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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Learning from the Election

November 27th, 2012 - 12:00 am

1. Populism

The Republicans have only won the popular vote since Ronald Reagan’s presidency on two occasions: 1988 and 2004. In both instances, even the patrician Bushes were able to paint their liberal opponents as out-of-touch Massachusetts magnificoes. Lee Atwater turned Michael Dukakis, the helmeted tank driver, into a bumbling Harvard Square naïf.  Karl Rove reminded the country that John Kerry, the wind surfer, was a spandex-wearing, wetsuit-outfitted yuppie who lived in several of his rich wife’s mansions, as he jetted around in her plane and sailed on her boat.

Otherwise, it was the Republicans who always ended up reduced to plutocratic grandees. Since 1960, and with the exception of Barack Obama, the Democrats always lost when they ran northern liberals — George McGovern, Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale, and John Kerry — so great is the American distrust of both old money aristocrats and Northern tsk-tsk scolds. Apparently southern accents — LBJ, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Al Gore — were necessary fides to win the popular vote, a sort of implicit reminder to voters that liberal Democrats could be just folks rather social engineers and redistributionists. Wealth apparently is not the key as much as an impression of familiarity with the working classes. Liberals laughed at Reagan riding horses, chopping wood, and chainsawing on his ranch, but voters liked what they saw. Neither party apparently can nominate a Massachusetts governor or senator and expect to win. Mitt Romney is a good man who would have made a very good president, but by June he was no longer a good Mitt Romney. Instead, millions of dollars in hit ads and free media assaults reduced him to a hideous caricature of a greedy, heartless Scrooge.

2. Barack Obama Was a Special Case

Barack Obama broke the 50-year rule of a successful northern liberal failing to win the presidency. It was not just that Barack Obama was the first African-American president, but rather that he was young, charismatic, half-African-American (on that characteristic, see Harry Reid and Joe Biden circa 2008), with an exotic multicultural name and a chameleon ability to be (and speak) all things to all people — a combination that enthralled white liberals and minorities alike. A new black candidate with a Jesse Jackson accent named Tyrone Wilson would not have won with the identical platform and teleprompted eloquence. I don’t think even a Cory Booker or Deval Patrick would have a chance.

Liberals wanted to vote for someone they could live next door to, chat about the Ivy League with, play golf with, and feel, well, very liberal about — and thereby never have to put their kids in a public integrated school, go into the ghetto or barrio, or live next to a household on public assistance — and again yet still feel very liberal about their tony apartheid. Barack Obama offered them that deal — and the added attraction of white liberals being complimented abroad when they jetted to Venice, Munich, or London as being international, cosmopolitan, and European if you will. Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, or any other Democrat will have no such special appeal in 2016. In terms of just getting elected (rather than governing), Obama did for the left what Reagan did for the right — and both are hard to follow. The truth is that in both the House of Representatives and statehouses the Republicans have never been stronger.

3. Racial Preemption Works

For most of 2012 the media created a preemptive charge that Republicans were racists, as everything from mentioning golf or the word “Chicago” was declared prejudicial. Romney was supposedly the new Andrew Johnson who would wreck civil rights in the way the latter undermined Reconstruction. The point was not that Democrats believed any of this racialism, but that it prepped the campaign battlefield to prevent Romney, as it had prevented McCain, from running the sort of bare-knuckles campaigns that Ronald Reagan had run against Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush had run against Michael Dukakis, and George W. Bush had run against John Kerry. The fact that “Racist! Racist!” is now a broken record — Eric Holder gets into hot water over his knowledge of Fast and Furious and suddenly his auditors are racists; Susan Rice misleads the country and suddenly her critics are racists and sexists — does not mean that it does not work in deterring critics. A white liberal can all but destroy Condoleezza Rice or Alberto Gonzalez and feel very liberal, but a peep about Barack Obama or Susan Rice from a white male is akin to a KKK slur. The next Republican candidate must be ready to reply to all sorts of false charges and to make them rebound on the accusers. When the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who gave the 2008 inaugural benediction, right before the election announces in a public speech that white people belong in Hell — and no one dares challenge him (why not just a “Mr. President, do you object to Rev. Lowery’s  racist remarks?”) — these preemptory charges of racism have proved effective. Tribal politics must be questioned not encouraged: the black vote, the Latino vote, the Asian vote — all this leads to the Balkans or Rwanda. Better to play the long-term strategy, deplore racial tribalization, and remind the country at large that we simply have too many disparate groups with too many conflicting agendas and too many claims against a shrinking majority to continue the present spoils system.

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Too Few Oppressors, Too Many Victims

November 20th, 2012 - 12:02 am

Since the election, some fatalistic Washington conservative elites have accepted — and Obama operatives have rejoiced in — a supposedly new and non-white-male ethnic electorate:  Americans will be categorized, and collectively so, on the basis of largely how they look and, to a lesser extent, how they sound. Republicans, then, better get with the new tribalism and remarket themselves to address the new minority monolith.

