The Revenge of Captain Obvious

If you want to see a Gutenberg Bible or two, you head to the Morgan Library – 225 Madison Avenue at East 36th Street over in Murray Hill. It’s pretty cool, for a One Percent thing. It used to be the private library of J. P. Morgan, but it was made a public institution in 1924 by his son – in accordance with his father’s will. The old man thought everyone should be able to see the amazing rare books, and there’s the Madison Bistro across the street – very French – very nice. Madison Avenue is okay. Murray Hill is, however, considered rather dull and hopelessly not-hip, even it once was a wonderful place – but Mrs. Astor held her last Murray Hill Ball for the Four Hundred in 1892 and that’s all gone. Morgan is gone, the Astors are gone, and the only Vanderbilt left in Manhattan now is Anderson Cooper – and his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, is leaving him nothing – by mutual agreement. That particular Gilded Age is over. Madison Avenue is just another street now.

No one remembers any of those folks now anyway. Madison Avenue became something else in the fifties and sixties – the center of the advertising industry, where all national campaigns to sell us stuff we hadn’t known we needed, and which we didn’t really need at all, were planned and produced. These Madison Avenue folks, mostly men, shaped the consumer culture, and thus the culture itself, for decades. That’s what the television series Mad Men is about – who we are is what we have been convinced we must buy, by a group of desperate strivers who hope they got the zeitgeist right. They have to know Americans’ insecurities, which might or might not be theirs too, and Americans’ fantasies, which they might be able to extrapolate from their own, and if they pull that off they can sell you lots of deodorant, or, back then, a slow wallowing car with big fins. This calls for a bit of creativity, but that might not be the right word. Machiavellian cleverness is probably a better term – and they’re still at it. It just gets harder all the time. Have it your way. Where’s the beef? You deserve a break today. Just do it. Their job is to stick such words in our heads. J. P. Morgan, the man who collected the first printings of the most important books ever created, would not approve.

Morgan, were he still around, wouldn’t read their trade journal AdWeek either, but that’s where you find what these Mad Men have found works to dislodge cold cash from the pockets of Americans, at the moment, and there you’ll find a discussion of the hot new ad campaign for – endless variations on a hapless Captain Obvious saying stupid things about hotels that everyone knows, as if they’re big discoveries. The conceit is that there are some things everyone just knows, and by some sort of transference, everyone just knows that the website they’re touting is obviously the only way to book a hotel room – which may or may not be working.

The ad campaign does, however, tap into the current zeitgeist. All argument in America has become dismissive. No one listens to anyone else, they just shrug and smile. Some things are so obvious that it’s not even worth talking to the other side. “They” just don’t get it, and they never will. Hey, everyone knows… fill in the blank. Conservatives know what they know, which liberals will never get, and liberals know what conservatives could never understand in a million years. That’s something to work with. Both the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee now might be trying to secure the rights to Captain Obvious to use in upcoming political ads, a bit of humor to drive home the notion that some things are so obvious that any dispute about, say, food stamps or Obamacare, is a joke in and of itself. If it works for that hotel-booking outfit it’s sure to work for any number of politicians. Make the other side feel dumb, or at least make everyone else think they’re dumb, for never seeing the obvious. That could work.

It might not come to that, given the probable licensing fees and the risk of tainting the underlying brand, but some things are obvious. We’ve split in America, and that was driven by demographics. In fact, a recent study found something both interesting and obvious – white people get more conservative when they’re told they are becoming a minority:

The authors, Maureen Craig and Jennifer Richeson of Northwestern, use data from two main experiments. In one, a group of survey respondents was told that California had become a majority-minority state, and the other group was told that the Hispanic population was now equal in size to the black population in the US. Then, all respondents were asked what their political ideology was. The group that was told whites were in the minority in California, identified as more conservative than the second group.

In another experiment, one group of respondents read a press release saying that whites would soon become a minority nationally in 2042, while a second group read a release that didn’t mention race. The group primed by race then endorsed more conservative policy positions.

Any threat to one’s status as the demographic “in-group” increases political conservatism, and Slate’s Jamelle Bouie digs deeper:

Using a nationally representative survey of self-identified politically “independent” whites, Craig and Richeson conducted three experiments. In the first, they asked respondents about the racial shift in California – if they had heard the state had become majority-minority. What they found was a significant shift toward Republican identification, which increased for those who lived closest to the West Coast.

In the second experiment, they focused on the overall U.S. shift with census projections of the national population. Again, they found that white Americans became more conservative – and more likely to endorse conservative policies – when they were aware of demographic changes that put them in the minority.

The final experiment – where questions were further refined and targeted – saw similar results.

Exposure to any majority-minority shift “increases whites’ endorsement of conservative political ideology and policy positions” – because some things become so obvious. Captain Obvious says so, and Bouie adds this:

Even if there’s no minority-majority it’s still true that the United States is becoming browner, with whites making up a declining share of the population. And if this Northwestern study is any indication, that could lead to a stronger, deeper conservatism among white Americans. The racial polarization of the 2012 election – where the large majority of whites voted for Republicans, while the overwhelming majority of minorities voted for Democrats – could continue for decades.

That would be great for Democratic partisans excited at the prospect of winning national elections in perpetuity, but terrible for our democracy, which is still adjusting to our new multiracial reality, where minority groups are equal partners in political life. To accomplish anything – to the meet the challenges of our present and future – we’ll need a measure of civic solidarity, a common belief that we’re all Americans, with legitimate claims on the bounty of the country.

With extreme racial polarization – and not the routine identity politics of the present – this goes out the window.

That flew out the window a few years ago, and the Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore is reminded of something:

This morning I read an excerpt from Stony Brook University Prof. Michael Kimmel’s book Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era… This particular excerpt focused on the Aryan Nation and white supremacists, but the book looks at angry white men in general. What he found was a strong correlation between white men failing to inherit any significant wealth or to achieve a status commensurate to their father’s, and a sense that white people are getting a raw deal.

Here’s Kimmel on that discomfort and anger that has festered:

That such ardent patriots are so passionately antigovernment might strike the observer as contradictory. After all, are these not the same men who served their country in Vietnam or in the Gulf War? Are these not the same men who believe so passionately in the American Dream? Are they not the backbone of the Reagan Revolution? Indeed, they are. The extreme Right faces the difficult cognitive task of maintaining their faith in America and in capitalism and simultaneously providing an analysis of an indifferent state, at best, or an actively interventionist one, at worst, and a way to embrace capitalism, despite a cynical corporate logic that leaves them, often literally, out in the cold – homeless, jobless, hopeless.

Finally, they believe themselves to be the true heirs of the real America. They are the ones who are entitled to inherit the bounty of the American system. It’s their birthright – as native-born, white American men. As sociologist Lillian Rubin puts it, “It’s this confluence of forces – the racial and cultural diversity of our new immigrant population; the claims on the resources of the nation now being made by those minorities who, for generations, have called America their home; the failure of some of our basic institutions to serve the needs of our people; the contracting economy, which threatens the mobility aspirations of working class families – all these have come together to leave white workers feeling as if everyone else is getting a piece of the action while they get nothing.”

They say that’s obvious, and Kilgore adds this:

Maybe in a parliamentary system we would have some kind of ultranationalist party that could serve as steam-vent for this kind of anxiety, but in our two-party system it is inevitable that the more conservative party will take on a significant part of it. It’s this anxiety that explains why the Republicans cannot pass immigration reform even though they have constituencies (the evangelicals, the agricultural industry, the Chamber of Commerce, and Wall Street) clamoring for it. They have actually been captured by this racial anxiety and now are held hostage to it.

What’s also interesting is that so much of this has little to do with policy preferences and how much it is mixed up in simple racial identity. These folks don’t like Wall Street or big corporations. Huge numbers of them benefit directly from federal aid and subsidies, including from ObamaCare, welfare, and food stamps. Given that, I wonder how their opinions might shift if confronted with a Democratic Party led by Hillary Clinton (with her family’s Bubba factor) rather than Barack Obama. Certainly, they would not find her so immediately alienating, which is not to say that the far right didn’t freak-out for the eight years of the Clinton presidency, because they did.

These folks are going to have to decide what is so obvious only a fool would not see it, and the problem is that can get confusing. In fact, the Heritage Foundation’s Jim DeMint has just said that “people of faith” ended slavery, not “big government.” He says that’s obvious:

Well, the reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution; it was like the conscience of the American people. Unfortunately there were some court decisions like Dred Scott and others that defined some people as property, but the Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ in the minds of God. But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people; it did not come from the federal government. It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. People like Wilberforce who persisted for years because of his faith and because of his love for people. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves. In fact, it was Abraham Lincoln, the very first Republican, who took this on as a cause and a lot of it was based on a love in his heart that comes from God.

Salon’s Joan Walsh is flabbergasted:

Where to start? Far from granting enslaved Americans “inalienable rights,” the Constitution had to be amended by “big government” several times in order to end slavery and grant African-Americans citizenship. (It would take another 100 years to secure their civil rights, including the right to vote.) While Abraham Lincoln no doubt had “love in his heart,” he brought the power of the federal government down on the side of the enslaved, fighting a bloody Civil War to free them.

Why is DeMint even talking about this?

She suggests this:

DeMint’s remarks show that the right is on the defensive on race – they at least know they have to be against slavery and applaud its abolition – and that’s a good thing, I guess. … But the fact is, African-Americans (and women, and children, and workers, but that’s for another piece) needed government to secure their freedom and their basic rights. The one area where we could expect Americans to agree on a role for government – that it was necessary to stop the practice of cruelly enslaving human beings – nah, they want to fight about that too.

