Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Homicidal Right (Updated below)

I sometimes post over at NextRight, a would-be reformist conservative site that mostly just ends up being a part of the omnipresent--and unreformed--American conservative megaphone. The least useful regular among the bloggers there is a reactionary fruit-loop named Skip MacLure, who, on a daily basis, wastes some little portion of the site's bandwidth parroting the lies, libels, and lunacy of that unmedicated element of the American far right that amusingly considers itself "mainstream." He's ground out a new post, "Billy Jeff 1992 Redux" that makes a show of taking offense at former President Bill Clinton's suggestion that the rhetoric of the far right feeds dangerous armed reactionary movements like the Hutaree militia. MacLure:
All that’s missing is Janet Reno and an FBI sniper with a penchant for pregnant women. In 1992 the militia phenomenon was growing in reaction to Bill Clinton’s Presidency.
The sniper reference is to the the FBI standoff with white supremacist Randy Weaver in Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992. Bill Clinton's presidency didn't yet exist in 1992, nor did Janet Reno's stewardship of the Justice Department.

They'd only just started, in fact, when the 1993 siege of the David Koresh cult's compound in Waco, Texas occurred. It had already been underway for weeks before Reno became Attorney General. MacLure describes that siege as a "massive abuse of power and misuse of the law," adopting, outright, the insane characterization of it offered by the insane militia fascists, then, with no apparent sense of irony, complains that Clinton, during his administration, supposedly found it so easy "to lump Conservatives together with the militias and paint us all with that brush the left loves to use."

If one wants to avoid being lumped in with crazed fascists, it's a good idea not to parrot the bullshit of said crazed fascists. At Waco, there was a doomsday cult led by a madman, the lot of them so batshit crazy that they eventually burned themselves alive, women, children, and all. They were manufacturing and stockpiling a massive and completely illegal arsenal of grenades, explosives, machine guns. No responsible government charged with protecting the public could allow something like that to go unchecked; the very suggestion that it should aligns MacLure with the crazies, who, unsurprisingly, say the same thing about the incident as MacLure. They spent years saying it, in fact. Waco became a rallying point for reactionary loons with guns. A pair of them--Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols--were so outraged by the "massive abuse of power and misuse of the law" that they decided to blow up a federal building in Oklahoma and murder hundreds. They chose the anniversary of the end of the Waco siege as the date to set off their bomb.

These kind of armed reactionaries aren't, in the abstract, the fault of the conservatives. Every political movement will have some small faction of crackpots. The conservatives do bear a great deal of blame for them, though. Nearly the entirety of the American right checked out on legitimate political discourse a few decades ago. The conservatives' decision to refuse to acknowledge the existence of legitimate differences of opinion and to, instead, portray their political rivals as subhuman monsters who want to destroy America (and anything those rivals do as being in pursuit of that goal) created the environment that both built and maintained the armed reactionary movements. When the right was in power, during the Bush administration, the fascists were running the governments, and as Bush's popularity on the right soared, these movements withered to nearly nothing. Now--what a surprise--they're on the rise again.

And what was the conservative response when, early in the Obama administration, the Department of Homeland Security presciently warned about a potential upsurge in right-wing extremism? To denounce the administration for bashing conservatives and portraying them as a threat. To align themselves, yet again, with the insane reactionaries.

America's prominent conservative figures today do things like tell the public the President is a Muslim, a fellow who isn't even an American citizen, a man who is trying to institute Bolshevism in the U.S., and who pushes for government panels aimed at killing the elderly and the infirm, and even when their followers take their apocalyptic rhetoric seriously and begin threatening the lives of those in government, committing vandalism, adopting intimidation tactics, they choose to amp up the rhetoric, rather than dialing it down, and accuse the victims of overplaying and even outright manufacturing the incidents for political gain. Everyone can see where this is leading, and the conservatives just keep driving it in that direction.

To put the matter bluntly, American conservatism needs to get its shit together in a major way. Its present course is homicidal.



