Saturday, March 11, 2006

Bored with Bush

Probably the only thing sadder than the spectacle of Tweety, Chuck Todd, and MSNBC's Softball going all orgy on the Southern Republican Leadership Conference's 2008 straw poll this weekend is me writing another post on the subject.

But as the Daily Kos and Atrios have noticed, even for Tweety, his enthusiasm for this weekend's faux show--with 40% of the "delegates" from Tennessee, and with the majority leader's having bussed in a load of "supporters", this was designed as a Frist! coronation, his last apparently given that his speech bombed--seems a bit too neurotic given the fact that WE HAVEN'T EVEN REACHED THE 2006 CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS YET.

What could be the cause for such a fixation, so early?

I suppose the best explanation lies in the hang-over Tweety and the boys are experiencing as the Bush presidency has pretty much collapsed three years before the finish line, its Rovian faux heroism and machoism all spent up, leaving its male fans scrounging in their pockets, wondering where all the money went, like an onleave soldier's monthly pay ravished in the pit of Los Angeles's Tropicana female oil-wrestling strip joint. But now that the auctioned money has been spent, the girls aren't around, and the club has just closed for the night, the boys suddenly realize they've been had. The party's over.

Their Bush infatuation started with the bullhorn moment at Ground Zero and crescendoed with the Top Gun attired, jet-landing on the air-craft carrier. The drunken binge inspired by Rove's minions has left the president's media admirers in a sad stupor, feeling left behind at the alter, alone on the prom night while somewhere, somebody else is getting over.

As Wolcott noted a while back in discussing another Bush groupie suckered in by the Shock and Awe Iraq campaign--Don Imus--the president's former boosters are bored now. The fun with Iraq has long worn off, the president's once shining gloss given a rough sanding.

2006? Well, the GOP already controls both chambers so this fall's elections don't promise to give Tweety's gang anything to get excited about.

But the 2008 race offers the potential for the boys to become infatuated with someone else, to be born again if you will, dreaming of when a new hero can take over; Heck, they're ready to annoint someone already so they can start with the new story-line. Tweety already has his eyes on the new dish in class--John McCain--and breathlessly announced on the 9pm special tonight that coming up he had an "exclusive" interview with the Senator, who finished at the bottom of the pack and who if you watch any TV "news" programs at all would have an impossible time missing, he's on so much. An "exclusive" interview with McCain? Is this what the media has come to?

Meanwhile, after a month of having the UAE ports deal lead on every cable outlet, and just when the Dubai company's withdrawal was thought to give the president some breathing room, his former top domestic policy advisor, who left the WH last month "to spend more time with his family" has been arrested for fraud and theft in Montgomery County, MD, accused of stealing from local Target stores.

You can't make this stuff up.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Tweety Hearts Republican Candidates for President

I watched Softball tonight, with Tweety and the gang broadcasting from Memphis where the first Republican cattle-call for '08 is taking place, courtesy of something called the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. Most of the 2008 prospects are scheduled to speak.

Tweety was on with Charlie Cook and Howard Fineman, although I bet those two were sorry they put themselves through the spectacle, as any insightful analysis they might have wanted to offer was drowned out by Tweety's panting after John McCain. Tweety reminded us about 59 times how McCain had instructed his supporters to write in a vote for President Bush in tomorrow's straw poll, as if this was somehow another chain in the link establishing what a magnanimous fellow this John McCain is, what a straight-up guy, teamplayer.

He also managed to point out that McCain's move had irritated the other candidates, especially Senator Frist who was aiming for a landslide in his backyard tomorrow.

Cook and Fineman did manage to counter, though, that the McCain gesture seemed rather, well, calculating, and not at all like the straight-shooter, authentic guy they've been telling us about for the last 6 years.

Tweety did get Cook to admit that he basically saw the GOP nomination as coming down to Mass Gov Mitt Romney, VA Senator George Allen, and McCain.

From there Tweety went all aflutter, gushing about the grand old time they all were going to have down there in the volunteer state observing the GOP hopeful review their future candidates. Apparently Romney had already spoken today, and the biggest lines of applause he got were in reference to--wait a minute now--gay marriage and making immigrants (I suppose Mexican ones) learn the King's English. Kind of makes you wonder what someone like Andrew Sullivan sees in this crowd that makes him continue to want to identify himself as a conservative Republican.

Anyway, Tweety did flag down Trent Lott and George Allen for interviews, too, forcing them to talk about his man, McCain (he later interviewed Lindsay Graham, one of McCain's most prominent backers in the U.S. Senate--are you catching a theme here?) and McCain's magnanimous act of calling on his supporters to write in a vote for George 37% Bush tomorrow, and gee, ain't McCain swell.

