Sunday, November 29, 2015

Straight-up domestic terrorism

So — another mass shooting. And this one, you can't blame on mental illness. Robert Dear's only mental defect is an unholy zeal fueled by far-right anti-abortion rhetoric. (Oh, and talk-radio pundits, he's not Muslim, either. He's a white 'Mercun male, the kind of fellow you consider the backbone of the nation.)

Anti-abortion activists, you made him. Take your bows. He cares so much for what you call unborn children that in order to protect them, he's happy to kill full-grown adults, including at least one police officer.

A police officer. A good guy with a gun. Not that he matters more than the other victims, but, well, you pundits who piously weep for aborted embryos also insist on respect for cops. The shooter must have missed that memo.

You anti-abortion activists want to own this massacre? It seems only fair, considering what you accuse Planned Parenthood of doing.

When you incite the kind of outrage anti-abortion activists do, you guarantee that what starts as moral fervor will turn into rage when fervor doesn't lead to satisfactory results. You turn ordinary people into religious crusaders, or rather, Crusaders: guys so inflamed by missionary zeal that any means is justifiable if it furthers their ends. Once, that meant slaughtering Muslims in the Middle East. Today, it means slaughtering M.D.s in the U.S. (Come to think of it, for some folks it has never lost its original meaning.)

All in God's name.

How about you anti-abortion activists lose some of your missionary zeal? As a matter of law, abortion is legal. As a matter of actual practice, Planned Parenthood's work consists overwhelmingly of family planning, the kind of work that reduces the need for abortions. You guys are sabotaging an organization that, if you'd let it do its work, would make the world far better according to your own lights than your religious hectoring does.

Stop making it a Christian jihad to end abortion.

Stop making homegrown terrorists.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

We aren't Trump

Back in August I wrote:
Trump's in it for his ego. He wouldn't know what to do with the Presidency if it dropped into his lap. These two reasons explain why he says something offensive and/or appallingly ignorant every twenty-four hours without fail: it simultaneously keeps him in the spotlight while ensuring he will never, ever gain the GOP nomination.
(To "offensive" and "appallingly ignorant", add "outright false".)

It's early in the primary cycle (which is easy to forget since this godforsaken campaign has been going on for a year already) but I have to walk my earlier statement back. Actually, I have to admit I got it wrong.

Trump, in this benighted age, might just yell his way to the nomination. Worse, he seems to have deluded himself that he's ready to be President.

I'm not so down on my fellow voters as to predict he'll win the Presidency, but I'm nervous about the possibility.

I'm trying not to think hard thoughts about the poll respondents who keep him at the top of the Republican heap. I'm hoping they're signaling their fed-up-edness, and that's all; that, when the time comes to vote, they'll demonstrate they're more serious about the country than their answers to pollsters indicate. And to be fair, if you're being asked which Republican candidate you support, it's not like any of the choices is palatable. But still ... Trump?

I suppose they could be trying to tell Ted Cruz to stop being so diplomatic (yeah, writing that kind of made me choke) and to say what he really thinks, which I admit would be grimly refreshing. For one thing, he might admit that his appearance at a virulently antigay religious conference means he agrees with the "kill the gays: the Bible says so" preacher, Kevin Swanson. (Swanson clarified that he didn't want to kill the gays until attempts have been made to save their souls. What a prince — just like Lucifer.)

Any way you slice it, the embrace of Trump, and the larger embrace by his fellow Republicans of so much of his hateful rhetoric that indiscriminately blames whole ethnic groups for complex problems, is a tragic spectacle.

This is not going to be remembered as a proud era in American history. Our descendants will not be kind, either to Trump, or to the supporters who enabled him to poison our political discourse.

As for the rest of us, we can only hold our noses — and keep fighting the good fight.

We're better than Trump.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Huckabee being sued over song

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is being sued over his campaign's unauthorized playing of "Eye of the Tiger".

I detest Huckabee's fundamentalist, intolerant stance on many issues. Even so, I kind of feel for the guy.

