More Debt

I was quoted in this Star-Tribune article today...part of a series that looks pretty good.


New York shall rise again!

Greg Djerejian, the very smart and throughly conservative author of the Belgravia Dispatch plays the "let's pretend Tina Brown's WaPo columns represent what New York City is thinking about these days" game. I don't usually like posting my comments to other places here, but...whatever. Here's my rant, see his comments section too, which has a number of very interesting regulars:

I find this whole "REAL New Yorkers don't really hate Bush, its just the media elite that happens to live there who only hate him because of their vacuousness and socialism" kind of offensinve. I know its hard to deal with the idea that the people who actually suffered the brunt of the attack are so opposed to Bush, but it's just a fact. No splitting hairs, no pretending that commuters are the REAL New Yorkers, none of it. Why do conservatives have to treat every victim of 9/11 who dislikes Bush (i.e., people who live below 14th street and a number of 9/11 widows) as crazy or deluded? If you can't deal with that contradiction then maybe you should listen to it. But don't smear them or pretend they don't exist. No one is saying that victimhood means you get control over the response, but it aint nothing.

The fact is, New Yorkers, even god forbid, ones that live in Manhattan (who, surprise, are sometimes shallow and neurotic) have good reasons for disliking Bush, i.e., the fact that he has a pretty blatant disdain for for cities and people who live in them. We in New York have watched the last couple years as this administration has tried to convince every podunk town in the nation that al Qaeda is coming for them, then showered them with money and hazmat suits to prove it, when New Yorkers and everyone with a brain in their heads knows pretty dang well that we will always be ground zero. Not to mention that everything about Bush and his administration is hostile to our way of life, our gay friends, the government programs we believe in, all while our tax dollars go to subsidize his supporters out in the great mooching Red hinterland.

So go ahead and decide that you don't really care what New York City thinks of how we should deal with terrorism, that's majority rule after all. But don't tell us we don't know about terrorism, or insinuate that the attacks have made us too fragile to think clearly or, especially, that we have nothing to protect here, because we're all vacuous socialites and poor ghetto dwellers. All those teeming masses of subway riders who are so tough and driven? They may not be as much of a twit as Tina Brown, (god help us) but I can assure you a good majority of them are pretty upset about four more years of the buffoonish red stater.



This Jonathan Chait column in the LA Times makes me just a little too angry to write anything sensible about it, so go read it for yourself.


Random gripe

To all the people who talk ominously about how the Social Security trust is just a bunch of IOUs, i.e. U.S. Treasury bonds, in the hopes of fooling people into thinking we have to screw with Social Security to avoid paying it all back: if the U.S. government defaults on 2 trillion worth of debt, our problems are going to be a lot freaking bigger than angry old people. I don't know if anyone can imagine a world where investors don't trust the U.S. government's debt. But I think everyone can agree it is decidedly on the wrong side of the apocalypse. Considering how close to the edge we're playing the global financial system's confidence at the moment, it's probably not even something we should joke about. So stop it.


They don't need your help

Um, what was up with Brooks on Saturday? Why exactly does he think the administration needs his help to do its dirty work cleaning out all of those disloyal yet oh-so-accurate analysts at the CIA who broke with Iraq policy? I mean, I think we could have all predicted that Bush would go this route after he was reelected and no one would care whether it looked like an admission of guilt (which it obviously is), but DB, what could you possibly get out of it? After you read Brooks, go read Josh Marshall on the CIA purge. Brooks' bleating about mean disloyal analysts looks even more petty in light of the real-world catastrophes that politicizing the intelligence community have caused over the past four years.


Electoral map of many colors

Daily Kos mentions something interesting I remember seeing a while ago: this feature in CommonWealth magazine about the 10 regions of U.S. politics, as put together by Robert David Sullivan. It's a far more informative approach than trying to stuff the country into idiotic red, blue and sorta purple boxes.

While I'm at it, let me follow up on yesterday's post. I don't want to lend too much credence to the idea that Democrats need to "get in" on the culture war and learn how to ape Republican outrage. The long term Democratic party will never really shift the scales that way, although we may get a Bill Clinton once in a while who sounds good enough on it.