This really was Tweety at his worst. In the regular studio when there's an issue at hand, he can sometimes come through, but tonight he was like an overwrought adolescent boy at movie audition hoping to get the part of Lindsay Lohan's love interest. He appeared so enthused with the Republican line-up I hope he manages not to explode before the straw poll tomorrow.

I imagine that whenever the first Democratic one of these rolls around, Softball will either not bother with it, or Tweety and the crew will cover it from their perches in Washington, ensuring to bring the usual cast of characters on the panel to bash Hillary or whatever other sad sack of a Democrat is needing of roasting at the moment.

In any event, beyond the McCain salivating (I have a hard time understanding why after all these years there hasn't been anything resembling an objective portrait of the man) by Tweety and his entourage, the crew seemed eager to push George Allen as a contender for reasons that also remain unclear to me. Allen has scored well with the conservative blogosphere (which again sort of begs the question), but I think he's a much less substantive candidate, and far less intriguing than Sam Brownback or Arkansas Gov Mike Huckabee. For their part, Tweety and the boys seemed pretty dismissive of Brownback, perhaps not stopping to consider that a Senator from the Ike state, especially one with such a fundy rep, might play pretty well in border state Iowa's first in the nation caucus, where another Kansas Senator, Bob Dole, won in 1988 (and in which televangelist Marion "Pat" Robertson came in second, ahead of Poppy Bush). Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee's from nearby, too, and as a Baptist minister, and a governor, might also show some strength in Iowa.

But no mind, tonight was the night for Tweety to extol the virtues of his man, John McCain. And if that fails, to make sure George Allen gets some facetime in front of the cameras (to be fair, CNN did an interview with the son of the late Redskin coach as well).

What's the compelling rationale behind an Allen candidacy? He sounds, if possible, even more oblivious to the world than W. It's hard to believe that after the government ineptness of the last year and a half in particular, that the electorate would be in the mood for another empty suit. Then again...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Abortion Debate on Demand

There have been some very good posts on abortion over at the Daily Kos, FireDogLake, Digby, LG&M, and Lance Mannion in the past several days.

The Lance Mannion post is particularly interesting in that it represents a lefty blogger admitting to feeling conflicted about abortion and of even more significance is the almost reasoned debate that gets carried out in the comments between advocates and opponents of abortion rights. There are a number of comments with the post and if you're interested in a healthy debate about the topic I heartily encourage you to go on over and give it a read.

For those more inclined towards the snarkier side of things, I would recommend the other postings. Digby discusses the contradiction inherent in the fact that anti-choicers claim that abortion is murder, but yet don't seem to have ever thought about what the penalty should be for women who illegally obtain an abortion, or in the case of policymakers, such as the ones in S.D., who haven't even bothered writing them into the anti-abortion law they just passed. Digby provides several good links regarding this. Note especially the Tweety interview with Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate Pat Toomey from 2004.

The other point of interest is the tendency of those on both sides of the debate to refer to the most extreme situations to demonstrate their opponents' unreasonableness.

For anti-choicers, the favored highlight reel is the partial birth abortion, with their emphasis, real or hypothetical, on cases where the doctor basically punctures the infant's head with scissors after withdrawing it from the womb.

For pro-choicers, its the overstretched logic on the part of anti-abortionists that demands that life begins at "conception" and that any abortion, or contraceptive that interferes with this is tantamount to murder. So, for the most rigid anti-abortionists, an infant, or a living adult, is no different than the zygote or blastocyst. So if abortion has to be outlawed, so do IVF and s stem-cell research. FireDogLake has a pretty good riff on this:

Whenever I hear wingnuts arguing about stem cell research I always get the feeling that they are doing so under duress, like reluctant Visigoths who’ve been forced to carry the battle into a town they really don’t care about sacking. But having made the argument that women should not have control over their own bodies and be entitled to an abortion because even the littlest zygote amongst us is sacred, and not because they hate and fear women and want to relegate them to the social role of biological functionaries, they have to naturally extend the argument and oppose embryonic stem cell research as well. You know, for consistency’s sake and all.

But Lance makes the point that the decision on when life begins is an ambigious one, putting both supporters and opponents of abortion rights in a difficult position. Tring to take it back to the moment of fertilization-conception (see PZ Myers' discussion at the Daily Kos for more detail) results in the argument that the zygote or blastocyst is a person, while abortion rights advocates basically end up demanding abortion access at any point in time for any reason. Lance seems to feel, and I tend to agree, that the extremes here are equally hard to identify with. And I'm afraid I can't agree with LG&M that a partial birth abortion--regardless of what it is called--is morally neutral.