Does that make them racist? A lot of people on the right and left actually agree: The word “racist” has probably outlived its usefulness. We just don’t have another term yet. The real debate should be about institutions, policies and actions, not divining what’s in someone’s heart. The problem for the U.S. today is that a whole set of institutions and policies and practices have deliberately advantaged one group over another, and continue to do so to this day.

If you can’t see that, if you won’t see that, if you deny the evidence and even make up false stories to explain the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow terrorism, legal racial discrimination and its present-day manifestations, you have a problem. You are at best indifferent to the persistence of racism and racial disadvantage and uninterested in what might end it.

She is, therefore, cutting this guy no slack:

DeMint’s first intellectual product at Heritage, recall, was authored by a white supremacist who regularly writes about Latino moral and intellectual inferiority. From the blight of birtherism (mostly un-repudiated by mainstream GOP leaders) to routine slurs about Obama as “the food stamp president” with a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” mind-set and “a deep-seated hatred of white people” who wants to “create dependency” because “as an African-American male” he received “tremendous advantage” from government programs, today’s GOP has taken every opportunity to play on the racial fears of white Americans to discredit this president and his party.

Yes, but they said all of that was obvious, and not open to discussion, and anyway, Jim DeMint wasn’t talking about race at all here, just small government, or that there’s no need for a government, really, or at least no need for a federal government.

Jonathan Chait offers the condensed version of the DeMint exegesis – “Everybody knows the slaves were freed by Ronald Reagan, and he did it by cutting taxes.”

Yep, that’s nutty, and Ed Kilgore knows why:

DeMint’s rap is based on a series of palpable falsehoods that are extraordinarily common in the exotic world of “constitutional conservatism:” the deliberate conflation of the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution (this is how they sneak God and “natural rights” – meaning property and fetal rights – into the latter); the idea that the Civil War was about everything other than slavery; and the claim of Lincoln’s legacy, even though the Great Emancipator was in almost every respect a “big government liberal” as compared to the states’ rights Democrats – DeMint’s ideological and geographical forebears who touted the Constitution even more regularly (and certainly more consistently) than today’s states’ rights Republicans.

The obvious ain’t obvious, and Commentary’s Pete Wehner suggests that it may be time for these guys to pipe down:

I would argue that conservatism and the cause of limited government are undermined by loose talk and an excessive animus toward the federal government. These days, in fact, conservatives would be well served to focus a good deal more attention on the purposes of government, not simply its size. I say that because during the Obama era the right has been very clear about what government should not be doing, or should be doing much less of, and for understandable reasons. But it has not had nearly enough to say about just what government should do. That needs to be corrected – and in the process conservatives need to be careful to speak with care and precision about our Constitution and the role of the federal government in our history.

Good luck with that, as Andrew Sullivan notes:

This is more than a debate. DeMint now runs the Heritage Foundation, and has run it into the ground with know-nothingism and partisanship.

What was once a right-of-center oasis in rigorous social science, economics, social policy, science proper and other academic disciplines, is now a purely political operation, run by ideologues. And the consequences of replacing solid research with ever-more abstract ideological posturing are dire. A major political party is flying blind a lot of the time.

Look at the response to the ACA. Heritage once innovated, inventing several features of Obamacare; now the GOP scrambles to produce anything as a real alternative that can grapple with some of the same issues. Paul Ryan issues a report on poverty that rests on fatal misunderstandings of social science. Another rightwing “intellectual”, Allen West, puts out a book with fake quotes pulled off the Internet. And the seriously smart ones – Ted Cruz, for example – specialize and revel in demagoguery they must know is irrelevant to governing.

This is the mark of a party more interested in selling books to a devoted audience, not a party capable of actually running a government. Which is why, in my view, the GOP is increasingly conceding the full responsibility of running a country in favor of a constant stream of oppositional pirouettes and rhetorical excesses. That may win a few midterms; but it will never win a general – nor should it.

But what about the obvious, that it wasn’t the government, of and by and for the people as Lincoln put it, but the people who freed the slaves? Here, Jamelle Bouie looks at history:

The point of DeMint’s history lesson – and constitutional conservatism writ large – is to place liberals outside the narrative of American history, and to make liberalism a deviation from the norms of American thought. But the opposite is true – constitutional conservatism is foreign to liberals and conservatives – and the truth is ironic. If there was any period in our history where so-called constitutional conservatives held sway, it’s during the brief life of the Articles of Confederation. Under the Articles, national government was extraordinarily weak – it could not tax, mint coins, or pay collective debts – and states held near-total sovereignty. The result was economic disaster – several states were gripped by depression in the 1780s – and revolt. The failed Articles led American elites to convene a constitutional convention, where they would rethink their approach to national government.

These elites were opposed by the “anti-federalists,” who saw strong government as the prelude to tyranny. Their rhetoric was as hyperbolic as any Tea Partier’s. “A conspiracy against the freedom of America, both deep and dangerous, has been formed by an infernal junta of demagogues,” wrote one.

Indeed, if Jim DeMint wants to sharpen his broadsides against the president, he could do worse than to pick up the Anti-Federalist Papers. Sure, he reveres the founders, but he has much more in common with their opponents.

Perhaps that’s too arcane, if you believe it’s obvious that the founders, who were always right, actually hated the government they carefully created, on the second try, with the Constitution. Where is Captain Obvious when you need him? And who are the Mad Men here?

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Gone Missing

There is no Wednesday evening column. An old friend from back east was in town, and winter back there was awful, so he needed a full day’s dose of sunshine and surfers and Hollywood and all the rest. Everyone does now and then. Commentary can wait. Did anything happen?

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Women Problems

The art of politics might be in choosing one day to clarify matters. People turn out to vote when they think they’ve got it straight – who stands for what and why. That’s never all that clear, because one news story crowds out another, one right after the other, hour after hour, day after day, and it’s easy to lose the thread of what you were thinking about this politician or that, and what you think of the political party that has decided that particular person is really hot stuff. Nothing stays hot very long, or at least no politician does. Fourteen months ago Marco Rubio was the Republican Savior – and now he’s not. His comprehensive immigration bill passed the Senate, and the House wouldn’t even look at it. Send the damned wetbacks back where they came from, because America should be for Real Americans. Rubio had listened to the business wing of the party, which wants cheap labor that’s legal for a change, and to the party establishment, worried sick that no one even vaguely Hispanic, or who had Hispanic friends, or who even liked tacos and salsa, would ever vote for a Republican again – but the Tea Party folks in the House didn’t care. They decided that Rubio wasn’t one of them after all and instead decided to love Ted Cruz for leading the party in last year’s government shutdown to force the end of Obamacare, or who at least dragged the party kicking and screaming into that. That shutdown accomplished nothing and made them all look like fools, so now they love Rand Paul, the libertarian who thinks government itself, as a concept, is stupid – except he’s not big on military intervention at the slightest perceived disrespect for America, a baseline requirement for the base, so maybe Paul Ryan will save the party, except he’s a boring numbers guy, with a new budget they neither like nor understand, but certainly doesn’t cut enough spending, and what it does cut it cuts too gradually. He won’t do, and Chris Christie could end up in jail, or end up with everyone in America wondering why he isn’t in jail – and Mike Huckabee is a goofball. It’s hard to get a fix on the Republican Party.

Maybe they want it that way, because it’s best to obfuscate a few clear trends. People will follow the intraparty disputes and miss the big picture, that the so-called Republican War on Women wasn’t really a few assholes here and there saying stupid things about legitimate rape and how those lady-parts really work. In the first go-round over the Obamacare contraception mandate, Rush Limbaugh was on-air day after day calling Sandra Fluke a slut – because any woman who uses birth control pills is a slut, and especially one who advocated for it, and the government shouldn’t pay for slut-pills. But that was Rush. The party itself insisted that it was talking about religious freedom, the freedom employers should have to ignore that part of the law and not participate in what they think God told them about the moral evil of sexual activity not related to procreation. The courts will sort that out, although many women weren’t happy with being told that their severely pious employer, who thought he got God’s word just right, and no one else did, could deny them a federally guaranteed benefit – and it’s even worse that the Supreme Court will probably rule that a corporation, an abstract entity formed for business purposes, can be severely pious too, because corporations are people too, so they can have sincere religious beliefs, which should be respected. That all this will be decided by old white men didn’t go unnoticed. The original hearings on this matter, called by the Republicans, excluded women from the discussions, by design – this wasn’t about women, this was about religious freedom, and that was none of their damned business. Women noticed. Mitt Romney lost the women’s vote by a wide margin. This wasn’t going to help matters.

Mike Huckabee tried to fix this – “The fact is the Republicans don’t have a war on women, they have a war for women, to empower them to be something other than victims of their gender.” You see, women who support the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate “cannot control their libidos” – or Democrats assume that, but good women can, and the party respects good women who have the self-respect to not give into any sort of sexual urges ever, unless absolutely necessary, to generate babies. The party is actually empowering women to be pure and proud, or something.

No one knew what to make of that, but the assumption seems to be that women hate everything that has to do with sex, or at least good women do, so if women slip up and have sexual urges now and then, they should be ashamed of them, and the Republican Party will be there to help them out, by making sure no slut-pills are available to them, empowering them, obviously.