My point is that liberals need to stop pretending they have no dog in the culture war. Liberals have very strong opinions about culture, in fact, and just about every indication we have says voters want to hear politicians opinions about culture. But for a variety of bad reasons--shell schock from the GOP's monopolization of culture war language, a too narrow view of how to go about waging civil rights battles, buying into the diversity vs. morality zero sum game, etc.--we have deprioritized these ideas in favor of correct but hopelessly dry economic and policy arguments. In doing this, we have lost the ability to craft a world view that voters can relate to.

So take the previous post as simply one way that liberals should start thinking outside the box and opening up conversation about our broader agenda, not as some quick fix that can score us a few more points among moderates in '08.


An improbable alliance

Via New Donkey, check out Brad Carson's article in The New Republic if you're able. Carson, who lost a Senate seat to spectacular nutcase Tom Coburn last Tuesday, argues:
"But it was not until that September Sunday in Sallisaw, one of the most Democratic towns in Oklahoma, that I first understood that the seemingly innocuous phrase "vote righteously" was the slogan not of a few politicized churches, but the cri de coeur of millions--millions who fervently believe that their most deeply held values are under assault and who further see this assault as at least tolerated by the Democratic Party, if not actually led by it."
Carson says that abortion and gay marriage are only the most organized prongs in the grand culture war that so many Americans feel they are a part of. The real phenomenon, what Thomas Frank calls the 'backlash' as discussed below, is a conviction shared by millions that cannot be denied or attributed to some insidious 'false consciousness'.

Many have argued just the opposite. That Frank doesn't get the truth of the Kulturkampf, that he argues it is a grand diversion which tricks people of dwindling incomes into voting for the Republican economic policies that further immiserate them. I agree that Frank harms his case a bit when he overplays this contradiction to highlight the perversity of the corporate laissez faire/down home culture warrior alliance. But focusing on that misstep ignores the truth of his essential point: that the culture war is about fundamental economic and cultural shifts, namely, the triumph of corporate capitalism. He argues that Republicans have been effective in diverting this phenomenon in political terms, creating a 'liberal elite' bogeyman and skillfully chaining it to the ankle of the Democratic party. But the problem is bigger than a tactical miscalculation on the part of Democrats, it is our collective inability to address the consequences of today's economic system. Although he questions the political implications, Frank thinks the sentiment is real, and justified.

The funny thing is, looking at the backlash in this light, i.e., getting fed up with the vulgarity, crassness and stupidity perpetrated by corporate-profit driven entertainment, I actually find a lot to relate to. How often do you yearn for the time when turning on your TV didn't make you feel like the human race was doomed? I mean, isn't this essentially the same complaint you hear from all those liberal elitists curled up in their PBS, NPR and foreign film media bubbles?

Liberals' sensitivity to free speech rights and censorship, while admirable, often puts us in the funny position of defending the vacuous low brow culture we spend the rest of our day decrying and hiding from. What's more, stokers of the culture war have handily reinforced that outcry by waging their fiercest battles over legitimate art and public funding for it. And when conservatives do set their sights on popular entertainment, we mutter something about how those people must be prudes, half heartedly invoke the first amendment on behalf of the multinational corporation, and accuse those politicians of pandering to the culture fascists. But I'll be damned if you'll find any of the same libs with that abhorrent rap CD in their stereos or in front of their TVs when that soul-deadening reality TV show premieres. They'll be unwittingly communing with their heartland friends, bemoaning to what depths society has sunk.

Who knows how far this will really get us. A good portion of the country thinks liberals are not just abetters of this cultural decay but the actual perpetrators, so it is, needless to say, an uphill climb. But at the least, let's stop this charade of silencing ourselves about cultural trends we find despicable. Let's continue to defend artistic freedom as vigorously as ever, but let's stop giving quarter to the profit-driven rot we find distasteful. Let's call out by name the corporate hegemony that coarsens society, makes teenagers into idiots, and drowns out art and progressive culture.

