Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Waste Not, Want Not

ANNOUNCER: And now, an important word from the author.

AUTHOR: Oh! Hullo there. I didn't see you come in. Welcome to the Independence Hall of the Mind!

Please, pull up a seat and help yourself to a pint of hard cider. I advise you to use the wooden mugs: The pewter tankards were 
left here by the Tea Party squatters that I had to turn out earlier. The terrible things are made in China and are therefore laced with poisonous lead. These teabaggers are not fond of health and safety regulations. Although, I suppose I should acknowledge their one token nod to authenticity. 

They really left a mess. You know, they actually plastered-over the Liberty Bell with "Reagan '80" and "Trump '16" bumper stickers. That's going to take a lot of solvent to remove. (Propriety forbids me from telling you what they used copies of the Constitution for.) So, I showed them the door. But they did not seem to know what to do with it, so I had to provide some kinetic assistance.

In any case, onto business. No doubt you have noticed this bust of Benjamin Franklin that I have on my desk. His expression is alternately wry, weary, bemused, or disapproving depending on how the light hits it and how happy I am with my latest bit of writing. It keeps me second-guessing myself and therefore on my toes. Whenever I am stuck, I look on it and ask, "What Would Franklin Do?" (WWFD?)

The question then answers itself and I take another swig of cider. Or wine.

Thus fortified and put in the proper state of mind, I then reflect on the good Doctor Franklin in greater detail. Today, I was pondering how to best present the central problem of our time. To wit that our country is in the grip of a grippe of ignorance because not enough of you have bought and read my book.

So I asked myself WWFD? and pondered the Sage of Philadelphia's tireless advocacy of economy and frugality. In a flash, I remembered that the efficient writer wastes nothing and uses every part of the press packet. And i
n that spirit, I have turned my Amazon product description into this blog post because, to quote both Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince and Mark Twain's Diary of Adam and Eve, it bears repeating. Indeed, it cannot be repeated enough:

The three interdependent ideals of liberty, equality, and democracy are central to America’s identity. Yet conservatives are ideologically allergic to them. They try to play liberty against equality in a zero-sum game and their hostility to democracy is well-documented.

Conservatives are authoritarians who imagine they are libertarians. And authoritarians cannot be happy in a free and equal society. Not only do they disapprove of the “immorality” around them, their sense of authenticity feels constantly assaulted. Yes, conservatives the world over crave a sense of place, both on the map and in the pecking order. But conservatives in other countries are not as haunted by this awkward contradiction. American conservatives feel forever besieged because America’s very identity threatens them. As a result, they routinely project and question their opponent’s patriotism. Their defensiveness turbo charges their obsession with who does and does not belong.

This also explains their almost comic efforts to co-opt FDR, JFK, MLK, and Rosa Parks. Their ideology chronically puts them on the wrong side of history, thus the desperate necessity of their highly inventive rewrites. From their fantasies about what the founders thought to their absolutely backwards Nazi analogies, this explains all the strange things your Fox News-watching father-in-law swallows.

Finally, many of our Founders thought a rough economic equality was a fundamental to a functioning republic. They had an analysis of where aristocracy came from – filthy rich families. Accordingly, many of the revolution’s luminaries, like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, openly advocated capping and/or redistributing wealth. As Noah Webster warned in 1787, “An equality of property, with a necessity of alienation, constantly operating to destroy combinations of powerful families, is the very soul of a republic.” And Cato wrote, “liberty can never subsist without equality.” To that he added, “In every country and under every government, particular men may be too rich.” No doubt this is news to the Cato Institute.

This election year, countless soon-to-be obsolete political books are vying for your policy wonk dollar. They are focused on the moment, on "also ran" candidates. Invest in one that will remain relevant forever. The title is the thesis: Conservatism is Un-American. And that fact will outlast us all.

And to cannibalize a blog post from before:

If you enjoy my blog, there is a lot more where that came from. The writing styles are pretty similar, as my posts' copious footnotes should suggest. The Amazon page offers a very generous sample - the entire introduction plus half of the first chapter. I have also posted the chapter on conservatives' ass-backwards Nazi analogies here on this blog, so you can download with confidence.

Senator Bernie Sanders has started a national dialog on socialism - not just on its desirability but on its place in American history. My book has ample examples that buttress his arguments. And as the quote in the graphic below shows, these roots reach even deeper than he thinks.

So, buy my book, tell your friends, and please feel free to share the graphic.


And here is the citation for the Franklin quote in the graphic:

- Benjamin Franklin, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. William B. Willcox, (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1982), 22:533.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Best of Apologists

If liberals have an Achilles' heel, it is our quickness to accept the conservative narrative. This is not simply limited to going along with how the right frames the issues. Liberals are too quick to accept conservatives' manufactured facts. Conservative spin is establishment consensus - especially with centrist Democrats.

I know this will carbon-date me, but my favorite example is when George Stephanopoulos sermoned his own party on the nastiness of politics: “As a Democrat, I will say the Democrats should rue the day when they made one simple act: the day they subpoenaed Robert Bork’s videos.” Many Dems claimed the same. 

Except congressional Democrats did no such thing to Ronald Reagan's Supreme Court nominee. What had actually happened was a newspaper reporter wondered how easy it would be to obtain Bork's video rental records and decided to find out. Bork had famously declared that there is no such thing as a right to privacy, so the issue had been raised. Contrary to the story, liberals immediately condemned the reporter's violation of Bork's privacy and one positive upshot was that Congress promptly passed a law to prevent this from happening again. In short, privacy-defending liberals had behaved consistently with their principles, and yet the opposite impression was cultivated by Republicans and Democrats alike.

This is part of a larger pattern of liberals lying by omission or lying outright to make their conservative opponents seem more sympathetic. We routinely ignore important facts when they settle issues in a decisive fashion, hoping that such polite omissions and distortions will be taken as olive branches and lure conservatives to the table and open a dialogue. Of course, it never does. Coddling conservatives never pays.