Yes, this seems absurd, and condescending. That’s not the way to win the women’s vote, and now it seems to be Chris Christie’s turn:

The 360-page report released Thursday by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s legal team that examines the George Washington Bridge lane closures in Fort Lee, N.J. is getting backlash because of its depiction of Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, as an overwhelmed, possibly scorned woman who was nonetheless so devious that she, alone, masterminded the scandal that has rocked the governor’s office.

Hey, her boyfriend dumped her and it was probably that time of the month, so she lost it and did stupid spiteful things. Women are like that. All men know that. Case closed, other than the implication that women really should not be in the workplace, or at least not in positions where they have any authority. They’re not rational. They can be dangerous. Chris Christie knows that the men of New Jersey, and all of America, will understand. There was backlash from the flighty silly little women of course, but women are like that.

Taking that position might be political suicide – women finally did get the right to vote after all – but there’s a pattern here:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on Tuesday responded to former CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden, who claimed that the Senate Intelligence Committee Chair’s investigation into the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program was “emotional” and not necessarily “objective.”

Feinstein said Hayden’s remarks were “nonsense” and “stereotypical,” according to The Hill. She said that Hayden’s reaction to her criticisms of the CIA was “an old male fallback position.”

“And there is no question that there are a lot of people out there – I suspect one of them is former CIA Director Hayden – that does not want that report to come out,” she said on MSNBC, as recorded by The Hill. “So one of the things you do is you try to blur the reputation of someone connected to the report.”

Michael Hayden was only doing what Chris Christie did, point out that women are kind of useless in the real life of getting things done and getting them done right, but that position has its costs:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Monday blasted Hayden for his comments about Feinstein.

“For this man to say that because she criticizes tactics led by General Hayden, that was torture, she’s being too emotional. I don’t think so. Does this sound like a person or a party that respects women?” Reid said on the Senate floor.

Well, duh! There is a pattern here, and if the art of politics might be in choosing one day to clarify matters, this was that day:

President Obama on Tuesday signed two executive measures intended to help close longstanding pay disparities between men and women as Democrats seek to capitalize on their gender-gap advantage at the ballot box in a midterm election year.

Mr. Obama, standing in front of a platform of women in a picture-ready ceremony in the East Room of the White House, said his actions would make it easier for women to learn whether they had been cheated by employers. He called on Congress to pass legislation that would take more significant steps.

“America deserves equal pay for equal work,” he said. Noting that it was “Equal Pay Day,” he said a woman who worked in 2013 had to work this far into 2014 to catch up to what a man earned by the end of last year.

“That’s not fair,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s like adding another six miles to a marathon.” He added: “America should be a level playing field, a fair race for everybody.”

Why not invent something called Equal Pay Day? It’s a way to clarify matters, and to let the other side dig in deeper:

“We all support equal pay for equal work and know there’s a problem that must be addressed,” said Kirsten Kukowski, national press secretary for the Republican National Committee. “But many are questioning the Democrats’ motives as they continue their dishonesty about the issue and their own gender gap.”

The Senate is set to vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act on Wednesday, and a memo distributed by the Republican National Committee and two other party committees ahead of the vote noted that it was already illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender. It said Democrats “always seem to wait for an election year to push another empty promise.”

The committees released statistics showing pay gaps in the office staffs of several Democrats up for re-election this year, including Senators Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark R. Warner of Virginia, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.

Mr. Obama responded to the critics. “Some commentators are out there saying that the pay gap doesn’t even exist,” he said. “They say it’s a myth. But it’s not a myth. It’s math.”

The president lambasted Republicans for opposing “any efforts to even the playing field for working families.” He added: “I don’t know why you would resist the idea that women should be paid the same as men and then deny that that’s not always happening out there. If Republicans in Congress want to prove me wrong, if they want to show that in fact they do care about women being paid the same as men, then show me. They can start tomorrow.”

It was game-on, to clarify matters, and Obama made the first move, a minor move, staged precisely:

The executive order he signed bars federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their salaries and an executive memorandum he issued instructs the Labor Department to collect statistics on pay for men and women from such contractors.

But the White House staged a ceremony with the sort of profile usually reserved for a major bill signing. Aides arranged for Mr. Obama to be introduced by Lilly M. Ledbetter, who has become a symbol of the pay gap issue since the Supreme Court ruled that her discrimination case had been filed after the expiration of a statute of limitations. Congress passed a measure named for her changing the deadlines for filing such suits and Mr. Obama made it the first bill he signed after taking office.

Ms. Ledbetter said the executive order signed by Mr. Obama would have made a difference in her case. “I didn’t know I was being paid unfairly and I had no way to find out. I was told in no uncertain terms that Goodyear, then and still a government contractor, fired employees who shared their salary information. It was against company policy.”

Salon’s Joan Walsh notes the countermoves:

Fox News may be the funniest, insisting there’s no such thing as pay inequity – except at the White House, where an American Enterprise Institute study found women still earning less than men. From the Heritage Foundation comes this wisdom: “Equal pay and minimum wage: Two ways to hurt women in the workplace.” No really, that’s the headline. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has called the pay gap “nonsense,” while Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker called it “bogus.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has called equal pay “the left’s latest bizarre obsession” and accused Harry Reid of “blowing a few kisses” to advocates.

Walsh has links to all that, should you want to drill down and see the details, but the general idea is clear. There is no pay gap. There are laws about equal pay already, so Obama is playing games with everyone. At least no one was arguing that demanding equal pay for equal work was simply unladylike, and that most women really don’t want to be paid as much as men, because if they’re honest with themselves they really do know that they’re moody and flighty and kind of useless, which is quite charming and something they’d rather not throw away. Well, no Republicans made that argument. They aren’t THAT dumb, but Walsh notes that they are in trouble:

Pay inequity means that women lose an average of more than $400,000 in wages over the course of their lifetimes. The infamous “77 cents on the dollar” figure approximates the overall difference between men and women, and conservatives like to claim it compares apples and oranges: Female teachers to male congressmen, for instance. The truth is, multiple studies by the American Association of University Women and others show that the gap exists across all professions and all education levels. In some fields, it’s wider, in some it’s smaller, but it’s omnipresent. And it’s much worse for African-American and Latino women, who make 62 and 54 percent of white men’s wages, respectively. (Asian American women suffer the smallest wage gap, earning 87 percent.)

Democrats believe they can ride those issues to victory in 2014, despite a tough climate for vulnerable incumbents and the propensity of its base to turn out for presidential elections but skip the midterms. One key will be turning out unmarried women, who have become one of the party’s most reliable constituencies after African-Americans. A recent survey by Democracy Corps shows that unmarried women are less likely to vote in 2014 than in 2012 – but that a strong women’s economic agenda could send many more of them to the polls.

Obama knew it was time to clarify matters, and link things up:

Pay equity plus equal health insurance are the policies that score highest among unmarried women voters in the Democracy Corps poll. Right behind are proposals for paid family leave and affordable access to childcare. Democracy Corps found those issues had the capacity to significantly increase the turnout of unmarried women in 2014. Once they were read a list of women’s economic agenda policies favored by Democrats, the percent saying they were “almost certain” to vote in the midterm jumped from 66 to 83 percent.

And although those zany Heritage Foundation scholars last week told Republicans that the secret to solving their problems with unmarried women was to get more of them married, Democracy Corps found that unmarried women were skeptical of GOP policies to encourage marriage. Two-thirds favored greater emphasis on policies that enable work-family balance, to help women and children rise out of poverty, as opposed to 24 percent who backed policies that encouraged marriage.

That’s why President Obama signed two executive orders to narrow the wage gap.

Good policy that continues and extends the process where everyone is treated more fairly is also good politics. Doing good is a good idea:

The Democracy Corps poll also makes clear what many Democrats have suspected: Women like the fact that the Affordable Care Act prevents insurance companies from charging them more than men. Rep. Paul Ryan, who insists the GOP will still push to repeal Obamacare, is handing Democrats another weapon, the poll found.

There was one other interesting finding in the Democracy Corps survey: Unmarried women are very concerned about preserving Medicare and Social Security. That led pollsters to advise Democrats to include those issues in their women’s economic agenda. It makes sense: Women live longer, and are more economically insecure at every stage of life. Unmarried women in particular rely on Social Security and Medicare in old age. It’s just another reason centrist Dems should avoid the lure of the “grand bargain” that ensnared the president and his allies for years.

That may be a bit much to tackle on the one day devoted to the issue of equal pay. To clarify things, Obama said it’s time to close the pay gap, and the Republican shot back saying there’s no such thing, and Walsh sees their folly:

Earlier this year, a CNN poll found that 55 percent of Americans believe Republicans don’t understand women. That increased to 64 percent among women over 50, who represent a pillar of the GOP base. So smart, aggressive messaging on women’s economic issues could not only help Democrats turn out their base, but conceivably cut into the GOP’s. Republicans are unlikely to help their cause with a strategy that essentially calls women who worry about pay inequity “liars.”

That’s what Chris Christie called Bridget Kelly, and that was a bad move.

On the other hand, Margaret Carlson at Bloomberg View says women can’t afford to celebrate what Obama signed on Equal Pay Day:

Would a guy tell a girl his salary around the water cooler? It’s more likely he’ll overshare details of his sex life. Men don’t think information lifts all boats even if they’re not necessarily going to be paid less if women are paid more.

Why take a chance? In that way, men are in cahoots with management: They share a fear that fairness will cost them. There’s going to have to be a law, and there’s one being voted on in the Senate this week, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which expands the president’s executive orders beyond federal contractors to cover all employers.