But if life isn't a life at "conception", it certainly seems to be one by at least by the third trimester, making the middle periods the time of doubt and decision. At the same time, I've come to feel as if the trimester demarcations, and the viable-not viable delineations are problematic. Yet they may be all we have if we don't want to make abortions or contraceptives illegal at the zygote-blastocyst stage but want to restrict the practice nearer to birth.

Which brings us to one of the columns that kick-started some of the discussion, the column by William Saleton, which appeared in the WashPost Sunday and may have been cross-posted on Slate. Saleton, whose critics think he's too much an appeaser of the anti-abortion right, seems eager to dispense with the rationales of Roe with the hope that education and contraception access will do the job of eliminating most abortions, giving both sides some of what they want.

But it does beg the question that if contraception here in the U.S. is basically widely available, and if contraception access is what has limited abortion in Europe, why does the U.S. still have relatively high rates of abortion? While unapologetic pro-choicers don't seem to have a problem with this, much of the public may, particularly if the anti-abortion movement continues to make, however temporary, gains in state legislatures and state houses in dramatically restricting abortion rights. Because if they do, and if the actions taken by S.D. and those under consideration in Mississippi have ripple effects, access to contraception will emerge with even greater importance.

One final point. Some pro-choicers are making the point that although illegal, abortions in Latin America are much higher than in the U.S. The point being that even if abortion was to be outlawed in the U.S. it would undoubtedly still continue, probably even at high levels, but just more widely available to wealthier women.

I'm not sure this conclusion is warranted. I don't know a lot about the media or pressure group politics in Mexico, but if anti-abortionists succeed or have succeeded in reducing the availability of abortion providers, the remaining ones could easily be isolated by many of the same groups that have laid seige to abortion clinics in the past, making abortion access much more difficult. Add to that any influence right-wing media outlets might provide in isolating and highlighting abortion providers, and the illegalization of abortion in the U.S. could in fact be more enforceable than in other countries where it is currently illegal but in which abortions continue to be obtained at high levels. Call it the new case of American Exceptionalism.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A No Point Agenda

By now you've probably heard about or read yourself, this NYT--frontpage--column detailing, again, that although the Republicans are in trouble, Democrats don't have an alternative plan to present to voters, thanks to Howard Dean the party is short of cash on hand, and the party leadership and its 2006 candidates are divided on Iraq, health care, taxes, and whether or not to campaign on George Bush's rug fetish.

No doubt articles like these, which seem to be used as regular page A1 filler about every other day now, have got you down, and combined with the rather underwhelming efforts to enumerate a Contract with America like document by the DNC and the CAP, have you ready to go hunting with Dick Cheney.

But fear not.

Read this. And this. And what E.J.Dionne says, too.

I've come to believe, as these authors have, that there's no great need, and very little utility in, having Democrats come up with a national plan of bulleted items for its candidates to campaign on.

Why not? Well, the Democrats main objective needs to be to blunt the Republicans' agenda. Electing Democrats is the best way to do that. And if the Democratic Party is going to return to majority status someday, it probably is going to do so by assembling a weird patchwork of coalition partners spread across different regions, united by its diversity. The Republicans are the party whose ideology over the long run demands conformity and uniformity. The liberalism of Democrats, I would argue, does not.

But there are some more immediate reasons why trying to assemble a unifying message right now is unlikely to work. For one, the issues, and the various messes the country finds itself in right now--exploding deficit and national debt, the war in Iraq, cleaning up from Katrina, rebuilding FEMA as well as the Gulf Coast, brewing conflicts in Iran and North Korea, the election of Hamas in Palestine, etc--don't lend themselves to quick or simplistic solutions or slogans. And they don't necessarily carry the same weight across every state or congressional district. Finally, when the enemy is drowning, don't throw them a life-line. The public seems to have gotten the message that the Iraqi conflict has not gone as planned, and is not close to being resolved peacefully, without the aid of an informative, unbiased media, and without the aid of a visible anti-war movement. The Democratic Party doesn't have to help by giving the Republicans an easy target--such as would be the case for example if the party decides to run with a "bring the troops home now" kind of message (more about this later). Letting individual candidates decide on the best strategies for their campaigns and their regions is a more likely key to success than any awkward attempt to establish some kind of consistent theme or themes equally relevant and compelling to all the country's voters.

So, let's not take the bait being offered here to force the party or any of its particular candidates into a box of the media's, or the Republican Party's, liking. We're ahead--but the media is intent on lowering the expectations bar for Democrats. Let's keep it that way.