For example, in Ken Burns' lengthy PBS documentary series "The Civil War," he neglects to mention the Articles of Secession - the documents in which the southern states openly declared that they were breaking away over the issue of slavery. That would have made things too clear-cut. Were reactionaries appeased? Of course not. Liberal tolerance and generosity are never appreciated by conservatives - who are frequently the biggest beneficiaries. With enemies like these, who needs friends?

Bear this in mind when watching Robert Gordon's and Morgan Neville's The Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal. To be clear, the documentary is both informative and immensely entertaining. I highly recommend it. In a masterstroke of especially apt casting, Kelsey Grammer voices the writings of Willam F. Buckley. Everything about the editing is perfect and their argument that the heated debates between these two men in 1968 shaped all television political commentary to come is compelling.

Unfortunately, there is an elephant in the studio that the producers studiously ignored and it was not the GOP mascot.  The climax of the Buckley-Vidal debates is also the climax of the documentary. It is that famous / infamous moment when Vidal calls Buckley a "crypto-Nazi" and Buckley calls Vidal a "queer." That Vidal was bravely out about his fluid sexuality and wrote openly about homosexuality in the 1940s is not in dispute, but the documentary details it just the same for viewers who are unfamiliar with him. But Buckley's crypto-fascism and racism is never investigated beyond showing his defenders calling it a slur.

Spoiler Alert: It's not a slur. It's not even close to one. The documentary is littered with little missed opportunities to explore this issue. Time and again, I thought "Here it comes." But it never came.

For example, among the "Crossfire" clips is one where Godfrey Cambridge good-naturedly laughs, "Your're marvelous! I adore you! You're the only man who can ask your question and convict the man before he can answer the question!" Couched as this was in so much praise for Buckley's sparkling wit and debate prowess, it is easy to miss that Cambridge had given the very definition of prejudice. The title of the episode was "Was the Civil-Rights Crusade a Mistake?" which sounds like a leading question to me. (1)

When patronizing Muhammad Ali in another clip, Buckley claimed "You sit and tell me that we white people like to divide and conquer. I grew up as a white child. I heard so much more talk against Democrats than I did against black people." Apart from the salient fact that anecdotal evidence is a logical fallacy - something a "great debater" like Buckley should know - this begs the question: How much talk against blacks had he heard growing up? It is not an unreasonable question considering that his family was insanely racist. His father was a rabid antisemite and fascist sympathizer and his older brothers had burned a cross outside a Jewish resort in 1937. (Little William was too young to go at the time.) Of course, nobody should be convicted for having a terrible family, but Buckley was citing his childhood to refute Ali's claims about racism in America and thus being outrageously dishonest as well as uselessly anecdotal.(2)

Incidentally, the loudest voice in the documentary denouncing the "slur" that William F. Buckley is a fascist is his younger brother Reid Buckley. He was also too young to go on that nocturnal outing in '37.

But William F. Buckley was not just dishonest about his family. He was racist himself well into adulthood. He had written a National Review editorial in 1957 entitled “Why the South must prevail,” which defended both white supremacy and the use of violence to uphold it:
The central question that emerges – and it is not a parliamentary question or a question that is answered by merely consulting a catalogue of the rights of American citizens, born Equal – is whether the white community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not prevail numerically?
The sobering answer is Yes – the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the median cultural superiority of white over Negro: but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists. The question, as far as the White community is concerned, is whether the claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage. The British believe they do, and acted accordingly, in Kenya, where the choice was dramatically one between civilization and barbarism, and elsewhere; the South, where the conflict is by no means dramatic, as in Kenya, nevertheless perceives important qualitative differences between its culture and the Negroes’, and intends to assert its own.
National Review believes that the South’s premises are correct. If the majority will what is socially atavistic, then to thwart the majority may be, though undemocratic, enlightened. It is more important for any community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numerical majority. Sometimes it becomes impossible to assert the will of a minority, in which case it must give way, and the society will regress; sometimes the numerical minority cannot prevail except by violence: then it must determine whether the prevalence of its will is worth the terrible price of violence.(3)
I used this quote in my book because my central thesis was that conservatives are contemptuous of the three interdependent ideals of liberty, equality, and democracy - and here Buckley conveniently dismisses all three, thereby illustrating their interdependence.

But what is important here is the racist nature of Buckley's enterprise. He staffed the magazine he had founded with plenty of white supremacists and fascist enthusiasts. After giving the Buckley quote above I added, "Later, Buckley publicly backed off this awkward argument, but he continued to support, employ, and promote those who still held this worldview. Pat Buchanan was deeply influenced by National Review foreign policy columnist James Burnham, who wrote The Suicide of the West, and The National Review later endorsed Buchanan for president in 1992." (As a nod to his idol, Buchanan later wrote a book called The Death of the West.) "These Review contributors regularly portrayed places like Apartheid South Africa and the white minority regime in Rhodesia as citadels of civilization to be defended against what they saw as egalitarian barbarism." And Buckley might have disavowed his editorial defending Jim Crow, but he continued to defend Apartheid for as long as it lasted. That does not sound quite contrite.

This cannot be emphasized enough. Polite society regards Buckley as an intellectual and Buchanan as a thug, but they are both intellectual thugs. Both men were well-read in history and used their pens to celebrate nightsticks. Their backgrounds were similar as well. Both were conservative Catholics who grew up regarding the Spanish fascist dictator Francisco Franco as a great defender of the faith. Accordingly, they were dismissive of democracy and sympathetic toward other military dictators like Chile's Augusto Pinochet. Simply put, Buckley made Buchanan's career. It was as if Buchanan had sprung from Buckley's skull like Athena from Zeus. To quote Liz Phair, "Think about your own head and the headache he gave."

