I Can’t Look

Watching politics these days, for me, is like watching the scariest, ickiest part of a scary, icky movie. This is the part where the cute, blond starlet doesn’t know the creepy thing that ripped all her friends’ heads off and sucked out their brains is right behind her. I much prefer movies with singing and dancing cartoon animals to scary, icky movies, and if I’m in a theater watching something scary and icky usually I don’t watch. I’ll look away or take my glasses off or something.

As I said, politics is like that these days. I don’t want to watch. The thing that rips off heads and sucks out brains, a.k.a. the Republican Party, is too close.

The GOP campaigns for the White House — and other elected offices — by turning the Democrat into a cartoon. They’re really good at that. It doesn’t matter who the Dems nominate; they could nominate Jesus, and the GOP would turn Jesus into a cartoon. And they hammer, hammer, hammer the cartoon Dem candidate into the voters’ heads, and if enough voters buy the message, the GOP wins the election without actually having to talk about, you know, issues.

Now we’re seeing what sort of cartoon they want Barack Obama to be. Carrie Budoff Brown writes,

Barack Obama’s critics laid down the foundations of the strategy months ago: The Republican National Committee started the “Audacity Watch” back in April, and Karl Rove later fueled the attack by describing the first-term Illinois senator as “coolly arrogant.”

It wasn’t until the last week, however, that the narrative of Obama as a president-in-waiting — and perhaps getting impatient in that waiting — began reverberating beyond the inboxes of Washington operatives and journalists. …

… And the snickers about Obama’s perceived smugness may have a very real political impact as McCain’s camp launched its most forceful effort yet to define him negatively. It released a TV ad Wednesday describing Obama as the “biggest celebrity in the world,” comparable to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, stars who are famous for attitude rather than accomplishments.

The harsher treatment from comedians and columnists — coupled with the shift by McCain from attacking on policy to character issues — underscores the fine line that Obama is walking between confident and cocky. Once at pains to present himself as presidential, Obama now faces criticism for doing it too well.

Jonathan Singer writes at MyDD that the McCain “Obama is arrogant” message is for media and Washington insiders, not voters. But if the McCain camp can sell this to media and Washington insiders, it’ll trickle down to voters eventually.

Here’s Obama’s response. You will need to be familiar with this to understand the next turn in the plot:

“John McCain right now, he’s spending an awful lot of time talking about me,” Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said today in Rolla, Mo. “You notice that? I haven’t seen an ad yet where he talks about what he’s gonna do. And the reason is because those folks know they don’t have any good answers, they know they’ve had their turn over the last eight years and made a mess of things. They know that you’re not real happy with them.”

Obama continued: “And so the only way they figure they’re going to win this election is if they make you scared of me. So what they’re saying is, ‘Well, we know we’re not very good but you can’t risk electing Obama. You know, he’s new, he’s… doesn’t look like the other presidents on the currency, you know, he’s got a, he’s got a funny name.’

“I mean, that’s basically the argument — he’s too risky,” Obama said, per ABC News’ Sunlen Miller. “But think about it, what’s the bigger risk? Us deciding that we’re going to come together to bring about real change in America or continuing to do same things with the same folks in the same ways that we know have not worked? I mean, are we really going to do the same stuff that we’ve been doing over the last eight years? … That’s a risk we cannot afford. The stakes are too high.”

Jake Tapper, who needs to retire, reads between the lines of Obama’s response and projects onto it a whole lot of subtext that I don’t see, and comes up with this conclusion:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but does it not seem as if Obama just said McCain and his campaign — presumably the “they” in this construct — are saying that Obama shouldn’t be elected because he’s a risk because he’s black and has a foreign-sounding name?

Do you see what Tapper sees in Obama’s response? Because I sure don’t see it. But of course now the McCain campaign is whining that Obama is playing the “race card.”

If there is one thing Obama has been very cautious about, it’s bringing race into the campaign. As I’ve written before, he goes out of his way not to be the “black candidate.” He and his surrogates have brought up race occasionally, when they had to, but they drop it quickly.

Obama has also worked very hard not to display anger throughout his campaign; the cool demeanor may or may not be the “real” Obama, but he is incredibly disciplined about keeping his cool. And that’s because he understands that there are whites who can like a nice black man, but who will run screaming from an angry black man, even if the black man has plenty to be angry about.

So what’s left? Since the old angry black man stereotype wouldn’t work, the GOP has reached even deeper into white America’s racial memory and brought forth — the uppity black man stereotype.

Yes, Obama is a confident man. Think about it; is he somehow more confident than, say, Ronald Reagan? or John Kennedy, if you are old enough to remember John Kennedy? Or Bill Clinton? When you think about those pols from the past, and their public personas, is Barack Obama’s public persona in any appreciable way different? If it is, I’m not seeing it.

So, although the Barack Obama campaign did not accuse McCain of playing on racism — I am.

And what’s with the two white chicks — Paris Hilton and Britney Spears — the “celebrity” ad somehow associates with Obama? The subliminal message is too obvious — he’s not only an uppity black man; he’s an uppity black man being associated with two sexually available white women.

And just how stupid are “pundits” like Tapper not to see this?

But most of them don’t see it, or won’t, and so the dippy young starlet cheerfully walks down the dark alley with the brain-sucking thing right behind her. And I can’t look.

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The Larch

And now for something completely different.

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Profiles in Courage

So last week John McCain stood up to China by getting his picture taken with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and this week President Bush stood up to China by inviting some Chinese dissidents to his White House residence for a private meeting with no reporters or photographers present.

Yeah, that’s showin’ ’em.

From an editorial in today’s New York Times:

Two weeks before he goes to the Beijing Olympic Games, President Bush remains unacceptably silent about China’s crackdown on basic human rights. Emboldened by the complicity of Mr. Bush and other leaders, China is harassing or locking up critics, threatening journalists and selectively denying visas. …

…The situation bordered on the absurd last week when Mr. Bush delivered a lengthy address on his “freedom agenda” for the world. He spoke loftily about the need for America to lead the cause of freedom and human rights, but he made only a brief reference to China. His insistence that those who “languish in tyranny” are not alone likely was little solace to Hu Jia and other imprisoned Chinese rights activists.

I am not sure of the exact figure, but China is holding something like $1 trillion in U.S. debt, which has gone a long way toward floating Bush’s war and his tax cuts. China owns his ass.

In recent weeks there have been reports in the European and Canadian press that most of the monks in the three biggest monasteries in Lhasa have been rounded up and sent to prisons or detention camps. The majority of these — approximately 1,000 monks — are simply being detained until after the Olympics, China says, but after the Olympics they will be returned to their home villages and not allowed to return to Lhasa. Another 500 or so monks probably have been accused of crimes and imprisoned, or at least they are unaccounted for. Only a handful of monks remain in each monastery. Oddly, one doesn’t hear about any of this from U.S. media.

Update: See also Glenn Greenwald, Those privacy-hating Chinese communist tyrants.

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Questions for Monica G.

First off, I want to say that Monica Goodling’s standard interview questions creep me out, particularly this one:

[W]hat is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?


Eric Lichtblau writes in today’s New York Times,

The report released on Monday goes much further in documenting pervasive evidence of political hiring for some of the department’s most senior career positions, including immigration judges, assistant United States attorneys and even senior counterterrorism positions.

The pattern appeared most damaging in the hiring of immigration judges, as vacancies were allowed to go unfilled — and a backlog of deportation cases grew — while Mr. Gonzales’s aides looked for conservative lawyers to fill what were supposed to be apolitical jobs.

The inspector general’s investigation found that Ms. Goodling and a handful of other senior aides to Mr. Gonzales used in-person interviews and Internet searches to screen out candidates who might be too liberal and identify candidates seen as pro-Republican and supportive of President Bush.

One senior official, in describing Ms. Goodling’s strategy, likened it to a “farm system” used to fill temporary vacancies at the Justice Department with Republicans who could then move up.

I wish some reporter could flush Monica Goodling out of whatever hole she’s hiding in these days and ask her these questions:

  1. Do you understand why people are upset with you?
  2. Did you understand at the time that your hiring practices were deeply unethical and compromised our justice system?
  3. Did someone direct you to use such partisan criteria for hiring, or did you do this on your own initiative?
  4. If someone directed you, who was it?
  5. If this was on your own initiative, what made you think your hiring practices were appropriate or justified?

I’d be willing to bet money Ms. Goodling either had no idea that her hiring practices were in any way out of the ordinary, or else she sincerely believed she was serving some greater good.

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Random News

I’m having a bad case of brain fuzz today and probably should be getting my head out of the computer altogether, but I thought I should blog something.

Regarding Jim D. Adkisson, who opened fire in a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, killing two people — until the accused is thoroughly evaluated it’s a tad premature to call what he did a hate crime, or terrorism. He might be psychotic, for example.