Liberals are very good at talking to each other about these things: in the foundations we create, the artistic communities we support, and the liberal educations we cherish. But we've grown lazy in supporting these things politically, preferring to resign ourselves to the decline of cultural values as somehow an inevitable march of stupidity and crassness. We have internalized the conservative rap that opening society and increasing tolerance go hand in hand with vulgarity, moral ambiguity and lowest common denominator culture.

Part of this is the bunker mentality we have about civil rights politics. Conservatives have engineered an either-or mindfuck where they ask "Do you want to save culture or protect women's rights?" And we're so focused on holding the line against any incursions on the gains of the 60s that along the way, we've forgotten that the values of economic justice, tolerance and minority rights can only take root when liberal society is running on all cylinders. And that liberal society is dying. If we don't fight for it, none of these things are possible.

But I digress. Now for a couple of caveats:

1) Understanding that liberals have a lot in common with red-state rejection of corporate culture doesn't change the fact that a lot of these people think gayness=moral decay. While an offensive on this front must involve the argument that gay people and their families share the same values as all Americans, and deserve respect and tolerance etc., a lot of these people are just plain old bigots, their minds will not be changed and it will take a generation or two until they die off.

2) This move won't work if there is the least hint of condescension in it. The reason I think this has a good chance of working is that liberals really do feel this way, but for the reasons listed above, they are reluctant to voice it. This is a battle about OUR culture being preyed upon by corporations appealing to the worst in society. It's about solidarity.

3) On that note, if we think that winning the battle for the cultural soul of America is just about spreading around the art made in the cities, we are deeply misguided. A robust free culture, what the corporations are destroying, isn't about getting some artists together or putting up some shows in the boonies. It is a long term commitment to forging a society where the lowest common denominator can't take root, much less become the norm.

4) Needless to say, education is central to this. Liberals need to start talking about education as more than a way to increase your bottom line (which we don't believe anyhow). We need to talk about healthy schools and open universities as transformative forces in society. As institutions that create citizens who reject cultural decline, who want to be engaged in society, who work to better their communities and their nation.

Long story short: liberals hate the direction culture is heading in as much as conservatives. We have no illusions about why its happening: corporate control over information and entertainment has gone wildly out of control, and corporations make bad culture. Let's stop acquiescing to the conservative line that gay people, or working women, or university professors did it, and recognize that a lot of people are really just talking about the dreck they find on TV every night. Just because we're not going to actually censor things doesn't mean we can't rail against it and talk about how to build a nation that rejects that 'culture'. I for one, would find that very satisfying.

Now what's on PBS tonight?


Still in Kansas?

Excuse the paucity of posting lately. Like everyone, I have been thinking in about 102 directions over the past week and a half, and would like to see how things percolate before setting them in the proverbial stone.

Here's a place to start, however. I had the pleasure of finally reading Tom Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? the weekend before the election, and have been struggling to finish the post in light of everything that's been said since.

It's really a spectacular book, and it's unfortunate that most of the reviews last summer, and the mentions in election post-mortems now, have been so off the mark. The CW version of the book's argument (which gained renewed credence during 'moral values' exit poll wild goose chase) goes like this: Frank is saying Republicans use social wedge issues to confuse and divide the voters that should be voting Democratic on account of their economic interests. Democrats in turn, must reclaim the mantle of populist economics they have relinquished in recent years, and only then shall they win.

But Kansas isn't really a political advice book, and trying to scrunch it into that box misses the more subtle and convincing argument. Frank's real focus is describing the cultural language of modern conservatism, the implications of that discourse on electoral politics, and how political professionals make use of it for their own ends.

Instrumental in getting the reader to think in these terms is the set piece that provides the book its title, namely, the myriad forms of radical populism that gripped Kansas in the late nineteenth century. In that era, anti-capitlist sentiment, directed at the eastern 'money-power', produced a brand of antsy, volatile, and most of all, creative, politics that informed several generations of extremist tendencies. What Frank sees today is a phenomenon of similar magnitude--a new cultural epistemology with the same kind of power to inspire and anger.