"When the person made a complaint, there was an offer made to pay him and issue an apology," said the presidential candidate, who continues to struggle in the polls and was demoted to the undercard debate in Milwaukee. "We don’t want to run somebody’s music who hates my guts. I get that."
I'll take him at his word on this. It does kind of suck that an apology and restitution wasn't enough. (Caveat: we haven't heard from the plaintiff, one of the song's writers. Maybe the campaign didn't handle the negotiations well and honked him off somehow.)

That said, political campaigns, particularly Republican ones, have a habit of playing songs first and seeking forgiveness later. Reagan's campaign infamously used "Born in the U.S.A." without asking Springsteen (and apparently without understanding the lyrics, which are scathing toward the simpleminded patriotism he espoused); Trump used Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World" and R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World As We Know It" without asking. Huckabee is neither Reagan nor Trump (though he exhibits some of the least savory aspects of both), but I suspect he's reaping the music world's resentment of the trend.

Musicians have good reason to hit back at politicians' unauthorized use of their music. First, copyright enforcement has to be vigorous or the holder risks losing the copyright. Second, musicians risk being linked to the politicians in people's minds. Artists of any stripe live and die by their reputations: they have to guard those reputations as carefully as any brand.

Maybe if Huckabee weren't so polarizing a figure, or the context of the song's unauthorized use hadn't been a rally for Kim Davis, one of the most polarizing figures in recent memory, he might have been able to settle the matter quietly. We don't know. The bottom line, though, is that a lawsuit was always possible. He and his campaign knew that. So when I say "I kind of feel for the guy", the emphasis is on "kind of".

Thursday, November 19, 2015

How to fight the IS

Jeb Bush is calling for U.S. ground troops to be deployed in Syria. The other Republican candidates likely have made or will make similar calls. Meanwhile, governors of 31 states, last I heard, have said publicly that they would reject settlement of any Syrian refugees in their states; Indiana's Mike Pence already has made good on that promise.

News flash for Gov. Pence and his fellow Republicans (and it really might be news to them): none of the Paris assailants were Syrian refugees. They have all been identified as European.

News flash for Jeb Bush and his fellow Republicans (and this damned well shouldn't be news to any of them given our invasion of Iraq, but who knows the depths of their ignorance): U.S. troops on the ground prompted the Iraqi insurgency. Why? Well, a lot of these guys resented the fact that the U.S. flattened large parts of their country and killed hundreds of thousands of their family and friends. Saddam was a beast who deserved consignment to hell, but Iraqis didn't ask the U.S. to do the deed and they sure as hell didn't ask the U.S. to destroy their country in the process.

Do you, Gov. Bush, think U.S. troops would be welcomed in Syria just as former Defense Secretary (and grievously, hopelessly, seemingly professionally wrong person) Donald Rumsfeld confidently predicted they'd be welcomed in Iraq after toppling Saddam?

Actually, Gov. Bush, let me ask you a different, more important question. What exactly do you think U.S. troops should do on the ground in Syria?

I'm fed up with idiots who have too-ready access to microphones thundering that the U.S. should send troops in to fight ISIS, because these idiots never say exactly what the military mission should be. What the fuck are you people talking about? Do you have any fucking clue what this country should do, or are you just verbally jerking off?

Here are just some of the questions you should be prepared to answer in a serious, non-half-assed way before you bleat one more syllable about fighting ISIS:

