Sunday, November 30, 2008

Gabler Argues for "Joe McCarthy Gene" in GOP

Neal Gabler has a noteworthy op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times today in which he argues that there is "something deep in the DNA of the Republican Party that determines how Republicans run for office, and because it is genetic, it isn't likely to be expunged any time soon." He calls it the Joe McCarthy gene. Gabler's basic premise--and it's a solid one--is that McCarthy is much more a founding father of contemporary conservatism than was Barry Goldwater.
"McCarthyism is usually considered a virulent form of Red-baiting and character assassination. But it is much more than that. As historian Richard Hofstadter described it in his famous essay, 'The Paranoid Style in American Politics,' McCarthyism is a way to build support by playing on the anxieties of Americans, actively convincing them of danger and conspiracy even where these don't exist."
The paralells to the present are obvious and Gabler isn't making any sort of new or radical observation. In recent years, the thesis finds support in, among other places, the increasing tendency among a growing segment of the right to try to rehabilitate Joe McCarthy himself. This year saw the publication of "Blacklisted By History" by longtime conservative writer M. Stanton Evans, yet another lengthy, error-ridden, misleading and false stab at McCarthy revisionism and yet again, it has received a great deal of "mainstream" attention in advancing a notion previously the province of the fringe of the fringe of the nut right.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Glenn Greenwald Wrong on Obama & the Left

Glenn Greenwald is probably the best political bloggers on the internet but he's way off base on the matter of liberal disappointment about the administration Barack Obama has been assembling:
"I've been genuinely mystified by the disappointment and surprise being expressed by many liberals over the fact that Obama's most significant appointments thus far are composed of pure Beltway establishment figures drawn from the center-right of the Democratic Party and, probably once he names his Defense Secretary and CIA Director, even from the Bush administration--but not from the Left."
A good rule of thumb in dealing with politicians is "never expect anything from a pig but a grunt" but Greenwald has grossly overstated the degree to which Obama could have been expected to do what he has, in fact, done. For my part, I knew exactly what Obama was and I've found many of his appointments, to date, to be outright shocking. You don't ride a wave of progressive, anti-conservative sentiment into the White House then totally snub those who elected you while putting into high positions those whom they had just rejected. Obama won by defeating those people. You don't campaign on the illegitimacy of the Iraq war then appoint all hawks. You don't campaign on hope and change then try to recreate a hopelessly bad administration of the past. Anyone who wanted Clinton 2 had their candidate. She lost, and managed, in the process, to remind us why Bill Clinton was such a write-off.

After he'd pounded her into submission at the polls, Obama offered the expected polite, conciliatory remarks toward Hillary Clinton but those who suggested she'd be receiving a high position in his administration after waging such a needlessly ugly and protracted campaign seemed off their collective rockers. Obama said Clinton would be on anyone's short list for VP but everyone recognized that as the words of a gracious victor, and the behind-the-scenes reporting confirmed she'd never even been seriously considered for that post. Nor should she have been. The single biggest item that had allowed him to crush her in the primaries was that she was wrong on War-On-Terror-related policy and now, Obama offers to make her Secretary of State? Greenwald isn't being honest when he suggests this is predictable.

And Clinton is only one example. Through most of his other appointments, Obama is going out of his way to throw shit in the face of those who elected him and giving them nothing more for their efforts than the stinky mess to clean. The Big Three automakers are currently seeking a government bailout. What sort of moral authority does Obama have to chide them for bad decisions and being "resistant to change" if he's doing this?

Greenwald persists:
"It's difficult to understand what basis progressives think they have for demanding greater inclusion in his cabinet and other high-level appointments, and it's even more difficult to understand the basis for the disappointment and surprise being expressed over the fact that center-right Democrats and Republicans are welcomed in his inner circle, but--as The Nation's Chris Hayes put it--'not a single, solitary, actual dyed-in-the-wool progressive has, as far as I can tell, even been mentioned for a position in the new administration.'"
On what basis? How about the assumption that the President they just elected isn't a complete idiot? Hayes, in the piece Greenwald quotes, answered that in the next few sentence:
"Remember this [the left] is the movement that was right about Iraq, right about wage stagnation and inequality, right about financial deregulation, right about global warming and right about health care. And I don't just mean in that in a sectarian way. I mean to say that the emerging establishment consensus on all of these issues came from the left.... And yet, no one who comes from the part of American political and intellectual life that has given birth to all of these ideas is anywhere to be found within miles of the Obama cabinet thus far. WTF?"
This isn't just a matter of picking people who have been defeated by voters and who are offensive to those who elected Obama; this is a matter of putting into positions of power those who were completely wrong about the central issues of our time. Obama is going out of his way to do this. As I've noted more than once, we've already done "stupid" when it comes to the executive branch. It didn't work out so well for us.