Accordingly, the enlightened and redeemable liberal elements of the otherwise now played-out old white majority, when combined with the new ethnic minorities, will result in a permanent progressive majority — one that rejects the archaic, if not toxic, racialist values that have been in the past so injurious to the idea of what the United States might have otherwise become. Just imagine a better world with no more required reading of white male Greeks, no more inordinate focus on Shakespeare’s Shylock, no need to suffer through Twain’s N-word or Tolkien’s stereotypical dark-skinned orcs — or indeed, the one-dimensional and boring world we inherited from a Jefferson, Madison, Melville, Lincoln, Grant, Edison, Bell, TR, Salk, Nimitz, and Ike.

You Are a Nobody without Your Tribe

Yet the new emphasis on tribe is not necessarily a liberal vision. It ignores all human individuality and assumes that friendships, marriages, and alliances will not dare trump racial and ethic solidarity. Ours is now instead a Galadriel’s mirror of the Balkans, of India’s castes, of Rwanda, but no longer of a multiracial melting-pot America, where our allegiances were to be political, economic, and cultural and not necessarily synonymous with how we looked. Obama’s identity politics would create a Frankenstein of patched-together victims, and yet he will rue that it is a different story to use such a creature for constructive purposes. Such monsters are quite valuable when running for office, but can turn on their masters when it is time to govern.

When I eat lunch with a Mexican-American childhood friend, I feel no greater affinity with the white waitress by reason of our shared appearance; in the new America am I to high-five the white stranger in the Selma Wal-Mart, by virtue that, out of hundreds there, we two alone look more alike?  I am sorry; I just cannot accept that. I have far more in common with Steve Lara, my friend of 50 years, than a David Gergen or Chris Matthews.

Beneath all the pseudo-healing rhetoric, this is the divisive tool by which Barack Obama ran twice — the hyphenated African-, Latino-, gay-American re-election committees for Obama, the son who might have looked like Trayvon Martin, the people of color who had “the president’s back,” the nation of cowards, the country where we punish our ethnic enemies and fight against the police who all stereotype, in which Joseph Lowery tells us what particular race belongs in hell and Rev. Wright identifies whose chickens must come home to roost and the Rev. Jesse Jackson names the real segregationists who long for the Confederacy. Only in the hyper-racialist America can we take quite distinct Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and Chinese third-generation citizens and create from them the artificial rubric “Asian” in their shared antithesis to “white,” or  take disparate Cubans and Mexicans and likewise reinvent them as identical Latinos, or take Jamaicans, Ethiopians, and American blacks and call them all “African-Americans” on the similar logic of not being something equally artificial like white — which I guess covers Americans who used to be Greeks, Irish, Armenians, Jews, Poles, and Danes.

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Anatomies of Electoral Madness

November 9th, 2012 - 6:17 pm

“Gonna be some hard times coming down.”

—Kris Kristofferson, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

One way of making sense out of nonsense in this new age is simply to believe the opposite of what you read. I have been doing that and it often works.

Latinos — Please Vote for Us…

Take the sudden Latino vote obsession. I don’t think not supporting the Dream Act, as we are told, factored in much at all in the Republican defeat — or at least no more than losing by the same margin the Asian vote, or (by a slightly smaller margin) the youth vote, or (by a much bigger margin) the black vote.

These groups, to the extent they exist as definable and predictable cohorts in the age of assimilation, integration, and intermarriage, mostly were Axelrodded. By that I mean that after six months of a vicious campaign — spiced up by a Sandra Fluke (on death’s doorstep due to lack of free condoms) or a Joseph (“all white folks are going to hell”) Lowery — and after four years of quotes like “fat-cat bankers on Wall Street, “you didn’t build that,” “fair share,” “nation of cowards,” “my people,” and “our enemies,” these groups more or less resented the older, and supposedly whiter, male establishment. In that sense, a decent fellow like Mitt Romney was reduced to a cutthroat, outsourcing, racist, tax-cheating, felon-committing epitome. (Our goddess Nemesis noticed — so beware, Mr. Axelrod and Mr. Obama, she is an all-powerful, take-no-prisoners deity with a long memory.)

Since the election, I have talked to all sorts of non-white and young people; most, after such a barrage, voiced a sort of Obama-fed feeling of “things are going our way and this is our future.” That such chauvinism is racialist and just as bad as the old white/alright racism matters nothing. But until these groups are jumbled up — following the path of Italians who, after immigration from Sicily and Italy ceased, fragmented culturally and politically due to economic success — we are in for some strange times.

In my area, voters were just as mad that Romney wanted legal immigration for those with skills, education, and capital. You see, that too sounded “racist,” or at least threatening to the system that has been letting about ½ million to 1 million annually in illegally from Latin America, the vast majority without a high school diploma.