As with great health care and so many other goodies, Congress already enjoys paycheck fairness. Because salary information is public there, Senator Dianne Feinstein doesn’t have to look at male colleagues to her left and right and wonder if they’re making more. Sunlight is the best disinfectant for unfairness.

But lawmakers are unlikely to spread the joy. Congress has killed the Paycheck Fairness Act twice, and probably will do so again.

Yes, but Republicans have just lost the presidency, twice, and probably will do so again. The art of politics might be in choosing one day to clarify matters, which just happened. Republicans had nowhere to hide. Shouting BENGHAZI ain’t gonna cut it now. Some attempts at clarification work better than others. All you need is something indisputable to work with, something that half of all registered voters actually care about.

How can the Republicans respond if the data on the pay gap show that it is real, as seems to be the case? Ah! Women don’t really WANT equal pay for equal work because they know they’re overly emotional and moody little fluffs and just not worth it, and they don’t want contraception coverage in their health plan either, because they know their boss or the corporation they work for has spoken with God about such matters and they haven’t – and they know that they do have sexual urges now and then, which shame them, deeply. Maybe they shouldn’t even be allowed to vote.

Okay, try selling that. The only other option is to stop the other guy from clarifying things. It’s always best to obfuscate clear trends that get you in trouble with the voters, when you can, for as long as you can. And then you run out of time. That just happened.

Posted in Equal Pay for Equal Work, Republican War on Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Race Baiting

Nature abhors a vacuum, and so did the late Harriet-the-Cat here, but that wasn’t quite the same thing. There’s the physics of the equilibrium of states, and entropy, and the mathematics of regression to the mean over large data sets, and then there’s the uncomfortable silence at the family dinner table, where someone sooner or later has to say something, however inane, to break the tension – and then there is the slow news day. We just had one of those. That Malaysia Airlines plane is still missing, and it has been a month of “not yet” on the twenty-four-hour news channels reporting on the impossible search for something that may never be found. What is there to talk about – even more of the technical details of one more arcane search technique, or the five-hundredth theory of what “might” have happened, or how outraged and devastated the families of the missing still are, or the nature of the Malaysian political system that generated decades of clueless stiffs in nice suits?

There’s no news there, just idle small talk, and Putin hasn’t yet rolled the tanks into the Ukraine to take it back for Mother Russia – but he might, but he hasn’t. The only thing to do is report the worry, and Obamacare is now working better than anyone at Fox News ever expected – and Republicans, one by one, are falling silent – so the only news to report is their silence, and silence isn’t all that interesting. Everyone knew this was going to happen. It did. And Jeb Bush may run for president, but he may not.

There was nothing there, but the Senate did finally pass an extension of long-term unemployment benefits, to keep two or three million Americans from dying in the streets. That’s cool, but the House says it will NOT be “bullied” by the Senate – they’ll pass no such thing. Those still looking for work in this wreck of an economy will just have to look harder, because the government should never have been in the business of subsidizing losers and whining moochers in the first place. Right – got it – heard you the first time. The Senate bill will die in the House.

What is there to report there, that nothing has changed in Washington? And Iran still doesn’t have even one nuke, and the Israelis are never going to agree to even a framework for talks with the Palestinians, and that short strange man in North Korea is still as strange as ever, and mostly harmless. And this just in – General Francisco Franco is still dead, and that irritating actor James Franco isn’t. Only his career is dying.

But the news cycle abhors a vacuum as much as nature does, so it was a day to discuss the latest thumb-sucker, a term of art in the news business for a deep-background piece that offers the “long view” of things, from a new and startling perspective, if possible. It’s something to get people talking, or even thinking – two different things in America at the moment. The eighteenth century gardener-poet William Shenstone explained that – “Zealous men are ever displaying to you the strength of their belief, while judicious men are showing you the grounds of it.” There’s been a lot of that going around lately, and a slow news day is a perfect day for judicious men.

All you need to do is to find one of those and get everyone talking about what he just explained at great length and in excruciating detail, calmly and without partisan zeal, about what really underlies what is going on in this sorry world. It could be that in America’s now utterly dysfunctional politics, the problem is race, and always has been race, and always will be race. No one wants to admit that, but race is screwing up everything, still after our Civil War and all the years since.

That was why everyone on this slow news – Monday, April 7, 2014 – was talking about the long essay from Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine – The Color of His Presidency – with a provocative subhead:

Optimists hoped Obama would usher in a new age of racial harmony. Pessimists feared a surge in racial strife. Neither was right. But what happened instead has been even more invidious.

Chait’s thesis seems to be that instead of possible sweet harmony or inevitable dreaded strife, we got name-calling and bullshit, and from the start you can see where he’s going with this:

A few weeks ago, the liberal comedian Bill Maher and conservative strategist and pundit Bill Kristol had a brief spat on Maher’s HBO show, putatively over what instigated the tea party but ultimately over the psychic wound that has divided red America and blue America in the Obama years. The rise of the tea party, explained Maher in a let’s-get-real moment – closing his eyes for a second the way one does when saying something everybody knows but nobody wants to say – “was about a black president.” Both Maher and Kristol carry themselves with a weary cynicism that allows them to jovially spar with ideological rivals, but all of a sudden they both grew earnest and angry. Kristol interjected, shouting, “That’s bullshit! That is total bullshit!” After momentarily sputtering, Kristol recovered his calm, but his rare indignation remained, and there was no trace of the smirk he usually wears to distance himself slightly from his talking points. He almost pleaded to Maher, “Even you don’t believe that!”

“I totally believe that,” Maher responded, which is no doubt true, because every Obama supporter believes deep down, or sometimes right on the surface, that the furious opposition marshaled against the first black president is a reaction to his race. Likewise, every Obama opponent believes with equal fervor that this is not only false but a smear concocted willfully to silence them.

There’s obviously too much zeal here, and no judicious thinking at all, on either side:

Race, always the deepest and most volatile fault line in American history, has now become the primal grievance in our politics, the source of a narrative of persecution each side uses to make sense of the world. Liberals dwell in a world of paranoia of a white racism that has seeped out of American history in the Obama years and lurks everywhere, mostly undetectable. Conservatives dwell in a paranoia of their own, in which racism is used as a cudgel to delegitimize their core beliefs. And the horrible thing is that both of these forms of paranoia are right.

What? They’re both right? That’s what has everyone talking, along with passages like this:

If you set out to write a classic history of the Obama era, once you had described the historically significant fact of Obama’s election, race would almost disappear from the narrative. The thumbnail sketch of every president’s tenure from Harry Truman through Bill Clinton prominently includes racial conflagrations – desegregation fights over the military and schools, protests over civil-rights legislation, high-profile White House involvement in the expansion or rollback of busing and affirmative action. The policy landscape of the Obama era looks more like it did during the Progressive Era and the New Deal, when Americans fought bitterly over regulation and the scope of government. The racial-policy agenda of the Obama administration has been nearly nonexistent.

But if you instead set out to write a social history of the Obama years, one that captured the day-to-day experience of political life, you would find that race has saturated everything as perhaps never before. Hardly a day goes by without a volley and counter-volley of accusations of racial insensitivity and racial hypersensitivity. And even when the red and blue tribes are not waging their endless war of mutual victimization, the subject of race courses through everything else: debt, health care, unemployment. Whereas the great themes of the Bush years revolved around foreign policy and a cultural divide over what or who constituted “real” America, the Obama years have been defined by a bitter disagreement over the size of government, which quickly reduces to an argument over whether the recipients of big-government largesse deserve it. There is no separating this discussion from one’s sympathies or prejudices toward, and identification with, black America.

Chait has muddied the waters here. The racial-policy agenda of the Obama administration has been nearly nonexistent, so he’s not talking about race, ever, and all domestic policies, underneath, are really about race. Black and brown folks are going to get stuff that white folks won’t get, even if many white folks don’t need that stuff – food stamps or a rise in the minimum wage or special jobs programs to get them back into the economy – in the first place. The white folks are pissed.

Still, liberals should just back off:

Once you start looking for racial subtexts embedded within the Republican agenda, they turn up everywhere – and not always as subtexts. In response to their defeats in 2008 and 2012, Republican governors and state legislators in a host of swing states have enacted laws, ostensibly designed to prevent voter fraud, whose actual impact will be to reduce the proportion of votes cast by minorities. A paper found that states were far more likely to enact restrictive voting laws if minority turnout in their state had recently increased.

It is likewise hard to imagine the mostly southern states that have refused free federal money to cover the uninsured in their states doing so outside of the racial context – nearly all-white Republican governments are willing and even eager to deny medical care to disproportionately black constituents. The most famous ad for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign depicted an elderly white man, with a narrator warning bluntly about Medicare cuts: “Now the money you paid for your guaranteed health care is going to a massive new government program that’s not for you.”

Yet here is the point where, for all its breadth and analytic power, the liberal racial analysis collapses onto itself. It may be true that, at the level of electoral campaign messaging, conservatism and white racial resentment are functionally identical. It would follow that any conservative argument is an appeal to white racism. That is, indeed, the all-but-explicit conclusion of the ubiquitous Atwater Rosetta-stone confession [his famous explanation of the GOP's sublimated racial appeals]: Republican politics is fundamentally racist, and even its use of the most abstract economic appeal is a sinister, coded missive.

Impressive though the historical, sociological, and psychological evidence undergirding this analysis may be, it also happens to be completely insane. Whatever Lee Atwater said, or meant to say, advocating tax cuts is not in any meaningful sense racist.

