politics is to want something

onsdag, januar 31, 2007

why kos creeps me out

Kos has a quick and interesting post up today about the role of Libertarian Party "spoilers" in the Midterm elections. He points out that Libertarians garnered enough votes to equal the margin of victory for Democrats in both the Missouri and Montana Senate elections. That's significant given the 51-49 split in the Senate.

It's all well and good until he gets to his analysis:

"The theocon and neocon takeover of the Republican Party has left many of its more Libertarian members adrift with few alternatives. I clearly hope the Democratic Party becomes more Libertarian friendly over the coming years, but that's a long-term project. In the meantime, the Libertarian ballot line (when available) can be an apt protest vote."

Woah. The Democratic Party should not become more "Libertarian friendly". If there is a long term project for the Party, it is to move it back to it's roots as a defender of both economic and social security. In many senses, making the party more "Libertarian" is the DLC's agenda: an anti-welfare, free trade, anti-regulation, party that uses anti-statist rhetoric to defend free speech and abortion rights. That's what made us a minority party.

If anyone needs a reminder of where Libertarians are at, check out "Republican and Democrat Lovefest over Socialized Healthcare", a post on their official Party blog.

Moulitsas has raised this bizarre assertion many times. His most detailed discussions of the issue usually revolve around issues like gun control. Here he's generally right: the Democratic Party should be reaching out to the folks who get worked up about their guns. However, the ones who are now abandoning the Republican Party to the -right- shouldn't be the target. What it will take to appeal to them will mean an abandonment, both in electoral and moral terms, of the rest of the Democratic base. That's not the way to get to a strong majority.

The way to reach out to them while keeping the other crucial parts of our base together is to offer an alternative to the corporate-dominated trade policies and public sector destruction that has been dominant in Washington for the past twenty years. The lives of rural and small town America have been damaged, far more than the urban bloggerati recognize, by libertarianism in practice. A strong message on the economy is what's needed.

Let's remember who the Libertarians are. In terms of their activist base, there is a reason that the Libertarian party is attractive, almost exclusively, to middle class white guys and some college students. Their worldview rejects the experiences of the poor, people of color and women. It rejects a recognition of systems of inequality and power. A Democratic Party which is more interesting to them cannot simultaneously be more engaged with those struggles against inequality. Perhaps Moulitsas feels some kindship with this view of the world. I sure as hell don't.

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søndag, januar 28, 2007

...and more outrageous reading...

...over at Gawker.

Advertisers Find Hot New Revenue Source - Gawker: "dust_bowl_portrait.jpgLet it never be said that Madison Avenue isn't creative. From the looks of it, ad agencies are doing their best to maintain any sort of revenue stream:"


The double standard

So, Dick Cheney, champion of gay rights, has expressed cold indignation at a CNN reporter for asking him a question any Democrat would have been skewered with.

Cheney's daughter is expecting a child with her (female) partner. CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked Cheney for a response to a statement by the reactionary group Focus on the Family:

"Just because its possible to concieve a child outside of the relationship of a married mother and father doesn't mean it's best for the child."

"That question is out of line" responded Cheney. Indeed, it is. What is amazing, however, is Cheney owes his position as Vice President in large part to the mobilization of such bigotry. Now he's in a huff because the same twisted rhetoric is being aimed at his family.

I suppose I should be used to this kind of hypocracy, and perhaps we should be happy that attitudes may be changing one family at a time. However, I'll not hold my breath waiting for Dick and Lynne Cheney to come to the defense of Democrats hit with these kinds of attacks.

Here's an article from the Fox News website about the exchange:

FOXNews.com - Cheney Calls Reporter's Question About Gay Daughter's Pregnancy 'Out of Line' - Politics | Republican Party | Democratic Party | Political Spectrum: "Mary Cheney and Heather Poe, her partner of 15 years, are expecting a baby in late spring."


onsdag, januar 17, 2007

David Ervine

I seem to be writing a lot of obits lately here at hoverbike. It seems to be the time of year for significant passings: James Brown, Saddam Hussein and President Gerald Ford all over the holiday break. Earlier in the year we saw the deaths of Augusto Pinochet, Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Milton Friedman, a trio which will certainly share a corner of hell just as they collectively helped to create hell on earth for so many.