  • Do you have a plan, a genuine, long-term plan for degrading ISIS not just as a military force but as an ideological one as well? Do you even comprehend that the much greater challenge is the non-military work that must be done?
  • Do you know where ISIS gets its money to buy things? Have you considered how you'd dry up their income beyond what we're already doing? Do you even know what we're already doing on that score?
  • Do you have any goddamned idea how to stabilize Syria and Iraq (or at least the war-torn parts thereof) to keep the next terrorist group from colonizing the region, sucking up the disaffected and seriously pissed-off survivors of ISIS and other violent groups?
  • Do you know who's fighting whom in and around the IS, and what their interests are? Which of them are willing to work with the U.S.? Which of the several contingents hostile to the U.S. should take priority? (I'll give you a freebie here: ISIS. You're on your own for the rest.) What will you do about the people who aren't our friends (the ones who are willing to say so, anyway)?
Here is another set of questions you need to answer before you say another word about responding to ISIS generally:
  • Do you realize that fomenting fear, suspicion and hatred against the Syrian refugees plays into the narrative ISIS tells the world, that America hates Muslims, Islam, and brown people? Are you willing to stand up and say, "I do not hate Muslims, Islam, or brown people"?
  • Do you comprehend that one of ISIS' goals is to provoke us into saying and doing things that are anti-Islamic?
  • Do you realize that ISIS wants us to be terrified? That ISIS glories in making us scared of their shadow?
  • Do you really believe that stopping one set of people from entering the country (like Syrian refugees) will stop the terrorist threat against the U.S.? Do you think ISIS can't forge passports from other countries if they want?
The Paris attacks were scary, yes. So were the Beirut attacks that went virtually unnoticed in this country. So are scores of other attacks around the world.

In the U.S., we do a lot to prevent them. As the saying goes, we can always do more. However, should we?

If we close our borders to Syrians, where does it stop? Is it excusable for the U.S., the richest nation on Earth, to turn away refugees when we expect other nations to take them? Europe, of course, has taken in hundreds of thousands of Syrians. Jordan has taken in over 600,000, Lebanon over 1 million, Turkey over 2 million.

But set aside the Syrian refugee crisis for a moment. Ask yourself a more fundamental question: is it really possible to make the U.S. 100% safe from terrorist attack?

We do what we can, and not all of it is security theater. Even so, we can't realistically expect to stop every attack. Worse, remember that the bloodiest massacres of Americans since 11 September 2001 have occurred at the hands of Americans. All those school shootings have been carried out by born-and-bred Americans. The Fort Hood shooter was an American. ISIS very likely can find American candidates to do its bidding without much trouble: it doesn't need to send anybody from its territory. Heck, ISIS doesn't even have to do the planning: its propaganda already inspires people to freelance for it without prompting.

You might feel that taking in refugees from Syria is inviting trouble. I can't say definitively that you're wrong: we simply don't know. However, this nation's influence is greatest when it leads by example. If we close our borders to any group without concrete evidence of a threat, we're diminishing one of our greatest assets: our moral authority. We've already lost a lot of it since Viet Nam. How much more are we willing to give up?

American exceptionalism requires a certain amount of courage. If you believe in it, stand up for it.

I don't believe in American exceptionalism. I do, however, believe that the way we live can serve as an example to others. What kind of example we set is up to us.

If you still think accepting Syrian refugees is unsafe, then justify your concern. Again, I'm not saying you're wrong. I am, however, insisting that we have a serious discussion. We must not set national policy without threshing out the pros and cons.

Here's the bottom line for me: a ton of the rhetoric from politicians and pundits, mostly conservative, in response to the Paris attacks is ill-considered, xenophobic, uninformed and/or belligerent. It's frankly embarrassing. It's also harmful to our national interests, because it shows ISIS just how easily we can be goaded into responding irrationally. It shows how readily we're willing to change our national spirit in the vain hope of making ourselves "safe". (Much of the rhetoric also shows just how ignorant a lot of us are about America's role in creating the disaster in Syria and Iraq, not just during the G. W. Bush administration but going back decades and over multiple presidencies. If we don't understand that, we have no hope of groping toward a peaceful resolution to the mess.)

It's a cliché but it's still true: by giving in to suspicion and paranoia, we do the terrorists' work for them.

A lot of people fret about not being able to help out our military. Well, here's your chance. Do the hard thing: don't give in to fear.

Stand up for a free society that is watchful, but not afraid. Demand that we not sacrifice our national soul for the illusion of safety. Reject easy but pointless gestures in favor of meaningful actions.

Oh, and take joy in life. Joy is the ultimate denial of ISIS' nihilism.

That's how we all fight the Islamic State.

Monday, November 16, 2015

"Ne vous laissez pas manipuler"

Dave Zirin in The Nation wrote a sober plea for clear-headedness in the aftermath of the Paris attacks: " 'Ne Vous Laissez Pas Manipuler', AKA #StayWoke". This was what Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tweeted in response to the attacks.

