Thursday, May 15, 2008

Return to the Freak Show

The announcement late yesterday afternoon of the Edwards endorsement inspired me to flick on the cable teevee "news" stations when I got home last night for coverage.

Well. The first question I have is for the suits at CNN. How much longer can the Lou Dobbs hate-on-Hispanic-and-Mexican-immigrants continue in prime time or any time? I realize his rantings were useful for driving up ratings at some point, but, have you no shame? Whatever genuine economic or other views this man has or had, it has been obvious for some time now that he eats, breathes and sleeps a fear and hatred of brown people. CNN, the once proud network of Bernard Shaw, at last, Have You No Shame?

As for MSNBC, I'd complain about the equally insane and offensive rantings of Pat Buchanan if I could actually make sense of all the competing voices shouting over one-another.

As bad as Crossfire came to be, it was hardly any worse than what's been showing regularly the past decade or so on the major cable stations. I know Fox is hopeless, but here's hoping that saner minds will someday prevail at CNN or MSNBC. They're hurting America. Seriously.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What Else Hurt Clinton

While this Karen Tumulty column about Hillary's 5 mistakes has made the rounds, there are a couple additional factors, largely beyond the former First Lady's control, that ended up being highly significant as well.

1. John Edwards -- Many, many years ago, when Edwards was still a 2008 candidate, I recall the puzzlement expressed by those political pundits who noted the seeming contrast between Edwards' rather liberal populist campaign and the largely white, more conservative slice of the demographic pie he was pulling in the early contests. Edwards' vote base didn't really seem connected to the candidate's message. Demographics seemed more important than policy.

And while Edwards didn't stay in the race long, he placed a narrow second place in Iowa, ahead of Clinton. The story of the night ended up being Obama's rather comfortably sized--but still only a plurality--margin of victory. Had Edwards not opted for the race--and from the night of the 2004 election it was obvious he would run again--it is fairly easy to see Hillary winning a large portion of Edwards' vote, given how the last several contests have turned out. The presence of another, viable White candidate in the race hurt Hillary at this early stage, possibly dividing the White demographic and giving another strong candidate, Obama, an opening he desperately needed.

2. Michigan/Florida -- While the focus on these states has tended to be that of how to seat their delegates given the fact that they broke the national Democratic party rules and held their contests too early, and the fact that as a result Obama was not even on the Michigan ballot, it is still and ironically the case that had these states stuck to the regular schedule they would have ended up playing a much more significant role while giving Clinton two large and relatively early, momentum-generating victories. Had this occured, Obama's victories on Super Tuesday would have no doubt been viewed differently, and the nature of the contest reshaped.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

But Having George W. Bush as President Changed Everything

This Glenn Greenwald column posted at is a gem.

Throughout the 1990s, conservatism was defined by its fear of expansive powers seized by the federal government – particularly domestic law-enforcement and surveillance powers. Conservatives vigorously opposed every proposal to expand the government’s investigative and surveillance authority on the grounds that such powers posed intolerable threats to our liberties. More than specific policies, the right-wing ideology was grounded in warnings against the dangers of unchecked government power.

Illustrating this ideology was the speech delivered by Ronald Reagan in accepting his party’s nomination at the 1980 GOP Convention:

"Trust me" government asks that we concentrate our hopes and dreams on one man; that we trust him to do what’s best for us. My view of government places trust not in one person or one party, but in those values that transcend persons and parties. The trust is where it belongs – in the people.

Following this path, conservatives have endlessly claimed that they stand for limitations on government intrusion into the lives of Americans. One article in 2000 on the right-wing web-site Free Republic actually decried the dangerous loss of liberty and privacy as a result of what it alarmingly described as the Clinton administration’s use of a "secret court" (something called the "FISA court") that actually enables the federal government to eavesdrop on American citizens! Worse, warned the article, the judicial approval that the government obtains for this eavesdropping is in secret, so we don’t even know who is being eavesdropped on!

