The state of the nation’s party politics

Now that the primary season for the 2010 mid-term elections is over, it might be good to revisit the question of where the Democratic and Republican parties are. While the basic pro-war/pro-business one-party oligarchic nature of politics is still intact, there have been some interesting developments in how the two factions have evolved.

The Democrats are still pretty much where they have always been, trying to faithfully serve the interests of the oligarchy while pretending to be concerned about the rest of us. As I warned a couple of months ago, it is the Democrats that the oligarchy use to really stick it to the poor. In this case, we see that Obama has stacked his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform with people determined to reduce social security benefits. The commission will deliver its report on December 1, conveniently after the elections. The plan seems to be that the Democrats can campaign on ‘protecting social security’ and then cut the benefits after the election is done.

Republican Party politics has been more turbulent. Immediately after the 2008 election I wrote a series of posts about what its future might look like. In December of that year, I wrote that there were four groups vying for leadership in the wake of their election debacle.

One group consists of the old-style conservatives, people who want smaller government and fiscal restraint, balanced budgets, rule of law, respect for personal liberties, and a non-interventionist foreign policy.

The second group is the rank-and-file social values base for whom guns, gays, abortion, stem-cell research, flag, the Bible, and immigration are the main concerns. Many of these people belong to the lower and middle economic classes.

The third group is the Christianist leadership, people like Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and John Hagee, who claim to speak for the social values base but, as I argued in the previous post in this series, whose overriding allegiance is to a low-tax ideology (especially for the rich) and who vehemently oppose any government programs that provide assistance to the poor.

The fourth group is the neoconservatives. The neoconservatives are the wild card in American politics, wreaking havoc wherever they go. Their interests lie less in domestic policies and more in creating a muscular foreign policy. They dream of America exercising hegemony over the world, using its might to destroy its enemies. They are firmly convinced that America is a force for good in the world and should not be shy about using its military, political, and economic muscle to dominate it.

In particular they want to remake the Middle East, to secure its oil supplies and change the governments of those countries that they perceive as threats to Israel, since they view the interests of America as identical with those of Israel (especially the hard-right spectrum of Israeli politics), and that what is good for one country is good for the other.

The second and third groups were always the ones that brought passion and enthusiasm to the party, who could be counted on to vote in large numbers. They really are the modern Republican Party. For a long time the first group was able to use that energy to win elections while effectively shutting them out from actual leadership. But this group has been steadily driven out of the party, hounded out as not being true believers in the cause, with the last few years seeing the process accelerating dramatically. The neoconservatives, while not driven out, seem to be lying low, waiting to see what is going to emerge from the infighting before tipping their hand.

The new leadership of the party seems to be coming in the form of the so-called ‘Tea Party’ activists that has seized control of the agenda of the Republican party. This consists of a vague coalition of the second and third groups in an uneasy alliance. The reason for the shakiness of the alliance is that while each group needs the other, they are not quite in sync in their goals. What unites them is an anti-government/anti-tax focus but the original Tea Party faithful seem to have a libertarian focus that puts them somewhat at odds with the ardent social conservatives who want to impose their narrow, intolerant, and sex-obsessed social agenda on everyone. The social conservatives want their social agenda front and center of this new movement but the libertarian faction fears that such issues will be divisive.

The Tea Party is using the Republican party to further its goals but it does not see its role as mainly electing Republicans at any cost. As can be seen in the primary challenges they mounted against the party establishment’s candidates, they see having candidates who are ‘one of them’ as more important than being electable, though their candidates are doing surprisingly well in the polls despite their extreme, and sometimes even nutty, views.

Nowhere has this tension surfaced more than in Delaware where the Republicans selected as its senatorial nominee Christine O’Donnell. While she is well within the mainstream of the party in terms of her views, a few years ago she would not have made it to so far since she is an outsider. What makes her win so striking is that she won in the face of active opposition from within the leadership of the Republican Party. This particular race has truly alarmed the party leadership for that very reason but there is nothing they can do now. Having pandered to the Tea Partiers and the memberships of the second and third groups for so many years because of the energy and votes they bring in, they find they cannot control them anymore. Over time, the leadership have fed this group red meat in the form of a belligerent anti-intellectualism that scorned serious policies and campaigned on inflammatory slogans that appealed to visceral emotions but were empty of any serious content. And their fellow Villagers in the media of course, loved this, since it made for good theater. But their followers took these slogans as serious policy options and the perceived lack of commitment of the Republican party leadership to actually implementing these slogans has caused this revolt. The tiger has escaped and is turning on its masters.

The tension between the Republican leadership and the Tea Party is already clearly visible. The Tea Party is currently a loose federation of local groups, although there is one faction called the Tea Party Express based in California that seems to be well-funded and centralized and is seeking to dominate the agenda of the movement. You can see the tensions within the Tea Party begin to surface between the libertarian faction and the social conservative faction, as this interview yesterday on NPR demonstrates.

How will this all play out? It is hard to say. Historically groups that suddenly sprout up like this have ended up either withering away as their initial energy dissipates and they start infighting or they become absorbed into existing parties or they become unified and institutionalized under a single umbrella as a special interest group that hangs around for some time, like the Moral Majority.

But stepping back and looking at the big picture, what is clear is that there has been a steady shift in US politics over the last few decades so that, comparing the situation now to what it was like during the 1960s, the Democratic Party has become the Republican Party, while the Republican Party has gone nuts.

POST SCRIPT: The Daily Show‘s take on the primary results

<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'Tea Party Primaries – Beyond the Palin
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Racism and nepotism

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from the publishers Rowman & Littlefield for $34.95, from Amazon for $25.16, from Barnes and Noble for $26.21 ($23.58 for members), and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here.)

