Thursday, February 02, 2006

Defending Biden

I know the rumors of a Joe Biden presidential candidacy bother a lot of my blogging mates. And it's true, his support of the execrable Bankruptcy "reform" bill is hard to excuse, despite MBNA being his largest constituency. What's worse, his candidacy would render any attempts to wage a genuine populist campaign extremely difficult in 2008. Others didn't care for Biden's insufferable self-promotion and unfathonable bloviating during the Alito hearings, where he whiffed on the opportunity to grill the nominee on the civil liberty issues that Biden knows and appreciates so well. And ah, yes, he supported the Iraq War (along with, sadly, most other Senate Democrats).

Nonetheless, I urge my fellow bloggers to not throw water on a Biden candidacy just yet. For one, as Digby as stated, we don't need to do the GOP's job by flogging our own candidates or party leaders for their wishy-washiness, various position stands, or personality foibles. For another thing, I don't see a full-fledged progressive alternative waiting in the wings whose campaign a Biden candidacy would endanger. Maybe someone like Feingold can be that, but he's got baggage of his own, including two divorces and a present single-status. We may not think that all that important, but it could be a silent killer in a general election campaign. Third, he can speak intelligibly and authentically on matters of national security given his long tenure in the Senate (even if his war votes are not what progressives would like). Finally, Biden knows and appreciates the civil liberty issues that are so vitally at stake now, and can speak to these matters better than any of his current competitors. His campaign web page is the only one that even remotely refers to the importance of protecting civil liberties among the litiny of issues. If progressiveism is to have any future, our future campaigns will need to start hitting these issues much more openly and directly. Biden can do that, and based on some speeches he's recently made, he intends to do so in a national campaign.

None of this is to say that Biden's our best candidate or that he deserves our unqualified support. It's too early for that, at least for me. But let's give our prospective candidates some space before rushing to conclusions when all the alternatives and implications aren't clear yet.

Pox on your SOTU

From the right, George Will and Robert Novak weren't thrilled with Tuesday evening's SOTU:


The president's headline-grabbing assertion that America is "addicted" to oil is wonderfully useless. If it means only -- and what else can it mean? -- that in the near term we will urgently need a lot of oil, it is banal. The amusingly discordant word "addicted" couched censoriousness -- the president as national scold; our use of oil as somehow irresponsible -- in the vocabulary of addiction, which is the therapeutic language of Oprah Nation.

Not to worry. The president says that by 2025 America will "replace" -- a certain ambiguity there -- "more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East." Replace with what? Other oil? Never mind. Such recurring goals, located safely over the horizon, resemble Soviet agricultural quotas, except that no one will be shot when they are not met.


While jumping up on cue to cheer during the speech and delivering rave reviews afterward in the Capitol's Statuary Hall, conservative members of Congress were deeply disappointed by George W. Bush Tuesday night. It was not merely that the president abandoned past domestic goals. He appeared to be moving toward bigger government.

The consensus on the Right was that President Bush's fifth State of the Union Address was his worst.


With polls showing the president's approval rating persistently anemic (as low as 39 percent), the speech aimed at a kinder, gentler Bush. But beyond atmospherics, the policy initiatives staked out new directions in the sixth year of his presidency that raised questions. Is this the real George W. Bush? Is he really his true father's son and not Ronald Reagan's?


The president proposed that the government preside over a wide array of non-petroleum energy options. That has all the characteristics of an ''industrial policy,'' with the federal government picking winners and losers. While violating the Republican Party's free market philosophy, this is a course with a lengthy pedigree of failure all over the world.

The same State of the Union address that neglected the Republican goal of reforming the tax system called for an American Competitiveness Initiative that also promises an extension of growing, intrusive government. That would expand still more the federal role in education. Instead of shrinking the federal government, Bush wants to grow it.

From the left, PZ Myers explains what the president meant by "human/animal hybrids" while Michael Berube defends the rights of mermaids.

Meanwhile, DCMedia Girl reminds us that Bush's SOTU's are more memorable than Clinton's.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Today in Iraq, II

I'm sorry I missed Larry King Live! last night, as apparently, it was a serious show.

The Huffington Post links to Christine Amanpour's comments regarding Jill Carroll and the situation in Iraq, calling the country's condition a "black hole", but you should read the whole transcript. It packs quite a punch. I especially liked this exchange between a Bushie caller and Amanpour's response:

KING: We're back with our panel. Powell, Ohio, hello.

CALLER: Hello, my question is for the panel this evening. The first thing I want to say is I want to commend President Bush and all of the United States military on all of the hard work and success that we've had with the war against terrorism in Iraq.And my question is, why are the civilian reporters given more media attention than the American soldiers who are the everyday heroes that are wounded on a daily basis?

KING: You mean the media person who's wounded more attention than the soldier who's wounded? Is that what you mean?

CALLER: That's correct. It seems to me that the civilian media reporters are given more attention than the average, everyday American soldier.

KING: I'll have everybody answer it.