But Pat Buchanan was not the only fascist in the attic. Another Holocaust denier, the late Joseph Sobran, was an editor there. The Review had also viciously defended Revered Pat Roberson's antisemetic rants. As I wrote in my book, "When Michael Lind tried to drive Robertson out of the conservative movement, the Review drove Lind out instead." This makes the claim that Buckley "drove antisemites out of the movement" particularly absurd. Then there's Charles Murray, who works for the magazine today. His book, The Bell Curve, is largely based on the Nazis' eugenicist junk science. (Amusingly, the Pioneer Fund, a eugenicist group that Murray had leaned on for a lot of his research, also objects to being called "crypto-Nazis.") The Review's staff has always been rife with racists.

And yet none of this is mentioned in the documentary. Perhaps because the producers thought the conflict is more dramatic if you like both adversaries. This way, you can be a good liberal and see both sides of both sides and feel conflicted by the conflict. Cataloging Buckley's unsavory employees would have rather spoiled the effect. I suppose you could protest that such information is tangential or irrelevant, but you would be telling a rather shabby and transparent lie. Like I said, it is part and parcel to the climax.

Like Ken Burns, the directors preferred to ignore deciding factors. A balanced presentation is not about applying the same standards to both sides but getting the same result for both sides. "Giving both sides" often means spinning the one in the wrong - almost always the conservative one. So, of course, we must treat William F. Buckley with the same discrete, nonjudgmental courtesy we confer on college athletes who are also rapists. The toxic dishonestly is even worse when the subject is dead.

But do the conservative beneficiaries appreciate such fudging on their behalf? Do they ever say, "Thanks for the whitewash. You kept our reptilian editor respectable"?

The sobering answer is No. The National Review is unhappy with the documentary which is regards as liberal bias. The Review's reviewer objects to the notion that Richard Nixon's "Law and Order" platform had anything to do with race-baiting. Of course he does.

You cannot please everyone. So you might as well share all the relevant facts.

________________

(1) Alas, only the beginning of it is available online and it does not include the clip in the documentary. However, I think I have sufficient context to infer.

(2) The clip used in the documentary starts at 25:57 in this You Tube video of the "Firing Line" episode. At the time, Muhammad Ali was still pretty militant and deep into Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam movement. Whatever you think of the later, Ali's point - that white society engages in divide & conquer in order to control is a matter of historical record. Before the 1700s - and well after - black slaves and white indentured servants joined forces when revolting. Eventually, slave colonies started giving away land to freed white indentures in order to secure their loyalty. Cultivating racism among poor whites was also part of this process. In the industrial era, immigrant groups that did not get along - like Germans and Poles - were routinely put to work in the same factories to frustrate unionizing efforts. It's an old story.

(3) William F. Buckley, “Why the South must prevail,” National Review, August 24, 1957, 148-149.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

From Burke to Trump

There is no politely ignoring it anymore. Donald Trump's campaign has proven what honest observers have said about conservatism for decades.

Yes, establishment Republicans indignantly insist that Donald Trump is "not a true conservative." But there are many stripes of conservatism and Trump is either a paleo-conservative or pretending to be one. Whichever it is, the conservative movement has become what it was becoming - if not what it always was. Trump's sincerity is irrelevant: What matters is that his message resonates with the base and thus defines it.

Take Trump's blatant racism for example. The Southern Strategy is hardly new: It started with Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign. Lyndon Johnson had signed the 1964 Civil Rights earlier that year but worried that it would cost Democrats the South for a generation. He was not wrong and Goldwater wasted no time in capitalizing on it. At the time, former president Dwight Eisenhower warned against race-baiting, but of course he was ignored. Later, Pat Buchanan helped craft Richard Nixon's rhetoric just as Lee Atwater subsequently crafted Ronald Reagan's and George Bush Sr.'s. Indeed, Lee Atwater had explained the Southern strategy quite plainly. Of course, that inconvenient little historical fact does not stop Jonah Goldberg, Ann Coulter, or Dinesh D'Souza from insisting it does not exist.

But Trump's primary success means that nobody can deny it anymore - nobody sane, anyway. The dog whistles are now air raid sirens. All subtlety and plausible deniability has been spectacularly jettisoned. Today, no GOP hopeful would dare make a mildly racist comment. Such weak equivocation would get him called a RINO - a Republican In Name Only. As Clint Eastwood recently remarked, calling out racism makes us a "pussy generation." If pandering to white racists isn't conservative, then the GOP hasn't been conservative since the sixties.

Again, Donald Trump's personal sincerity is irrelevant. What matters is what brand of conservatism is in the Republican Party's saddle. The answer is Pat Buchanan's paleo-conservative one. Remember when people laughed at Buchanan's plan to build a wall along the Mexican border? Trump was not the only GOP hopeful to adopt it in this primary. Pundits said these candidates were following Trump, but they were following the base. Trump just did a better job of getting out in front of this nativist nonsense.

And Pat Buchanan's brand dates back to the racist, conspiracy theory-spinning John Birch Society of the 1950s. The Tea Party - which I called "warmed-over Goldwaterism" in my book - is also part of this conservative tradition. As Jane Mayer explained in her exposé on the Koch brothers in the New Yorker, their father waded deep in this stream of belief:
In 1958, Fred Koch became one of the original members of the John Birch Society, the arch-conservative group known, in part, for a highly skeptical view of governance and for spreading fears of a Communist takeover. Members considered President Dwight D. Eisenhower to be a Communist agent. In a self-published broadside, Koch claimed that “the Communists have infiltrated both the Democrat and Republican Parties.” He wrote admiringly of Benito Mussolini’s suppression of Communists in Italy, and disparagingly of the American civil-rights movement. “The colored man looms large in the Communist plan to take over America,” he warned. Welfare was a secret plot to attract rural blacks to cities, where they would foment “a vicious race war.” In a 1963 speech that prefigures the Tea Party’s talk of a secret socialist plot, Koch predicted that Communists would “infiltrate the highest offices of government in the U.S. until the President is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.”
When you consider this, you quickly realize that Glenn Beck's and Alex Jones' bat-shit insanity is hardly an unprecedented aberration. In fact, as Richard Hofstadter explained in his famous essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," this element has always been with us and frequently wreaked havoc in our country's politics. It waxes and wanes but it does not ever go away. He was writing about Goldwaterism in 1964, but he could be writing about the Tea Party or the Trump campaign today.