At the Washington Monthly, Ed Kilgore isn’t so sure of that:

So Chait suggests that liberals be more careful about alleging conservative racism if they don’t want to produce a self-fulfilling reality via a conservative zeitgeist that denies there can ever be any such thing.

I half-agree, but not because I think it’s necessarily wrong to attribute ignoble motives to conservative ideologues. Chait offers, as a data point for conservative non-racism, the observation that Obama isn’t being treated more savagely by the Right because he is an African-American. He acknowledges quite a bit of anecdotal evidence of specific anti-Obama racism; it’s certainly what I hear every time I go back to Georgia. But after all, Republicans treated Clinton worse, at least until such time as they try to impeach Obama.

Kilgore doesn’t think that’s much of an argument, or too simple a one:

Personally, I’ve always thought exceptional hostility towards Obama on the Right was mostly a supplement to a more fundamental hostility to a perceived alliance of pointy-headed white elites and minorities determined to fleece virtuous hard-working white folks (along, of course, with their exemplary minority counterparts, the “good blacks” who refuse special treatment or government benefits). Being both pointy-headed and at least half-black, Obama was simply too convenient a devil-figure to resist. But it hasn’t been all about race.

Similarly, it’s my sense that race is just a subset of conservative grievances about liberal politics and indeed 21st century (and to a certain extent 20th century) America. If you go back to the Ur-Moment of the Tea Party Movement, Santelli’s Rant, you hear a primal rage not against black or brown people, but against “losers” – i.e., those who have failed in a market economy and are using or seeking to use government to reverse the invisible hand’s righteous judgments. I feel quite sure that if pressed many Tea Folk would quite honestly say they have as much or more contempt for white as for minority “losers,” but would also claim race-based policies have immensely added to the political power of “losers” as a whole.

I’d argue the real heart of conservative rage is that government support for “losers,” whatever their color, comes at the expense not only of “real Americans’” wealth but of their sense of self-worth – the belief that whatever they have was earned via hard work and fair competition. And this assessment explains a phenomenon that baffles many liberals (and some conservatives): a fierce defensiveness about Social Security and Medicare benefits in harness with a hatred of “welfare.”

Let’s actually be judicious here:

Does this analysis absolve conservatives of any racist motives? Not insofar as (1) many really do look at minority folk and see “losers” unless there is abundant contrary evidence, and (2) self-regarding “winners” are exceptionally enraged by the idea that some of their success to this very day may be attributable to White Supremacy…

So it’s not very easy to disentangle self-righteousness from race in considering contemporary conservative attitudes. But I suppose I’m willing to stop “playing” the “race card,” accurate as it often is, if conservatives are willing to reflect more on a fundamental inability to accept the equality – not of some abstract quantity called “opportunity,” but of access to the basic necessities of life in this rich society – demanded by both our civic and religious traditions.

In short, Chait is talking about the wrong thing. Kilgore, for one, is willing to ease up on calling the folks on the other side racists quite so often, unless there’s no other possible way to explain what they just did and said. He does, however, reserve the right to call them heartless moral monsters with no sense of common decency, or even a sense of right or wrong. That doesn’t have the same immediate sting as calling someone a racist, with all its historical echoes, but it might be more accurate, even if it’s a far less effective weapon.

Salon’s Joan Welsh, however, isn’t big on pointless disarmament:

I’m not sure what to make of an article that purports to seriously examine the role of race in politics in the age of Barack Obama, and then compares liberals’ claims of conservative racism to McCarthyism (specifically: “the poisonous waft of the debates over communism during the ­McCarthy years”). “Liberals dwell in a world of paranoia of a white racism that has seeped out of American history in the Obama years and lurks everywhere, mostly undetectable,” he claims.

Though Chait acknowledges that appeals to white racism have undergirded the modern Republican Party since the civil rights era, he insists liberals are bullies who refuse to “acknowledge that the ability to label a person racist represents, in 21st-century America, real and frequently terrifying power.” He singles out MSNBC for special scorn (full disclosure: I’m a contributor there), while never once mentioning Fox by name. “MSNBC has spent the entire Obama presidency engaged in a nearly nonstop ideological stop-and-frisk operation,” Chait writes.

See what he did with that “stop-and-frisk” reference? In case you’ve missed it, police departments in some cities have been accused of infringing the civil rights of blacks and Latinos by physically stopping them, and invasively frisking them, with little and sometimes no evidence of wrongdoing. It’s kind of a big deal to civil rights liberals, of every race. So Chait tweaks them by accusing MSNBC of stopping and frisking conservatives “ideologically” – as in metaphorically and without consequence, which technically means not stopping and frisking them at all.

She smells bullshit here:

Here’s what Chait admits Republicans are doing wrong, with regard to race: Enacting restrictive voter laws in states where black turnout has risen. Refusing to expand Medicaid – which disproportionately hurts African-Americans (who vote Democratic). Lying about Obama cutting Medicare – which scares older whites (who vote Republican). Explaining the GOP’s opposition to a Western-style social safety net, he even admits: “The factor that stands above all the rest is slavery.”

And here’s what Chait claims liberals are actually doing wrong with regard to race: mostly telling the truth about all of those things, while occasionally exaggerating it.

And this is personal for Walsh:

He chastens me for suggesting that when Bill O’Reilly asked Obama “Why do you feel it’s necessary to fundamentally transform the nation that has afforded you so much opportunity?” the question was “deeply condescending and borderline racist.” Chait acknowledges my interpretation is “possible,” but insists “it’s at least as possible and consistent with O’Reilly’s beliefs that he merely believes the United States offers everybody opportunity.”

If Chait can imagine white political figures like Chuck Schumer or Sherrod Brown being asked why they want to change American policies when they’ve been afforded “so much opportunity,” I’ll concede his point. He does make the fine point – I’ve made it myself – that President Clinton also faced intractable and ugly political opposition from the right. But he misses the fact that animosity toward Clinton originated with his segregationist enemies in Arkansas. Race has been behind GOP opposition to white politicians, not just black ones, who favor civil rights. Clinton is an example that actually weakens Chait’s case.

I also wonder whether equating liberals’ complaints about conservative racism with actual conservative racism is a weird form of self-protection for liberal elites. You’ve heard of climate denialism and science denialism on the right? Some liberals seem to suffer from Republican-extremism denialism. They can’t take in the extent of the GOP’s reliance on racial politics. And if they blame other liberals for their sins, for making things worse, it gives them a sense of control over their lives.

That’s possible, but she sees no point in liberals taking Chait’s advice and just dropping the racist thing:

What would change? Would the Republican Party drop its opposition to anything President Obama supports? Would it stop pandering to a base that’s more than 90 percent white? Would it stop lying about Obama wanting to cut Medicare to fund Obamacare? This is the same Jonathan Chait, by the way, who argued in 2012 that the GOP was staring down “demographic extinction” because of its over-reliance on white voters, and who also insisted that “the entire key to the rise of the Republican Party from the mid-sixties through the nineties was that white Americans came to see the Democrats as taking money from the hard-working white middle class and giving it to a lazy black underclass.” …

Chait was right in 2012, but he’s wrong now. It doesn’t matter that an individual Republican may not have “a racist bone” in his or her body, to use Paul Ryan’s clichéd self-defense. If they reliably and consistently ally with others who do, and if the result of that alliance is to persistently disadvantage one group of Americans out of proportion to the rest, then they have to answer for their party’s racism.

If so, someone’s feelings will be hurt, but so what? To reverse the old cliché, which used to be about a garden tool and then was about playing cards and then was about something else entirely, sometimes you have to call a spade a spade. Racial resentment, and white defensiveness, define American life, Deal with it.

Discussion of that was what filled the vacuum on this one particular slow news day, which may or may not have been useful. Now back to that giant airliner that no one will ever find…

Posted in Race and America | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Browsing Free Speech

One advantage of being an old man, and there are few, is that you get to say you were there at the beginning of things – the cultural revolution of the sixties, for example, with the prefect alignment of that junior year in college and 1968, the year that changed everything. There are lots of books like 1968: The Year That Rocked the World – but it was another thing to have been there, even at the edges, as it happened, because there were no edges. Amazing things were happening, and issues were raised that are still driving half of America up the wall. We are still arguing over clever schemes to keep black people, and now brown people, and college kids, and the poor, and the elderly, from being able to vote. And last June the Supreme Court ruled that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 should just go away – a bit of law from the sixties that had always ticked off the folks on the right. Abortion may be legal now, but the Republican Party has decided that their new issue will be the moral evil of all forms of birth control – and it was “the pill” that started the sexual revolution of the sixties, such as it was, and made modem feminism possible. Women could have careers instead of babies, or both – but here the idea is to negate that part of the sixties on the grounds of religious freedom. Any employer can ignore one key part of the new standards for employee health plans and refuse to offer family-planning services and contraception coverage in their company’s health plan, if they think God will smite them for participating in what is deadly sin. The government, which is supposed to allow the free exercise of religion, cannot force them to sin – and that’s an inventive way to win a battle over sexual freedom and the proper role of the little woman that started back in the sixties. On the other hand, marijuana is now legal in two states, with many others allowing the “medical” use of marijuana, and we have a black president in his second term. Some things changed, although the right’s ongoing scorn for this particular president seems to be a bit of a sixties thing. The folks who hated all the civil rights crap, and thought Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty was a waste of good money on bad people, and loved the War in Vietnam, and elected law-and-order Richard Nixon as the sixties ended, are still at it – the Silent Majority turned into the Tea Party. Some things never end, and some of us were there at the beginning.