UPDATE (19 April, 2010) -- A gaggle of gun-nuts chose this, of all days, to gather in and around Washington D.C. to demonstrate against federal gun control efforts. The astute follower of American politics, reading that, will no doubt immediately ask, "what gun control efforts?" The momentum, in the states, is directed toward undoing past state-level gun control measures (over half the states having done so in the last two years), the U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down a strict D.C. gun ban on 2nd Amendment grounds, and there hasn't been a single serious federal gun control effort in 13 or 14 years. During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama declared "gun control" to be, in effect, a dead issue, and, in fact, participants in the rally held, today, in a pair of parks in Virginia were able to openly carry firearms because of a law signed by Obama, yet 50 or 60 demonstrators, most of them armed, gathered there to protest for a right no one seems to be doing anything to even try to take away. There was a much larger unarmed rally of the same character at the Washington monument in D.C.

Ye humble editor is an opponent of gun control measures--given the power, I'd erase most of them from the books, which sometimes puts me at odds with my fellow liberals. It's been my observation that gun control is more of a city/country issue than liberal/conservative--urbanites of whatever political stripe tend to be the main backbone of its support. I'm a country boy, though. When I say "gun nuts," that's not to be interpreted as a shot at supporters of the right to keep and bear arms. It's aimed at a particular sub-culture who are so disconnected from reality on this issue that, even while they win at every turn, they see themselves as so persecuted that they feel compelled to organize and show up at events like those today (which were, admittedly, tiny). Not that there's any harm in this sort of demonstration. It's just that there's absolutely no reason for it. Far more disturbing (and certainly marking them as even nuttier) is the fact that they chose today to hold it, the 17th anniversary of the end of the Waco standoff, and the 15th anniversary of the OK City bombing by a pair of crazed reactionaries angry over it. Organizers insist they chose the date not because of any of those things, but because it was the anniversary of the "shot heard 'round the world" that launched the American Revolution.

Of course they did.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Boiling Shoddy Teabagger Polling (Update Below)

To put the matter bluntly, the polling on the teabagger "movement" is a complete mess.

The demographics and the views of the "movement" have been the subjects of a number of surveys so far this year. In late February, there was a report from the Winston Group (a Republican firm), followed, in March, by the USA Today/Gallup poll and the Quinnipiac poll. A CBS News/New York Times poll out this week raised the issue again, and has provoked new conversation on the matter. The general consensus of the polling is that the "movement" is, from a demographic standpoint, not that different from America, while its views are often a good deal more conservative than those of the public.

The problem, underscored by a so-far-entirely-overlooked portion of the newest poll, is that none of these have actually surveyed the teabagger "movement."

They've purported to do so, of course, and the findings have been used by commentators of all political stripes as a basis for analysis of that "movement." I've even used them myself in a few postings to various boards. A closer look at the accumulated data, however, suggests that nearly all of it is essentially worthless insofar as providing a portrait of the actual "movement" is concerned.

Here's why: None of the pollsters bother to use a proper working definition of a member of the "movement." It seems like an obvious first step, if you want to survey those involved. What does it mean to be a part of it? What defines a "Tea Partier?" Obvious though this may be, no one sets any reasonable guidelines, and without them, it's impossible to get meaningful results--all one gets is garbage.

Here's how each of the pollsters who have worked the question went about establishing their sample: Quinnipiac asks respondents if they are "part of the Tea Party movement," without further elaboration. This is the same wording reported by the Winston Group. Their results were, respectively, 13% and 17%. USA Today/Gallup settled the matter by asking if respondents considered themselves "supporters of the Tea Party movement," wording that ropes in a potentially much broader group of people, and they get a much broader answer; 28% so identify themselves. The CBS News/New York Times poll picked their representative group by asking respondents if they were "Tea Party supporters," the same sort of broader wording, but this time, it drew a much narrower response; 18% so identified themselves.

All of the reported information on the demographics and views of the "movement" were derived from these samples. Even the smallest of them, though--13% from Quinnipiac, nearly 1 in every 8 Americans--is obviously wildly inflated (and the largest--28%--ludicrous). The teabagger "movement" has never demonstrated anything remotely approximating that sort of muscle.

In other words, a lot of people are clearly identifying themselves with the "movement" who aren't a part of it in any meaningful way, and it's information on their views and demographics, rather than those of the actual teabaggers, that is reflected in the polls that use them as a sample.

Part of this identification problem is no doubt a consequence of the continuing fall-out from the disintegration of the Republican party in 2008. As this hit rock-bottom last year, large numbers of Republicans had stopped calling themselves "Republicans"--identification with the party hit its lowest point in the history of polling. Those people didn't disappear from the face of the earth. They just started calling themselves "independents." The ranks of the "independents" swelled, and, in last year's elections, all the talk was about how "independents" had suddenly shifted rightward in their politics. They hadn't. There were just a lot of Republicans who'd taken to calling themselves "independents."