Numbers are what the immigration issue is about, after all. When I go to the bank and someone speaks an indigenous Oaxaca dialect and cannot read the information on the check (and on rare occasions endorses with a mark), I am apparently seen as a racist to think that the country might benefit from one Croatian immigrant, with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, allowed legal entry for every three who can’t speak English (or sometimes Spanish) and crossed into the country illegally.

As far as the grand bargain, the Dream Act, comprehensive immigration reform, or whatever the rubric of the day that a clueless Republican establishment employs: just imagine the opposite to learn the truth. If the Republicans were to agree to amnesty for, say, two million who were brought here as children and are in school or in the military, do you really think the “Latino community” in response would celebrate and then also agree to deport those who did not qualify? Or do you imagine the deal would at least result in deportation for those entirely on public assistance or with a criminal record? Did the Reagan-era Simpson-Mazzoli Act amnesty lead to 1) an end to calls for amnesty, 2) closing the border, 3) a surge in Latino support for Republicans, or 4) none of the above?

Does a conservative message of lower taxes, less government, and fewer regulations really appeal to Latinos en masse, who define La Familia values as something that includes a big and paternalistic government, along the Spanish/European model? Out here I see no difference in rates of abortion, divorce, criminality, or illegitimacy between whites and Latinos, and suspect the latter may have higher rates. So family values are defined somewhat differently from the Republican silk-stocking view that Latinos are natural Republicans — if only (fill in the blanks).  Again, I would like the Democrats to introduce the Dream Act, and then watch whether closed borders, E-Verify, and deportation of criminals were part of the deal. That is not to say one should not talk in softer tones and be magnanimous; but one is fooling oneself if one believes a cheap Dream Act endorsement would mean anything.

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Sophocles in Benghazi

November 5th, 2012 - 12:00 am

What separated the great Athenian tragedian Sophocles from dozens of his contemporaries — now mere names attached to fragments and quotations — were his unmatched characters, an Ajax, Antigone, or Oedipus whose proverbially fatal flaws ultimately led to their own self-destruction.

The Libyan plot is Sophoclean to the core: the heroism of outnumbered Americans who chose to confront a deadly enemy, and were killed and wounded in the defense of their endangered comrades — while the world’s greatest military hesitated to use its power against a ragtag militia to save them.  Bureaucrats ignored not only pleas for beefed-up security before the attack, but also more requests that followed during the assault for reinforcement. A concocted story about a culpable obscure video gave opportunity for the administration to brag about their cosmopolitan multiculturalism as they damned the unhinged filmmaker and, in doing so, systemically lied about the real terrorist culprits of the killings.

The strange thing about Libya is not so much who lied, but rather the question of whether anyone has yet told the whole truth. When American diplomatic personnel are murdered abroad, an administration usually is vehement in blaming likely suspects; I cannot remember a single incident, however, when our government ignored those most likely responsible to focus on others least likely to be culpable. Once the election is over, and reporters no longer feel any remorse about hurting the reelection chances of Barack Obama, perhaps some of their usual incentives to crack open a cover-up will reassert themselves.

In Sophoclean terms, hubris (arrogance) — often due to a character flaw (amartia) — leads to atê (excess and self-destructive recklessness) that in turn earns nemesis (divine retribution).  In that tragic sense, an overweening Obama must have known that — despite the Drone killings — al-Qaeda was far from impotent. And it was not wise, as Obama once himself warned, to high-five the bin Laden raid and leak to the world the details — knowing as he did that bin Laden’s death was not his trophy alone (or indeed a trophy at all) — but better left an unspoken collective effort of military bravery and the dividend of the often derided Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism protocols that Obama had both damned and then embraced. Ironically (another good Greek word), it was probably not so much an obscure video, but the constant chest-thumping about the grisly end of Osama that infuriated the al-Qaeda affiliates. Nothing, after all, is quite so dangerous as talking loudly while carrying a small stick.

Meanwhile, Obama would continue to bask in the removal of Gaddafi, but shirk the hard, dirty work of securing the postbellum tribal landscape. Chaos on the ground in Libya logically ensued — and yet was ignored, as the intervention had to be frozen in amber as an ideal operation. That narrative was again ironic, given that Obama had been among the most vocal in pointing out the vast abyss from George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” to the Iraq insurgency.

Because Obama now cannot explain how his staff and subordinates watched a real-time video and did not react as most Americans would have responded, he is saddled with a long, drawn-out tragic dilemma — knowing that the predetermined end will prove bad and so avoiding it brings only temporary relief. Americans can deal with stormed embassies and lost ambassadors — but not their commander in chief of the world’s most deadly military watching real-time videos of the carnage before going to bed to prep for a campaign stop in Las Vegas (a city Obama himself once preached should be avoided). Either an administration discloses or does not disclose — but why, the public will ask, leak the covert details of the cyber-war against Iran, the Osama mission, and the Predator hit protocols, but not inform the public how our own were murdered? All that is hubris and simply asks too much of the public.

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