It was the same with the eighties. You had to be there when the first desktop computers started popping up in offices. No one knew what to do with them at first – it was Wild West time. This was long before Windows and Mac operating systems, with a mouse of all things, when it was DOS, line by line, or nothing worked. And there were lots of word-processing applications to keep the business running too, each completely different, and a rebellion here and there when folks had to switch from WordPerfect to Microsoft Word. At least there was one in the Human Resources Depart of the giant aerospace company out here. You had to be there to see how angry the staff was – but things settled down when everyone ended up using Word, after Microsoft made sure it did everything everyone wanted, reasonable well. It was the same with spreadsheets – VisiCalc was abandoned for Lotus 1-2-3 which was abandoned for Excel – and for homegrown applications, dBase was abandoned for FoxBASE which was abandoned for Access – and bigger homegrown stuff is now done with Oracle. It was hard to keep up, and somewhere around here is that certificate about being a real honest-to-god official Novell Systems Administrator. There are none of those networks anymore. It was a wild time. Everything kept changing, and all of us made it up as we went along.

Then it all changed again with the internet. All the complicated line-by-line stuff was hidden and forgotten – everything was drag-and-drop and no one knew how it all worked, or cared – and everything could be connected to everything else, everywhere, pretty much instantly. That meant all the applications that do stuff became secondary. The only thing that mattered was the speed and elegant efficiency and snazzy new features of the web browser, and that it didn’t lock up or crash too often. On the Mac, it was a number of browsers, which worked fine, and in the PC world it was Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, which they bundled with their operating system, Windows, for years. It was never very good – a memory hog that took up far too much disc space and wasn’t particularly stable – but Microsoft made sure nothing else on your computer would work unless you used it.

Antitrust laws here and in Europe eventually took care of that nonsense and everyone began to find alternatives to Internet Explorer, alternatives that did more things faster, and flawlessly, using far fewer resources. This felt familiar to us old folks who were there at the beginning – of the cultural revolution of the sixties, and then the computer revolution of the eighties. Things will settle down eventually, but at the moment, Internet Explorer is losing more and more market share every day. Google Chrome, free and simple, works just fine, but the guy who blew up Internet Explorer with a far better and amazing web browser was a guy from Pittsburgh by way of Silicon Valley, Brendan Eich – the guy created a new language, JavaScript, for Netscape Navigator, which eventually became Foxfire, the first and maybe still the best alternative to Microsoft’s smug corporate effort. Firefox was not one of those corporate things. Any programmer anywhere could modify and improve Firefox and the management of that was handled though the Mozilla Corporation, which Eich founded, where he served as the chief technical officer.

In short, the guy was a revolutionary of sorts, or at least a subversive. Anyone who lived through the late sixties can appreciate that – Power to the People, as they say. All Eich had to do was invent an entirely new computer language out of thin air, and a rudimentary web browser to use it, and invite everyone to come on over and play with it. Good things would happen, and they did. The corporate suits at Microsoft had no response to this. Eich stuck it to The Man.

What’s not to like about this guy? Everything should be free and open. Things are better that way. To some, he was a bit of a hero, and then it all fell apart:

Brendan Eich has chosen to step down as Mozilla’s CEO, a position to which he was appointed two weeks ago, following objections from both inside and outside the company. Eich is also leaving Mozilla for an indeterminate amount of time.

Eich’s appointment to helm Mozilla, known for its Firefox web browser and Firefox OS among other open-source projects, created a firestorm within the company and among the developer community upon which it depends. In 2008, Eich donated $1,000 in support of Proposition 8, a California law approved by voters that banned same-sex marriage and was subsequently found to be unconstitutional.

He didn’t think gay folks should be allowed to marry each other, and he put his money where his mouth was. He wasn’t as playfully subversive as everyone thought, and they punish him for it, hounding him out of office, or at least the top job at the home of everyone’s-welcome-here:

After being named CEO late last month, Eich took the opportunity to address doubts about his commitment to social equality and to express his “sorrow at having caused pain.” In a blog post last week, he promised to support equality, to engage with the LGBT community and its supporters, and to uphold Mozilla’s inclusive health benefits and its antidiscrimination policies.

But that failed to mollify critics. Last week, several Mozilla employees called via Twitter for Eich to step down, because they considered Eich’s donation to be inconsistent with Mozilla’s mission. The departure of three board members who did not support Eich’s candidacy – reportedly for reasons other than his support for Proposition 8 – further weakened his position.

Mozilla executive chairwoman Mitchell Baker announced Eich’s decision in a blog post and issued an apology for failing to uphold organizational standards and for fueling the discord through inaction.

Andrew Sullivan, conservative and gay and married to his partner, was none too happy with this:

Will he now be forced to walk through the streets in shame? Why not the stocks? The whole episode disgusts me – as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today – hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else – then count me out. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.

That makes sense, and Josh Marshall offers this:

I would say first that people shouldn’t be run out of their jobs for having heterodox political views or heterodox views in general. That’s something basic to a free society. Not necessarily or really not at all as a matter of law but as a matter of the cultural norms of a free society.

But being a CEO isn’t just any job. And I think it has and should have fewer de facto and de jure rights than your regular run of the mill job. It’s in the essence of being a CEO that you’re the public face, the public representative of the organization or company you run.

It’s a very imperfect analogy but we would all find it unacceptable for a president to reach into the bowels of the civil service or even into his or her administration proper and can someone just because they held some unpopular view. But no one would think anything of it if a president fired a cabinet secretary for almost any reason. An imperfect analogy – but I think there’s a functional parallel.

Marshall also argues a bit of this is a matter of situational awareness:

Gay rights are at the forefront of our political consciousness and struggles today. And Mozilla lives at the heart of an industry and a part of the country where full equality for LGBT Americans is a near sacrosanct part of the culture. I doubt there’s any other industry or subculture (that is big time in economic terms) that has more advanced views on LGBT issues than tech. What’s more, Mozilla is a nonprofit – essentially an activist organization – built around open-source-ism and the distribution of information. Its values are at the core of its existence, not profit like a for-profit corporation.

But even if it weren’t a nonprofit, being a CEO is different. You represent the company. To a degree, you are the company. And there’s little doubt that having an apparently anti-gay rights CEO would be a bad thing for a tech company in terms of its market as well as in terms of the competition for programmers and engineers and more. I think most of us do or should agree that as a matter of political culture, if not strict political rights, you should be able to do your job and fulfill your responsibilities and not worry about being punished or fired because you have heterodox political views. But being a CEO or having other super prominent positions is a bit like being a celebrity or rock star. There’s no right to be famous – who you are, what you think and what you say are all part of the gig. Being a CEO of a major company is kind of the same, and largely for good reasons.

So none of this is surprising, especially given the broader American situation:

For many who believe in marriage equality, the Eich story is like finding out that someone in a key position donated money to re-segregate schools or take back blacks people’s right to vote. People who don’t support marriage equality or at least think it’s a subject over which reasonable people can still differ can note that as recently as 2008 this was the view of a majority of Californians. Indeed, it was at least notionally the position of the Democratic President of the United States as recently as two years ago. So how can it possibly be beyond the realm of acceptable political discourse on the level of finding out someone donated money to David Duke or is a member of Stormfront?

One key to answering this question is elucidated by the position of President Obama. I said this was “notionally” his position as recently as two years ago. And it was. Before his pre-election change, itself nudged forward a few months by Vice President Biden, the President said he did not support marriage rights for LGBT people. Everything but… but not marriage.

As with Obama, so with many:

Even many people who see themselves as strong supporters of LGBT rights – and certainly many who have no ill-will toward LGBT people – have come relatively late to fully accepting the idea that LGBT people should get the same marriage document as us heterosexual folks. At the same time, though, most people have had a pretty clear sense of the trajectory of history on this issue and made a pretty clear distinction in their minds (rightly, I think) on whether (or how quickly) you’re ready to push the envelope of rights forward and whether you’re ready to push them back.

That’s key and very real distinction, though it can get lost in being over-literal about what this or that person’s position was at a given time.

That’s why, if we’re honest with ourselves, being revealed not just as a supporter but a cash-contributor to Prop 8 really isn’t the same as… say, someone who back in 2008 supported civil unions but not full marriage. There’s been a ratchet-like dimension that is at the heart of the moral economy of this issue – some window for people at different places on the issue to disagree and accept each other’s disagreement but a very different view of anyone who wants to take active measures to turn back the clock wherever the clock might happen to be in any particular part of the country. That’s why even in 2008 you had a lot of people who were at least nominally not even in favor of gay marriage being opposed – often viscerally opposed – to Prop 8.

So let’s go back to the sixties:

The obvious parallel here is to the transformation of the Civil Rights movement from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, when support or acceptance of de jure segregation in the South went from being a live national issue to something that was outside the realm of acceptable political discourse in all but the most retrograde parts of the American South. Forty years on there are very few people alive, let alone still in political office, who really led adult political lives on both sides of that historical divide – one of the things that made Strom Thurmond’s bizarre longevity so uncanny. But through the seventies and eighties there were lots of politicians who were former segregationists who continued in politics. There was a mixture or agreed upon amnesia and certain steps one had to take to “cleanse” oneself, for lack of a better word, of this past.