This phenomenon is a lot bigger than preferences over a few election cycles. As Frank makes clear, it is closely linked with economic and cultural dislocations produced by a late-stage corporate capitalism increasingly left to its own devices. Rather than the liberal elites of conservative Kansans' nightmares, it is the increasing hegemony of corporate power and corporate media culture that drives the psychic and economic exclusion heartland conservatives react to. Picking up on that raw anger, the Repuiblican party and related activist groups have shown considerable skill in turning this against both GOP moderates and Democrats.

All this is to say: the issue isn't really abortion or gay marriage, per se. It's much bigger and more multifaceted, and it has to do with how people perceive politics and the state of American society, not just a couple narrow 'wedge' issues, although they certainly play into the grander narrative.

One of the things Kansas has been criticized for is an arrogance about what voters interest "should" be (economic interests) as opposed to what they seem to be (the lives of gay people they will never meet). But I think Frank understands A) this is not a one-to-one equation and B) this contradiction means that politics has failed to adequately address fundamental economic shifts taking place. And smart people who understand where the momentum is now are getting mighty rich off of that shortsightedness.

Ultimately, I would have liked to hear Frank give a more explicit reading of how conservative economic and social interests play off each other and coexist within the same agenda. Kansas is more adept at describing these different strands now, and drawing conclusions about them, than describing how they got intertwined in the first place. The missing story, which Frank does touch on to some extent, is probably in the evolving relationship between corporations, politicians and intellectuals in the Republican party. Careful to play to the script written by the grassroots, the low tax crusaders have been able to insinuate themselves into the anti-liberal elite platform. And, as Frank notes, the willingness of the grassroots to tow this line has kept wealthy Republicans otherwise moderate on social issues within the larger coalition, thus ensuring its success.

Frank dwells on the economic suicide of heartland conservatives for a reason though--he thinks this might turn out to be the critical fissure in the Republican coalition. Might.

In short, Frank's book shouldn't be read for its advice to Democrats. But if you want to start thinking about the shape of American conservatism today, why it survives, why it appeals to people, and why it seems so impervious to petty concerns like consistency and reason, this is the place to get out of the box.

Candidate-driven politics

Wise post from Ezra Klein here.


New AG

The Attorney General of the United States writes memos about how to weasel out of anti-torture provisions. I don't care if you're prepared to view torture as a necessary evil. It's what fascist dictatorships do. This is definitely a point against the whole beacon of democracy thing. Sick.

UPDATE: Well, besides the whole ambiguity about torture thing, Gonzales does seem to be a step up from Ashcroft on social issues, which will be nice.

This is not a cigar

Check out John Ashcroft's resignation letter. Total fantasy land.


Deadbeat states

Atrios compiles the list. Thisbit of conservative hypocrisy never fails to gall me. Republicans spend much of their time firing up their base about the shameful economic values of the blue states: the liberal elites' love of taxation and putting all decisions in the hands of the government feeds sclerotic welfare states that must be kept away from the federal government. While the whole time our blue state tax dollars are supporting all the poor souls in their low wage corporate utopias because we still cling to this silly belief that people shouldn't be allowed to starve and die in the streets of the richest nation in the world. Grrrr.


Sobering up

Paul Waldman has a good post here about how the Democratic message was never really competitive with the Republicans':
I said it over and over during the campaign, but it bears repeating one more time: every man, woman and child in America could tell you the one thing Bush wanted you to know about him and about Kerry: he's strong, Kerry is weak. If there's a single American who could tell you the one thing Kerry wanted you to know about him and about Bush, I haven't encountered him or her. I certainly have no idea what it was.
I think Democrats did some valuable thinking during this campaign. They learned how to argue with each other in a way that appreciated common goals, and understood the need for unifying themes and compromise. But let's not confuse that with winning. The next step for Democrats is figuring out how to create and hash that message in the off-season, so that it is shiny and ready for a smooth deployment when the campaigns roll around.

This will, of course, be far more difficult for us than it is for Republicans, who don't really care about consensus or the substance of what they're saying. Democrats will never get to that point, it's just not in our nature. But we can get much more savvy about the process.

