baiters like Glenn “why vote for the first woman President if we’ve already got one?” Reynolds, which is entirely preidctable given her support for radical woman’s rights opponent Samuel Alito, her creepy misogynist sniggering about Jessica Valenti’s breasts, etc etc. Althouse is wrong about this non-scandal too, but it’s the “why” that matters because it’s a much larger problem than one hack blogger. You’ll be seeing a lot more of these smears used against Pelosi (and Clinton.)

There, There, Don’t Worry Your Pretty Little Head About Your Reproductive Freedom

[ 0 ] February 9, 2007 |

Sara Anderson brings our attention to another innovation in the irrational abortion regulation obstacle course, this one from the Idaho legislature:

A North Idaho lawmaker wants to make it a crime to attempt to coerce a woman or girl into having an abortion, according to S-R reporter Parker Howell, who covered the House Health & Welfare Committee meeting today where the bill was introduced.

Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, persuaded the committee to introduce his bill to outlaw the use of threats or physical force to dissuade a pregnant woman from giving birth. The measure also prohibits threatening to do “anything that the person does not have the legal right to do against the pregnant woman.” That could include employers threatening to withhold a job or promotion or “a school counselor maybe describing to a young person that by having this baby you have no future, those kinds of acts,” Nonini told the panel, Howell reported. Under the measure, it does not matter if the woman has the abortion.

While perhaps not quite on a level with legislation which makes the legality of abortion turn on which way a fetus’ legs are pointing in the womb, this legislation is evidently irrational. If it applies only to physical coercion or doing anything that is already illegal, it is superfluous; if, as Nonini implies, it applies to giving advice or verbal persuasion, it would take a lengthy brief to detail the ways in which it is unconstitutional. And all of this is premised on the classic belief of the forced pregnancy lobby that women are incapable of making moral choices.

Having said that, the rhetoric surrounding this kind of legislation is a fairly clever tactic. There is a grain of truth here: pre-existing gender disparities don’t go away when a woman is deciding to carry a pregnancy to term. It is undoubtedly true that some women feel they can’t have a baby they would have in better circumstances because they can’t support the baby financially, trust their partner to maintain a stable relationship, etc., and they may feel pressure from employers or partners. But, of course, using state coercion to make it more difficult or impossible for poor women or women in bad domestic situations to obtain abortions exacerbates the underlying problems rather than solving them. Forcing women to carry pregnancies to term against their will–particularly given the skimpy state support for child care that exists in most states–simply makes financial and educational disparities worse and makes women even more dependent on their partners whose power this legislation purportedly seeks to curtail. (Which is also why feminist policies tend to actually be more effective at reducing abortion rates than criminalization. Women are more likely to being pregnancies to term in conditions of emotional and financial security, and the law on the books can only do so much to constrain women who are desperate.) At any rate, as with most anti-choice legislative proposals, the legislation makes sense only if you think that women are incapable of rational judgment and that choices to make abortion are always somehow made by men.

Is Death Not An Option?

[ 0 ] February 9, 2007 |

Um, can I choose “neither”? Admittedly, the Atlantic article has a clever setup–given that with their puerile misogyny, proud idiocy, and not-quite-porn Maxim/FHM lad type lad magazines are pretty much the nadir of human culture, I guess anything, including Playboy‘s annoying and empty but generally harmless pretensions, would have to be better. And you can make a good case that George W. Bush is a better president than Andrew Johnson, but I’m not sure where this gets you. One thing that both genres have in common, however, is a homogeneous and ultimately dehumanizing conception of what women should look like, which is both bad for women and bad erotica. (I’m often not sure that “objectification” is a very useful term, but in these cases I think it fits perfectly.) Zobenica seems to think that exclusively pictures with the formula “on top is the face of Shirley Temple; below is the body of Jayne Mansfield” is a feature, a reminder that this is the fantasy of a 13-year-boy, not reality. But even for a 13-year old boy, isn’t this kind of, er, circumscribed? I guess the one thing you can say about the lad mags is that their adorning text fits the pictures even better than surrounding it with Norman Mailer’s latest claptrap about his waning libido.

Dana Goldstein gets it pretty much right.

Simple Answers To Straightforward Questions

[ 0 ] February 8, 2007 |

Rick Moran:

But I cannot leave this subject [the Marcotte/McEwen phony witch hunt] without examining the role of those of us on the right who flogged this story into the mainstream media and may have cost Marcotte her job. Certainly our motives lacked nobility. I will be the last to argue that anything more than “scalp hunting” animated this effort. And the questions I raised in the quote at the top of this page remains valid: Is this all we are? Is this what we have become?