Obama hasn't yet been sworn in and he's already looking like a failed president.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Did You Ever Hear the One About Clinton The Liberal?

Bill Clinton really is a sign of how far to the right American institutions have lurched in recent decades. While pilloried as a "socialist," Clinton, as president, was actually more conservative, from a policy standpoint, than George Bush Sr., his Republican predecessor, and, looking at him generically, his governance would have been regarded by any neutral observer as mainstream conservative Republican right up until he came into office.

There's an unfortunate "conventional wisdom" about Clinton though. It began during his administration. The crux of it is that Clinton ran for office as a DLC "New Democrat"--a conservative--then took a hard turn to the left, once elected. This led to a public rejection of his--and thus of liberal--rule, a rejection most prominently expressed by the Republican seizure of congress in 1994. Chastened by this, goes the "conventional wisdom," Clinton became much more like the conservative he'd run as.

If one had a quarter for every time some variation on this theme had played out in the corporate press over the years, one would be very rich indeed. It's biggest flaw is that it isn't true. Not a word of it. The problem it represents--and the reason I'm addressing it here today--is that this "conventional wisdom" is now being used against Barack Obama as an argument against his adopting any overly liberal ways.

Obama doesn't seem to need pounded by this in order to avoid acting on any liberal instincts he may have; his choices for top positions in his administration continue to be a carnival of beasts. Still, there was the San Francisco Chronicle a few days ago saying Obama "must tack toward the political mainstream to avoid miscalculations made by President Bill Clinton, who veered left and fired up the 1994 Republican backlash."
This has already drawn an appropriate reply from columnist Norman Solomon.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

...And the Hits Just Keep Coming

As a Senator, Hillary Clinton has been pretty worthless. During the Democratic primaries earlier this year, she talked up her record, arguing it gave her more experience. A quick check of that record revealed that, in her 8 years in the Senate, she's authored or co-authored fewer than two-dozen bills, nearly all of them concerned with frivolous nonsense like naming roads and bridges. This was in sharp contrast to Barack Obama who, though having served only a portion of a single term, had authored or co-authored hundreds of bills on every subject under the sun. While Obama had been working like a house of fire on substantive issues, she’s been a passive space-filler, showing no initiative and content to sit back, collect a paycheck and vote on other people’s work, siding with the Bush administration on nearly everything that mattered. Still, those in the corporate press liked Hillary and while they reported her own crowing about her superior "experience," the truth about that experience was mostly kept from public view.

Throughout the primaries, Clinton ran an absolutely despicable campaign. Faced, in Barack Obama, with a surging contender who threatened to topple her from what she seemed to consider her right to be this year's party candidate, Clinton turned her campaign into a loud, obnoxious circus headed by an utterly unscrupulous serial-liar of a candidate who cheerfully wallowed in sleaze and garbage on a daily basis. She continued plugging away long after she'd passed the point where she could numerically win the nomination, formulating a despicable strategy of riding the matter all the way to the convention, preventing Obama from accumulating enough delegates for an outright win and trying to convince the party superdelegates to pull a George Bush Jr.--to overturn the results of the election and coronate her as the candidate. Even when Obama cinched enough delegates to make him the undisputed winner, she failed to concede and only gave up the ghost when this proved too much for even many of her least ethical supporters in the party. Even as she was surrendering the fight, she launched a vain effort--virtually attempted blackmail--to lobby to be chosen as Obama's Vice Presidential candidate.

The words "stop it, already" seemed as alien to her as simple human decency. Her presidential dreams crushed though, she did eventually shuffle off the stage, the quiet reaction of most conscientious observers being "good riddance to bad rubbish."

It seems it just wasn't to be.

This week finds the press awash in stories that Barack Obama is considering naming this same Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State.