Democrats need to understand that simplicity of message is not a cop out. It is both the only viable option in today's media architecture, and more importantly, the only path to making huge numbers of voters feel the sort of familiarity with your candidate that actually changes minds and ways of thinking, instead of just provoking and adding layers of complexity.

Imagine, for instance, if the Kerry campaign had decided that, for the entire life of the campaign, they would hammer the message that George Bush is incompetent at making choices. Ads would highlight the absurdity of trying to create jobs with tax cuts, and giveaways to corporate cronies. Kerry would have had a few choice anecdotes about misjudgements in Iraq to trot out ad nauseum, and surrogates could flood the talk show with scandalous examples of Bush administration fuck-ups, including a bunch of petty ones that sting but don't really matter. Is it kind of crude? Sure. But it is also easy to extrapolate more nuanced ideas from that frame, and Kerry could have done that when talking to other Democrats and people who need more meat on their candidate. Ultimately, the trick is making George Bush synonymous with dumbass. It's dismissive and obnoxious, but it has a grain of truth for people leaning towards Bush, and it's broad enough to capture a wide range of arguments.

Just an after the fact example, but Democrats need to get comfortable and skilled at creating these sorts of media strategies.

To the sea!

Honestly, I do hope we get over this as fast as possible, but until say, Friday PM, let's enjoy some of the scorched earth from Cliff Schecter, Tbogg, Alterman and Pierce, Sawicky, more to come...

R.I.P. Reality, Nov 3, 2003

My first instinct is to say fuck it. You people can have the stupid country if that's how you want it. Just try a little harder to keep the terrorists from away from New York, and I won't care how fucking miserable your godforsaken life in Nebraska becomes.

My second instinct is to say every Democrat needs to devote his or her life for the next four years to DESTROYING these people. Not persuading others of their venality and falsehoods, but DESTROYING them with everything we can possibly muster, no matter how debased or cheap. The new political calculus has no room for virtue.

My third instinct is a tad more reflective, and in that I am helped by this William Saletan piece from earlier. It makes me realize that the next Democratic party has a long way to go, and a lot to realize still about how to talk to 280 million people these days. It also makes me acknowledge that if the country isn't a mess after another four years of this, then I really need to rethink my views on the universe. But I'm pretty sure it will be a mess, and so we should start thinking now about what we can learn from this experience. We all saw what happened to the Democratic party this year. Obviously, it had its issues, but we can't let them convince us we didn't see it, as they will mercilessly attempt to do over the coming years.

Patience, my friends, patience.


Final thoughts

No posting today, as I've been slowly killing myself with the day's news, but I'd like to put in a word before the ball drops.

The exercise of democracy we've seen so far today has been truly inspiring. Take a moment to read Joshua Bearman for a sense of the revolutionary change in attitude towards voting that many people, especiaqlly the traditionally disenfranchised, have been feeling today. As a colleague said earlier, the GOP's biggest mistake this year might have been accidentally making voting a civil rights issue again. That's a reason for all Americans to feel proud. That said, we should recognize that the Republican strategy all along has been to take this from people. With the most brittle cyncism and lack of conscience, the GOP has been trying to derail the vote anywhere they can. What's more, they've been doing it for the past 4 years. If you want to know why today has been such a nightmare, and why the Help America Vote Act seems to have been passed for naught, a lot of the blame can be laid at the feet of local and federal level Republican insterests. While that should by no means exonerate the Democrats who have also stifled progress for their own ends, it has been clear that in the nation at large, and here in New York, Republicans have done what they could to keep election reform from succeeding.


The future is now

Check out MyDD's electoral vote calculator, which has added an "uncalled" category (yellow). Is this a wierd thing this year, or in 2008 will we be factoring in "uncalled" electoral votes along with red and blue ones into our Monday evening calculations? It could be come routine, I suppose.

Home stretch

Some items of interest:

A very thoughtful post that pulls no punches about the broader foreign policy choice confronting us tomorrow, from Juan Cole.

Kevin Drum sounds the death knell for the conservative movement, regardless of how you slice tomorrow's results.

Kos did a new roundup of dirty tricks last night.

And things appear to be degenerating fast in Michigan.