The desperate attempt by the nutters to claim that the Obama administration is not legitimate is truly weird given that he well and truly trounced his rival John McCain in the last election. The nutters seem to find it hard to accept that a black man (despite being smart, educated, well-spoken, poised, self-confident, and with an attractive family) has become the leader and visible face of the nation. Is this irrational and vitriolic response to Obama the fruit of racism, as this cartoon by Tom Tomorrow suggests? Racism is a loaded term that is normally reserved for active and conscious antipathy towards people of another race. What we may be seeing here may be more complicated than that.

There seems to be the sense among nutters that the presidency and other high positions in society are niches that are properly the domain of white people, the ‘real Americans’. This reaction seems to be fueled by the sense that any black or Hispanic person who achieves a prominent position (apart from the sports and the entertainment worlds) must have got there using some kind of unfair advantage. So Barack Obama, being black and coming from an underprivileged background, must have cheated somehow to get where he is.

As former president Jimmy Carter says:

I live in the south, and I’ve seen the south come a long way, and I’ve seen the rest of the country that shared the south’s attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African Americans.

And that racism inclination still exists. And I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the south but around the country, that African Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It’s an abominable circumstance, and it grieves me and concerns me very deeply.

One also gets the sense that some people expect that Obama should show gratitude that he has been ‘allowed’ to become president and so should adopt the obsequious posture of the ‘house Negro’, as described by Malcolm X.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) said that Obama should show ‘humility’ when he spoke recently to the joint session of Congress about health care. In other words, he shouldn’t be ‘uppity’. The unctuous Sen. Lindsey Graham said after Obama’s speech, “I was incredibly disappointed in the tone of his speech. At times, I found his tone to be overly combative and believe he behaved in a manner beneath the dignity of the office.”

It did not bother Chambliss and Graham when George W. Bush, who epitomized arrogance, showed utter contempt for Congress and for anyone who disagreed with him. Bush’s rudeness and condescension towards others was legendary. But since he was to the manner born, it was ok.

The nepotism that comes with the sense of privileged entitlement is also at play. When incompetent white people in the ruling classes use their family and social connections to perpetuate their privileges and reach positions of prominence, it does not even merit any mention, because the political and media world is filled with such people and they all think that is just fine.

William Kristol is the poster child of someone who rose to prominence and influence because of family connections and despite his manifest incompetence. His father, the late Irving Kristol, was the founder of the neoconservative movement and very influential politically. University of Colorado professor of law Paul Campos relays this telling anecdote about a conversation that Irving Kristol had with Columbia University political science professor Ira Katznelson.

The talk turned to William Kristol, then Dan Quayle’s chief of staff, and how he got his start in politics. Irving recalled how he talked to his friend Harvey Mansfield at Harvard, who secured William a place there as both an undergrad and graduate student; how he talked to Pat Moynihan, then Nixon’s domestic policy adviser, and got William an internship at the White House; how he talked to friends at the RNC [Republican National Committee] and secured a job for William after he got his Harvard Ph.D.; and how he arranged with still more friends for William to teach at Penn and the Kennedy School of Government.

With that, Prof. Katznelson recalled, he then asked Irving what he thought of affirmative action. ‘I oppose it,’ Irving replied. ‘It subverts meritocracy.’

Campos writes that “my blogging colleague Robert Farley pointed out that “in the modern configuration of the conservative media machine, [William] Kristol occupies an unparalleled central position of power . . . Right-wing journalism and punditry is absurdly nepotistic; everything depends on relationships.”

As another example, recently George Bush’s daughter Jenna was hired as a reporter by NBC, at a time when many real journalists are losing their jobs. Last year Glenn Greenwald listed the hereditary political aristocracy that now exists in the US and, in a more recent post laced with biting sarcasm, commemorated the Jenna Bush announcement by naming some of the people in the media who have benefited from this kind of rampant nepotism, and noted the flagrant double standards at play.

They should convene a panel for the next Meet the Press with Jenna Bush Hager, Luke Russert, Liz Cheney, Megan McCain and Jonah Goldberg, and they should have Chris Wallace moderate it. They can all bash affirmative action and talk about how vitally important it is that the U.S. remain a Great Meritocracy because it’s really unfair for anything other than merit to determine position and employment. They can interview Lisa Murkowski, Evan Bayh, Jeb Bush, Bob Casey, Mark Pryor, Jay Rockefeller, Dan Lipinksi, and Harold Ford, Jr. about personal responsibility and the virtues of self-sufficiency. Bill Kristol, Tucker Carlson and John Podhoretz can provide moving commentary on how America is so special because all that matters is merit, not who you know or where you come from. There’s a virtually endless list of politically well-placed guests equally qualified to talk on such matters.

[A]ll of the above-listed people are examples of America’s Great Meritocracy, having achieved what they have solely on the basis of their talent, skill and hard work — The American Way. By contrast, Sonia Sotomayor — who grew up in a Puerto Rican family in Bronx housing projects; whose father had a third-grade education, did not speak English and died when she was 9; whose mother worked as a telephone operator and a nurse; and who then became valedictorian of her high school, summa cum laude at Princeton, a graduate of Yale Law School, and ultimately a Supreme Court Justice — is someone who had a whole litany of unfair advantages handed to her and is the poster child for un-American, merit-less advancement.

I just want to make sure that’s clear.

That’s how the word ‘meritocracy’ is currently interpreted in the US.

