Friday, June 30, 2006

Cops vs. Scumbags

The next time a Republican accuses you of wanting to treat terrorists like criminals instead of going after them with soldiers ask them what they have against cops.

After all, cops are the frontline of law enforcement. Its the cops that do the hard work of hunting down criminals and protecting the citizenry. And its cops that the "tough on crime" Republicans claim they stand behind. Yet with their "terrorists aren't criminals" philosophy, they seem to be saying that cops, along with all the other parts of our law enforcement system, just aren't up to the task of protecting us.

An army protects us when we are attacked by an army.

Cops protect us when we are attacked by a criminal.

When the Republicans say the best way to fight terrorists is to use the Army they are saying that the terrorists are equivalent to an Army. An Army is made of warriors. So the Republicans are saying that terrorists are warriors equivalent to our warriors.

When we say the best way to fight terrorists is with cops (Just as an aside, I consider spies as equivalent to cops, not soldiers) we are saying terrorists are criminals. Criminals are scumbags. So we are saying that terrorists are scumbags who don't deserve to be given the warrior honorific.

Why do Republicans want to elevate terrorists while at the same time they denigrate cops?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Why is this man smiling?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Keeping the little people in line

Billmon takes a long look at the Capo de Koso brouhaha and comes to much the same conclusion as I have. None of this has anything to do with trying to hurt Markos or the blogosphere. It's all about keeping the Democratic pols in line. I posted about this myself back on the 12th, just after YearlyKOS, when this column by Byron York hinted at what was to come:

One theme of coverage of the YearlyKos convention is that Moulitsas and his followers are playing an active role in the 2006 and 2008 campaigns. Left unsaid is whether they will be an asset or a liability for the candidates they support. It seems reasonable to expect that any Democratic candidate who allies himself with Moulitsas, or accepts DailyKos support, will be asked, by Republican opponents, whether he or she endorses some of the things Moulitsas has written and said.

Here's part of what Billmon has to say about the latest shot in this battle:

Seriously, though, I suspect the real objective here is to try to scare away the Democratic pols who have been cozying up to Kos and the liberal blogosphere. The sight of all those powerbrokers -- Harry Reid, etc. -- lining up to kiss Kos's ring in Vegas must have really set the klaxons wailing at DLC HQ. ...

... The Lieberman Dems don't hate and fear Kos and the Daily Kos "community" because they are too far to the left. They hate them because they represent an emerging power center within the Democratic Party that they don't control -- what's more, one that is now much closer to the public mainstream on the central issue of our time (the Iraq War) than they are.

Democratic leaders, not just backwater also-rans but people who actually have words like "Leader" in their title, are starting to take bloggers seriously as an effective source of political power. That is a threat to the established political order and one way to defend that order to is to put the fear of God into those leaders. Politicians are cowards compared to your average blogger (if, for no other reason, then they have a lot more to lose). The elites know this and will use that knowledge to their advantage. Be prepared for many more shots to come.

Interesting Times indeed.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Driving The Wedge

Steve Gilliard hits on a key point about the whole King Markos kerfluffle:

The idea behind this smear campaign is to scare pols away from Kos and his community organizing. Joe Lieberman is the victim of this, and this scares people.

On its surface, the recent attacks on Markos and bloggers in general appear to be about, well, Markos and bloggers in general. But the subtext of the attacks are many. One of the biggest is that the punditocracy enjoys the close relationship it has with politicians. Its part of what gives meaning to their sad little lives.

Then along comes YearlyKOS, with its significant number of prominent Democrats making the trip to Las Vegas to wine and dine bloggers (like they have wined and dined pundits for decades), and suddenly the elite pundits are afraid that they are going to lose their exclusive relationship.

So what is one way to prevent this? Make bloggers look toxic so that politicians will avoid them instead of woo them.

Which brings us to the next iteration of this struggle: how will the politicians react to it? Will they continue to woo the netroots? Or will they take their cue from the pundit brothers and sisters and avoid bloggers like the plague?

Harry? Nancy? Mark? How about it?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Markos Mafia

A recommended read, with two additional comments.