Rumor? Possibly. Those in the press have to have something to report if they wish to keep Bush's last-minute antics off the front page. The fact that the story doesn't immediately sound absurdly far-fetched is a comment on the expectations engendered by the present transition.

And by the way, Henry Kissinger told an Indian audience, yesterday, that, if true, this would be "an outstanding choice." Sort of says it all.


Friday, November 14, 2008

A Political Zombie Movie

"Don't let Obama break your heart." A good message to liberals, from Tom Englehardt at Tomdispatch. Englehardt argues that, if you want change, you'd better start demanding it, and to hell with the present calls, from many quarters, for giving the upcoming administration "a chance." Regarding the entrenched interests in the capitol, he says "Leave Obama to them and he'll break your heart."

His piece paints a dire portrait of the Obama administration presently being assembled:

"All you had to do was look at that array of Clinton-era economic types and CEOs behind Obama at his first news conference to think: been there, done that... You could scan that gathering and not see a genuine rogue thinker in sight; no off-the-reservation figures who might represent a breath of fresh air and fresh thinking..."

It's an ugly picture. I like Englehardt's description of this as a "political zombie movie." It's the Administration of the Living Dead and perhaps, effectively, the end of Barack Obama's administration. The man who rode into office trumpeting hope and change seems poised to do nothing more than deliver more of the same. What a surprise, right? I've said it more times than could easily be counted: never put your hope in politicians, folks. It's a fool's venture.

It does make me wonder what on earth Obama is thinking. He's never been any sort of radical but he does have liberal impulses and he was a very active fellow in the Senate. Was the point of being president just to be president? Didn't he have any larger ambitions?

I'm a born skeptic of politicians with ambitions, mind you, but Obama has a lot of the right instincts and, facing the wreckage that is the legacy of his predecessor, could do an invaluable service by showing some sign of vision at this point in history. The country needs some things right now very badly. If he's going to behave as a conservative Republican, which is what the vile presence of these rotting zombies suggests, we would have been better off with McCain, because when McCain did something outrageous as president, the only party that shows any hint of a sense of responsibility wouldn't divide over the matter. This is what happened during Clinton; party loyalty--a worthless commodity, if there ever was one--was forever becoming entangled with the matter of what was actually best for the country.

I disagree with Englehardt's suggestion that what we're seeing from Obama now is merely a consequence of his beginning to be consumed by the corrupt culture in Washington. Obama is a big boy and can make his own calls. The reason there aren't any mavericks or out-of-the-box thinkers on that stage is because he hasn't put them there. And that's a shame.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Righties Harden For War

L. Brent Bozell III, the founder of the Media Research Center, is one of the biggest phonies in a contemporary conservative movement primarily noteworthy for generating phonies and he's just held a post-mortem on the rather bad-for-Republicans election results. As reported by the New York Times on Friday, about twenty of America's conservative elite gathered on Thursday at his Virginia home to assess the election and plot the future. Their conclusion?
"The moderate wing of the Republican party is dead."

From the Times story:
"...they said that if future candidates for public office want to tap into the vast fund-raising and grassroots resources of the conservative movement, they would have to fit a 'job description' holding them to a set of core principles, like fiscal restraint, opposition to abortion, tough border security and a strong national defense."
This is to be expected and, oddly enough, it's probably the right move, from their perspective. Hardening their positions always runs the risk of causing damage at the polls when elections roll around but that isn't a sure thing and from a policy standpoint, it will help them get their way for at least the next two years, because Barack Obama seems inexplicably intent on a course of "can't we all just get along"-ism.

Contrary to the hysterical ranting we've heard from the right, Obama never had a full-bore liberal agenda as any sort of goal. Obama could follow in Clinton's footsteps, as his early picks seem to be suggesting, but his record of public service--hundreds of bills he either authored or co-authored on every conceivable subject (in only a partial Senate term), for example--suggested he was a great deal more ambitious than this "can't we all just get along"-ism that seems to have infected him.

His election was historic. If he goes down that path, it will be the only thing history remembers of him. "Can't we all just get along"-ism is a dead-end--embracing it up front is like publicly committing seppuku.

When Democrats are in power, the corporate press worships consensus. Moderation. Bipartisanship. In other words, a complete lack of real debate and of real choice.

In politics, moderation is supposed to be achieved via the process itself, by starting with a strong position then making whatever compromises with the other side are necessary to get done whatever it is you really want, with the majority, by virtue of their superior numbers, getting a little more of what they want. That's how it's supposed to work.