That’s where Eich is now:

Part of the moral bargain of historical change should, I think, be a willingness of the victors to allow the losers to cleanse themselves, as it were, on relatively easy terms. I know lots of people who twenty years ago would have thought the idea of two men getting married was bizarre who get teary-eyed today seeing the rushes to the courthouse today when marriage becomes legal in yet another state. There are people who that applies to, if the number is five years, even two. Perhaps for some the epiphany is still more sudden.

Part of the rapid on-going collapse of opposition to gay marriage is rooted in the fact that there’s something about the pictures. People see the images of people marrying and get swept up in the YES, why not? Why was I ever opposed to this? (Of course, some people have a very different response. But the national poll numbers tell the tale.) This is part of why Barney Frank, though generally skeptical of major social change through court action, was happy with the original ruling in Massachusetts because he was confident that actually seeing marriage equality in action, most people would decide it just wasn’t a problem. He’s been proven right.

It comes down to this:

Eich found himself on the wrong side of this historical divide, though largely through choices of his own making. And, as I said, there’s no right to be CEO. It’s different from virtually every other job where we all deserve wide latitude in our own personal beliefs without having our livelihoods and well-being threatened. People change. Times change. Get used to it.

Marshall also offers the short form of all this:

It seems quite likely to me that the whole Eich story would have turned out very differently if Eich had simply said something to the effect of, “Yes, I did that in 2008. But like the rest of the country, my views have changed over the last five years. I was wrong and I’m sorry.” If he’d said that – sincerely or not – I suspect the whole crisis would have subsided and he’d still be on the job.

He was either too sincere in his belief, too maladroit in his ability to react to the crisis or too arrogant to do that. And thus we got the result that we did.

At his New Yorker blog, James Surowiecki suggests it’s just as well for Mozilla that we got this result:

Mozilla is not like most companies. It’s a wholly-owned subsidiary of the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation, and is just one part of the broader Mozilla community, which includes thousands of open-source software developers and other volunteers around the world. These people still do much of the work behind Mozilla’s products – contributing code, technical support, design improvements, and so on. This means that Mozilla depends on the goodwill of its supporters more than most corporations do; it relies on their willingness to donate their services in pursuit of the broader Mozilla project, which is all about keeping the Web transparent and accessible. If it alienates them, Mozilla’s entire mission will be at risk.

On the other hand, there’s Rush Limbaugh:

Brendan Eich, by the way, did not become an activist on gay marriage, or anti-gay marriage. He just gave ‘em some money. He didn’t join any marches; he wasn’t out trying to raise money. He just donated $1,000 and it was discovered four years after the fact. …

Supporters of the initiative, which was approved by voters in November, had sought a preliminary injunction to hide the identities of those who contributed to their campaign, because they knew what was going to happen, that donors would be targeted and harassed and intimidated and threatened and scared. And that’s exactly what’s happened here in the case of this poor guy who didn’t ever do anything to anybody.

He gave $1,000 to supporters of Prop 8, which simply said “We believe marriage is that between a man and a woman,” and that has become hatred and anti-gay bigotry all of a sudden. …

But, you know, these people, they claim that all this is how they are inclusive and this is how they’re promoting diversity, and they’re not. They are exclusionary. There’s no diversity tolerated here. You’ve gotta be one way. There is no openness.

There is no kindness, there is no compassion, there’s no inclusiveness, and there certainly isn’t any diversity on the left. It’s just a bunch of brownshirts. And if you are not wearing one, you either soon will be, or you’re gonna be ruined. There is no dissent. They have no interest in debating anybody. They have no interest in discussing anything. If you disagree with them, you die. Figuratively. You’re dead. You don’t exist.

That’s part of his three thousand word rant, about liberal gay fascists, who want to shut down all free speech in America and have everyone who disagrees with them put to death, figuratively of course. On the other hand, this was actually a good business decision too, because, as Josh Marshall notes, the position of CEO is a PR position too. The CEO is the face of the corporation, and a CEO can’t get away with wearing funny hats either – depending on the corporation of course. And the guy didn’t want the job in the first place – maybe because he knew that.

Something else might be going on here. Eich has spent his career as the ultimate superbly brilliant subversive happy geek, and it may be, now that he’s also quite rich from all he’s done, he’s not all that heartbroken about all this. He may just shrug and create another entirely new computer language out of thin air, just for the fun of it, and send Rush Limbaugh a box of cigars. Why not? It’s a free country.

Posted in Free Speech, Gay Marriage | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And Despair

It’s no wonder kids find high school English tedious. They have to read tedious poetry, and then have something to say about it if they haven’t yet mastered the art of fading into the woodwork for forty minutes each day. They will have to write a paper about some odd poem, however – there’s no escape – and one of those odd poems used to be Shelley’s sonnet Ozymandias. That’s a high-school poem, simple-minded and obvious. A traveler comes across what’s left of a giant statue in the desert. All that’s left is two legs and its broken face off to the side, and an inscription – “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings! Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Yeah, right – and this is where the student is supposed to explain the concept of irony, a concept foreign to most teenagers, or diving deeper, explain the folly of thinking any moment of triumph, or extended run of triumph, will last in this cruel world, where all comes to naught, and so on and so forth. Ozymandias, by the way, was an alternative name for the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II – and Shelley knocked out his little sonnet after the announcement that British Museum’s had just acquired of a large fragment of a statue of the guy. That was cool, but even Shelley didn’t take the poem all that seriously. He and a friend decided to see who could come up the best sonnet about the dead Egyptian fellow, the fastest, and Shelley won – but there was nothing deep and new in Shelley’s short poem. It was just the bloody obvious, well put – and thus now perfect for teenagers with other things on their minds. Perhaps high school English teachers still make kids read it, for that very reason.

Paul Simon, however, spoke for all of America in his 1973 hit song – “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.”

That says it all. Simon’s narrator might have been thinking about high-school algebra or introductory French, but it’s more likely he was thinking about all that crap in that tedious English class about irony – situational irony and dramatic irony and verbal irony and all the rest. That was a bummer. All irony is tedious and depressing, showing that things aren’t what they seem, almost always, and implying that nothing at all lasts, really. Screw that. Life should, after all, give us those nice bright colors that make you think all the world’s a sunny day. That Shelley poem and all the rest do the opposite. Forget all that crap. Of course Simon’s little song is, in itself, deeply ironic. The narrator is a blissful goofy unaware fool.

He is, however, an American. We do have the best nation on earth, the only really good one, and America, having gotten everything right, will last forever, getting better and better – and everyone loves us too, except for those who hate us for our freedoms, and that’s obviously envy. President Obama, on various occasions, has said we do have a lot to be proud of, and we’re right to feel pride, but every other nation on earth feels the same way about itself – and he got hammered for saying that. Republicans, led by Sarah Plain and the Tea Party wing, said Obama was out there apologizing for America all the time. Mitt Romney rode that pony too, having someone ghostwrite a book for him – No Apology: Believe in America – or maybe he wrote the thing himself. Obama, however, had only been pointing out something mildly ironic, that all nations think they’re the best, at least at something. No one makes cheese like the Swiss. Wasn’t anyone paying attention in high school English class?

Apparently not, and it’s easy enough to see that the major divide in American politics has to do with irony. Republicans, and particularly the Tea Party, which is supercharged Republicanism and beyond, doesn’t do irony. They don’t get the concept, and as a little irony is necessary to compromise, to get at least something useful done, they don’t do compromise either. Here’s the list of the fifty-four times they have voted to repeal or tweak Obamacare – and today’s fifty-fifth vote – and they see no irony in this. The House Republicans, dominated by the Tea Party, have asked America – and useless whining Democrats in particular – to look on their works, you who think you’re so mighty, and despair, at your own worthlessness.

Shelley might have something to say about that, but he’s dead, so Michael Tanner in the first and still the most important conservative periodical, the National Review, wall have to fill in for the poet:

As the Tea Party celebrates its five-year anniversary, many commentators are asking whether the grassroots anti–Big Government movement is still relevant.

In some ways, this seems a silly question. The Tea Party has been enormously successful in changing the terms of the national debate on issues such as debt and spending. And, while its favored candidates have suffered some high-profile defeats, it has also won important victories. The Republican midterm sweep of 2010 would not have been possible without its energy and enthusiasm.

Yet it’s also true that the Tea Party’s clout is waning. According to the most recent Gallup poll, just 30 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the movement, the lowest level in its history. This seems particularly unsettling when polls also show that the public still overwhelmingly supports the Tea Party objective of limited government. In fact, a recent Gallup poll shows a record 72 percent of Americans feels that big government is the greatest threat to the future of the country. Voters who feel that way should be flocking to the Tea Party in droves.

They are not.

What we have here is the ironic scattered remains of a colossal statue of a once mighty king, alone in the desert, and Tanner offers the obvious:

Americans tend to dislike confrontation from their political leaders. Certainly, things like the government shutdown tended to turn off some voters, especially when misrepresented by a biased media. The overheated rhetoric of some tea-party leaders may also drive away otherwise sympathetic voters. Calling every dissenting Republican a RINO or inferring that President Obama is some sort of crypto-Muslim Communist is not going to win friends or influence people. Some tea-party activists definitely come across as a bit over-caffeinated.

They ruined a good idea:

Sparked by outrage over the Wall Street bailouts, the original Tea Party was motivated by an opposition to Big Government. The motto of the Tea Party Patriots, one of the largest and most influential groups, was “fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets.” The Tea Party’s core issues were the skyrocketing national debt and opposition to Obamacare.