(1) An "Elitist Democracy" is inherently contradictory because Democracy is, by definition, a system in which the political will ultimately reflects the will of The People. In Democracy, The People are the sovereign and are thus always the masters of their fate (even unto a complete surrender of their power to an elitist cabal). Even in a representative Democracy, where delegates are selected to represent the will of The People, it is still The People from which that power ultimately derives (cf., The Declaration of Independence). Therefore, an "Elitist Democracy" can never be a Democracy. It is simply "The Diving Right of Kings" with a more modern name.

(2) The elites are in a fight against the "rabble" that is nipping at the heels, most prominently represented by the political blogosphere, for just the reasons pointed out in the link above. But the fact that they have chosen to take the fight directly to the most prominent bloggers, under the mistaken assumption that taking down a Markos or an Armstrong will weaken the blogs, is just another manifestation of their elitist philosophy. Since they believe that only the elites can be effective in achieving political change and they see blogs starting to bring about effective political change, they can only rightly conclude that the blogs must be led by its own form of elite inner circle. They have manufactured in their minds some cyber equivalent of the smoke-filled back room because that is the only model they have for understanding the world. The Markos Mafia must exist because it is the only thing that explains the growing power of the blogs without violating their own conception of the universe.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Soundbites R Us

Whenever anyone raises the question of the fundraising disparities between Democrats and Republicans (Republicans traditionaly outstrip the Democrats in the money race), Democrats should just say, "Well, we Dems are better at managing money so we don't need as much as the Republicans."

Liberal Dems a dying breed?

The problem I have with data like this can be summed up in one question, "What is a Liberal?"

Do fewer Democrats self-identify as Liberal? I can believe that. But does that mean that, ideologically, fewer Democrats hold "Liberal" positions than they did 20 years ago? Or could it just be that "Liberal", as a label, has gotten such a bad rap that a lot of otherwise Liberal Dems just don't want to think of themselves as being Liberal?

Simplistic interpretations of this data suggest that Democrats need to become more Conservative in order to appeal to an electorate that is increasingly leaning right. But, if Dems are still Liberal in their hearts, even if they don't want to be called that in public, then adopting more conservative positions will just push them even further out of the Democratic camp.

The real problem for the Dems is not that the nation is leaning further to the right (I have serious doubts about that). It's that Dems are so afraid to self-identify with their traditional positions that a lot of Americans, both Democratic and not, are simply throwing up their hands and saying, "Screw you guys! At least the Republicans seem to know who they are."

"Vote for me you scmuck!"

What Athenae said, with one addition...

Some Democrats (let's call them The Joes) seem to think that the road to the White House is paved with the blood of their fellow Democrats. The Joes think they need to demean everyone else in their party in order to make themselves look better and more "electable". As Athenae so rightly points out, The Joes are asking Democrats to vote for the guy who is most able to humiliate them in public.

"Hello! I'm the guy who made everyone laugh at you at the prom! Vote for me!"

But what The Joes forget is that, even if they manage to get the party nomination, such tactics will undermine their chances in the general election. People are smart (generally). They know that when they vote for a President they aren't just voting for one guy. They are voting for an entire cadre of strategists, planners, thinkers and movers who will take over all the prominant positions in the Executive Branch. Hell, many people who were hesitant to vote for Bush in 2000 comforted themselves with the notion that he would be surrounded by "grownups" (guess that shows how not smart people can be).

So what does undermining his fellow Democrats do for The Joes when they win their party's nomination? It tells the general electorate, "Hey, you better not vote for me, because if you do you'll get all these other idiots as well."

Republicans win by convincing the voters that their "people" are at least as good, if not better, than the candidate. The Joes want to win by convincing the voters that they are better than their people even though it is their people who will ultimately run the country.

I guess we know how well that has worked.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Unity in Disagreement (Part II)

Just to clarify something: The point of my previous post was not whether the Democrats have plans or ideas but that those plans and ideas cannot coalesce into a unifying platform for the party so long as major segments of the party are simply unwilling to engage other segments seriously about the very serious problems this country is facing. Unfortunately, some of those segments reflexively reject such engagement because they think even acknowledging the other segment is somehow a surrender to their position.

And this isn't just an indictment of the "Peter Beinart wing" (though I can see how my previous post could be seen that way). I've met plenty of anti-war leftists who are are similarly unwilling to engage seriously with those with whom they disagree.