The week before last marked the passing of a strange hero of mine, someone with whom I perhaps shared little ideologically, but nonetheless was deeply affected by and, I must say, admired a great deal. David Ervine, former Protestant terrorist and leader of Northern Ireland's smallest loyalist grouping, the Progressive Unionist Party died two Saturdays ago of heart failure.

Ervine cut his teeth in the brutal world of Protestant paramilitary organizations, an experience about which he was often shockingly frank. The PUP that he led was linked to one of the most vicious protestant terrorist factions, a group that clashed with both Republican forces and the British. It was, he explained, those battles with the supposed protectors of his community, which helped to lead him to the conclusion that the best interests of the Protestant community lay in forging a political solution within Northern Ireland itself. They couldn't rely on self-interested London authorities for protection. His overriding political goal became an end to the bloodshed.

Ervine was never forgiven his crimes by many in the Republican movement. Others, however, saw in Ervine (and the PUP) a Protestant voice which was, at last, political. Unlike the opportunists of Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists, Ervine embraced the peace process whole-heartedly. He was a firm defender of British dominion, but he articulated a sort of acknowledgement of the nationalist position that was based on a loyalty to Northern Ireland as such as well as a subtle but clear class analysis.

I actually met David Ervine once. It was a strange opportunity arranged for me and my partner by a friend in the Irish Labour movement. A few phone calls were made while we were on vacation in Ireland. Our meeting lasted about an hour. For no good reason, Ervine hosted us in his office at Belfast City Hall, and spent over an hour answering our questions and giving us his perspective on the elusive goal of peace in Northern Ireland. At the time, self rule was suspended, and there was anxiety about whether the political process would hold. Ervine’s wit and honesty were remarkable. It was one of the most profoundly influential moments of my life, both in terms of political thought and moral outlook.

Here I was, and African-American left winger, who spent his adolescence romanticizing the Irish Republican cause with all the attendant naiveté that comes with distance and strong belief. My partner is an Irish American former punk (now scientist) who has always harbored similar nationalistic sympathies. We was sitting in an office sharing tea with a man who had been convicted of acts of violence against both Irish catholic civilians and the United Kingdom itself; a man who was the leader of a party that, while always distinctly working class, included some pretty creepily far-right characters..

And he won us over.

Not to unionism, mind you. I think both of us, for all the say we have in the matter, believe that a united Ireland is a political and moral good. However, what won us over was the sincerity and sophistication of his position. He represented a group of people with legitimate fears and aspirations, including a palpable sense of threat to their survival. They may have had the support of a waning (though still brutal) empire. They still spilled blood in the fight. They may have been relatively economically privileged. They still are largely working-class, and struggle with the same effects of the global economy and shrinking welfare states. Their communities are crime-ridden. The years of civil war have left many of their core institutions corrupt. They were honestly tired of the fighting.

His solution was to reach out, in a careful and complex way, to his counterparts on the Republican side: people who wanted to politicize the struggle, and begin to repair the damage within their communities. Ervine was critical of the Irish American politicians who snubbed Gerry Adams that Saint Patrick’s Day because of IRA intransigence on disarmament. You don’t make progress, he argued, by antagonizing the very people you are trying to bring to the table. Nobody gets to grandstand about terrorism in a situation in which everyone was engaged in terror.

Ervine argued that the hatred and mistrust between the two communities was so ingrained that only when there is a general, society-wide acknowledgement that everyone was to blame, can progress be made. “People always ask me how you can get someone to bomb or kill civilians,” he said. “It’s really easy. All you have to do is go to people and say ‘look what they did. They’ve got to pay for that.’ It’s that easy.”

And so, if you say that a small group of “terrorists” is to blame, you won’t deal with the underlying problems. You also leave a generation of men raised in violence dangerously alienated from society. They have to be part of the solution.

This is something that we saw, first hand, as he arranged a tour for us of Protestant neighborhoods led by a pardoned Unionist terrorist. Organizations representing released prisoners on both sides give such tours regularly, with veterans of the armed conflict giving tours of respective sectarian neighborhoods, and "handing" the tour group off at one of the most infamous checkpoints. In fact, there is a growing commercial trade in tours infamous Belfast conflict zones, decked as they are in colorful and militant murals. Some are more authoritative than others. The economics of tourism Again, however, much to our astonishment, we were given these tours alone, for free, as a personal favor to Ervine.