The conservative commenters at Free Republic – having been fed a steady diet of anti-government rhetoric for decades – predictably reacted to news of expanded eavesdropping powers under FISA with such liberty-minded sentiments as "This is beyond frightening"; "This does not bode well for continued freedom"; "Franz Kafka would have judged this too wild to fictionalize. But for us – it’s real." One worried right-wing commentator wondered: "Any chance of Bush rolling some of this back? It sounds amazing on its face." Another pointed out – quite rationally – the severe dangers of allowing the government to exercise power in secret and with little oversight:

This is one of those ideas that has a valid purpose behind it, but is wide open to terrible abuse. And there’s no way to check to see if it is abused.

Like all things that don’t have the light of day shining on them, you can be sure that it is being twisted to suit the purposes of those who hold the power.

Just makes you feel on warm and fuzzy inside, doesn't it?

Read it all.

Maybe If She Asks Really, Really Nicely

"Will Obama Supporters Help Pay Down Clinton's $20 Billion Debt?"

Or, maybe, these White, Regular, Really Hard Working People will pony up?

In a letter to the editor published in a local paper, Tunkhannock Borough Mayor Norm Ball explained his support of Hillary Clinton this way: "Barack Hussein Obama and all of his talk will do nothing for our country. There is so much that people don't know about his upbringing in the Muslim world. His stepfather was a radical Muslim and the ranting of his minister against the white America, you can't convince me that some of that didn't rub off on him.


Karen Seifert, a volunteer from New York, was outside of the largest polling location in Lackawanna County, Pa., on primary day when she was pressed by a Clinton volunteer to explain her backing of Obama. "I trust him," Seifert replied. According to Seifert, the woman pointed to Obama's face on Seifert's T-shirt and said: "He's a half-breed and he's a Muslim. How can you trust that?"

In Our Country

The Post has a rather disturbing--if not entirely surprising--story today about how Obama volunteers and the Obama campaign at the grassroots have had to endure the violence of racial animosity.

Here's the worst: In Muncie, a factory town in the east-central part of Indiana, Ross and her cohorts were soliciting support for Obama at malls, on street corners and in a Wal-Mart parking lot, and they ran into "a horrible response," as Ross put it, a level of anti-black sentiment that none of them had anticipated.

"The first person I encountered was like, 'I'll never vote for a black person,' " recalled Ross, who is white and just turned 20. "People just weren't receptive."

For all the hope and excitement Obama's candidacy is generating, some of his field workers, phone-bank volunteers and campaign surrogates are encountering a raw racism and hostility that have gone largely unnoticed -- and unreported -- this election season. Doors have been slammed in their faces. They've been called racially derogatory names (including the white volunteers). And they've endured malicious rants and ugly stereotyping from people who can't fathom that the senator from Illinois could become the first African American president.

The contrast between the large, adoring crowds Obama draws at public events and the gritty street-level work to win votes is stark. The candidate is largely insulated from the mean-spiritedness that some of his foot soldiers deal with away from the media spotlight.

Victoria Switzer, a retired social studies teacher, was on phone-bank duty one night during the Pennsylvania primary campaign. One night was all she could take: "It wasn't pretty." She made 60 calls to prospective voters in Susquehanna County, her home county, which is 98 percent white. The responses were dispiriting. One caller, Switzer remembers, said he couldn't possibly vote for Obama and concluded: "Hang that darky from a tree!"

Documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy, the daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, said she, too, came across "a lot of racism" when campaigning for Obama in Pennsylvania. One Pittsburgh union organizer told her he would not vote for Obama because he is black, and a white voter, she said, offered this frank reason for not backing Obama: "White people look out for white people, and black people look out for black people."

Obama campaign officials say such incidents are isolated, that the experience of most volunteers and staffers has been overwhelmingly positive.

The campaign released this statement in response to questions about encounters with racism: "After campaigning for 15 months in nearly all 50 states, Barack Obama and our entire campaign have been nothing but impressed and encouraged by the core decency, kindness, and generosity of Americans from all walks of life. The last year has only reinforced Senator Obama's view that this country is not as divided as our politics suggest."