"Ne vous laissez pas manipuler" literally means, "Do not allow yourself to be manipulated", but Zirin finds a hashtag of the Black Lives Matter movement to be closer in spirit: #StayWoke.

To “stay woke” in the aftermath of the Paris attacks is an act of conscious resistance against an ugly tide. ...

As hostages were still messaging for help from inside the Bataclan, pundits with frighteningly vast followings were using dead bodies like quills dipped in blood, as they brayed for total war. They demanded an attack on Muslims: Shia, Sunni, Palestinians, Iranian ... just an undifferentiated mass of innocent people whom Senator Ted Cruz has defined as future casualties to be killed by someone else's children.

Cruz is hardly alone, of course. Amanda Marcotte's piece in Salon warns us of the Republican presidential candidates' simplistic ideas (hardly meriting that term) for how the U.S. should respond to the Paris attacks. Also in Salon, Elias Isquith grimly reminds us that we, the people — you know, the ones who are supposed to hold the U.S. Constitution sacred — are "one attack away" from shredding that Constitution again, returning to the belligerent, paranoid, apocalyptic state of near panic initially triggered by the 11 September 2001 attacks.

Fear demands instant, simple responses. Fear doesn't stop to ask if those responses are smart.

Fear inspires hasty and ill-considered action. Fear inspires us to act like children, hysterically crying out for vengeance.

Fear brings out the worst in us. That's why we can't give in to it. We have to keep our heads.

Politicians and pundits have seized on the attack to further their own ends. We have to use the soft grey thing inside our skulls and filter the commentary and bloviating through our good sense.

To say we (whether the French, the Americans, all of NATO, or some other bunch) must invade and wipe out the IS is, I suppose, gratifying to some, but not to me. Iraq and Afghanistan are bleeding, open wounds Americans created when we met an attack upon us with extraordinarily ill-thought-out invasions. What good will it do to level the territory that calls itself the IS when we know — we know — the fallout will be the creation of more terrorists who will renew the conflict in short order?

Yes, we know that. Afghanistan and especially Iraq proved that. How do you think IS (and al Qaeda and a host of other terrorist groups) have gotten and continue to get recruits?

How can anyone seriously believe it's possible to "wipe out all of them" (whoever "they" are)? In the age of the Internet you can't wipe out an idea no matter how many of its adherents you kill.

How can you say all Syrian refugees must be frozen out by Europe and the U.S., especially the latter, considering we've accepted virtually none and we expect "our European allies" (as we always call them when we want them to do things for us) to bear the whole burden? How will you physically prevent the refugees from crossing borders on land? How will you physically prevent the refugees from landing on the coastline? Will the border nations, Greece in particular, demand NATO land and sea forces to "defend" their shorelines against an "invasion" of refugees?

More to the point, the vast majority of refugees are innocent victims. Since when do we screw innocent bystanders in the name of our own safety?

How can you argue we must help only the Christian Syrians, not the Muslim ones? This is one of Ted Cruz's fatuous ideas; Jeb Bush has also floated it. Either Cruz and Bush think we have mind-reading machines that can detect lies, or they're prepared to believe whatever the refugee is willing to tell them.

Or maybe neither man has given a moment's thought to how he'd do what he urges.

That's why we must.

Look, if you think Cruz or Bush or any of the other Republicans who've sounded off have urged anything that sounds like a good response to the Paris attacks, you're not thinking. What the Republicans have said we should do is simplistic and disconnected from reality.

Simplemindedness is not going to make things better.

Pure military force is not enough.

Just saying "no" to refugees, from Syria or anywhere else, will not keep us safe.

For that matter, accept that we cannot be 100% safe against terrorism. Anybody who tells you we can be if only we do this or that, is either lying or deluded.

We have to be honest about what we can do and what the upsides and downsides are. The situation is complex and messy. Solutions are going to be complex, messy, expensive, time-consuming, and likely partial rather than complete. They're going to involve much more than military force: we're going to have to bring much in the way of "soft power" to bear, too. We'll have to work with unsavory partners. We'll have to accept that what replaces the current chaos in Syria and Iraq may not look like what we, the U.S., want. Again, anybody who promises otherwise is either lying or deluded.