This has been simple answers to straightforward questions.

And, obviously, good for Edwards. One can argue about whether the Edwards campaign should have been more risk-averse in terms of hiring Amanda (although some people are ignoring the many positive things she brings to the table), but for Edwards to have caved in to transparently phony reactionary-identity-politics outrage would have been catastrophic. It also seems worth pointing out–especially given the smearing of Shakes, who said nothing that could be seen as “anti-Catholic” even by ridiculous wingnut standards–that any prominent feminist blogger would have been victim of the fake outrage machine. If Edwards had hired Jessica Valenti, Danny Glover would have been on the horn to Ann Althouse and Dr. Helen so they could discuss Jesscia’s profoundly troubling décolletage and its implications for John Edwards’ campaign before the ink was dry on the press release. Playing the appeasement game in a context where William Donohue can appear on the teevee as some sort of civil rights leader is a futile enterprise. It’s encouraging that Edwards understands this.


[ 0 ] February 8, 2007 |

What I really don’t get about this is in what sense the actual anatomical term “vagina” could be more offensive than its slang replacement. (Evidently, there would seem to be a lot of misogyny involved.) What’s next, if the word “breast” shows up on a sign some guy will phone and demand it be changed to read “funbags?” I guess I just don’t understand the Prissy-Woman-Hating-American community.

(If, however, somebody wants to declare a moratorium on describing breasts as “boobs” or any of its derivatives, I will sign on immediately.)

Happy Jonah Goldberg Day!

[ 0 ] February 8, 2007 |

Has it really been two years since his self-immolation? Yglesias solemnly celebrates the occasion:

Got it. So we have a prediction, along with the insinuation that Professor Cole is a terrorist whereas Goldberg is a patriot. Obviously, Goldberg’s prediction was incredibly wrong. The prediction, of course, came in the context of a larger argument about credibility and Goldberg’s wildly off-base prediction tends to confirm precisely Cole’s position in this argument — Goldberg, while certainly a clever rhetoritician, basically has no idea what he’s talking about. Meanwhile, somewhat hilariously, Goldberg thinks that pointing out that Cole turned his wager down should somehow spare him from mockery. The point, however, is still about the very, very poor prediction, not about Cole’s skills as a gambler.

Indeed. But at least when he called Cole a terrorist-lover, there was no swearing. That would be unhinged!

Evidence Is For the Unhinged

[ 0 ] February 8, 2007 |

Ah, first Treason-In-Defense-of-Slavery Yankee shared his pensees on civility, and now self-appointed protector of online integritude Josh Trevino has weighed in. Sure one could–and somebody probably will–note the cherry-picking worthy of someone who would tout Michelle Malkin’s “book” on the subject (in the context of a highly non-hinged rant about how liberals have a bottomless hatred of parents, yet!), the actually bigoted right-wing media figures who are invited to meet with the President, etc. etc. in detail.

But I’m tired and have a paper to write, so I’ll start with a contest. Find any substantiation in the post–even based on Trevino’s own wingnutty standards for what constitutes a valid example–for his rather serious assertion that Melissa McEwan is “genuinely unhinged” and “insane.” The first person to uncover any evidence of such in Trevino’s post will receive a 1986 O-Pee-Chee Steve “Bye-Bye” Balboni card in very good condition. Happy hunting!

…And if that wasn’t enough, Jonah “liberals, from Woodrow Wilson to FDR to Hillary Clinton, have advocated policies and principles remarkably similar to those of Hitler’s National Socialism” Goldberg has solemnly weighed in on the degradation of our political discourse. Heavens to betsy, somebody said a curse word, fetch me my smelling salts so I can get back to comparing Nancy Pelosi to Mussolini!

Our National Arbiter of Civil Discourse Has Spoken

[ 0 ] February 7, 2007 |

Shorter Bob Owens: The fact that Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan oppose using state coercion to enforce reactionary conceptions of human sexuality, sometimes using language that should only be used by Republican Presidential candidates, shows that they are beyond the pale of legitimate political discourse in this fine nation. Clearly, what constitutes civilized discourse should be judged by someone who proudly displays a symbol of treason in defense of slavery and lawlessness in defense of apartheid on his webiste’s banner.

…see also Ilyka Damen and and this great roundup by Liza.