POST SCRIPT: Blackwashing

In his inimitable backhanded way, Stephen Colbert brutally exposes the attitudes behind some of the animosity towards Obama.

<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'The Word – Blackwashing
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Why are nutters taking over the Republican Party?

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from the publishers Rowman & Littlefield for $34.95, from Amazon for $25.16, from Barnes and Noble for $26.21 ($23.58 for members), and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here.)

The previous three posts have pointed out that the Republican Party is becoming more and more identified with the nutters, which consists of a coalition of birthers, deathers, tenthers, and Christianists. You can now add to that list the ‘foppers’ (standing for ‘frightened old people’) who seem to have bought into the notion that health care reform is part of some kind of secret agenda specifically aimed at harming the elderly. The comic strip Doonesbury has a nice series of six cartoons (beginning on September 21) on the foppers.

These groups are driving out from the Republican Party the old style conservatives who, whatever their politics, are reality-based and cannot believe that their party is being taken over by people who seem to be almost unhinged.

How did this come about?

When one observes these nutters in action at raucous town hall meetings, teabagger events, and the recent rally in Washington, it becomes clear that this phenomenon seems to be the product of a sense of inchoate and impotent rage, prodded from behind the scenes by those who want to oppose any Obama initiative. The nutters are really angry and, like wounded bulls, whirl around blindly seeking any target to gore. I think the rage is fuelled by the growing realization that they have lost the battle on many of the issues they hold dear.

One of those issues is homosexuality. I think it should be clear to anyone that the anti-gay movement is in its last throes. Equal rights for homosexuals is, I predict, at most a decade away. The corpse of the anti-gay forces may twitch occasionally and win an occasional battle here and there, but that is it. Discrimination against gays on a personal level will continue for some time because of religious bigotry but institutional barriers to equality will disappear. I think what happened in Iowa is telling. Gays were allowed to marry and the sky did not fall. Life went on as before.

Just yesterday the city of Cleveland (located in the state of Ohio which has a reputation for being socially conservative) proudly announced that they had won the rights to host the international Gay Games in 2014, beating out Boston and Washington, DC. The mayor Frank Jackson said that the city “is prepared to roll out the welcome mat to the LGBT athletes, their families and spectators from around the world. Fans of the Gay Games will find that Cleveland is a great place to celebrate sports and culture and that we have tremendous assets and amenities for them to enjoy.”

More and more young people, even the children of homophobes, simply don’t see why homosexuality is a problem or why gay people should not be left alone to marry or adopt children or simply be allowed to live their lives like any other person. People are realizing that gays are just like other people. Once your attempts to demonize an out-group fails, your war against them also fails because people won’t want to join your crusade.

The other issue that is driving the nutters batty is abortion. The power of the anti-abortion forces reached its peak between 2000 and 2006 when all the forces were aligned in their favor. George W. Bush was president, the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court was definitely conservative. And yet, abortion was not outlawed and only small additional restrictions were placed on it. This caused some frustration in the rank-and-file base of the Republican Party, which felt that their leadership had not pushed hard enough for their agenda. They realize that their time has passed and there are unlikely to be any advances by the anti-abortion movement in the near future.

But the final straw was the 2008 elections when they lost the White House and got trounced in both houses of Congress. If there is one thing that is clear it is that Obama drubbed McCain in the election, fair and square. So why is there this grasping at straws by the nutters that his presidency is not legitimate?

From the peak of power in 2006 to being completely out in 2008 is a steep drop. It is this sudden descent into political impotence that I think is driving this group of people in the Republican Party into the arms of those who warm that dark forces are at work, destroying the country from within. They cannot believe that they have lost so much power and influence so soon, and they suspect sinister elements at work behind the scenes. Hence the charges aimed at challenging Obama’s legitimacy as president and the strange calls that they want to “take back our country”. The phrasing ‘our country’ is telling, implying that he is some kind of usurper.

Is racism at work here? Former president Jimmy Carter seems to think so.

In the next post, I will examine that charge.

POST SCRIPT: Leave Aetna and Cigna alone!

Will Ferrell and a host of other actors speak out for the real victims of health care reform: the beleaguered insurance company executives.

Old style conservatives going into the wilderness

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from the publishers Rowman & Littlefield for $34.95, from Amazon for $25.16, from Barnes and Noble for $26.21 ($23.58 for members), and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here.)

As the previous two posts have discussed, the nutters seem to be taking over the Republican Party. The old style conservatives, taken aback by the enthusiasm with which the party rank-and-file unhesitatingly clasped true nutter Sarah Palin to their collective bosom in 2008, are now feeling even more marginalized, alarming them so much that they see no future for themselves in the party.

David Frum, a former speechwriter to George W. Bush, does not like what he sees and writes:

We conservatives are submitting our movement to some of the most unscrupulous people in American life. This submission disgraces conservatism, discredits Republicans, and damages the country. It’s beyond time for conservatives who know better to join us at NewMajority in emancipating ourselves from leadership by the most stupid, the most cynical, and the most truthless.

Bruce Bartlett, a leading conservative economist, writes:

In my opinion, conservative activists, who seem to believe that the louder they shout the more correct their beliefs must be, are less angry about Obama’s policies than they are about having lost the White House in 2008. They are primarily Republican Party hacks trying to overturn the election results, not representatives of a true grassroots revolt against liberal policies.

For another conservative columnist Rod Dreher, the last straw was the absurd flake-out by people in his party over Obama speaking to schoolchildren. He writes:

It would be a pleasant surprise if conservatives who took the president of the United States addressing youths as an opportunity to stumble toward the fainting couch realized that they had made fools of themselves. Fat chance. Obama Derangement Syndrome is pandemic on the right — and it’s leaving conservatives like me politically homeless.