Democrats have allowed critics, both internal and external, to define what are "acceptable" ideas to discuss, needlessly hobbling our ability to even begin to form a serious, unifying vision for the party.

I'm not calling for anyone to embrace anyone else's ideas on what should be done about Iraq. I'm simply asking people to call bullshit anytime someone requires them to reflexively condemn certain positions even if (especially if) they really do disagree with them.

Republicans want Democrats to fight with each other about the ground rules for the discussion. They know that this will prevent us from having the discussion. Democrats should not fall into that trap. They should reject outright the suggestion that to talk seriously with someone about his ideas is, ipso facto, an endorsement of those ideas.

Adults discuss their disagreements. That is what makes them adults.

Selling a Candidate

When canvasing for a candidate I don't think it is enough to know the candidate's positions. Really, knowing how they voted or will vote on particular issues is only part of the story. Indeed, it isn't even really a story at all. It's just basic facts, no different then High School history drills on dates of famous battles of the Civil War.

You need to make a candidate compelling and you don't do that by simply reciting a laundry list of policy decisions. You need to explain why that candidate actually felt that voting that way was the right thing to do. You need to tell the real story of the candidate, not just their position on issues. Using the history example again, what makes an historical event compelling is not the names, dates and places but the why behind it. What makes the Civil War such a compelling story is why so many Americans, both North and South, were willing to sacrifice their lives in that great struggle (the same can be said for pretty much any war).

What makes a candidate compelling is not how they have voted or how they will vote but why they would care enough to even take the time to get involved in the first place.

Learn the candidates story. Tell the candidates story. All else is gravy.

No Unity Without Tolerance Of Disagreement

In all the multitude of debates, opinion pieces, conferences, speeches and dissertations I have seen, heard and read over the last few years, all dealing with the question of what is the unifying "idea" behind the Democratic Party (this diary from georgia10 being just the latest example in a long line of examples) I sense a fundamental failure to grasp an important point: it is difficult, if not impossible, to come to some settlement of this question if Democrats are restricted from the very beginning in what they can permissibly talk about.

For too long we have seen debate on this issue hobbled by both participants and outside critics who impose restrictions on what can be discussed before the debate is even begun. How many times have we seen a discussion of what should be the Democratic position on war as an instrument of foreign policy begin with participants refusing to engage in debate with certain elements of the anti-war left? My question is this: how do you develop a reasoned argument that can persuade members of that group to join you in a Democratic coalition if you refuse to even treat them as more then just children who have no appreciation of the finer points of foreign policy?

No one wants to work with people who fundamentally disrespect their difference of opinion.

And how do you deal with the critics of Democrats who love to paint all members of the party as part of the "Michael Moore wing" if you don't know enough about that wing in order to distinguish your opinion from it without unnecessarily insulting those who don't see the problem with the opinions expressed by Moore and others?

If the Democrats are to have a truly unifying vision of government policy with regard to both foreign and domestic issues they will not achieve it by first cutting off 30-40% of the base whose opinions fall into what some consider to be outside the "grownup" category.

I think my words may be failing me here, but I hope I can make my point clear on this: engaging those you disagree with is not a surrender to their opinions. It is instead the first step towards achieving a synthesis of the diversity of opinions within the Democratic/Progressive/Left-Wing sphere. When we allow critics, both internal and external, to restrict who we can talk to and what we can talk about then we are unnecessarily crippling our ability to achieve that synthesis.

Which is precisely what our enemies want. They want to keep us from having that conversation because if we do we may actually discover that the "Michael Moore wing" and the "Peter Beinart wing" are not so very far apart. That maybe there is a synthesis that can work for all involved.

That's what happened with the Republicans in the 70s and 80s. Rather than cutting themselves off from the more extreme elements of their party, the Republicans made a deliberate effort to invite everyone to the discussion table. They didn't give a damn what critics had to say about it. They hashed out their ideas. They discussed their differences. They became aware of their commonalities. And through this process they came to understand that they could work together to achieve power.

And they did it!

When will the Democrats grow up and realize that they will never achieve any grand unity without a similar rapprochement? I'm still waiting. I'm not sure the country has that luxury anymore.