Like "independent," the "Tea Party" label has, to an extent, become a substitute for "Republican" by Republicans who don't like to call themselves that at the moment.

The actual teabagger "movement" is, as it has always been, an astroturf project, a tiny group of more-angry-than-thoughtful conservatives whipped into a persistent lather by a well-financed campaign of misinformation and sent into the street to provide the appearance of a mass movement. The wildly inflated numbers are both a part of this project's goal, and a mark of its success.

A part of the new CBS News/New York Times poll that has received no notice gets to the heart of the matter: Of those who identified themselves as "Tea Party supporters," only 20% said they'd actually given money to a Tea Party org or attended a Tea Party event, or both. That equals 4% of the general public (a number that is almost certainly also wildly inflated, but I'll set that aside for now). This wording has to be quoted to be believed: "More than three in four Tea Party supporters (78 percent) have never attended a rally or donated to a group; most have also not visited a Tea Party Web site."

In other words, they aren't a part of the Tea Party "movement" at all. Their "participation" amounts to something like nodding their heads in agreement when some Fox News host praises the teabaggers.

The poll had another noteworthy element: it asked some questions of that small group who were actual teabaggers, somewhat cluelessly identifying them as "Tea Party activists," to differentiate them from "Tea Party supporters." Unfortunately, the pollsters treated the entire exercise as if it was a sidebar. In a move that gives new meaning to "missing the forest for the trees," their questions of the "activists" were only aimed at providing a contrast to the "supporters" who were the central focus. Actual teabaggers, the questions reveal, are angrier and gloomier than the already-angry-and-gloomy "supporters," they think even more highly of cretinous clowns like Sarah Palin and Glenn Back, even more of them think the taxes they pay are "unfair," and even more of them get most of their political information from Fox News.

It seems incredible that, after all this time and all the noise the teabaggers have made, this slim set of facts appears to represents the first real polling data we've gotten on those who comprise the actual "movement." It includes no demographic information, precious little systematic documentation of the teabaggers' views, and is nothing more than a sidebar to the farcical sideshow that is the larger poll. The larger poll that gets the headlines, the one that is mischaracterized as a snapshot of the "movement." Pollsters need to seriously work on improving the shoddy product they've been offering on this matter, and commentators need to stop presenting the teabagger "movement" as accurately represented by it.



UPDATE: The teabaggers invent and circulate wildly inflated attendance figures for every major teabagger event. This is standard operating procedure for astroturf, where, again, the goal is to present the appearance of a much larger movement than exists. Wednesday's "big" rally in Boston, at which Sarah Palin appeared, drew somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 people. As Eric Boehlert wrote, over at Media Matters, "the Boston metro has a population of about 5 million people. And there may have been some high school football games played in Massachusetts last year that attracted a bigger crowd than Palin's rally." The organizers of the event promptly took the high-end estimate and doubled it, claiming there were 10,000 attendees, and the right-wing blogosphere and talk radio has further inflated it to 13,000-16,000 attendees. Not really directly relevant to the question of polling, but par for the course, when it comes to teabaggers.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

In Offense At Obama

My criticism of the President has drawn a post "In Defense of Obama" from Niceguy Eddie, over at "In My Humble Opinion." I'm up to my neck in some other things at the moment, but I thought I'd at least jot out a few remarks in response.

To be honest, I'm not quite sure what to make of "In Defense of Obama." As conservatism has sunk into a fever-swamp of lunacy, liberals have contrasted themselves with their increasingly loony righty counterparts via self-descriptions like "the reality-based community," rhetoric that is, for the most part, entirely warranted. The liberals have even been heard to say "Facts have a liberal bias," and in (and because of) the current political climate, it has usually proven true. Eddie's defense, on the other hand, doesn't justify that assertion. It doesn't even come close. In fact, if the parties involved were reversed, it would look a whole like like one of the products of that right-wing fever-swamp.