Dreher took to task Mike Huckabee who on his radio program treated a notorious nutter, actor Jon Voight, like he was sage, even though he was spouting bizarre anti-Obama drivel. Dreher writes:

To his great discredit, Huckabee, a pastor, let this crazy talk pass unchallenged.

Perhaps conservative elites like Huckabee really believe this kind of vicious invective, which right-wing radio talkers routinely disgorge as well. Or maybe they’re flat-out cynical. That is, they know that Obama is no more a socialist radical than George W. Bush was a fascist authoritarian, but they’re happy to ride the wave of populist spite because it suits their short-term interests.

Which means what, exactly? That winning is the only thing, and to hell with the good of the country, civil society and the possibility of intelligent debate about serious matters? Watching the school-speech insanity blow up on the right, a friend who has been deeply involved for decades at the top of Republican politics, e-mailed to say that she was done. The conservative movement is hurtling off a cliff — and she was bailing out.

Take me with you, said I.

Dreher correctly identified Fox News and right wing talk radio as the drivers of this movement. He discovers to his surprise that the charges that have long been made against Fox News, that it is a vehicle for right-wing paranoia and fear-mongering, may be actually true.

I’ve always taken complaints about the Fox News Channel as evidence of liberal whining and intolerance. But I don’t watch TV news. And then I tuned in to Glenn Beck’s popular Fox show the other night and saw him tutor his audience on the president’s conspiratorial plan to institute “oligarhy” (sic) in America. And I thought: How does a paranoid like this get on national TV?

But he should not be surprised. In the world of TV, high ratings and the money it brings in take precedence over ideology or party interests. It takes much smaller numbers to be a cable news leader than it does to win elections. While you need about 50 million voters to win presidential elections, if you get just 500,000 viewers in the 25-54 age demographic (just 1% of those voters) you will easily be a cable news leader. So cable news shows can aim their message at the fringiest of fringe groups and still come out as big winners in TV land while simultaneously driving the Republican Party into the ditch.

David Brooks is another conservative who does not like what he sees:

The one danger — the main danger of all this, the Glenn [Beck] and the Rush [Limbaugh] and all that — they’re not going to take over the country. But they are taking over the Republican Party.

And so if the Republican Party is sane, they will say no to these people. But every single elected leader in the Republican Party is afraid to take on Rush and Glenn Beck.

MSNBC talk sow host Joe Scarborough (a conservative who used to be a Republican congressman) also warns about the dangers of letting people like Glenn Beck rant crazily. Steve Benen lists other conservatives who are similarly alarmed.

Frum, Bartlett, Dreher, Brooks, and Scarborough are right to be concerned. The capture of the Republican Party by the nutters is not only bad for that party, consigning them to the electoral wilderness for years to come, it is also bad for the Democratic Party and democracy in general. Only highly partisan Democrats who think that winning is the only thing that matters can be happy watching the Republican Party walk into the wild.

A thriving democracy needs two vibrant parties that can articulate different visions of where they want the country go, and also to keep each other honest by exposing their lies. We have seen the rot that has set in because the US has already effectively become a one-party state when it comes to the interests of big business and war. If the Republican Party moves completely into the asylum, as it seems to be doing, the situation will get even worse. The Democratic Party can then serve unchallenged the interests of the wealthy even more easily than it does now, no longer feeling obliged to pay even lip-service to progressive causes. It can start new wars and continue old ones, continue to torture people, imprison them indefinitely without trial, and enhance wiretapping and other encroachments on civil liberties, all of which is what the Obama administration and the Democratic-controlled congress is currently doing.

POST SCRIPT: Cute

I came across this clever commercial online. I assume that it is running on TV as well.

Republican presidential hopefuls and the nutters

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from the publishers Rowman & Littlefield for $34.95, from Amazon for $31.65, from Barnes and Noble for $26.21 ($23.58 for members), and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here.)

Telling indicators of the strength of the nutter movement (consisting of birthers, deathers, and tenthers) within the party has been the fortunes of the prospective Republican candidates for the presidency. Sarah Palin is, of course, a true nutter and has always been much beloved by this group so her presence does not tell us anything new. But a good sign of the increasing nutter influence is that Palin’s fellow nutter, congresswoman Michelle Bachman (R-Minn), seems to be hoping that god will speak to her and tell her to run for the presidency, and former senator Rick Santorum is also toying with the idea although he was drubbed in his last campaign for re-election as US senator from Pennsylvania. Any party with a reasonable grip on reality would be embarrassed to have these people as prominent members, let alone have them as potential standard bearers.

What is even more significant has been the shifting of the rhetoric by people like Mike Huckabee and Tim Pawlenty in efforts to woo the nutters. These two are conservative ideologically but up until recently they had seemed to be reality-based people. (See my earlier posts about Huckabee’s and Pawlenty’s politics.). In fact, Pawlenty is currently the governor of Minnesota, a state that usually elects moderate politicians, though Bachmann is putting a strain on that reputation. But he is not running for re-election, allowing him to pander shamelessly to the nutters, which he has decided to do by appealing to the tenthers and the deathers. The fact that both are moving towards nutterdom means that they think that this is where the future of the party lies.

In this they are emulating the 2008 strategy of Mitt Romney who seemed to be a moderate while governor of Massachusetts but moved quite a bit to the right when running for the Republican nomination in 2008.

Romney has not yet gone full-bore nutter but is also a good weathervane indicator of the strength of the nutter movement. As far as can be determined, Romney has no deep principles that he believes in, except that he thinks he should be president, so he can shift directions without much angst. Logic would suggest that he run as a sensible conservative and appeal to the adults in the party, and let the nutters split their votes among the panderers such Palin, Bachmann, Santorum, Huckabee, Pawlenty, and Newt Gingrich. But if Romney also starts competing strongly for the nutter vote, then it is clear that the nutters have taken over the Republican Party.

The nutters and their allies gathered together at the Values Voter Summit held in Washington, DC, earlier this month. Nearly all the potential presidential candidates were featured speakers at the summit, although Sarah Palin* was once again a no-show, the asterisk (signifying ‘unconfirmed’) that accompanies her name in the publicity for these events seeming to be a permanent fixture as organizers become increasingly aware of her penchant for backing out of engagements at the last minute, claiming that she never agreed to attend in the first place.

In a straw poll on presidential preferences conducted at the meeting, the results were as follows: Huckabee received 29%, Romney, Pawlenty, Palin and congressman Mike Pence (R-Indiana) each got about 12%. Gingrich, Bobby Jindal, Ron Paul, and Santorum had single-digit shares of the vote. Romney won the last poll in 2007. You can draw your own conclusions as to what, if anything, this means.

The titles and descriptions of their breakout sessions reveal nuttiness in all its glory. I would have particularly liked to attend the one titled SPEECHLESS – SILENCING THE CHRISTIANS, where they promised to reveal how Christians are a persecuted group in the US. Here’s the description of the session:

Americans are at a greater risk of losing their basic freedoms today than ever before in the history of this nation. Political correctness and the voice of the liberal minority are undermining the morals and values of main-stream America. Christians are being silenced all across America: in the political debate, the public square, the schools, the workplace, and even in the sanctuary of their own churches. Through video, renowned author and commentator, Janet Parshall, takes you on a journey across the country to meet citizens who have been arrested for speaking out at a public rally, students who are being forced to attend classes that require them to recite verses from the Koran and to stage their own Jihad and activists pushing social tolerance to such an extreme that the Bible itself is being labeled “hate speech.”

Who knew? There is probably a Islamocommunofascistic jihadi re-education camp in your own neighborhood!

Next: So where does this leave the old-style conservatives?

POST SCRIPT: Jon Stewart on the Values Voter Summit

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Update on the future of the Republican Party

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from the publishers Rowman & Littlefield for $34.95, from Amazon for $31.65, from Barnes and Noble for $26.21 ($23.58 for members), and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here.)

When I last wrote on this topic in July, I compared the various factions within the Republican Party to see which segment was likely to take leadership. The four major groupings I identified were the old style conservatives, the rank-and-file social values base, the Christianists, and the neo-conservatives.

At that time I said that while there was no clear winner yet, the first group seemed to be on the outs in the party, the second group seemed to be becoming more vocal, while the third and fourth groups seemed to be lying low for the present, trying to gauge which way the wind was going to blow. I said that a good indicator of the relative strengths of the groups would be the prominence given to them by Fox News.

Since then the picture has sharpened somewhat, and the outlook for the party is not good.

What seems to be happening is that a highly vocal subset of the rank-and-file base, those whom I have called the nutters, seems to be becoming the public face of the party. This group has a visceral opposition to Obama, making wild assertions of him as a fascist and/or socialist and/or communist, has absurd ‘birther’ and ‘deather’ obsessions, and irrational opposition to any health care reform.

As if that wasn’t enough, to the birthers and deathers, you can also add the ‘tenthers’, people who think that the 10th amendment to the US Constitution, which states that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”, can be used as a vehicle to block legislation they don’t like.

Ian Millhiser writes that tenther sentiment is not new.

Such retreat to fringe constitutional theories is one of the right’s favorite tactics during times of historic upheaval. The right-wing South justified both secession and the Civil War on the theory that the Constitution is nothing more than a pact between sovereigns that each state is free to leave at will. In the immediate wake of Brown v. Board of Education, 19 senators and 77 representatives endorsed a “Southern Manifesto,” proclaiming — in words echoed by modern-day tenthers — that Brown “encroach[es] on the rights reserved to the States” because the “Constitution does not mention education.” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spent much of his first term combating a tenther majority on the Supreme Court, which routinely struck down substantial portions of the New Deal.

In their latest incarnation, tenthers argue that “Barack Obama’s health-care reform is forbidden, as is Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.” They don’t stop there. They add that “The federal minimum wage is a crime against state sovereignty; the federal ban on workplace discrimination and whites-only lunch counters is an unlawful encroachment on local businesses.”

This kind of lunacy aimed at turning back the clock on landmark social progress has been actively promoted by the likes of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing radio and TV talk shows and this hysterical rhetoric has been given huge amounts of publicity, encouraging these groups to think that they represent some kind of mass popular movement when in reality they are on the fringes of the body politic. As a result, this group seems to be influencing the Republican Party well out of proportion to their actual numbers.

Some of the Christianists like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, seem to be moving towards the nutter group, and the resulting coalition threatens to take over the party.

The Republican Party leadership seems to be caught in a bind. Although the nominal leaders in congress are not themselves rabid nutters, it is clear that they are fearful of them and will not say anything that is even mildly critical of the crazy rhetoric they spout. They cannot bring themselves to repudiate this vocal and passionate group and its advocates in the media, but realize at the same to time that to endorse these ideas is to declare themselves to be also nuts.

They have created a monster and don’t know what else to do but cling on to its tail.

Next: What we can learn from the potential candidates for the Republican nomination in 2012.