Friday, June 16, 2006

On Libertarianism

The biggest mistake I think many libertarians make is in thinking of Government as some kind of external entity that serves only to oppress The People. But one of the great ideas from The Enligtenment is that it is The People who are sovereign and thus are the ones who establish the Government. The People ARE The Government. So if The Government becomes oppressive it is because The People WANT it to be oppressive.

As I like to say, Goverenment Happens. What matters is not whether we have Government but how we choose to live with it and make it work. Many libertarians seem to just want the Government to go away and leave them the fuck alone. I am sympathetic to the sentiment. I agree with it many times myself. But it just isn't realistic.

Governments are just one form of Institution that The People create to help manage their affairs. Another is Business. Business is an economic Institution formed by a partnership of People who want to achieve a common economic goal (Make Money Fast!). But Business suffers from the same flaw as any other Institution: once created, it can take on a life of its own.

The real danger to society comes when the Institutions we create to manage our affairs begin to act as if The People are subservient to them (Autocracy) rather than the other way around (Democracy).

That's why I am a Democrat. Democrats believe that The People are the ultimate source and purpose for the existence of Institutions (both Government and Business). The People are Sovereign and, as such, The People have the right to regulate those Institutions in whatever way they deem necessary. Voting is just one means of doing it. Delegating authority to representatives is another. In Government this delegation produces a Republic. In Business this delegation produces a Corporation(*).

Republicans, on the other hand, lose sight of where Sovereignty comes from and approach Institutions as if it were the delegates who have the sovereignty. Thus they call themselves Republicans (supporters of The Republic) instead of Democrats (supporters of The People).

Democrats want The People to regulate Institutions. Republicans want Institutions to regulate The People.

(* - Corporations are Businesses that are given a measure of independent existence entirely by action of The People (articles of incorporation). So anytime anyone says the Government, the manifestation of the will of The People, doesn't have the right to regulate Corporations, I call bullshit.)

Monday, June 12, 2006

"Nice campaign you have here, ...

"... shame if anything were to happen to it."

That's the essence of this column from Byron York.

York says that the YearlyKOS convention was the blogosphere's coming out party and, as such, it will invite increased media attention of just what has been going out here for the last few years. Which means that we better be prepared for some nasty smears based on blog comments that are now several years old.

Please don't think that York is giving us a friendly warning. No. He's actually eager for it to happen. He's positively shivering in anticipation.

It's actually not much of a threat to bloggers or Markos in particular. York knows that bloggers tend to be made of much tougher stuff than your average politician. Markos has dealt with these smears before and I'm confident he will do fine in the future.

The real threat in York's column is against politicians who might be considering aligning themselves with bloggers.

One theme of coverage of the YearlyKos convention is that Moulitsas and his followers are playing an active role in the 2006 and 2008 campaigns. Left unsaid is whether they will be an asset or a liability for the candidates they support. It seems reasonable to expect that any Democratic candidate who allies himself with Moulitsas, or accepts DailyKos support, will be asked, by Republican opponents, whether he or she endorses some of the things Moulitsas has written and said.

In other words, "If you are seen in public with Markos we will make you eat everything he ever said."

It's the politics of intimidation. This is just the first shot across the bow.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

What I Want

This dKos diary reminded of the contrast between Dean and Kerry.

During the 2004 race, Joe Trippi once made the following comparison of the Kerry and Dean campaigns. In the Kerry campaign, it was all about John Kerry, as if to say, "Ain't I neat?" In the Dean campaign, it was all about The People, as if to say, "Ain't you neat?"

It's almost a kind of Zen politicking: what impresses me most is a politician who doesn't try to impress me.

Besides, I don't want to be impressed. I want to be inspired.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Greed is Good

Jim Galley, Republican candidate for Congress, loves "traditional families" so much he decided to have two of them!

Politics vs. Policy

There's a fascinating conversation going on between Armando and Peter Beinart on the topic of the importance of developing a comprehensive Liberal Foreign Policy. Mr. Beinart argues that the failure to do so over the last 20 years is a primary cause of Democratic electoral misfortunes while Armando (and much of the dKos audience) argue that Mr. Beinart is ignoring the Politics of National Security at his own peril.

I'm with Armando on this.