This element isn't really even fringe in conservative circles - it just has been hidden and spun. William F. Buckley was credited with "driving the antisemites out of the conservative movement," but as I wrote before, he really harbored and nurtured them as best he could. And, amazingly, these racists actually resent the dog whistles and code words as oppressive political correctness. They are tired of being told, "You can't put it that way." They feel stifled by subtlety and they are done with it - thus Trump's appeal.(1)

All of this is obvious now and none of what I have written above is particularly original. It is just that more people are finally accepting it. Even conservative establishment Republicans are now admitting their party is primarily driven by rabid white nationalism. They say it has usurped conservatism's traditional focus on sober reflection, prudent policy, and individual liberty. In this narrative, conservatism has always meant the patient preservation of free markets and the rule of law.

Well, not quite. Conservatives have often fostered a Trumpian contempt for civil liberties. As I wrote in my book, "Enlightenment ideas of government inconvenience their vigilante tendencies." They adore authority and therefore are hostile to liberty and equality. Our founders condemned arbitrary authority; but conservatives think any authority is a-okay. They are not so picky as long as there is a pecking order. Accordingly, their ideology will always accommodate anyone who wants to put others "in their place." Scolds enjoy policing morality because it is a form of petty power. None of these are novelties. They are familiar, durable characteristics of conservatism that we can recognize across time.

Conservatism finds meaning and purpose in sniffing out and putting down revolts, both real and imagined. Vigilance is identity and legitimacy. Since might makes right, whether you can take or hold something determines whether you really deserve it. Hence the taunt "COME AND TAKE IT" being emblazoned on the battle banners of those who had stolen the land they are "defending." Because your worth must be repeatedly tested, not getting soft is all important. Their muscular ideology has anxiety about atrophy. Or as Corey Robin had explained in The Reactionary Mind: From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, "To the conservative, power in repose is power in decline."
The “mere husbanding of already existing resources,” wrote Joseph Schumpeter about industrial dynasties, “no matter how painstaking, is always characteristic of a declining position.” If power is to achieve the distinction the conservative associates with it, it must be exercised. And there is no better way to exercise power than to defend it against an enemy from below. Counterrevolution, in other words, is one of the ways in which the conservative makes feudalism seem fresh and medievalism modern.(2)
Conservatism protects wealth because money is power, not because it honors abstract economic rights. It officially condemns "force or fraud," but it tolerates plenty of both provided it is not too vulgar or overt. That's Trump's problem with conservatism's officialdom: He is too vulgar and overt. But to the base, his swagger and arrogant, unapologetic bullshit isn't illegitimacy but authenticity. He's an honest crook.(3)

I wrote a book called Conservatism is Un-American. Like Corey Robin, I argue that conservatism doesn't change much. I recognize that there are different strains of conservatism that jockey for dominance, but that at the end of the day their differences are pretty trivial and they always ally. As I wrote in the intro:
[S]ocial and economic conservatives are not just an odd couple, they’re an old one. Politics makes strange bedfellows, but they sure are not strangers. They have been together forever and have seldom strayed. Griping aside, their wedding anniversaries have used up every metal on the Periodic Table of Elements. After all, plutocrats and moralists have always joined forces. We the People, their workforce, are a sinful, unruly lot. So social control is their common goal. In the pre-New Deal heyday they seek to return to, you could not buy a drink or go on strike. Then Franklin D. Roosevelt gets elected in 1932 and we get the Wagner Act, booze, and Social Security. Everyone then gets uppity for the next forty years.
This uppitiness has always horrified conservatives whether it concerned race, class, or sex. It is also what America is all about. Contrary to conservatives' zero-sum rhetoric, I argue that the three central ideals of liberty, equality, and democracy are interdependent. This also helps explain why social and economic conservatives are invariably driven together: The former opposes liberty and the later equality, but they know they are two sides of the same coin. Their mutual goal it to keep everyone else from noticing.

And they would rather we remain ignorant of all those socialist things some of our founders said too.


___________________

(1) We have not become a more racist nation. The two elections of President Barack Obama by landslides disprove that. But Facebook - or, as I like to call it, "Racist Litmus" - gave all your friends and relatives a platform for parading their previously-concealed bigotries. It's just like that episode of "Gilligan's Island" where everyone temporarily got telepathy. And Trump is certainly the perfect Internet age candidate because he personifies all the narcissism, bullying, and kooky conspiracy theories the Internet offers. Indeed, it has already become a widely-circulated/stolen cliché that he is a walking comments section. Like the Internet, Trump just makes this ignorant demographic impossible to ignore anymore.

(2) Before reading his book, I wrote something similar in mine: "Much of the business establishment saw fascism as a solution to communism. But to those with anti-democratic, aristocratic attitudes, fascism was already attractive even without any communist threat. If you equated liberty and equality with chaos and longed for a strongman to defend tradition, your latent monarchism was already aroused. Simply put, fascism was monarchism modernized for the 20th Century – aristocracy made sleek, streamlined, and posh like an art deco Tamara de Lempicka painting. And the fact that workers were actually in revolt only added urgency, making political reaction seem hip, edgy, and relevant."