POST SCRIPT: Mary Travers

The folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary combined wonderful harmony with a lifetime of consistent support for social justice and progressive causes. Mary Travers died recently of leukemia at the age of 72. Here is the group singing one of their big hits If I had a hammer.

In I dig rock and roll music, they poked some good-natured fun at that genre and some of its practitioners.

The state of the Republican party

Immediately after the last election, I wrote a series of posts on the future of the Republican Party and said that where it ends up depends on the relative fortunes of the four elements within the party and which group or groups gain the ascendancy.

One bloc consists of old-style conservative Republicans, the ones who used to be known as ‘Rockefeller Republicans’. They consist of people who are pragmatic, technocratic, more managerial and less ideological in their outlook, people who want smaller government, fiscal restraint, balanced budgets, rule of law, respect for personal liberties, and a non-interventionist foreign policy.

The second group is the rank-and-file social values base for whom guns, gays, abortion, stem-cell research, flag, religion, homosexuality, and immigration are the main concerns. Many of these people belong to the lower and middle economic classes. These people were always the rank and file of the party, the ones who existed in large numbers in parts of the country and gave it voting clout, but they were never the leaders.

The third group is the Christianist leadership, people like Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and John Hagee, who claim to speak for the social values base but, as I argued in an earlier post, whose overriding allegiance is to a low-tax ideology (especially for the rich) at whatever cost, and who oppose any government programs that provide assistance to the poor.

The fourth group is the neoconservatives. The neoconservatives are the wild card in American politics, wreaking havoc wherever they go. Their interests lie less in domestic policies and more in creating a muscular foreign policy. They dream of America exercising hegemony over the world, using its might to destroy its enemies. They are firmly convinced that America is a force for good in the world and should not be shy about using its military, political, and economic muscle to dominate it. They see the interests of the US as almost identical to the interests of the hard-line right-wing segments of Israeli politics.

So what has happened since I wrote this? The situation has evolved but not clarified yet, but one interesting feature is how the four groups have started relating to Sarah Palin.

The old-style conservatives seem to have been routed and are even more marginalized than before. At this stage, they look like people unhappy with what the Republican Party has become and not sure if they can bring it back to what they see as sanity or whether it is hopelessly under the control of nutcases and they need to look for a new home. This group hates Palin with a passion, seeing her as perfectly symbolizing the depths to which their party has sunk. They despise her ignorance on the issues, her lack of competence, her fractured logic and syntax, her pride in despising learning, and her anti-intellectualism.

The second group has not grown larger but has grown more militant. It is digging in its heels and demanding to be in the party leadership and will not go back to their former role as mere foot soldiers. This group has always been made use of by their party leaders but never given a real shot at leadership. McCain’s choice of Palin changed that. For the first time, they felt that one of their own was close to the driver’s seat and they are not returning to the back of the bus. This group loves Sarah Palin and will not tolerate anyone who disparages her, which put them at direct loggerheads with the old-style conservative Republicans. Her abrupt resignation as governor of Alaska has not cooled their ardor. They see that, as they see everything she does, as a clever strategy. Whatever her next wacky stunt may be, it will be trumpeted as another example of her mavericky credentials and her policy of not practicing ‘politics as usual’. They fervently hope that she stays in politics and runs for president so that they can rally round her, although such an action probably dooms the party to a massive defeat and gives all the other potential Republican candidates the heebie-jeebies.

Jackie Broyles from Red State Update captures the views of this group precisely:

As for the third group, the Christianists, one does not hear much these days from Pat Robertson and John Hagee and the like. The Christianist leaders seem to be either on the wane or more likely are simply biding their time, waiting to see which of the candidates is most committed to their pro-rich/anti-poor/no-tax policies. They may simply be reeling from the string of sex-related scandals hitting their party and a little wary of aligning themselves too early with someone who may later taint them with scandal. They are political opportunists and although they may like Palin a lot, they love power more and would be quite willing to dump her and align themselves with someone who can win, even if that person is not completely aligned with their religion-based agenda.

The neo-conservatives within the party seem to be lying low too, licking their wounds after they lost the deep access to the high levels of the administration that they had under Bush/Cheney. But one can never write them off. They are always seeking to pursue their war-like agenda. This group is split on Palin. Since they love war and want the US to invade Iran and start fights with practically the entire Muslim world and renew the cold war with Russia, they are attracted to Palin because her own apocalyptic religious views make her sympathetic to these crazy ideas. On the other hand, they are also urbane intellectuals and Palin is simply not one of them. Some are uneasy that she could be a loose cannon they cannot control. Right now the neoconservatives are mostly a media presence on Fox News and other sites. If they think the Republicans are going to be losers for the foreseeable future, watch for them to make overtures to the Democratic Party, where they have some allies.

Probably the best barometer as to the fortunes of these groups is Fox News. The people and views that are given the most prominence on Fox are likely the ones on the upswing. So far, it seems to have dismissed the first group of old-style conservative Republicans and has tried to be the umbrella support group for the other three. It tried to drum up some enthusiasm for teabag parties, opposition to Sonia Sotomayor, and the like but those efforts seem to have fizzled, and so they seem to be resorting to even more extreme scare-mongering to raise the energy level of their supporters.

POST SCRIPT: The Daily Show on the Palin resignation

If Sarah Palin thought that she could avoid The Daily Show treatment by resigning just as they went on vacation, she misjudged them.

<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'Half Baked Alaska
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
www.thedailyshow.com
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Political Humor Joke of the Day

The future of the Republican Party-14: The once and future queen?