When, instead of a strong position, you start, right out of the gate, with a mushy moderate rock-as-few-boats-as-possible one that gives in to the other side right up front, the other side always wins. Always. When you play that game, the opposition then has no motivation to do anything other than adopt a solid position of strength, with a consequence being that the eventual "compromise" much more closely reflects the party that took that more solid position.

The last two years of rule by a "can't we all just get along"-ist Democratic majority in congress are a painful lesson in this regard. The majority gives in before it has even started, while the other faction takes the most reactionary possible position and everything congress does is either stalemated (when it tries to make any progressive moves) or so closely resembles outright conservative Republican legislation that its pointless to note any differences.

Sure, Obama could follow in Clinton's footsteps--be, from a policy standpoint, indistinguishable from a conservative Republican and engage in vile triangulation as a means of maintaining his position. What does that get, though? Nothing accomplished--nothing good, anyway--and you spend four years filling space, being progressively destroyed by the other side and, ultimately, history has no memory of you. Clinton's only place in history is the impeachment fiasco; nothing else will be remembered. Does Obama really want to be remembered only as the first president who wasn't completely white or does he actually want to do something with his time in office? He has to decide, and it isn't looking very promising from these early names being floated for positions in his administration.

Meanwhile, the rightists are hardening their position. John McCain--a lifelong, hardcore conservative--is, from their perspective, a "moderate." So while Obama is talking about keeping Robert Gates as Defense Secretary (one of Daddy Bush's pet war-criminals who should be in prison, rather than running a government agency), the conservatives are digging in and preparing for war


Friday, November 7, 2008

The Upcoming Obama Administration is Already Looking Problematic

From Barack Obama's appointments so far and those deemed to be on his "short list" for key positions in his administrations, the prospects for that administration are looking pretty grim. Nearly everyone the transition is talking about hiring is either a former Clintonite or a conservative Republican (and it isn't as if there's usually much difference between the two). If Obama's picks end up looking like his VP pick, as this early talk suggests, we'd have probably been better off with John McCain. Obama was not elected to give us Clinton Redux but that's the direction he seems to be steering.

Despite the insane reactionary ranting during the campaign, Obama isn't a fellow who has ever shown any evidence of harboring any particularly radical ideas. An Obama win in the campaign was only a small potential "victory" for America--at best, it may staunch the bleeding a bit. The last 8 years have seen a virtual one-party state in the U.S., with a quasi-dictator at its head who has gotten whatever he wants, without any checks. A right-wing thug was allowed to run riot. The response to that has to be equivalent. Not a riot but a full-bore, no mercy effort at erasing every vestige of this sort of dictatorial governance.

Obama is coming into an executive branch that has been absolutely devastated by the last 8 years of this sort of rule. If he and his next several successors vowed to entirely reverse all of it, the work wouldn't be done in the lifetime of anyone reading these words today. It certainly isn't going to be done if the first thing he wants to do is embrace the "can't we all just get along"-ism so beloved by the corporate press whenever Democrats are in power. That isn't what Obama was elected to do either. It's not the time to get along. It's the time to start flushing some toilets, before the accumulated backwash drowns us all. That's the only proper liberal response and the only proper American one as well.

lushing their shit is inevitably going to infuriate the right but--and this is critically important--anything Obama does is going to infuriate them. Bill Clinton was a conservative, barely distinguishable in any meaningful way from a Republican yet became the target of the most virulent campaign of hatred and slander of perhaps any President in the history of the U.S.. The lesson here? The right doesn't have their party in the White House and that's always going to bring down their fury. Even if you go along with every policy they advocate (as Clinton virtually did), it will be the same story. So fuck them. Do what needs to be done. The shit has to go--flush it.

Even if one is as bereft of judgment as to disagree with everything I've just outlined, it should still be a point of agreement among all that Obama was elected to bring change.

Instead, we're getting "Rahm-bo", Podesta and all the rest, with talk of conservative Republicans being placed in top slots. Clinton redux. That isn't "change," no matter how one looks at it.

If he really chooses, as has been suggested, to maintain Robert Gates at the Department of Defense... well... to put it bluntly, if his instincts are that bad, he's too stupid to be President. We've already done stupid. That didn't go over so well