And yet, some politicians and pundits will continue to push for simplistic actions that won't work and/or can't be done. They insist that we must do these things or we're screwed. They're trying to scare you into becoming their followers.

Ne vous laissez pas manipuler. Don't let yourself be manipulated.

Stay woke.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Fight the IS in hearts

The IS-sponsored attacks in France yesterday have prompted the usual responses from national governments and the media. Governments say they're redoubling their efforts against the Islamic State; media analyses talk about whether this nation or that one will step up their military assaults on the IS' physical territory, or which domestic political party (e.g., Le Pen's far-right party in France) will be strengthened by the attacks.

None of this is wrong. It's not enough, though. The fight against the IS isn't solely military, and in fact, to cast it as primarily military is to give the IS a tremendous strategic advantage. The group's strength derives from its ability to seduce disaffected souls, especially young people, to its ideology. That's where the real fight must be waged: in the heart.

I said "disaffected souls", but in fact, that's a too-easy characterization of those drawn to the movement. The little I've read about those who've been drawn to the movement doesn't paint a consistent picture. They aren't all friendless loners, they don't manifest mental illness, they're not all especially religious. It seems to me frustratingly difficult to figure out why they buy into the ideology, how they make first contact with IS recruiters, and how those recruiters worm their way into the budding recruit's confidence. Yet this is precisely the ground on which the rest of us have to carry out the real fight.

Starving the IS of material resources and disrupting the terror attacks it inspires (but doesn't always coordinate) are necessary but not sufficient steps. If the IS' physical territory were to be seized tomorrow, its online presence would be largely untouched and its ideology completely intact.

The IS is the physical embodiment of a type of mindset that has always been with us, one that will manifest itself differently a decade hence and a century hence and a millennium hence.

Again, the real fight isn't in Syria or Iraq or Paris: it's in the human heart. That's where we must focus.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Does The Daily Show still have a mission?

I've been mulling over the post-Jon Stewart Daily Show for a while, but refrained from saying anything (except once) because I thought Trevor Noah deserved some time to make the show his own. Although I wasn't around for Stewart's debut, I understand it took him the better part of a couple of years to reshape the show to his tastes; it seems to me Noah deserves that courtesy, too.

Still, Sophia A. McClennan's piece in Salon entitled, "Trevor Noah has cratered 'The Daily Show' " echoes some of my own thinking.

She's harder on Noah than I think she should be, setting as her standard:

The question we have to ask is whether Noah can be the caliber of political satirist that Stewart was when he hosted the show. It really is the only question that matters.
Well no, that's not the only question, or even the right one. The question is, what are Trevor Noah's intentions toward the show? (Ahem. I'm sure he will be a gentleman.)

McClennan observes:

One of the key differences between the comedy of Stewart and the comedy of Noah is that, no matter how frustrated Stewart got over the inanities he was covering, he never gave up hope and he never stopped fighting for social justice. Meanwhile Noah seems to focus his show on finding examples of stupidity and laughing at them.
Note that I called this an observation, not a criticism. McClennan uses this observation, however, to inform her critique that Noah isn't a satirist, he just makes fun of people. He's like Craig Kilborn, who preceded Stewart in the host chair and who presided over a show that was pretty much a celebrity mock-fest.

She's right about Noah. He's content simply to make fun of people and to enjoy himself. He has no sense of mission.

Now, if you accept as your premise, as McClennan does, that The Daily Show is defined by the mission Jon Stewart set for it, of satirizing our news and politics, then Noah is indeed letting all of us down, as McClennan argues. However, I call that premise into question — not because I don't miss Stewart's keen eye for absurdity and often incredibly incisive way of finding connections and meaning in tangles of seemingly disparate data, but because I question whether anyone truly can fill Stewart's shoes.

The writers and backroom staff of the show inarguably are brilliantly efficient at packaging information into jokes. What's not so clear is how much, or even whether, they set the agenda and provide a unifying vision to the show. It seems to me that that crucial role had to have been played by Stewart.