Fine, but Obamacare is the law now, and working reasonably well, and will keep working better and better, and the national debt keeps dropping, faster than at any time since we came home after taking care of Hitler and Tojo and then invented suburbia – so those core issues may not play well in the real world beyond the closed and self-contained conservative universe. Tanner goes on to argue that social issues were not part of the original Tea Party platform, so all the talk about banning gay marriage and deporting everyone vaguely brown, and going beyond banning abortion to ban all forms of birth control, and all the talk about Jesus weeping every time someone passes other regulation limiting access to assault rifles for children, really did mess things up.

That’s the typical lament from economic conservatives, who are never all that excited about any particular social issue, but they no longer own the Tea Party, and the problem now is that all these various positions, and many more, are presented without even a hint of irony. Think of Paul Simon’s blissful goofy unaware fool in that song. Now imagine two million of those.

As Talking Point Memo points out, the problem is a lack of self-awareness:

State Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-MS), the tea party candidate in the Mississippi Senate race, was listed as the keynote speaker at a gun rights event along with a Confederate memorabilia store owner who has advocated for racial segregation – and backed out of it when it was highlighted by a state political blog.

As of 2 p.m. on Wednesday McDaniel had been listed as the keynote speaker at the Combined Firearm Freedom Day/Tea Party Music Fest in Guntown, Mississippi on May 17. McDaniel was listed as the primary headliner of the event alongside a number of tea party groups, McDaniel’s campaign manager, who is also a state senator, and a seller of American Revolution relics and Confederate memorabilia called Pace Confederate Depot.

The online store’s owner, Brian Pace, founded the Council of White Patriot Voters in 2011 and is quoted in a local news report as saying “whenever we had racial segregation things were much better off.”

To be clear, Pace said that he had shut down the Council of White Patriot Voters and formed the Confederate Patriot Voters United, with the same members, which the Southern Poverty Law Center still lists as an active white nationalist hate group in Mississippi, as renaming things is kind of stupid, because it all comes down to the same thing:

“If you feel like segregation is what you want to do then that’s your freedom of association, that’s your constitutional right. That’s basically the way we look at it. If you believe in segregation you know that you have a freedom to segregate if you want to, if you don’t believe in segregation then that’s your free choice,” Pace said.

Free choice is good, right? There’s nothing complex and ironic about free choice, after all, except there is:

After Y’all Politics, the blog authored by a supporter of incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), highlighted McDaniel’s scheduled attendance at the event, McDaniel’s campaign insisted that he was “not confirmed.”

That’s in contradiction to what assistant event organizer Kevin Owen told TPM. Owen said that McDaniel had been confirmed as the keynote speaker for the event, but he said that chief event coordinator, Jay Anthony, had been coordinating directly with the McDaniel campaign. Anthony did not respond to multiple requests from TPM for comment.

By about 6 p.m. on Wednesday, the flyer for the event dropped McDaniel’s name (but it still included the name of McDaniel’s campaign manager, state Sen. Melanie Sojourner). Sojourner said that she saw that she and McDaniel had been listed as planning to attend the event.

“I saw that they had. Neither one of us was confirmed and that call has been made and supposedly they’re putting out the correction,” Sojourner said. “There were several Second Amendment groups that were planning different events and we’re both very strong Second Amendment supporters and so there were several events that were planned and it was basically just kind of the discussion was ‘well when you get some things done and scheduled let us know’ but there was never any confirmation on exact events or what was happening.”

There was a lot of tap-dancing here, but no one was surprised:

McDaniel’s name has been connected to neo-Confederates and white supremacists before. Last year McDaniel attended at least one neo-Confederate event in Mississippi. His twitter account also appears to have retweeted a white supremacist.

The man likes free choice in everything. If people like the idea of lynching niggers, he’s all for their free choice to advocate that, and act accordingly. Well, maybe not, and there’s this:

Republican Matt Bevin, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) tea party primary challenger, spoke at a cockfighting rally which he said he thought was an event advocating more general states’ rights.

On Bevin’s campaign itinerary he listed a Saturday morning event at The Arena in Corbin, Kentucky as a “states’ rights rally.” But according to organizers, the event was very clearly a pro-cockfighting event.

“I was the first person to speak and then I left,” Bevin said according to the News Journal of Corbin, Kentucky. “They knew I was here. They asked if I would be interested in speaking. I’m a politician running statewide, any chance I get to speak to a few hundred people I’m going to take it.”

Fine, but things are seldom what they seem, and it always pays to pay attention:

Cockfighting, surprisingly, has been a topic that’s come up in the Kentucky Republican primary. In February, a group associating with cockfighting promised revenge against McConnell in response to his vote in favor of a major farm bill in January, a provision of which made cockfighting a federal misdemeanor with a punishment of as much as a year in prison and a fine of $100,000.

Economic conservatives like Michael Tanner, worried sick about debt/deficit issues – two different things but they don’t care – and appalled that the wrong sort of people will now be able to buy quality-controlled health insurance, and that people still get food stamps, and Medicare and Social Security checks too, are watching folks they might find useful in office embroiled in issues about bringing back segregation and cockfighting, which some, who like irony, refer to as chicken-boxing.

They’ve had enough, and Talking Points Memo, reports on the push-back from conservatives with at least a modicum of self-awareness, like S. E. Cupp, who pops up on CNN these days, with this tweet for the guy in Mississippi:

Sorry, you get no credit for dropping out of white nationalist event you agreed to keynote. Ass.

There’s more:

“When you lie down with dogs, you get fleas,” Republican strategist John Feehery told TPM in an email. “This is the problem with the tea party and their candidates. They lack judgment and that lack of judgment makes them poor general election candidates.”

The National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC), which has done some of the most heated battling with the outside groups that support McDaniel, quickly took to twitter to attack McDaniel over the episode.

“Candidates who associate with white nationalists and segregationists events give away GOP seats to Democrats!”

It goes on and on:

Mississippi Republican Party chair Joe Nosef urged McDaniel to clarify whether he supports groups that promote the confederacy and segregation.

“Running for the United States Senate is a very important thing and as a party we need to always be careful and focused and serious about what our views are and what our interests are,” Nosef said according to MSNBC on Thursday.

Brian Walsh, a former NRSC communications director and vocal critic of the Senate Conservatives Fund, said that McDaniel’s decision to pull out of the event when he did didn’t “smell right.”

“It just doesn’t necessarily smell right that he disavowed it after it became public,” Walsh told TPM. “These are the sorts of issues that Democrats would have a field day in the general election. And it’s the type of thing that cost us winnable seats in the last couple of cycles.”

And there’s this:

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski were puzzled at how tea party favorite and Republican Senate candidate Matt Bevin could attend a cockfighting rally and not know it was, you know, a cockfighting rally.

“What? Wait, so he went to the rally?” Brzezinski asked on Thursday.

“I don’t know how you accidentally stumble into a cockfighting rally,” Scarborough said.

It’s easy enough if you weren’t paying attention in high school English. That stuff about irony wasn’t crap. That Shelly poem did show the obvious, rather well, and you certainly don’t double-down:

Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Matt Bevin continued to address his presence at a rally for supporters of legalizing cockfighting by saying America’s Founding Fathers were very involved in the cockfighting world too.

“But it is interesting when you look at cockfighting and dogfighting as well,” Bevin said in an interview on the Terry Meiners Show on Louisville’s WHAS on Thursday. “This isn’t something new; it wasn’t invented in Kentucky for example. I mean the Founding Fathers were all many of them very involved in this and always have been.”

Bevin missed the lessons on verb tenses back in high school English too, unless the founding fathers are still around, somewhere, making wagers on chicken-boxing at this very moment. An ironic shrug might have saved the day. This made things worse, but Dana Milbank reports there’s no irony possible anywhere on that side:

House Republicans on Wednesday held Benghazi hearing number 1,372,569 – give or take – and this time they were determined to find the proof that had eluded them in the previous 1,372,568 – that Obama administration officials had put politics before national security.

Alas for the accusers, this hearing went the way of the others.

Lawmakers had another go at Michael Morell, a former deputy and acting CIA director and the man who revised the infamous “talking points” that said the September 2012 attack on American facilities in Libya had grown out of a protest. The talking points are key to the Republicans’ claims that President Obama tried to hide the true nature of the terrorist attack because the presidential election was just weeks away.

Morell, a now-retired career intelligence official who served under six presidents, and was with George W. Bush in Florida on the day of the 2001 terrorist attacks, has the credibility to validate the conspiracy theories Republicans have been floating about Benghazi. But instead, he used the rare public session to rebut the accusation.


Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) let loose a string of insults on the uncooperative witness, saying Morell was either “misleading by omission” or “lying by omission” and violating “your obligation to this committee….”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) skipped the questions in favor of accusations. “I believe that the totality of the information was obfuscated and that there was an intentional misleading of the public,” she said, charging Morell with changing the talking points “for the White House.”

Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who is retiring to be a talk-radio host, had drawn grumbles from some conservatives for being insufficiently zealous about Benghazi. Wednesday’s three-hour extravaganza should help him with those critics, because it gave Republican lawmakers a chance to vent their rage.

Angriest, or at least loudest, was Rep. Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), who shouted virtually his entire statement: “We get on talking points, and we get about who said this and whether the station chief said that. And the bottom line is that we’ve got people running around who killed Americans, who are sipping mai tais or whatever they’re sipping, and we can’t do anything about it.”

The echo is clear. My name is Tea Party, king of kings! Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair! That didn’t work for Ozymandias either. Look back on all the crap you leaned in high school. Some of it wasn’t crap at all, ironically enough.

Posted in End of the Tea Party | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments