The Next Stop Is Not Pleasantville

The parallel universe thing is a staple of science fiction, and science fiction movies. There were the three Back to the Future movies – all about parallel worlds where things would be different now if you went back and changed a few things back then – and Pleasantville where the two kids find themselves stuck in a fifties television sitcom, which is actually a rather frightening parallel world. And of course there is each of the Matrix films. And the first one was the set-up – “The film’s premise resembles Plato’s Allegory of the cave, René Descartes’ evil daemon, Kant’s reflections on the Phenomenon versus the Ding an sich, and the brain in a vast thought experiment, while Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation is featured in the film.” But you knew that. And Kant was onto something – it’s sometimes hard to tell the phenomenon from the Ding an sich – what you think you’re dealing with from the thing in and of itself. Who knows the real thing, really?

Yeah, well – whatever, dude. But all this parallel worlds stuff makes for good movies. The parallel worlds suddenly bump into each other, or ominously leak into each other, and everything goes haywire – so you get high drama – amazing conflict and a nail-biting climax and a somewhat puzzling denouement that brings you back for the sequel, cash in hand. Hollywood pumps these out by the dozens each year. It pays the bills.

The problem is that in real life two parallel worlds bumping into each other, or just ominously leaking into each other, makes for a great deal of unpleasantness. There’s only room for one world, after all, and you don’t want each world saying theirs is the real one and yours is not. How can you settle that question? An epistemological cage match?

But that describes political life in America these days. The Democrats and Republicans have never been further apart. They occupy separate worlds, without the requisite real estate for two worlds. All we have is this country. But the epistemological cage match started on October 17, 2004, with a New York Times Magazine article by Ron Suskind quoting an unnamed aide to George Bush

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” 

It was Karl Rove starring in The Matrix IV, or something like that. Reality can be shaped. It can be manufactured out of nothing much at all, and people would believe it was reality. It would be what they saw. And because they believed it was reality, it would be – so deal with it. Rove was laughing at those like Suskind who thought they were reporting on reality, thinking it was something out there, in and of itself, as Kant would say. It wasn’t. And Rove’s stated goal was establishing a Permanent Republican Majority. He’d create the reality for that to come to pass, and soon.

That didn’t exactly work out, but he may have helped create an interesting parallel world. And for an insight into that world one might look at The 2010 Comprehensive Daily Kos/Research 2000 Poll of Self-Identified Republicans – the latest poll commissioned by the left-progressive Daily Kos. To be clear, they were careful to have the polling done by the scrupulously impartial (boring) market research firm Research 2000. They wanted good data, not ass-kissing we’re-right-about-this nonsense. And that’s what they got.

The best short summary comes from the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein:

About 39 percent of Republicans think Obama should be impeached, and 29 percent aren’t sure. This might be because 63 percent think he’s a socialist, and only 42 percent think he was born in the United States.

More than 50 percent of Republicans think Sarah Palin is better qualified than Barack Obama to be president. About 24 percent believe Obama wants the terrorists to win, and 21 percent think Acorn stole the 2008 election (55 percent aren’t sure). A solid 31 percent think Obama is “a racist who hates white people” and – the coup de grace – 23 percent think their state should secede from the United States.

So rank-and-file Republicans, not the leadership, who must maintain the appearance of good sense and responsibility, think Palin is more qualified than Obama, who should be impeached, on general principles as no one is mentioning grounds for impeachment. Rove can hang out his Mission Accomplished banner. And at least a quarter of them want to secede from the United States.

Well, they could. That would solve the parallel universe issues. The Christian right has long talked about creating a separate Christian Nation in what is now South Carolina – they call it the Christian Exodus. Governor Perry in Texas has often talked about secession, to create a nation more American than America, so to speak. Add Alaska, as the Palin family has toyed with that. Why not let them go? They’d be happy. And the rest could have our reality, while they had theirs. It’s a win-win.

And they’re not going to be happy here. Should openly gay men and women be allowed to serve in the military? That was one of the poll questions. And they were clear – Yes, 26 percent, No, 55 percent, and Not Sure, 19 percent. And in a Senate hearing on Tuesday, February 2, there was this:

It’s time to repeal the military’s ”don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and allow gay troops to serve openly for the first time in history, the nation’s top defense officials declared Tuesday, with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff proclaiming that service members should not be forced to ”lie about who they are.”

However, both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen asked for a year to study the impact before Congress would lift the controversial policy.

That’s interesting. They’re not talking about if to lift the ban, but how to lift the ban. After seventeen years it just seems stupid, and Mullen simply said the old policy toward gays ”comes down to integrity” – for the military as an institution as well as the service members themselves. Most Republican senators said they would oppose any congressional effort to repeal the policy. Their implication hung heavy in the air – Mullen obviously knew nothing about the military and military life, and they did. That’s an interesting thought. What they did say was this could wait. Too much else was going on right now. Why deal with this?

But it may be too late. Gates announced plans to loosen enforcement rules for the policy. It used to be that gays may serve so long as they keep their sexuality private. Now that will be eased, before the policy changes.

But it will be wrenching:

Homosexuality has never been openly tolerated in the American military, and the 1993 policy was intended to be a compromise that let gay men and women serve so long as they stayed silent about their sexuality. Clinton had wanted to repeal the ban entirely, but the military and many in Congress argued that doing so would dangerously disrupt order.

Repealing the ban would take an act of Congress, something that does not appear close to happening.

But time passes and things change:

Five states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws permitting marriage of gay couples, while nine other states have granted similar rights to gay domestic partners.

The public’s attitude toward gays and lesbians also has undergone a significant shift. A Pew poll last year indicated that 59 percent of Americans favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, up from 52 percent in 1994. …

Gates said change was inevitable and called for a yearlong internal study into how it would occur.

He told the senators he understood that any change in the law was up to them. But he made it clear he believes it is time to do away with the 1993 policy, and by implication the outright ban on gay service that preceded it. Alongside Mullen, that put the Pentagon’s top leadership at odds with uniformed leaders a rung or two below, as well as with and also with senior members of Congress.

”No matter how I look at the issue,” Mullen said, ”I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.” Noting that he was speaking for himself and not for the other service chiefs, Mullen added: ”For me, it comes down to integrity – theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”

And that was that. And Mullen said some extraordinary things, like saying that he thought rank-and-file troops would support the change:

”I have served with homosexuals since 1968,” Mullen said in response to questions from Republican Sen. Sessions. ”There are a number of things cumulatively that get me to this position.”

He tried to speak from experience, but there’s always other experience:

Scott Duane Fair, a former Army helicopter flight engineer, voiced his strong objection to repeal in a comment posted on the Army’s official Facebook page, saying straight service members shouldn’t be forced to share sleeping quarters and showers with those who are openly gay.

In a phone interview, 30-year-old Fair said he had a troubling experience as a young private when a higher-ranking soldier propositioned him in a California barracks room. Fair said he reported the incident to commanders, who took no action.

”For somebody to go around flaunting their sexuality is going to make a lot of people more uncomfortable,” said Fair, who left the Army in 2001 because of a disability.

On the other hand, Jason Jonas, a 28-year-old former Army staff sergeant from Tempe, Ariz., said he knew of openly gay soldiers in his intelligence unit at Fort Bragg, but their lifestyle never affected unit morale.

”I don’t think it is anybody’s right to say who can and who can’t fight for their country,” said Jonas, who served in Afghanistan before being hurt. He is no longer in the Army. ”Nobody cares. Don’t ask, don’t tell is kind of a joke.”

Ah yes, it’s that parallel universe thing again.

As for what the pundits had to say, see Spencer Ackerman:

Repealing DADT is going to take a year. Gates and Mullen are very clearly taking this year in order to secure as much military buy-in as they can for what will really be a contentious change. I am not gay and cannot presume to tell my gay friends whether this is an acceptable or unacceptable amount of time. But anyone who watched today’s hearing saw that the nation’s top military officer is an unshakeable ally in this effort. And I do not see how DADT survives after this afternoon.

And see Andrew Exum:

Congressmen and members of the public should pay less attention to the many retired flag officers (average date of commission: 1835) who oppose homosexuals openly serving in the U.S. military and should instead poll serving U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. That’s who Laura Miller and RAND will be polling. Their opinions, when combined with the desired policy preferences of the greater U.S. public, should be what matters. I could care less what some dude who garrisoned Shanghai in 1932 thinks.

And see Kevin Drum:

Here’s the hopeful interpretation: we’re still on track to firmly end DADT in an amendment to the Pentagon budget this year, but implementation will be left up to Gates and he’ll be given until, say, January 2011 to publish new regs. The less hopeful interpretation is that Congress won’t do anything until the Pentagon review is done, which would mean delaying repeal until 2011 and implementation until 2012.

And see John Cole:

My judgment is that having the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs coming out in favor of repealing DADT in the first day of hearings with an accompanying media narrative that it is not “if” it will be repealed but “when” is probably a lot more helpful in attaining the long-term goal of a full repeal than Obama issuing executive orders without having his ducks in a row, causing a huge congressional and military backlash with a media narrative about nothing but Obama over-reaching his mandate and the accompanying backlash, but pleasing a small but vocal portion of the Democratic coalition.

And see John Aravosis:

Wow, suddenly Republicans don’t believe that DOD is entitled to an opinion.

But Gautham Nagesh offers some interesting comparisons:

A Military Times poll in December 2008 found that 58 percent of U.S. troops do not want gays to serve openly in the armed forces. Ten percent of respondents said they would leave the armed forces if the ban was lifted, and 14 percent said they would consider doing so. Polls of soldiers in the United Kingdom similarly found that as many as two-thirds of soldiers said they would consider leaving the service if gays were allowed in, but the British military reported that very few soldiers actually chose to depart when the ban was lifted in 2000.

And Andrew Sullivan adds this:

And just as few gay soldiers actually came out in the ranks. The closet will remain the norm for a while – but without the threat of persecution and the taint of dishonesty as a condition for service.

This, in my view, is the ultimate reality behind all this: when the ban is lifted, it will be the biggest non-event you can imagine.

Canada, the UK, Israel, our European allies – they can all deal with this, so we probably can.

But as for how the Republicans are fighting this, Steve Benen sees their parallel universe becoming unstable:

Obama has spent a year following the guidance of military leaders, and Republicans have spent a year breaking with the judgment of the military establishment.

It’s a fascinating dynamic. On everything from civilian trials to Gitmo to torture, we have two distinct groups – GOP leaders, the Cheney’s, Limbaugh, and conservative activists on one side; President Obama, Gen. Petraeus, Secretary Gates, Colin Powell, Adm. Mullen, Adm. Blair, and Gen. Jones on the other…

McConnell and his Republicans cohorts are reluctant to admit it, and political insiders have been slow to acknowledge it, but what we’re witnessing is exceedingly rare – the Republican establishment openly rejecting the judgment of the military establishment.

But they have done that, as Greg Sargent notes:

Guantanamo: Senator Mitch McConnell and many other Republicans have condemned Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo, with McConnell recently saying that it’s about “making us popular in Europe.” But Colin Powell supports closing Guantanamo, and James Baker does too, saying it’s “a very serious blot upon our reputation.” And General David Petraeus agrees, saying that “Gitmo has caused us problems” and has “been used by the enemy against us.”

Mirandizing terrorists: House GOP leader John Boehner condemned Obama today for allegedly Mirandizing terrorists, based on a report that FBI agents are reading detainees in Afghanistan their Miranda rights (the Justice Department claims no policy change and says it only happens in isolated cases). John Cornyn also attacked on this today. But Petraeus said yesterday that he has “no concerns at all” about the practice, adding: “This is the FBI doing what the FBI does.”

Torture: It’s opposed by Petraeus and Powell.

Funding for the IMF: GOP leaders Eric Cantor and Boehner have repeatedly said that Obama’s request for Congressional funding for the International Monetary Fund could help terrorists, because some cash could go to “state sponsors of terror” – but Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Adviser James Jones say the opposite: That not funding the IMF could increase global terrorism and endanger our security. Condoleezza Rice, Henry Kissinger and Powell also back the IMF funding.

In the universe where you listen to the military things are now confused. And Adam Blickstein agrees and adds more:

Majorities of weekly churchgoers (60 percent), conservatives (58 percent), and Republicans (58 percent) now favor repeal (Gallup, 2009).

Seventy-five percent of Americans support gays serving openly – up from just 44 percent in 1993 (ABC News/Washington Post, 2008).

73 percent of military personnel are comfortable with lesbians and gays.

The younger generations, those who fight America’s 21st century wars, largely don’t care about whether someone is gay or not-and they do not link job performance with sexual orientation.

One in four U.S. troops who served in Afghanistan or Iraq knows a member of their unit who is gay.

And Sullivan comments:

I am sure some in the GOP genuinely believe that Gitmo helps us in the war on terror. Petraeus doesn’t. No one else in the world does. But I fear that the Cheneyites are either cynically and recklessly playing the politics of fear or desperately trying to rescue their reputations from the judgment of history. That’s too late, guys. Your crimes and errors are indelibly written into this country’s history.

And interestingly Paul Waldman thinks that the recent gay marriage debate has forced Republicans into a corner:

In their effort to appear reasonable and tolerant [when opposing marriage equality], mainstream conservatives have agreed that it is not acceptable to hate or fear anyone because of their sexual orientation. Once you’ve agreed that anti-gay feeling is illegitimate, you can’t turn around and argue that gays should be kept out of the military for no reason other than anti-gay feeling. And anti-gay feeling has always been the heart of the argument supporting DADT. No one has been able to claim that gay service members don’t do their jobs well. What they’ve always said is that allowing gays to serve openly will make straight service members uncomfortable. The threat to “unit cohesion” comes not from the gay soldier but from the straight soldier who doesn’t like having to serve alongside the gay soldier. Conservatives defending DADT have no choice but to defend bigotry – something they’ve now conceded is indefensible.