It is time for me to leave that seemingly inexhaustible well of material that is Sarah Palin, though it is clear that we are not going to be free of her presence any time soon. There is no question that Sarah Palin was the phenomenon of the election. When was the last time that the losing vice-presidential candidate garnered so much continuing media attention after the election, totally eclipsing the winning counterpart?

The last question that I want to explore before moving on is whether she represents the future of the Republican party.

It is often the case that post-mortems of losing campaigns can be quite nasty, as people try to wash their hands of any blame for the debacle and seek to salvage their reputations so that they can hook up with future campaigns. What is startling about the McCain campaign infighting was its particularly vicious nature and that this process started even before the election was over. I think it is because there are some within the Republican party who recognize the long-term danger that Palin represents. The brutal internal sniping that erupted is a sign that they think her rise should be nipped in the bud.

On her side, there were reports that they think McCain campaign advisors made serious tactical errors, that she saw defeat looming and was distancing herself from him in order to maintain her own future political viability and laying the groundwork for her own presidential run in 2012, that she blames the McCain staff for her disastrous introduction to the nation and for the public relations fiasco over her $150,000 clothes shopping spree.

On his side, leaked reports say that McCain was annoyed with her and that his staff thinks that she is the main reason the campaign lost. People close to McCain have called her a ‘diva’ who had ‘gone rogue’ by pursuing her own agenda and going off-message, and some have even called her a “whack job”. But the McCain camp’s attempt to blame Palin for their loss is a bit disingenuous since he is the one who freely picked her.

Her inability to think or speak coherently seemed to come as a big surprise to the McCain campaign, and her unwillingness to quickly study up on the issues suggested an intellectual laziness.

“Her lack of fundamental understanding of some key issues was dramatic,” said another McCain source with direct knowledge of the process to prepare Palin after she was picked. The source said it was probably the “hardest” to get her “up to speed than any candidate in history.”

It is clear from her ignorance on so many issues that she has not shown any interest in national and international affairs all her life, and had to learn to deal with them only after being nominated for vice-president. But such habits and interests are formed early in one’s life and without that desire to know such things I am not convinced that she can get up to speed within the next few years.

It was notable that even a few days before the election she still could not give a correct or even coherent answer to the question of what the vice president’s role was, even though she had first flubbed that question when it was posed to her months earlier when her name was first floated as a possible running mate for McCain. The US constitution is notable for its conciseness. How hard would it be to read the few sentences that deal with the very post to which you are aspiring? She seems to think that a breezy confidence in your gut instincts is all you need.

It is now clear that even during her vice-presidential debate where her supporters think she acquitted herself well, she was reading much of her answers from notes and using pre-packaged responses whatever the question. If you go back and look at her interview with Katie Couric, you see that she frequently looks down at her lap, as if taking a quick peek at something.

She also lacks self-discipline. One example of this is her continuing to buy expensive clothes for her and her family after the scandal about them broke. The other is her tendency to repeat falsehoods (such as the story about the ‘bridge to nowhere’) after they have been exposed.

As we have seen in the few interviews she gave before the election, when asked a question, instead of pausing a moment to consider what point she wants to make, she has the unfortunate tendency of immediately launching into a blizzard of words and phrases without having a clear endpoint in mind, so her answers meander all over the place, a stream of consciousness monologue that is both oddly captivating and grating at the same time.

She squirts words out like a squid squirts ink when it is cornered, creating a cloud of incoherence. Take this recent example when she was trying to explain away the issue of whether she thought Africa was a country:

“My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska’s investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars.”

Dick Cavett writes:

What will ambitious politicos learn from this? That frayed syntax, bungled grammar and run-on sentences that ramble on long after thought has given out completely are a candidate’s valuable traits?

What on earth are our underpaid teachers, laboring in the vineyards of education, supposed to tell students about the [above] sentence, committed by the serial syntax-killer from Wasilla High?

Some have responded that this pre-occupation with Palin’s shaky grammar and syntax is an elitist obsession of those with expensive educations. But there is a huge difference between being plainspoken and expressing your ideas in the vernacular, and saying things that no one can make any sense of. Jim Hightower and the late Molly Ivins are examples of people who know how to wield Texas colloquialisms and regional idioms like scalpels, using breezy language to skillfully dissect any issue to quickly expose the underlying core. The problem with Palin is not that she says things badly but that we cannot tell, without careful parsing of her words, what idea she is even trying to convey.

Language can be an important clue as to the state of one’s thinking. George Orwell said it best in his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language:

A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

Sarah Palin is a textbook example of the point Orwell is making. An immersion course in grammar and syntax by itself is not going to help Palin become a clear thinker, although it would help her to not embarrass herself so much. Her use of language indicates that her problems go much deeper, to her very thought processes. The Republican party would be unwise to place its future in such thoughtless hands.

As the Republicans jockey to see who will lead the party in the future, look behind the actual names and faces that are bandied about and focus on which of the three groups (the old-style conservatives, the Christianists, and the neoconservatives) are supporting them. The key struggle to watch is the extent to which the Christianists are successful in convincing the more traditionally religious base of the Republican party that they represent their values, or whether other religious leaders who are dismayed by the current dominant coalition of end-timers and neoconservatives will successfully challenge the Christianists for the leadership position.

Which group emerges as the victor of that struggle will tell you which way the party is moving.

POST SCRIPT: Brain teaser

I received this interesting puzzle and thought I’d pass it on. I will post my solution in the comments.

The future of the Republican Party-13: The case against Palin

Should Sarah Palin be the next Republican nominee for president?

It is clear that she thinks she is up to the job. She says that whether she should be president or not depends on what god wants.