(3) For example, even when Trumpkins admit Trump twists the truth, they insist that he "tells it like it is." It has been said this means they identify with his racism, which is undoubtedly likely. But I think, more broadly, they also admire his bluntness about power. Enlightenment liberals like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine theorized about how a just society should run. They said society creates wealth by pooling our efforts and is therefore entitled to getting something back to benefit others. Both Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren have echoed those arguments. But men like Trump crassly brag about strong-arming or out-smarting others - about having some poor, dumb schmuck over a barrel and driving a hard bargain. To his supporters, Trump embodies truth even if he doesn't speak it. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there and Trump doesn't sugar-coat it. Indeed, he revels in it. And that twisted authenticity paradoxically translates into trust. There is a cognitive disconnect which rationalizes that if he has this terrible knowledge, he understands and thus must be for the little guy. That's my theory, anyway.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Slandering Sanders

I was a kid during the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis. I have some pretty vivid memories of it.

Most are images of the Ayatollah Khomeini, looking somewhat like Christopher Lee's portrayal of Saruman in the Lord of the Rings movie. But I also remember another ayatollah that most probably don't. This Shiite cleric, speaking in exile, condemned the hostage-taking as being against Islam. I do not recall his name, but I remember him looking like a turbaned version of Allen Ginsberg. He was rotund with thick glasses and a jet black beard. I picked up that he and Khomeini were not friends.

My memory is pretty visual, but in this instance the condemnation of the act struck my imagination most. America was rife with Islamophobia at that moment and this picture of internal conflict was a hiccup in the otherwise steady pulse of prejudice in the popular culture. Was this other ayatollah ... a "good guy"? I was confused. I was just a kid and I did not know what to think.

I remember this moment whenever Fox News rhetorically wonders why most Muslims "don't condemn terrorism," which of course they do. In fact, I've been sensitive to these awkward moments of uncertainly ever since. In his famous essay, "Notes on Nationalism," George Orwell wrote "The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them." My childhood memory made realize that it applied to good news as well as bad.

I recently realized that this applies to petty party primaries as well. A little over a week ago, a friend of mine claimed that Bernie Sanders had done nothing to call out the misogyny of Bernie Bros. Sanders actually had done so on two major networks. When asked about it on CNN, he bluntly responded:
I have heard about it. It’s disgusting, Look, we don’t want that crap. We will do everything we can and I think we have tried. Look, anybody who is supporting me that is doing the sexist things is - we don’t want them. I don’t want them. That is not what this campaign is about.
After another interview on MSNBC, the interviewer acknowledged that Sanders had condemned sexist rhetoric by his supporters several times before. Unfortunately, a lot of bloggers do not watch interviews.

Journalists like Glenn Greenwald and bloggers like myself had debunked the idea that Bernie Bros define the Sanders movement. Every political organization has its incongruous subgroups, whether they are formal or informal. Do Log Cabin Republicans accurately represent the GOP? Of course not. And every activist group gets unwanted problem members. It's hard enough to police small groups in person, let alone millions online.(1) Alas, our efforts to dispel the myth have been to small avail. The two Democratic primary camps had become almost as partisan and insular as the GOP's "elephant echo chamber." Almost.

Slandering Sanders had been something of a cottage industry this primary season. My previous posts looked at allegations of sexism that were arguable - or poorly phrased but ultimately true. They contained valid arguments and raised issues that should not be ignored. This post looks at those that don't.

Take Charles Clymer's cornucopia of bogus claims. It is easy to believe this is the work of some pro-Trump troll trying to stoke acrimony among Democrats. After all, the political landscape is now populated with wee little Lee Atwaters and Karl Roves, so some James O'Keefe-like stunts are to be expected. In fact, O'Keefe has been doing exactly that - posing as a Clinton supporter at Sanders rallies. Clymer's prose reads like a conservative's parody of political correctness. Painful earnestness is difficult to fake on video, but text is a different animal. Still, my friends shared this rhetorical train wreck and it is pretty representative of the genre. Consider these paragraphs your one-stop-shop for such thought:
That insecurity  -  invariably referred to as masculine fragility or white fragility -  has been on ugly display since Bernie Sanders announced his presidential campaign last year. What was meant to be a challenge to the status quo has long devolved into harassing behavior by white male progressives (called “Bernie Bros”) that is sexist, racist, and disgusting.
The candidate himself, once a voice of reason and much-needed passion (if, perhaps, unrealistic), has become a parody of the supporters his campaign has struggled to keep in line throughout the primary season. The finger-wagging, the speaking over women, the assertion that Hillary Clinton isn’t qualified, the bizarre declaration that struggling pro-choice groups are part of “The Establishment”, all of it is symptomatic of a man who clearly respects women less than their male counterparts.
Okay, for openers, what racism specifically? Has Bernie Sanders been whitesplaining the infamous 1994 Crime Bill to Black Lives Matters protesters as Bill Clinton has? It was reminiscent of his finger wagging at Sister Souljah in 1992. Hillary Clinton has been pretty testy and condescending with them as well. Interestingly, the protesters that the Clintons are patronizing seem to be young women as well as black. But Hillary Clinton had never performed particularly well with young women - not even in 2008.

Incidentally, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll, it turns out that Hillary supporters are only slightly less racist than Trump ones. I suppose that 2008 PUMA thing was not an isolated moment. This is pretty predictable considering that much of Clinton's support comes from older voters. Of course, most of her support is not racist, but a worrisome - if unrepresentative - chunk is. That sort of puts the whole "Bernie Bro" narrative into perspective, doesn't it? Imagine a year of similarly dishonest think pieces on "Clinton Bigots." What impact might that have had on the primary? And if you were wondering how Bernie Sanders supporters answered, they were the least racist voters in the American electorate. Indeed, the Reuters/Ipsos poll confirmed a previous poll by Vox. It sort of makes you wonder if there were any polls taken on sexist attitudes. Well there was one that I know of, but I'll get to that later.