Eddie's basic assertion is that Obama doesn't actually care about the votes of congressional Republicans. When, on every major issue, he offers those Republicans one massive concession after another, he does it without any concern for actually drawing any of their votes. "He doesn't care about getting their votes." What he's doing, Eddie says, is trying to draw moderate Republican votes among the populace toward the Democratic party, and "to get the entrenched industries on board," so they don't throw their muscle against reforms.

The idea that Obama considers Republican votes in congress irrelevant--"he doesn't even WANT them"--is, of course, directly contradicted by the whole of the public record (a record about which I've been writing, here, since launching this blog). Obama sang the praises of "bipartisanship" for the whole of his time in public life. He ran for President, in 2008, as the candidate opposed to the partisan bickering he said had consumed politics, and when he was elected, he became seriously unbalanced on the point, seeming to elevate "bipartisanship" above all other considerations. It began before he was even sworn in, when he was assembling his administration and filled nearly every major position with conservatives/Clintonites, almost entirely shutting out the liberals.

The recently-concluded health care fiasco became a fiasco precisely because the Obama's efforts were aimed far too heavily toward achieving "bipartisanship" than passing anything resembling real reform. Single-payer was thrown over the side right up front. The Obama adopted a Republican "reform" plan that was essentially a corporate welfare bill. Instead of pressing for the progressive "public option" he'd initially proposed, which had majority support in both house of congress and overwhelming support among the public, Obama threw it overboard and got behind the Senate Finance Committee's efforts to sabotage it and offer a "bipartisan" plan, shorn of it, crafted by the "Gang of Six." That gang didn't reflect the Democratic supermajority in the Senate--it was evenly split, three Democrats and three Republicans. While Sen. Charles Grassley, the Republican heavy-hitter on the gang, was running around telling his constituents the health care bill contained "death panels" aimed at killing old people, Obama was calling him an "honest broker," and praising the efforts of the gang. The Finance Committee dicked around for months, the entire health care effort brought to a complete standstill so Obama and the Democrats could try to get Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe on board. And so on.

This is what Obama did on health care--pursued "bipartisanship," instead of lifting a finger to fight for any sort of positive reform. It's what he's doing on energy, now. It's what he's done on everything. Eddie suggests this is all part of some brilliant strategy, but setting aside, for a moment, the fact that there's absolutely no evidence to support that assertion, the fact still stands that, in practice, this just makes for really bad policy, the badness of which is completely unnecessary. In all of these major initiatives, Democrats ended up passing the legislation on party-line or near-party-line votes, meaning they could have just passed far better bills but ended up passing mediocre-to-awful ones because of all the one-sided "compromises" that didn't gain them a thing.

Eddie's proposition that Obama is entirely unconcerned with bipartisanship requires us to believe the whole of this administrations' actions are nothing more than some elaborate, extended bit of street theater, and that's basically what Eddie says, claiming Obama is the political genius everyone believed Karl Rove to be. That there's absolutely nothing to affirmatively support Eddie's basic proposition--that Obama considers Republican votes irrelevant and is unconcerned with attracting them--and the whole of the public record to conclusively rebut it doesn't seem to slow Eddie down. I'm left more than a little puzzled by this.

Eddie is right that a lot of what Obama does is to get the entrenched interests behind him, rather than throwing their weight toward the opposition, but that's hardly a mark in Obama's favor. Those entrenched interests are the very ones who profit from the corruption of Business As Usual, and whose profits--the only thing that matters to them--would, in turn, be harmed by genuine, much-needed reform. The Democrats' climbing into bed with them is part of why you get things like Obama flip-flopping on the public mandate, abandoning the "public option," and adopting a health bill that's built around public subsidies for a literally murderous insurance industry (who redeployed their "Harry & Louise" ads, used to kill the health reform effort in the '90s, in support of Obama). Like the constant pointless concessions to Republicans, allowing the entrenched interests to dictate how they're going to be "reformed" makes for VERY bad policy.

I don't want to spend a lot of time addressing the complete misrepresentation of some of my views included in Eddie's "Defense"--that I think we're going in the right direction but not vast enough, that I think there's only a minor difference between the Obama administration and a Sarah Palin administration, etc.. I'll say this much: c'mon, Eddie, I wouldn't do that to you.

Eddie suggests the possibility that, in the future, he may look like the die-hardest defenders of Junior Bush, who, to the bitter end, held on to the illusion that some grand master plan was at work behind that administration.

There's no need to wait for the future, Eddie--it already looks like that. And you know better.