Palin told Greta Van Susteren Monday on Fox News that her faith will guide her on a 2012 run. “I’m like, O.K., God, if there is an open door for me somewhere — this is what I always pray — don’t let me miss the open door,” she said. “Show me where the open door is, even if it’s cracked open a little bit, maybe I’ll plow right on through that and maybe prematurely plow through it.”

But like all delusional religious people who say they seek a sign of god’s will, she will see what she wants to see. It is clear that Palin thinks god has big plans for her and will view random events as god ‘cracking open’ doors for her. She likely thinks that McCain selecting her is already a sign of that.

I recall a study that compared competent people and incompetent people. One reason the incompetents were incompetent was that they were incompetent at judging their own competence. They had a breezy and unshakeable confidence in their own abilities and so never felt the need to work to improve themselves, whereas competent people were better able to judge their strengths and weaknesses and thus recognized which areas they needed to develop themselves in.

Palin strikes me as someone who is completely oblivious to her shortcomings. Her vanity and sense of entitlement, coupled with her tone deafness to the image she creates, has provided endless material for comedians.

The biggest example was, of course, her $150,000 shopping spree at upscale stores and the way she responded when the news broke.

When Politico reported on Oct. 21 that Palin had spent $150,000 for clothes for herself and her family, the governor had been all wounded innocence. At a campaign stop in Tampa, she said, “These clothes—they’re not my property, just like the lighting and the staging and everything else that the RNC purchased. I am not taking them with me. I am back to wearing clothes from my favorite consignment shop in Anchorage, Alaska.” Publicly, McCain aides backed up Palin, saying that a third of the clothes had been returned immediately, before they were worn in public, and that the rest would be donated to charity. Privately, however, McCain’s top advisers fumed at what they regarded as Palin’s outrageous profligacy. One senior aide said that Nicolle Wallace had told Palin to buy three suits for the convention and hire a stylist, but thereafter Palin had “gone rogue,” as the media buzz put it. She began buying for herself and her family—clothes and accessories from top stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. A week after she announced that she was going back to her consignment shop she was still having tailored clothes delivered. According to two knowledgeable sources, a vast majority of the clothes were bought by a wealthy donor, who was shocked when he got the bill. Palin also used low-level staffers to buy some of the clothes on their credit cards; the McCain campaign found out last week when the aides sought reimbursement. One aide estimated that she spent “tens of thousands” more than the reported $150,000, and that $20,000 to $40,000 went to buy clothes for her husband. Some articles of clothing have apparently been lost. An angry aide characterized the shopping spree as “Wasilla Hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast,” and said the truth will eventually come out when the Republican Party audits its books.

Such things invite ridicule. Maureen Dowd writes:

As Michael Shear reported in The Washington Post, on top of the $150,000 first cited in F.E.C. filings, Palin spent “tens of thousands of dollars” on more clothes, makeup and jewelry for herself and her family, including $40,000 in luxury goods for the First Dude. The campaign was charged for silk boxers, spray tanners and 13 suitcases to carry the designer duds, Shear reported, adding that one source said, “She was still receiving shipments of custom-designed underpinnings up to her ‘Saturday Night Live’ performance” in October. Silk boxers and custom-designed underpinnings? Sounds like Sarah and Todd were treating the vice presidential run as a second honeymoon.”

There had been other warning signs (that the McCain camp would have easily discovered if they had bothered to vet her) that she liked having others pay for her high style of living, such as her practice as governor of getting a per diem for staying in her own home and having taxpayers pay for her family’s travels and luxury hotel accommodations even though they had no official function.

She also courts controversy because of her habit of not thinking things through. For example, she gratuitously dismissed scientific research on fruit flies when she had no need to. She seems to be unable to resist the sarcastic one-liner that gets immediate laughs, and that is a recipe for trouble.

The latest fiasco was when she was speaking about Thanksgiving while a turkey was being slaughtered behind her. People wondered how Palin could be so oblivious to the poor scene being set. Instead she just rambled on and on, seemingly delighting in the sound of her own voice, whether she has anything to say or not. Jay Leno joked that the reason for the photo op fiasco was that the turkey couldn’t bear listening to her anymore and said “Please kill me now.”

Even if the more outlandish stories about Palin (such as her not knowing that Africa is a not a single country) are not true, her problem is that she has now acquired a reputation for deep ignorance that they are seen as plausible, and that image will be hard to shake off.

As a counter-example, in mid-September John McCain had an interview with a Spanish-language newspaper in which it seemed like he did not know that Spain was in Europe or that it was a US ally in NATO. But after some initial eye-rolling by commentators, that story did not gain much traction because it was highly implausible that someone like McCain would be so ignorant about geography. Even McCain’s critics looked for plausible alternative explanations for his strange comments. But if the same thing had happened with Palin, people would easily believe that she does not know that Spain is not in Latin America. That is not a good reputation for a national leader to have.

The real problem, as I said above, is not that Palin is ignorant about many things that she should be aware of. All of us are. The problem is that she seems oblivious to the fact that she is ignorant and hence is unlikely to improve. If the Republican party does choose her, they will be taking a huge political gamble.

Next: The once and future queen?

POST SCRIPT: Talk on Israel-Palestine

The well-known Middle East scholar Norman Finkelstein, who has long advocated for a two-state solution based on 1967 borders, will speak on:

Israel and Palestine: Roots of Conflict – Prospect for Peace
The talk is on Thursday, December 11, 2008, 6:30 pm in the Ford Auditorium, Case Western Reserve University. This is in the Allen Library building at the corner of Euclid and Adelbert.
The talk is free and open to the public.