Our guide on the Unionist side was Noel, who spent several years in prison and was a gunman for the Ulster Volunteer Force. Noel was unsparingly candid, open and genuinely moving in his explanations of the outbreak of violence known as the “troubles”, his own motivations for involvement as well as the tragic outcome for his community. The paramilitary groups, while explained, were never justified or apologized for. There were simultaneous expressions of regret, contrition, pride and hope in his narrative. It may sound ridiculous, but for the first time, I began to see that these people were people, and that they could be represented with a voice that was neither vengeful nor reactionary.

Noel is part of a network of former UVF and IRA militants who now work to diffuse conflict on the ground. They regularly patrol areas surrounding both sides of the “security wall” that separate Unionist from Nationalist neighborhoods. If kids on one side start throwing rocks, a cell phone call puts a stop to it before it escalates. They do the work of the United Nations.

On the Nationalist side, we were handed off to a Sinn Fein activist who worked for a Republican veteran’s organization. I hate to be overly sentimental, but the entire tone of the experience shifted at this point. It may have been that the veterans themselves, who normally give the tours, would have struck a similarly nuanced tone as Noel had. However, our tour was struck in a much more linearly Republican timbre. We were reminded that David Ervine was a murderer. We were given the Sinn Fein perspective on the peace process, which cast doubt on the sincerity of the Catholic and Protestant “moderates” who helped broker the peace agreement. This was interesting in itself, of course, and I understand that Sinn Fein is also engaged in a political strategy. The point, however, was that the contrast seemed to reinforce the special character of a figure like Ervine, and the folks like Noel who followed his lead.

Sinn Fein, for obvious reasons, is still playing the politics of posture, not admitting to any wrongdoing, defending the armed struggle as a necessary response to British and Loyalist oppression. Ian Paisley and other Protestant reactionaries are doing the same thing. Probably, no solution will be workable until the two “extremes” come to some sort of settlement. Thank god, however, that there are people like David Ervine who are willing to call them all out, but also to argue forcefully that all voices must be heard.

Our trip to Belfast was a strange experience all around. We spent the evenings going to bars and clubs where hip young things partied and posed in a world that seemed like it was a planet away from the entrenched, ruitinized conflicts simmering (literally) down the street. It’s a twenty minute walk from the trendy indie-rock clubs full of students to neighborhoods plastered with political murals, where a shopkeeper told us he was stocking up on Union-Jacks for marching season. Because of this contradiction, exacerbated by the tour buses driving past announcing the location of this or that massacre, I sometimes felt like I was in the EPCOT version of Northern Ireland. But, no, it was the real thing. Perhaps the new Belfast will simply swallow up the old one. No doubt economic development and access to education are a good thing. However, we all know that prosperity does not share itself. If old Belfast is to be something new, it will have to grow from old Belfast.

That struggle lost a partisan in David Ervine. R.I.P.

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the state of political journalism...

Criticizing the political analysis over at the San Francisco Chronicle is like sucker punching a toddler, but I can't resist. Today's top story, about the possible horse race between Senators Clinton and Obama is completely laughable. It posits that the two will compete for the support of the party's left, repeating the ultra-conservative claptrap that Clinton is somehow a radical, or even a liberal.

The question here is whether this is intentional spin or just extremely shoddy journalism. Nobody who is a serious observer of the dynamics of the Democratic Party could argue that Clinton has positioned herself as a defender of the "traditional" or "liberal" base of the Party. That's like arguing that Tony Blair is the voice of British Labour socialism.

Read the whole bizarre thing here.

katha pollitt's new year

Katha has a fantastic column in this week's Nation, a highly concise and thoughtful list of "resolutions for liberals". It's available online here.

Some choice bits:

"4. Don't think your lifestyle can save the world. I love slow food! I cook slow food! I shop at farmers' markets, I pay extra for organic, I am always buying cloth bags and forgetting to bring them to the supermarket. But the world will never be saved by highly educated, privileged people making different upscale consumer choices. If you have enough money to buy grass-fed beef or tofu prepared by Tibetan virgins, you have enough money to give more of it away to people who really need it and groups that can make real social change."

"5. Avoid weasel words. Like "spirituality." It's "religion." And "faith"--that's "religion" too. And while you're at it, define your terms. What is a "working family"? What is "the middle class"? Do these phrases mean anything more than "virtuous people entitled to make a moral claim on society"--as opposed to those criminals, drug addicts and welfare moms liberals used to care about? And speaking of liberals, whatever happened to them? And to leftists? How come we're all "progressives" now?"

As you can tell, I especially liked that last part... whatever happened to them indeed...

lørdag, januar 13, 2007

the "L" word. (no, the other one)

Everyone knows that the moment in which George H.W. Bush made the word “liberal” a political epithet was an important one. It was the crowning moment of the political project laid out by Bush’s former rival Ronald Reagan. The broad left, even in the guise of mild-mannered and intelligent Michael Dukakis, was effectively marginalized. Being a liberal meant being out of touch with the cultural habits of the average American, and, moreover, it meant being weak, if not subversive, in regards to national security.
Ever since, on the national level, running as a “liberal” is a non-starter. Out on main street, hardly anybody calls themselves “liberal” anymore, even when they agree with liberal policy proposals and share many attitudes with those who wear the “L” proudly. This has allowed the right to scuttle important public policy initiatives with the use of a single word. The “liberal bias” in the news media, popular culture and higher education are regular whipping posts for the right-wing opinion makers, and is used to justify the real attacks on journalistic, artistic and academic freedoms coming from the Bush Administration. Even here in California, intimations that someone is “too liberal” are hugely damaging. It’s as if we have two wings in American politics now: conservative and mushy.
In response, the center left has made two rhetorical moves. The first, which you will see on the pages of magazines like The American Prospect and Harper’s or among more academic circles, is to return to using the L-word unabashedly. “Liberal and proud” has become a bit of a slogan of late- which is a good thing. America has a nasty and parochial habit of drawing red lines around political ideologies which are portrayed as insufficiently “American” or “patriotic”. Elites and the right did an effective job of so proscribing ideologies of the left, an effort made all the easier by some political forces who seemed happy to contribute to their own revolutionary marginalization.
However, the other approach is to leave the word “liberal” on the side of the road. Folks have taken to use the word “progressive”, a term so empty of content that everyone from John Podesta to Howard Zinn use the word to describe themselves. I’ve written before about the strange career of the word “progressive.” As recently as my college days, the word was meant to delineate a politics which was to the left of mainstream liberalism. Progressive politics was characterized by a more rigorous attention to systems of inequality, and a preference for reforms which took these structural fissures seriously. Unlike liberals, progressives took seriously the structuring forces of race, class, gender and sexuality. That distinction has been blurred now that we are all “progressives”, as liberals have taken refuge in a term that hasn’t been destroyed yet.
I understand that all political vocabulary is fuzzy. The way we use the word “liberal” in the United States is not exactly the agreed-to definition in political theory, but American Liberals are liberals nonetheless. Those of us who are not, or, more accurately are not just liberals are caught in a rhetorical and ideological trap. You will hear people say that it doesn't matter what we call ourselves, "liberal", "progressive", even "moderate", we are all on the same side. That may be true in the electoral arena, but it doesn't mean that we all are coming from the same place, which is also important.
In that regard, I wish that the “L” word would make a comeback, not only because I’m tired of the dominance of mean conservatism and blithe centrism, but also because I miss being able to understand and explain why our side doesn’t always agree with one another. I have arguments, both theoretical and practical, with fellow “progressive” Democrats, and it is clear that our disagreement stems from the fact that, regardless of what they call themselves, they are liberals. That’s fine, but it would be a hell of a lot easier if we could just be honest about it.
This is most disturbing when it comes to trying to figure out if an action, policy, organization or individual is “progressive.” Locally, I have seen folks who are very defensive of their “progressive” credentials back candidates who were clearly to the right of so-called “centrist” candidates. The only differences were that they took a louder stand on a single, often symbolic, issue and they attended meetings of “progressive” groups. In the absence of a more sophisticated discourse about ideas, labels and single issues emerge as the most important litmus test for organizations, candidates and public figures. In the white left, the issue of the moment is the War. As long as you are sufficiently and loudly anti-War, you are a “progressive”, regardless of your overall world-view. We have to be willing to understand that issues provoke coalitions, not unanimity. Lots of people coming from lots of perspectives are against the War. It doesn’t make you a progressive.
So, I want liberals to start coming clean. I’ll have your back. I may not be a liberal myself, but many of my close friends are. Me and the rest of my pro-liberal friends will be here for you when the barking dogs come after you. After all, when they went after us, you were there…