Police retrieved a letter from Adkisson’s car in which the accused said was motivated by hatred of liberals and gays. Some of his neighbors said he had some attitude about Christianity also, which caused some of the Right to jump in and say his real motivation was hatred of Christians. Somebody needs to explain to them that, strictly speaking, most UUs aren’t Christian. See also Sara Robinson.

Over the weekend John McCain met with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. (Aides to His Holiness stressed that the meeting was not an endorsement.) Some commenters say McCain was meeting with His Holiness to show toughness against China. Yeah, get your picture taken with a sweet old monk; that’ll show ’em. But as long as China is holding about a trillion dollars of U.S. debt, that’s about as tough as anyone is gonna be.

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Still Lurching Along the Road to Serfdom

Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom — or, at least, a mythical version of Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom — has long been a common bugaboo of the Right-wing brain: All government regulation is collectivism is socialism is communism is totalitarianism. You know the lyrics to that one, no doubt.

There’s an analysis of Hayek in Dissent magazine by Jesse Larner that I found interesting. To some extent it supports a blog post I wrote about Hayek awhile back. Larner writes,

In Road, he [Hayek] thoroughly, eloquently, and convincingly demolishes an idea that virtually no one holds nowadays.

The core of Road is an exploration of why a planned, state-managed economy must tend toward totalitarianism. If this is one’s concept of socialism, it could hardly survive a fair-minded encounter with Hayek.

As I wrote in the old post, I have never in my life met a fellow American who seriously proposed establishing a planned economy, in which government controls all production and distribution of income. The Right continues to rail against us Lefties as if that’s exactly what we propose.


BECAUSE THEY understand so little about the thoughtful left (and former association doesn’t translate into knowledge; Horowitz and his cohort, like the earlier generation of converts led by Irving Kristol, still think of the modern left as a crypto-Castroite conspiracy), it is hard for many on the right to acknowledge that as a critique of socialism, Hayek’s ideas are limited rather than devastating.

Larner writes that Hayek saw “collectivism” only as something government imposes, and didn’t understand that collectivism can be “a spontaneous, nongovernmental, egalitarian phenomenon.” This parallels my gripe with libertarians who cannot perceive that oppression can come from powers other than the federal government. This is a rigidly linear view of human society.

In fact, power manifests in many ways and in many hands, and whoever has power is capable of oppressing others. So the Right, in the name of “liberty,” opposes government authority to impose limitations on the power of corporations to exploit ordinary people. They run away from an imaginary “serfdom” imposed by government and toward a very real “serfdom” imposed by corporatism.

Also in the name of “liberty,” the Right wants to place limitations on what We, the People can do with our own government to solve problems. Again, this doesn’t make us freer or less oppressed, because it takes power away from the people and gives it to monied interests even less answerable to us than government.

Anyway — the Larner article is worth reading.

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What Is Evil?

Here’s a blog exchange that gives me a chance to revisit a favorite theme — what is evil? Ernest Partridge argues that evil is the absence of empathy. And it’s a good argument.

Someone who is utterly without empathy is, by definition, a sociopath. I think there are degrees of empathy deficiency short of sociopathy, however. You’ve probably known people who could be empathetic to others in their same demographic group but utterly callous to “outsiders,” for example.

Partridge goes on to describe today’s American Right as “regressives” who lack empathy, versus “progressives” whose moral worldview is based on empathy. And I think that’s a valid argument, but perhaps not the whole enchilada.

I would argue that the difference between today’s “conservatives” and those I like to call “normal people” is also a difference in cognitive ability. And I don’t mean just “smarts.”

Righties have rigidly linear thought processes; they don’t see the interconnectedness of things. The Iraq War is a good example of linear thinking — Saddam is bad, taking him out is good. They were incapable of even considering how “taking him out” might change Iraq’s relationship with Iran, for example, or how the ancient Sunni-Shia feud might impact postwar Iraq. Even now they don’t seem to grasp how much the war has and is and will cost the nation, nor how the rigidly linear focus on Iraq actually hurts our overall anti-terrorism efforts.

Domestically, they don’t appreciate how allowing New Orleans to rot might impact the rest of the U.S., or how allowing big chunks of the population to fall into poverty because of health care costs or the mortgage crisis might impact the economy as a whole. They can’t see outside the linear “people dumb enough to take junk mortgages/not have health insurance don’t deserve to be rescued.”

I’ve met some far left-wing ideologues who seemed no more empathetic than their right-wing counterparts. The difference is in where their loyalties lie. As for the rest of us, I don’t know if “seeing the interconnectedness of things” is the result of empathy, or vice versa, or unrelated. I think probably it is possible for someone to have a keen intellectual grasp of interconnectedness but rank only average on the empathy scale.