People Who Are Paid to Use The Language Of Anti-Bigotry to Mask Crackpottery: To Be Ignored

[ 0 ] February 7, 2007 |

Atrios beat me to it, but given all the talk recently who people who use spurious accusations of anti-Semitism as cover for nutty foreign policy views it seems worth noting that this is hardly limited to any one religion. Right-wing identity politics buffoon William Donahue is joining many other highly selective critics of arbitrary state power and un-civil discourse in trying to get Amanda Marcotte (and, in his case, Melissa McEwen) fired from the Edwards campaign. Among his examples of alleged anti-Catholic bigotry is Melissa’s post arguing against social conservatives who “don’t understand about keeping your noses out of our britches, our beds, and our families?” (Admittedly, she did use a word that should only be used by Vice Presidents on the floor of the Senate, which gave me the vapors.) Apparently, being a liberal is ipso facto anti-Catholic, which of course is the point.

It seems worth noting at this time that if opposing Catholic teachings on contraception makes one an anti-Catholic bigot, I think about 90% of Catholics are anti-Catholic bigots.

…A good list of links at Feministing.

Small Stakes Ensure the Mimimum Credibility

[ 0 ] February 7, 2007 |

A very important point made by GFR:

No one wants to admit this. But Josh is right. If our future were truly at stake — if we really, really had to win in Iraq — we would never stand for the president’s piddling surge proposal, because it’s just not going to be enough to fix the situation. To really stabilize the situation on the ground in Iraq would require a military draft and sending several hundred thousand more troops to Iraq for a period of years. After four years of botched plans and incompetent leadership, no one, left or right, wants to entertain such an idea. Heck, we did not want to entertain a commitment of that scope before we went to Iraq in the first place, because it was a war of choice, not of survival. Another radical proposal that’s been floated calls for dissolving the military war colleges for a few years and putting all those strategic minds into the war effort, instead of teaching. We will never do that, either.

Why? Because America’s failure in Iraq is not an existential threat to the United States. It is a horrible outcome for U.S. power, prestige, and authority, and it is a disastrous outcome for the Iraqis, to say the least, as well as a destabilizing outcome for the region, and for America’s regional allies.

This is exactly correct. When evaluating assertions of great importance, it’s always useful to see whether people talking hysterically actually act in ways consistent with their rhetoric. I’ve said many times that I’ve never found the ethical questions surrounding abortion particularly troubling, for a central reason: I won’t take the “pro-life” moral position seriously until its supporters do. The anti-choice lobby uses lots of language that suggests a moral issue with stakes large enough to override a woman’s fundamental rights–”life,” “killing babies,” etc.–but this given that most American pro-lifers (among many other inconsistencies) think women should face fewer legal sanctions for obtaining an abortion than for spitting on the sidewalk, there’s no reason to take their moral claims seriously. (And given that abortion laws on the books were essentially unenforceable against doctors who stuck to performing abortions on the right kind of women, there’s little reason to believe that most citizens in states where abortion was formally illegal believed this either.) When high-stakes language is combined with small-stakes, obviously incommensurate policy objectives, there’s no reason to take the former seriously. As Garance says, the same is true of the Iraq War. Many of its dead-end supporters will talk about how we can’t afford to lose–with the implication of existential threat–but given that most of them (including, most importantly, the President, who seen through his policy sees success in the war as less important than upper-class tax cuts) don’t act in ways that reflect such a belief when it comes time to actually make tradeoffs and sacrifices. In the context of the policies actually being advocated, high-stakes claims about the Iraq War are propaganda, nothing more. And, relatedly, someone should ask the few people willing to advocate actual high-stakes policies–like Max Boot–why they support the war despite the fact that the policies they consider essential to accomplishing a desirable outcome have never had any chance of being implemented.

They’re Both Right!

[ 0 ] February 7, 2007 |

Having been accused of running a propaganda mill here, allow me to point out some points of agreement with political opponents. Kaus on Joe Klein:

In the same 2003 interview, Klein admits, “I go back and forth on this war from day to day.” That’s probably the real truth. But then he shouldn’t pretend now that he cleanly “disagreed” with the war. [You admit you "waffled"--ed I did! I had trouble making up my mind. Klein made up his mind, then made it up a different way, and now writes as if only one of those events occurred.]

When he’s right, he’s right. (And I know I recently said that “should Mickey and I ever agree on anything again, you definitely want to bet the other way”, but this is the exception that proves the rule.)

Sully on Kaus:

Mickey Kaus accuses Joe Klein of having it both ways on the Iraq war. I’d say that’s better than having no coherent position on the war at all, except fathomless bitchiness toward anyone who ever had the balls to take a stand. But that’s Mickey – circling the drain of his own irrelevance. And bitchily attacking anyone who’s trying honestly to do better.

Can’t argue with that either!