So they’re left with an argument that’s not very compelling – that there is no real problem with gays (some of my best friend are gay or something) but that the military is full of homophobic bigots, unfortunately, so we must keep them happy. And that data sit out there that most grunts in the military don’t give a damn – that it’s no big deal to them, one way or the other. But twenty-seven percent do give a damn, so keep the ban. We can’t lose that twenty-seven percent, even though the UK experience is that they don’t walk away at all. That’s the argument? Odd things happen when worlds collide.

And Glenn Greenwald is on the case:

Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute said the real test will be in the barracks, with the rank-and-file members of the military.

“We can talk about this delicately or we can just be fairly direct,” O’Hanlon said. “There are a lot of 18-year-old, old-fashioned, testosterone-laden men in the military who are tough guys. They’re often politically old-fashioned or conservative; they are not necessarily at the vanguard, in many cases, of accepting alternative forms of lifestyle.”

Digby sees what Greenwald is getting at:

O’Hanlon sounds like the moral majority circa 1980, his arguments are the same as those used against racial integration and as a leading chickenhawk he is not in a position to argue with the military leadership, who are now supporting the lifting of the ban.

I just wanted to add one more point: when was the last time he talked to an 18 year old? Young people are far less likely to be homophobic than anyone else in society, not more, and I don’t see why the 18 year olds in the military would be substantially different.

And she cites this polling memo from the Pew Trusts:

Young Americans show strong levels of support for tolerance and equality toward homosexuals, and majorities say gays and lesbians should be able to form legal civil unions and get legally married, according to a new national survey of 15-25 year olds. And young people overwhelmingly support equal protection when it comes to housing, employment, and hate crimes. By six-to-one margins, American youth support gay rights and protections related to housing, employment, and hate crimes and those sentiments are held by all ideological, partisan, racial, geographic, and religious groups. One out of two respondents said they know someone who is gay; knowing a gay person has a significant impact on attitudes.

“The breadth of overall support demonstrates that young adults are doing more than showing simple support for fairness and tolerance toward homosexuals,” according to a report on the survey issued by Lake Snell Perry, which conducted the survey. “For them, these values transcend the realm of gay issues and have become part of their larger view of the way America should look.”

And there’s more. Contrary to conventional wisdom, African American and Latino youth are more supportive of extending equal protections to gays on housing, employment, and hate crimes than whites. It’s an age thing, not a cultural thing. And the polling memo also notes that “majorities of Republican, conservative, and Born-Again Christian youth also support protections on housing, employment, and hate crimes, although they oppose gay civil unions, marriage, and adoption.” It’s the old farts who are the problem:

“These findings compliment other research we’ve done showing that young people are more socially tolerant than older generations,” said Peter Levine, CIRCLE’s Deputy Director. “This survey adds clear and detailed evidence that the DotNet Generation is the most tolerant and respectful of diversity in American history.”

Oops. That’s another parallel world to consider.

Digby ends with this:

It would seem that O’Hanlon’s dreamy “18-year-old, old-fashioned, testosterone-laden men in the military who are tough guys” are actually very unlikely to hate gays. He’s just going to have to figure out how to think about those young warriors in a way which doesn’t require them to be straight and homophobic.

If the head of the joint chiefs believes that this is wrong and finally says that it’s time for the military to adjust, the 18-year-olds are going to be the least of his problems.

But the Republicans want to stop the lifting of this ban. We don’t want to be like the Israeli Army, full of mincing queens humming Broadway show tunes. No, that can’t be right. They all say the Israelis are much tougher than we are. Actually, one thinks of Pleasantville – that movie where the two kids find themselves stuck in a fifties television sitcom, which is actually a rather frightening parallel world. We’re being told that’s the world we really want (interestingly it’s in black-and-white, with no color).

But the rest of us have what we call the real world. They can have South Carolina and Texas and Alaska. After all, nothing goes right when two parallel worlds meet.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to The Next Stop Is Not Pleasantville

  1. raymond mcinnis says:

    alan, good of you to remind us about the susskind article. at the time, it seemed unbelievable, now it doesn’t matter.

    also, and i commend you for gathering this unbelievable amount of discussion about how the gop, regardless of past positions, are choosing to oppose anything obama proposes.

    on the short term, it’s difficult to say, on the longterm, history will show that the gop insisted upon taking the wrong side, and lost.

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