Campaign field work can be an exercise in confronting the fears, anxieties and prejudices of voters. Veterans of the civil rights movement know what this feels like, as do those who have been involved in battles over busing, immigration or abortion. But through the Obama campaign, some young people are having their first experience joining a cause and meeting cruel reaction.

On Election Day in Kokomo, a group of black high school students were holding up Obama signs along U.S. 31, a major thoroughfare. As drivers cruised by, a number of them rolled down their windows and yelled out a common racial slur for African Americans, according to Obama campaign staffers.

I can kind of understand why the Obama campaign is choosing to downplay these episodes. But these stories nevertheless reveal the darkness and ugliness that continue to bloom in certain corners of American life among Regular, Hard Working, White Americans.

They also suggest that many White Americans haven't bothered to become acquainted with much of their country's history. And while these stories are certainly disturbing and discouraging, there's another trend, albeit in the Elitist Literary World Where People Read Books, in which the country's terrible racial past is being unearthed and revealed in the light. Specifically, at least four books just in the past several months have come out documenting the domestic White terrorism spawned after the Civil War in the South. One of these episodes, the Colfax Massacre, is the main subject of two new books, and provides the opening for another. A fourth text details the violence in South Carolina and Mississippi, in addition to Louisiana. Today, the Colfax Massacre, in which scores of African Americans were killed, continues to be celebrated and highlighted by the State of Louisiana in the form of a marker that laments the few Whites killed during the attack, fought as it is now claimed, to redeem the state from "unjust, corrupt, carpetbagger rule." The bodies of the African Americans killed were hastily buried. Their bones have been routinely and inadvertantly dug up and uncovered as various construction projects have occured in the area. But the public and state-sanctioned misinformation about the attack continue to this day.

Fortunately, these books are helping to shine the light on these past episodes, if not to right the wrongs themselves. Maybe some of the people in Kokomo will give one or more of these books a read.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Biblical Plague

According to Robert Novak:

Some U.S. Christians are not reconciled to McCain's candidacy but instead regard the prospective presidency of Barack Obama in the nature of a biblical plague visited upon a sinful people. These militants look at former Baptist preacher Huckabee as "God's candidate" for president in 2012. Whether they can be written off as merely a troublesome fringe group depends on Huckabee's course...


According to this activist, at the heart of the let-Obama-win movement is longtime Virginia conservative leader Michael Farris -- the nation's leading home-school advocate, who is now chancellor of Patrick Henry College (in Purcellville, Va.) for home-schooled students. Best known politically as the losing Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Virginia in 1993, Farris is regarded as one of the hardest-edged Christian politicians. He is reported in evangelical circles to promote the biblical justification for an Obama plague-like presidency.

What sort of world do you have to inhabit to think like this? I don't know. Maybe one like this:

By the end of the weekend I realized how quaint was the mere suggestion that Christians of this type should learn to "be rational" or "set aside your religion" about such things as the Iraq War or other policy matters. Once you've made a journey like this — once you've gone this far — you are beyond suggestible. It's not merely the informational indoctrination, the constant belittling of homosexuals and atheists and Muslims and pacifists, etc., that's the issue. It's that once you've gotten to this place, you've left behind the mental process that a person would need to form an independent opinion about such things. You make this journey precisely to experience the ecstasy of beating to the same big gristly heart with a roomful of like-minded folks. Once you reach that place with them, you're thinking with muscles, not neurons.

By the end of that weekend, Phil Fortenberry could have told us that John Kerry was a demon with clawed feet, and not one person would have so much as blinked. Because none of that politics stuff matters anyway, once you've gotten this far. All that matters is being full of the Lord and empty of demons. And since everything that is not of God is demonic, asking these people to be objective about anything else is just absurd. There is no "anything else." All alternative points of view are nonstarters. There is this "our thing," a sort of Cosa Nostra of the soul, and then there are the fires of Hell. And that's all.