Bob Schieffer, what do you think?

SCHIEFFER: Well, I think, first of all, Bob Woodruff is someone that most Americans know. And when someone is known, they're going to get more publicity. But I think the caller makes a very good point, and this should be a reminder to all of us that every day there are military families who are going through just what Bob Woodruff's wife and his family are going through right now. This is not something that just happens once or twice. This is something that's happening every single day of our lives. And it just underscores the terrible things that are happening in this war. And so by focusing attention on one person, perhaps the caller would be reassured to know that it is causing other people to think about what is happening to these military families.

KING: Christiane?

AMANPOUR: Well, I think it's an incredibly good question. The caller is absolutely right. And, as Bob Schieffer has just said, of course we focus on very well known people and members of our own community. But the reason that the deaths and injuries of the American soldiers don't get as much publicity is because we are by and large banned from seeing it. The United States government has made a decision that we are not allowed to see the coffins, that we're not allowed to see the burials, that we're generally not allowed to go to any of the areas where there are wounded, U.S. military hospitals. Perhaps you can see a little bit more in Landstuhl in Germany. Perhaps when we go to the hospitals in the United States. But it's very, very difficult to get close to that kind of real tragedy that the American servicemen and women are going through as well.

KING: Why, Lara, can't you see them?

LOGAN: Well, I just want to say that Christiane is absolutely right, and on top of that there's a real irony in that caller's question. Because it's the military themselves that pressure us not to keep reporting the deaths of soldiers, not to focus on the deaths of soldiers and Iraqis ever single day in this conflict. They tell us you don't tell the good news, you don't show the schools that are opening, you don't do this, you don't do that, why are you always focusing on the death? And you try and say to them, it's because as a reporter I just feel like every time somebody else dies, I have a responsibility to make sure that death wasn't in vain. That somehow, in some way, it's acknowledged.

KING: So the lady from Ohio should take it up with the Pentagon.

LOGAN: Absolutely.


Hey Bushie caller: nice try. You got smoked. How did you not see that one coming? Did the Republican Party propaganda jabberwockies have you call up with THAT question? Maybe they're not as bright as we've all been led to believe.

Tell your CiC and his posse to let the media do their jobs. You want to see and hear about the American military's every death and injury? Than don't bitch when the news out of Iraq is bad.

Meanwhile, Today in Iraq

Gilliard is right. While we on the web have been focused on the Scalito vote, things in Iraq continue to get more human. I'll admit I've grown a bit hardened or immune to the carnage continuing to take place there, largely because as much as we may know of the consequences of U.S. policy there, media coverage doesn't do the country's condition justice. And this is partly because most of the media doesn't go any further than its barracaded hotel rooms.

And those media members who have gone out into the country to try real journalism, have been meeting with disaster.

We know about the attack on the vehicle carrying Bob Woodruff of ABC News. But these pictures of Jill Carroll have struck a different cord in me, a sickening one. The "contorted anguish" on her face is unbearable to look at.

The Long Road Ahead

So the Scalito filibuster went down in flames, 72-25. Every Republican* voted "yes" on cloture; 18 Democrats joined them.

So the lefty blogosphere is awash in post-loss analysis. Digby is rather sanguine about it, thinks the 25** "no" votes were actually just as good if not better than we could have expected.

Kevin Drum is curious, and I detect, somewhat mocking of the lefty blogosphere's efforts and influence.

Jane, who did so much to inspire the effort, is grateful to those who supported the filibuster, thinks this effort was a shot across the bow of the Democratic establishment, and that we'll do better next time.

Amanda is pissed. So am I. And embarassed; 19 "yes" votes on cloture from the Democratic Party is an embarassment. Unlike Kevin Drum, I don't think this reflects badly on the lefty blogosphere, which, the last time I looked, wasn't running the country. But it does say something, loudly, about the distribution of power in the country and the nature of political debate. What it says is, we have a long way to go. It says that the progressive margin for error in Congress is much smaller than the nominal divide represented by the parties. While it's convenient to think the party only trails 55-44 in the Senate, the truth is the gap between conservatives and progressives is much wider than that. As we saw with the Bankruptcy "reform" votes, many Democratic Senators are not just from conservative states, they are in fact, conservative voters themselves.

Several of the Democratic "yes" votes on cloture were somewhat expected; Conrad, Dorgan, Johnson, Baucus, Landrieu, Ben Nelson. But I have trouble figuring many of the others; Lieberman, Cantwell, Bingaman, Carper, the two from Alaska, Bill Nelson, Byrd, Rockefeller, Kohl, Salazar, Lincoln and Pryor. Lieberman, Cantwell, Carper, the Alaska Two, and Kohl come from states that voted for Kerry; in Carper and Lieberman's cases, by a lot. Byrd and Bill Nelson are running for re-election, but Florida has only been a marginal Republican presidential state in recent years, while West Virginia, which has swung more dramatically to the Republican column in recent years, has just experienced 14 mining deaths, partly attributable to the lack of oversight, which someone of Alito's persuasion is not likely to rectify. Whose side are these guys on? And while Arkansas has also been more conservative of late, Bush's margin there was not significant. So what're Lincoln and Pryor afraid of?