You can agree with McClennan that Noah isn't fulfilling Stewart's role in the show's machinery, thus the show's aimlessness and amorphousness. Yet how many people can you think of who would be up to that challenge? Serious thinkers with a gift for comedy aren't exactly commonplace. Most of them worked for Stewart, in fact, and a few of them have or will have their own shows so they're not available.

Noah needs to find his own voice soon — much sooner than Stewart himself had to in Kilborn's wake, because the show has a much higher profile today. Right now, Noah looks and sounds like the gawky adolescent wearing his dad's suits, trying to fill his dad's role in the family, but knowing only the gestures and not the meaning of Dad's actions. If Noah is to succeed as a host, he needs to ditch the show's machinery, just like Stewart ditched much of Kilborn's, and send the show off in a different direction. He needs to find his own sense of mission.

It's also possibile Noah will be a caretaker host, somebody who keeps the seat warm and the lights on until a better-qualified person takes over. The obvious candidate would be Jessica Williams; I think Aasif Mandvi also would be great but he seems to be busy elsewhere.

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah is doomed to irrelevance unless it finds either a new mission, or someone who can carry out Jon Stewart's. Right now, Trevor Noah is treading water.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Media and a movement at the University of Missouri

A New York Times piece by Austin Huguelet and Daniel Victor centers on the effort by a student photographer to take pictures of a tent city protesters had erected on campus.

The article paints a sympathetic portrait of photographer Tim Tai and other reporters, while implicitly demonizing the protesters. One professor of mass media is singled out for an exceedingly un-journalistic remark: "Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here." (The reporter in question wasn't Tai.)

This is an astonishingly sloppy piece by the Times. Nowhere does it indicate that the reporters even tried to contact the protesters to get their side of the story. Bits of quoted remarks suggest that the protesters might have been trying to protect an area set aside for their own privacy; this is an impulse anyone who has ever been the unwilling center of a media story (e.g., a natural disaster) can understand.

When one is in the midst of a newsworthy event, there will be unwanted scrutiny. If you had a hand in creating that event, as the protesters did, you have a lot less room to complain of that scrutiny. That doesn't mean you have no room to complain. You haven't entirely given up your privacy. The Times' article is deeply unfair to the protesters. It's the kind of piece that makes people suspicious that the media exists solely to report on — or perhaps to gin up — conflict.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Hillary Clinton, the polarizer

I don't remember much about Bill Clinton's presidency, and I remember nothing of the 1994 healthcare bill that brought Hillary Clinton some of her first national coverage. I do, however, remember that as Bill's troubles mounted (prior to Monica Lewinsky), Hillary seemed to be ensnared by them. If Bill Clinton had a shady dealing, it seemed like Hillary was not far away. She wasn't just as far from Nancy Reagan's ornamental utility as I could imagine, she was possibly as steely as Barbara Bush, and a lot less motherly-looking. (Barbara only looked motherly. Almost from the beginning, I got the impression that she was the one who meted out discipline in the house.)

I still think Hillary is steely, and I would never consciously cross her. But I don't hate her. I don't love her, either as a politician or a person (what little I know of her, anyway). In not having a strong opinion about her, I'm distinctly in the minority. She seems to inspire strong feelings in most people.


I wish I knew. We might then be able to treat the ailment that is Hillary Derangement Syndrome. We might also be spared spectacles like Gloria Steinem fem-splaining why women don't like Hillary. Michelle Goldberg neatly spelled out why Steinem's thinking is so misguided, but I wish neither piece had had cause to be written.

Hillary isn't warm and fuzzy, and nothing short of a personality-changing electrical shock will make her so. That seems to irk some people. Yet if she were motherly and lovable, a lot of us would be wondering if she had the backbone to be President. There's a middle ground, of course, but by expecting her to navigate her public life in that narrow zone we're setting the bar unreasonably high, higher than we've ever set it for a male candidate. If the boorishly content-free Donald Trump, the reality-challenged Ben Carson, and the childishly anarchic Ted Cruz are fit candidates for President, you can't seriously argue that Hillary isn't, too.