John Hawkins of Right Wing News has a different view of Partridge’s post.

At the RightOnline summit at Austin, we actually discussed the nature of “evil” for a while. While most people think of “evil” as a greasy character, twirling his mustache while planning to hurt the innocent for the sheer joy of it, that’s not an accurate description of most evil people.

Saying that evil people lack empathy gets closer to the truth, but isn’t quite right. Even a person who isn’t very empathetic could be pure of heart, live by Golden Rule, and be a great person.

I don’t think so. Hawkins is leaving out the self-bullshit factor, or the lies we tell ourselves to give ourselves permission to do whatever we want to do, consequences be damned. Empathy is a wonderful moderator of self-bullshit. Without it, people inevitably rationalize why the injury they do to others to get what they want is somehow justified, even “moral.”

Hawkins continues,

So, what is at the core of evil? I’d say selfishness.

Selfish people aren’t empathetic and they don’t care very much about how their actions impact others because it’s all about them.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t see a distinction between Hawkins’s definition of “selfishness” and “absence of empathy.”

Oh, they may say they care about people and pretend to emphasize with them, but in reality, they do what they do only because it benefits them.

That’s classic sociopathic behavior.

…And regrettably, the “moral cornerstone of progressive politics” isn’t empathy, it is selfishness. Take that for what it’s worth.

What it’s worth? Since Hawkins doesn’t bother to explain why he thinks the “moral cornerstone of progressive politics” is selfishness, I’d say you’d get more value from a bucket of piss.

If you are talking about the moral cornerstone of progressive politics, I agree with Partridge — empathy, definitely. I argue that empathy — or, at least, good socialization — is the cornerstone of morality, period.

If you’re interested, I have an article about the Buddhist understanding of evil on the other site.

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The Speech

Any reaction? I understand there’s some blowback on the Right regarding Obama’s “citizen of the world” line. Yet Ronald Reagan used the same line once upon a time.

Ann Althouse
once again proves her inability to critically think her way out of a wet paper bag. She picked up on Obama’s comments about the Berlin Airlift:

I guess we’re not supposed to think about how Obama wanted and still wants to give up on the Iraq war. Surely, if he’d been there in 1948, he would have said the Berlin airlift is hopeless. He thought the surge was hopeless.

Yes, the “surge” is so much like the Berlin Airlift it’s hard to tell them apart. (/snark)

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More self-evident stupidity — Steven G. Calabresi, McCain supporter and co-founder of the Federalist Society, argues that Barack Obama is too young to be president.

The Constitution says a person must be at least 35 years old to be POTUS, and Obama is in his late 40s. However, Calabresi argues that since life expectancy is longer now, “35” should be adjusted up.

In 1789, the average life expectancy of a newborn was about 40 years, compared with about 78 today. A lot of this was because of infant mortality, but in 1789, even the average life expectancy of every man who reached age 18 was only about 47. This suggests that at best a 35-year-old age limit in 1789 might have functioned then about the way a 55- or 60-year-old age qualification would function today. On this account Obama may be old enough to drive and buy a glass of white wine, but he has a way to go before he can run for president.

But the possible human life span hasn’t changed much. Our second POTUS, John Adams, was about 91 when he died. That made him only a teenager in dog years, btw. Next?

Others on the legal left, such as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, argue that in choosing between different interpretations of the Constitution, we should select the one that will produce the best consequences. This method too suggests that Obama should be understood to be constitutionally barred from serving as president by reason of his age.

Here comes my favorite part.

We have had three presidents out of 43 who were younger when they took office than Obama would be on Jan. 20, 2009: Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy and Theodore Roosevelt.

This is bad? Are we making sense yet?

All of them committed serious rookie blunders because they were too young.

As opposed to older guys who screwed up their entire administrations.

I don’t know how old Calabresi is, but I say he’s too stupid to be writing op eds. Or to be left alone for more than ten minutes at a time, for that matter.

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Missionary Position

Sometimes you run into people who are so clueless you wonder how they dress themselves. Today I ran into a blog being kept by a Christian missionary in Thailand. I’ll just link to one post without comment. It parodies itself.

Here’s a post on another blog that talks about Christian missionary work in Thailand. Techniques for converting the Thais include scare-mongering and emotional blackmail.

Update: Here’s one more — “Buddhist migrants pressured to convert to Christianity.” I bet they’re not as aggressive with the Muslims.

I wish some of these deadheads would stop and think how they would feel if some group representing another religion tried the same tricks on them, or on other Christians. Do unto others, etc.

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