The point is, if you are going to allege racism, you should probably supply evidence. The evidence of sexism is ridiculously twisted, but at least it is presented. So, let's get to that now.

We can start with the aforementioned finger-pointing and speaking over others. People point when they are making a point. Indeed, it may very well be where the idiom comes from. Off hand, the only politician I can think of who never pointed was Franklin Delano Roosevelt and that was because he was using both his hands to hold himself up at the podium because polio had paralyzed his legs. But both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton pointed and spoke over each other in the Flint, Michigan debates. Check the video.

Don't get me wrong: Obviously, there are contexts in which pointing and talking over others would be sexist (see my first footnote) or racist (see above). But often it is difficult to tell for sure. For example, we do not know the context behind that famous photo of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer getting pointy with President Barack Obama. Given his non-confrontational style, I am guessing it was unprovoked disrespect served up to pander to her Tea-bagger base. However, I cannot say for absolute certain because there is no audio of their conversation on the tarmac. But a televised debate is a different animal entirely and what we saw in Flint was clearly a heated, equal exchange with both parties pointing and talking over each other.

As for claiming Hillary Clinton isn’t qualified to be president, Charles Clymer ignores the fact that Bernie Sanders reasonably believed he was returning her serve - specifically a Washington Post headline that read "Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president." Clymer is very likely lying by omission because Sanders explicitly and repeatedly referenced this in his reply. In the link's video, Sanders quotes the headline in question, voices his disappointment in how ugly the campaign had turned, and finally summarized, "If I'm going to be attacked for being 'unqualified,' I will respond in kind.'" Really, it is impossible to miss. Clymer's only possible excuse is that he got his dishonest distillation second hand.

Speaking of ignoring, let's move on to Bernie Sanders's Planned Parenthood comments. Sanders promptly walked them back as poorly-worded, yet Clymer failed to mention that four months after-the-fact. To quote the absent-minded professor in Real Genius, "Always ... NEVER forget to check your references."

Moreover, the situation was a little bit complicated and Bernie Sanders had a partial point. Previously, some top-down organizations had endorsed Hillary Clinton over the wishes of their rank and file. The frustration must have stung. For example, the leadership of the nation's largest teacher's union, the National Education Association, had controversially made an early endorsement without first getting membership consensus. Otherwise, many believe, they would have likely done as the nation's largest nurse's union, National Nurses United, and strongly endorsed Sanders.(2) For many teachers, this bitterly reemphasized their need for a more democratic union. Things like this clarify what Bernie Sanders likely meant by "the Establishment" in the Rachel Maddow interview. Incidentally, watch the video in the link. It is obvious that he is in total solidarity with both the missions and the memberships of these organizations.

And there were additional considerations. Before Sanders walked back his comments, the feminist website Jezebel posted their immediate response. It was critical, but even-handed, providing context:
We can acknowledge here what Sanders probably meant: Both Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Human Rights Campaign have super PACs, which exercise political influence through campaign donations. Sanders isn’t a fan of that system. Both give virtual drops in the bucket each election cycle compared to, say, any oil and gas company ever, but yeah, those are super PACs. There are more substantive critiques to be made too, like Human Rights Campaign’s decision 2012 to honor Goldman Sachs for “workplace equality” while quietly ignoring the vast societal wreckage the company wrought at home and around the world. 
Fun Fact: Many in the LGBT community see the Human Rights Campaign as fairly, well, establishment. Indeed, the group is so cozy with Republicans that they actually endorse GOP candidates even when the Democratic candidate has a better record on LBGT issues. And the Campaign has been alienating other LBGT rights activists for years. In fact, in her comic strip "Dykes to Watch Out For," Alison Bechdel had often mocked the organization as "The Champagne Fund."

I do not want to misrepresent the Jezebel article. It was definitely critical of Sanders and I encourage everyone to read it. It's a good example of a reasonable critique. I would certainly encourage Clymer to read it because I get the definite impression that he does not finish reading the articles he starts.

Of course, hatchet jobs from sloppy bloggers are par for the course. But it is a little more distressing when the "Gray Lady" gets into the game. The New York Times published an opinion piece claiming a study proved that Sanders supporters were more conservative than Clinton ones on issues of sex and race. Well, not quite. You see, as the Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog explained, the study was structured to allow Republicans to weigh-in on Democratic candidates. It turns out that, when you weed out all the Hillary-hating Republicans, the study actually tells a very different story. For example, Sanders supporters are more likely to demand that insurance cover birth control. As the socialist journal Jacobin outlined:
And for all the online chatter about sexist “Bernie Bros,” the ANES data offer little evidence that Sanders voters embrace him out of a desire to buttress their male identity. Sanders backers, for instance, were more likely to strongly endorse requiring employers to pay men and women equally for the same work. They were also much more assertive in their support for mandatory paid parental leave. Nor do the ANES data furnish much evidence that Sanders voters have been motivated by white racial resentment. Among Democrats and non-Republican-leaning independents, in fact, white Clinton supporters were more inclined than white Sanders supporters to say that blacks are “lazy” or “violent,” and that black people should work their way up “without special favors.”
Of course, we already knew that last part; so let's get back to sexism, shall we?

I don't doubt you doubt these results. After all, they sound profoundly counter-intuitive. Bernie Sanders' supporters favor equal pay for equal work more than Hillary Clinton's supporters? How can that be?

But it makes perfect sense once you stop and think about it. Favoring such proposals requires two components: 1) Being a feminist and 2) Believing that government has a legitimate role in promoting greater racial, sexual, and economic equality. Centrist Clinton Democrats are more skeptical of the role of government and they are not above family values rhetoric either. Thus, Clinton supporters may or may not be more feminist, but Sanders supporters are definitely more likely to favor feminist legislation. And what do we elect representatives to do? Not to practice "thoughts and prayers"-style feminism.(3)

I'm not saying Hillary Clinton will do less for women or that her candidacy is entirely symbolic. But what this poll shows about Bernie Sanders supporters does not sound like misogyny to me. It sounds more like Sanders and his movement have been systematically slandered.

Throughout this primary, Bernie Sanders was not only called a sexist, but a petty, egoistic spoiler to boot. But nothing in his words or deeds supported this narrative. From the first debate forward, Sanders had refused to exploit the email scandal exclaiming that America was "sick and tired" of hearing about the "damn emails." He never wavered on this. Indeed, he had even shamed reporters who tried to rope him into criticizing Clinton on it. And Sanders repeatedly said "[O]n her worst day, Hillary Clinton will be an infinitely better candidate and President than the Republican candidate on his best day" - alternating "infinitely" with "a hundred times." And he has always stressed the importance of stopping Trump above all else. Of course, he also argued that he would be more likely to beat Trump - and, alas, this close race between Clinton and Trump is proving him right - but that does not make Sanders a spoiler for Trump.(4)

Sanders stayed in the race to move the party back toward its New Deal glory days and that is exactly what he has achieved. (And I do not recall anyone saying that Hillary Clinton was trying to elect John McCain in 2008 when she stayed in the race against Barack Obama. Was she trying to impact the platform?) Having gotten the most progressive platform in the party's history, Sanders endorsed Clinton and fully cooperated with her campaign in building unity during the Democratic Convention and beyond. And for his efforts, he endured boos from some die-hard fans who felt betrayed.(5) So much for the Clintonista narrative that Sanders cultivated "cult of personality." Throw it in the rubbish bin with all the others.

I followed my friends' reactions to Bernie Sanders' convention speech on Facebook. Some of them had been pretty angry at him and circulated scurrilous articles like the ones above. I could virtually watch them soften in real time as they saw Sanders be Sanders. He personified gracious, principled, and inspiring righteous indignation. Grudging respect crept into their comments as they acknowledged qualities that Sanders had displayed throughout the primary. It was like they were finally seeing him for the first time.

They probably were.

EDIT: It seems the slander never ends. I think I know why.

_________________

(1) I've been a pretty inactive activist in recent years, but I remember what it was like. There is always some dude (and, yes, it is usually a dude) who shows up at your meetings who clearly doesn't belong. Let's call him "Larry." Nobody likes Larry. I'm not talking about trolls or infiltrators, but some guy who really thinks he supports your cause but has a host of horrible opinions. Maybe Larry wears them as a badge of being a "sane moderate" or an "independent thinker." Or perhaps there is nothing overtly wrong with his politics but he is a sexist creep who speaks over women or to their breasts. Whatever his damage, Larry wastes a lot of the group's time. In the time spent trying to fix Larry, he has driven off maybe ten good people that you want to keep. If you have ever been an activist, you have seen this. I'm for calling out his shit, politely at first; but I am also for showing him the door sooner rather than later if he doesn't shape up. (SPOILER ALERT: He doesn't.) The point is Larry does not represent your group. If it's a closed online discussion group, the moderator can ban him; but the rest of the Internet is impossible to police. Yes, there is certainly sexism on the left, but the left grapples with it - and far better than society as a whole.

(2) Teachers and nurses had strongly supported Sanders' campaign and it is easy to see why: They were logical constituencies. These professions work with our most vulnerable populations and they are also overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated themselves, which further magnifies their empathy. In the school room and the emergency room, they are the glue that holds our country together and they see everything that needs fixing. They recognize the complexities: They deal with the ripple effects. As Rose Ann DeMoro, Executive Director of National Nurses United, said in her union's press release endorsing Sanders, "Nurses take the pulse of America, and have to care for the fallout of every social and economic problem.” The press release stressed that Sanders shares their understanding and priorities. And nurses are, incidentally, pissed at Hillary Clinton's dismissing single-payer, which they see as an urgent necessity. America would be a lot better off if we listened more to teachers and nurses.

(3) Indeed, I can see other, related reasons why Sanders supporters would make better feminists. As I noted in the previous footnote, teachers and nurses were natural Sanders supporters because they are on society's front lines and see how issues interact. Consequently, they do not look at gender in isolation. They see, for example, that poverty is a feminist issue since it affects women worse than men and that Sanders' policies attack poverty more vigorously than Clinton's. Since the vast majority of public assistance recipients are women, they felt the brunt of Bill Clinton's draconian 1996 Welfare Reform bill in a variety of ways. (Historically, having an intact safety net helps economically-dependent women leave abusive relationships.) Recently, Scotland had discovered the same thing - that reactionary-pandering austerity measures hurt women most. Who knew? Well, anyone and everyone who thinks about these issues. If you had a pulse and the topic crossed your mind, you really should have predicted it. And if you still didn't, you should have at least listened to those who did because they made a noise.

(4) EDIT 08/07/16: Of course, shortly after I posted this, the polls changed and Hillary Clinton has pulled ahead. Hopefully, that holds and it is not just a temporary post-convention bounce. However, Democrats have a knack for losing elections when they are ahead. UPDATE 09/15/16: Clinton's numbers have fallen and Trump is within the "margin of terror," as Samantha Bee calls it. Currently, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are campaigning hard in Ohio to save Clinton from herself. Appreciation aside, Clinton needs to realize that progressive politics is where the votes are today. The cynical centrist triangulations of the 1990s will not work anymore - assuming they ever did.

(5) And I should emphasize that these die-hard fans do not even remotely represent Sanders' movement. Hand-wringing aside, 90% of Sanders supporters already say they intend to vote for Clinton. That's pretty stunning considering that these numbers typically climb. Shortly after the 2008 Democratic Convention, only 47% of Clinton supporters were decided on voting for Obama. Her PUMA supporters were pretty vocal about voting for McCain. And voting for the opposition is twice as bad as voting for a third party candidate because you are not just denying your vote to the Democrats, but giving it to the Republicans thus doubling the effect. Had McCain won, we would likely be in four wars in the Middle East, plus another in North Korea. And if some magnifying calamity had made Sarah Palin president ... well, Palin is basically Trump with a side of word salad. Eventually, 83% of former Clinton supporters voted for Obama, but before there was much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. Seriously, it is impossible to not see 2008 all over again in this election cycle, except that then was much worse than now.