I believe Beinart is following the same failed liberal pattern of believing that if you just come up with a really good policy, most people will recognize it as such and will dismiss the demagogary out of hand. Unfortunately, as many of us have become painfully aware, the world just doesn't work like that.

I feel safe in saying that, when it comes to nearly every issue of importance to the American people, the majority of those people think of it first in terms of politics before they begin to think of it in terms of policy. Until Democrats can develop a Politics of National Security that overcomes the multi-decade demonization of anything Democratic then no amount of reasoned debate on this will produce results.

Want an example? Let's look to Mr. Beinart himself. Just the other day I caught his appearance on the O'Reilly show. Beinart made a good faith effort to talk about policy and to explain how, in his mind, Democrats have failed to develop a comprehensive Democratic vision of foreign policy. He then tried to explain what his own vision was.

Did it make any impact on O'Reilly? Not really. O'Reilly just used Beinart's criticism of Democratic failures on policy to turn the segment into a political attack on Democrats.

Beinart could see what O'Reilly was doing and, again, he made a good faith effort to steer the conversation back to policy. But O'Reilly is the master when it comes to turning policy wonks into pathetic puddles (or poodles, as the case may be). Why? Because O'Reilly is a master of the political arena where emotion outweighs logic and received wisdom rules the day.

When it comes to policy, I find myself agreeing with almost everything Mr. Beinart is saying. But it is painfully obvious to me that he just doesn't comprehend how easily his "policy first" stance is being used as a tool to hurt Democrats, Liberals and Progressives.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Dilemma

I think Kevin Drum hits the key dilemma for the Democrats in the area of national security:

So what is it that Beinart really wants from antiwar liberals? The obvious answer is found less in policy than in rhetoric: we need to engage more energetically with the war on terror and criticize illiberal regimes more harshly.

Maybe so. But this is something that's nagged at me for some time. On the one hand, I think Beinart is exactly right. For example, should I be more vocal in denouncing Iran? Sure. It's a repressive, misogynistic, theocratic, terrorist-sponsoring state that stands for everything I stand against. Of course I should speak out against them.

And yet, I know perfectly well that criticism of Iran is not just criticism of Iran. Whether I want it to or not, it also provides support for the Bush administration's determined and deliberate effort to whip up enthusiasm for a military strike. [emphasis added] Only a naif would view criticism of Iran in a vacuum, without also seeing the way it will be used by an administration that has demonstrated time and again that it can't be trusted to act wisely.

So what to do? For the most part, I end up saying very little. And Beinart is right: there's a sense in which that betrays my own liberal ideals. But he's also wrong, because like it or not, my words Â? and those of other liberals Â? would end up being used to advance George Bush's distinctly illiberal ends. And I'm simply not willing to be a pawn in the Bush administration's latest marketing campaign.

The Democratic hawks who criticized other Democrats for not getting on board the Iraq War effort (Beinart among them) made a fundamental error in judgment. They assumed that those who opposed the Iraq war did so because they were pacifists (i.e., "squishy Dems") who simply weren't serious enough to make the tough choices when it came to national security. Those types do exist among the anti-war left, but the large majority of people I have met in the anti-war movement were more anti-this-war instead of anti-all-war. And believe me, we resented it (and still resent it) when the hawks would repeat Republican talking points about our motives.

The decisive factor in my opposition to the war in Iraq was simply that it was George W. Bush who was pushing for it. I didn't trust him to make an honest case for war (because he was so obviously lying) and I didn't trust him to have the skills to pull it off (because his incompetence was manifestly obvious even then). I think it is safe to say that my lack of trust in George W. Bush has been proven correct.

I am anti-imperialist in the sense that I don't want America to impose its own vision of peace on the world. But I am not fundamentally against the use of military force to address problems in the international arena. Indeed, I think a legitimate case could have been made for some form of military intervention in Iraq, if for no other reason then to enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions regarding inspections. And an argument can be made that a military strike against potential nuclear development in Iran is both reasonable and practicable.

But Kevin points out the fundamentadilemmama: how do you give weight to that option without giving support to the agenda of George W. Bush and the whole PNAC crowd?

I don't know the full answer to that, but I've come to the conclusion that sometimes it is better to let a bad, but tolerable situation persist than it is to support an administration that you are convinced will only make it worse.

It sucks, but there it is.