In any event, as we look ahead to 2006 and beyond, how does Bob Casey in the Senate sound to you now? Not all that thrilling to me. What do you think his presence would bring us? Probably not much. How are we doing with other candidates?

Yes, Jane is correct to be gladdened by the outpouring of support from most of the lefty blogosphere on this, and for the Senate actions of Kerry and Kennedy in particular--Kennedy in particular showed the kind of passion and issue orientation we need in our future Senate and Presidential candidates (oh yeah, we had one before, Dean, but the media tore him down). Oh well.

But there's a long way to go, and the results in 2006 and 2008 are not likely to reverse the current trends in any significant way.

But while the road is long, we aren't going away either. We have just begun to fight.

*Nevada Senator John Ensign wasn't present to vote due to an auto accident.
**Tom Harkin abstained, Independent Jeffords voted "no".

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Pro-Life or Anti-Abortion?

A couple of things have occured to me over the past several days, and while I'm sure they're not original to me, I hope you'll indulge me by letting me state them anyway.

The first is this use of the label "pro-life" rather than "anti-abortion" by those opposed to abortion rights. Now, most political strategists, and arm-chair quarterbacks would probably say that the use of the term "pro-life" is much more palatable to the masses than "anti-abortion"; "pro" is much more positive than "anti". And "life" is more positive than "abortion".

But it occurs to me that there is a secondary basis for using the term "pro-life", aside from its immediate better sounding quality. This secondary basis is the need or desire to give the impression that the anti-abortionists are not only concerned about abortion, but are in fact concerned about any and all policies and behaviors that thwart the "culture of life". And the term "abortion" in particular is especially problematic because since abortions can only be performed on women, it makes the whole anti-abortion crusade seem like a crusade against women's right. Which it is. So, by shifting to the label "pro-life", the anti-choicers can make it seem they're really crusading on behalf of all life, and not "just" against women's reproductive rights. And so this results in other causes being superficially brought under the anti-abortion umbrella, like "assisted suicide" and "right to die" policies. But it seems to me that these additional concerns are really just a sideshow, a fig leaf for the overall cause, which remains abortion laws, and the rights of women. And if you turn into a "pro-life show on TV, like EWTN's "Defending Life" you see that every episode is about abortion. Not the death penalty. Not war or genocidal slaughter (at least when the offending country is at least nominally Christian). And for the most part, assisted suicide rarely makes the cut either. So long story short, when we hear "pro-life" we almost are always concerned just about abortion laws.

My second brilliant observation flows from the first. It is the seeming confusion presented by the "right to life" crowd's abhorence for Roe V. Wade and other abortion rights rulings and statutes, contrasted with their relative lack of focus on the people actually getting abortions--women. Specifically, Roe V. Wade could be the law of the land, but if every woman considering an abortion this year, chose not to have one, there would, obviously, be no abortions this year, Roe V. Wade or no Roe V. Wade. Roe V. Wade is in some ways, irrelevant to the problem at hand for "pro-lifers". Roe V. Wade isn't making women do anything. It isn't even providing much of an incentive. The responsibility is on the woman herself. But the anti-abortionists seem to ignore this. They'd rather angrily denounce Roe V. Wade, "liberals", Planned Parenthood, the Supreme Court, this or that SC Justice, certain abortion procedures, the "culture of death", "feminist abortionists", and so on, rather than those directly responsible for the act.

Again, like the substitution of "pro-life" for "anti-abortion", I suspect this is a politically calculated strategy. Attacking women in general and women who've had abortions in particular might not be a wise strategy, one designed to win friends or influence people.

But there is undoubtedly a second point to consider. And that is, for the "anti-abortionists", women are not really people. They don't, or shouldn't have legal or political standing. So in a way, women aren't really responsible. Lauren from Feministe touched on this in her comments section sometime last week. Anti-abortionists act as if the women themselves are not really part of the equation when it comes to abortion. This can be seen in their apparent disinterest in subjecting women who've undergone abortions in a hypothetical regime where abortion is illegal, to any sort of criminal penalties, especially the most applicable one, murder, which is the only penalty one could reasonably assumes applies in circumstances where abortion is "murder" and the act of abortion, the continuance of a "holocaust" tatamount to the days of Hitler. Again, openly declaring that they're ready to hold women accountable for murder reflects a conscious political strategy, to make people think the rolling back of Roe V. Wade would not be that significant, would not be a horrible transgression of individual liberties. But it also no doubt reflects the underlying assumption that women are not really people, responsible for their own decisions.

This is a refutation of Reagan era conservatism, which holds that individuals, and not the government or the person's environment, are responsible for a person's actions.

So either modern anti-abortionism is not conservative in the modern or Reagan era definition of the term, or else that conservatism is continuing to mutate into something else.