Perhaps the truest and most damaging knock on Hillary is that she'll say anything to get elected. Is she a lot "slicker" (to borrow an unflattering adjective for her husband's style) than we typically like our pols? Maybe. Yet if the objectively boneheaded (Trump) and outright hallucinatory (Carson) beliefs floated by the Republican frontrunners have accomplished anything, it's to rehabilitate more mainstream politicians. Honestly, if I had to choose (because you were holding a gun to my head) between Ben Carson and the crudely manipulative Chris Christie, I'd pick Christie without a moment's hesitation. Christie may be corrupt, but at least he lives on the same plane of reality I do.

Besides, I no longer buy the "flip-flop" as an irredeemable political sin. It's one thing to call somebody out for saying "X" one week and "not-X" the next. It's another to hold that changing your mind after years or decades betrays a lack of conviction.

Yes, some politicians change opinions as often as they change their underwear. However, to hew to a belief simply for consistency's sake is to foreclose any interest in becoming wiser. If your understanding of the world hasn't changed since you were twenty, you probably haven't seen enough of the world. Or if you have seen a lot of the world, you probably haven't let yourself understand what you've seen. Republican candidates are hopelessly boxed in by the need to show ideological purity and consistency. There is no room for new information leading to new conclusions. (This is why funding for scientific research cannot be left to the tender mercies of the GOP.)

Is Hillary so plastic, so malleable, that she has no beliefs that aren't for sale? Probably no more so than anybody who has ever held the Oval Office. Do I wish she had a stronger record of hewing to principle, like Bernie Sanders? Absolutely. Do I think her tendency to bend with the political wind, so like her husband, makes her unfit to be President? Absolutely not. Point to a President who hasn't compromised his principles and you will find a lousy President. Even the sainted Reagan and Lincoln compromised. It's the price of leading a democracy: you have to reckon with those who didn't vote for you. (To be clear, I think Reagan was anything but a saint; I'm just channeling those who have elevated his Presidency far above what it actually was.)

I wish there were another woman running for President so we could see how the electorate responded to a woman lacking the extensive political baggage Hillary has. It would be interesting to see how the nation treated the likes of Olympia Snowe as a candidate, for instance. Carly Fiorina isn't a good control (in the scientific-experiment sense) for Hillary because she's a political lightweight saddled by a crummy record in private industry.

I suspect there's just something about Hillary that's inextricably tied up with Bill and the immense antagonism he fomented among conservative pundits. In other words, Hillary-hatred isn't undisguised misogyny so much as it's long-simmering frustration that Bubba got a second term and wasn't hounded from office in disgrace.

Hillary's not my dream candidate, but with the Republicans so radicalized at the national level it's beyond the pale to consider voting for any of them. Even the relatively level-headed John Kasich, were he somehow to be granted the miracle of capturing the nomination, would be captive to the far-right zealots who hold the balance of power in the party. And the truth is, Hillary's about the best we can hope for until we take back our politics from Big Money and the far right ceases to hold so many in its paranoid, resentful, delusional sway.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Molly Ball, "Liberals are Losing the Culture Wars"

Molly Ball argues, in The Atlantic, that Democrats (read: liberals) are too confident that the majority of Americans share their views. She points to a the election results from Tuesday, which were generally discouraging for liberal activists.

Ball thinks Americans simply don't agree with liberals as much as liberals think they do. That may be true. Another problem, though, is that the rhetoric progressives use is often as polarizing and uninviting to the undecided and possibly persuadable as far-right rhetoric often is.

To be blunt, articles on left-ish-leaning sites like Slate and Salon, as well as on overtly left-leaning sites like ThinkProgress, are often snide, disdainful of conservatives (and anyone else who doesn't share their opinion), and as mean-spirited as some of their far-right counterparts.

It's often said that appealing to reason and facts doesn't change people's opinions on certain issues. Well, being a self-righteous prick doesn't, either. Maybe if some of us (I'm occasionally guilty of this behavior, too) stopped being such smug, arrogant assholes, we'd do a better job of persuading people to share our opinions.