And one last thing I feel compelled to mention: Every time I see video of Sanders events, about half the participants are women and I see plenty of people of color.

Check the booing video again and shelve, for a second, your opinion of their passion, tactics, or decorum. It's pretty typical of the Sanders campaign's demographic makeup. Think the video is zeroing-in on minorities? Consider the source: Do you really think The New York Times is in the tank for a socialist anti-establishment candidate? For a heretic critic of Thomas Friedman's free trade gospel? And do you see all those brown arms and hands in the air? This is America. The evidence is in. You cannot honestly equate Sanders supporters with Trump ones anymore, no matter how obnoxious they are.

Also, revisit the convention footage shot during Sanders' speech and watch the crowd. Ignore the Bernie signs unless their holders are particularly passionate because the signs were distributed by the convention prior to the speech as a goodwill gesture to foster unity. Instead, notice who is choked-up or, well, verklempt. See who is wearing Bernie shirts or anti-TPP buttons. They are key. What you see are a LOT of young women. This is the future. These sure-as-shit ain't Bernie Bros.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Brand-Warriness

I want to clarify what I wrote in my last post.

Fairly or unfairly, Secretary Hillary Clinton is associated with the Clinton brand name which is accurately associated with partially dismantling FDR's New Deal and LBJ's Great Society.

That's not entirely sarcasm. A case can be made against blaming her for her husband's policies. It is, as I argued in my previous post, a pretty muddy and awkward one, but it is not entirely without merit.(1)

I would be happy if Hillary Clinton sought to restore what her husband had helped destroy as a sort of family atonement or do-over. However, I seriously doubt that she really wants to. And even if she did, she cannot accomplish it by tapping down expectations. That is, by definition, the opposite of inspiring people. In 1996, Bill Clinton had proclaimed "The era of big government is over" to the loud applause and cheers of a Republican congress. But today, we need a new New Deal because Obama did not deliver on that promise. We can argue over whose fault that was, but the sad fact stands that it has not happened yet and it is long overdue. Desperate times require not just "activist government," but heroic government. 

I want to stress that it's not about personality with me. I don't care who fixes this disastrous dereliction of government's obligations. I just think that a leader like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren was more likely to do it than Hillary Clinton - both temperamentally and strategically. As I wrote before, no Democratic president will accomplish anything with a Republican congress. Period. This simple fact belies Clinton's claim that she's "a progressive who likes to get things done." Leaving aside the fair question of whether she is really a progressive, she cannot accomplish anything without first taking back Congress and you do that by generating enthusiasm and thus coat tails. Otherwise, the only things she can possibly accomplish are conservative goals, and we had quite enough of that under her husband. Bill Clinton's meager legislative accomplishments primarily consisted of realizing the far right's favorite fever dream schemes like deregulation and privatization. Gridlock would be infinitely preferable to anymore of that.

I'm not going to be cute or equivocate here: I think Hillary Clinton has made her already rickety bid for the White House even more dubious by not picking a progressive for a unity ticket. It suggests a toxic mix of arrogance and stupidity that the ancient Greeks called hubris. Tim Kaine may be a nice guy. I might have been a tad harsh on him in my disappointment. But he does not generate the necessary enthusiasm and we absolutely do not need another Democrat who calls himself a conservative.

This is not just an issue of rallying the progressive base after an acrimonious primary. Hillary Clinton is an establishment candidate at a time when the national mood is passionately anti-establishment across the political spectrum. That explains Donald Trump's stunningly unexpected success. And Independents - who are currently our country's largest "political party" - are already hostile to party establishments to start with. And as Sanders' campaign proved, Independents are not primarily centrists who are frightened off by socialist proposals. This establishment albatross is an immense handicap and Clinton's VP decision does not seem to acknowledge this or try to compensate for it.(2)

I hope I am totally wrong about Hillary Clinton. The head of the progressive Roosevelt Institute sees evidence for cautious optimism, but I don't know. Worrisome signs that I cannot ignore keep cropping up. And this is on top of my pre-existing Clinton brand-conscious caution.

But, once again, I don't care who restores the Democratic Party to its historic winning strategy of putting people before corporations. If it helps clarify my position any, let me caricature it: If Hillary Clinton can realize Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Second Bill of Rights, I would be happy to give her as many terms in office as he got. Of course, that would require several constitutional amendments, but I'm down with that.

_____________

(1)  EDIT 08/04/16: I recently ran across a Thomas Frank interview that takes a similar nuanced view:

Q: Because your book is so tough on Bill Clinton—you yourself said he’s the closest thing to a villain in the book—does Hillary deserve the same degree of suspicion?

A: No, she’s her own person. But she should be held responsible for things when she says she supports them. I actually tried to avoid taking Hillary to task for things that happened during the Clinton years because I don’t think that’s fair to do that. However, take something like welfare reform, which was regarded at the time as one of Bill Clinton’s great achievements. Today, not so much. But she was very proud of her role in this and encouraging him to sign it and get it through. She’s written about this in one of her memoirs. When she does that and says, I lobbied for it, then she should be held responsible.

(2)  If nothing else, picking a progressive VP would have been pretty decent impeachment insurance. You know that Republicans do not need a real reason to impeach as long as the have the votes. Could they resist the temptation to impeach another Clinton? Probably not - unless there were, say, a Vice President Sanders or Vice President Warren waiting in the wings to make them think twice. But impeaching Clinton and replacing her with a conservative Democrat would be a win-win for them.