Well, we’ll be there anyway.

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tirsdag, januar 02, 2007

looking ahead 2: hillary, barack and john

So, the other major theme which will no doubt preoccupy all of us over the next year or so is the emerging contest for President. In my mind, there are really only three interesting candidates: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. Now, before you click "comments" in order to throw out some other person's name, take a second to consider the list that I just threw out. One is a woman. One is African-American. The third just began his Presidential campaign by calling for a withdrawal from Iraq, universial health care and the importance of unions. Regardless of who else crowds the field, these three candidates will present a set of dilemmas for the Democratic left. How important is it to break the monopoly on power by white men in American politics? What does Obama's acceptance by many white voters really mean? Why hasn't Clinton tried to appeal to disaffected white working class voters? Will Obama?

It is tempting to oversimplify this dynamic, but it is rare to see such a blatant example of the difficulties of parsing race, class and gender. My guess is that, given the high stakes of the war and the powerful pulls of identity, this could be the most bitter primary fight since 1968. The debates started hard and heavy for me and my family over the Christmas holiday. My mother informed me that she'd stop talking to me if I voted for anyone other than Hillary...but then she softened as Edwards made an inspiring, if imperfect entry into the fray. My mother-in-common-law argued that Obama's rapid rise to stardom may have been a deliberate strategy by conservatives to divide the party. I think that white, liberal women will forgive a lot from Hillary, and I can't completely blame them. My father is going to support anyone who seems vaguely viable and who will take a strong stand on the country's murderous foriegn policy. As a black man, I am trying to figure out what I make of the fact that many of Obama's fans see him as an example of "post race" politics. At the same time, I think, goddamn. President. Barack. Obama. And then, there is Edwards. He's unambiguously anti-war, even if that position took a major mea culpa. He's talking about the economy in a way that few have in recent years. He's charismatic, unassuming and straight-forward. His is a voice which should continue to exist in the Party.

There's no conclusion here. I'm just trying to sketch out the terms of a debate which will no doubt rage here at hoverbike as it does among my diverse family. The decisive factor for me, however, will be to watch how these three campaign, what kind of organizations they build, and what the long term impact of thier efforts will be. That's how I settled on Dean, and I feel vindicated. Watch this space.

looking ahead 1: the legislative fight to watch

As the new congress takes shape, there is no doubt that there will be many disappointments and frustrations. Perhaps taking a page from the Bush Administration, Pelosi has been busy lowering expectations, even on the issue that contributed most clearly to her achieving the speakership: the disastrous war in Iraq.
There is one thing that Pelosi has promised to move through the House, even if it will take quite a bit of muscle to pass in the Senate. The Employee Free Choice Act, a measure which would roll back some of the worst provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act, the 1947 bill which has done so much to curtail workers’ ability to form unions. According to the AFL-CIO, the EFCA would require “employers to recognize a union after a majority of workers sign cards authorizing union representation.” The bill also strengthens the currently squishy legal consequences for illegal union-busting activities by employers.
The process of using cards rather than elections to establish collective bargaining has been good for workers and the labor movement. A majority of growth by the most aggressive organizing unions has been won by using political and public pressure on employees to promise to abide by the results of card drives. In some parts of the public sector, this is the law of the land. EFCA would make that process mandatory, and extend it into the private sector.
I don’t believe in magic bullets in politics, but there is no doubt that passing labor law reform would have a tremendously widespread effect on American politics. There are millions of workers (by some estimates almost sixty) who want to be in a union, but aren’t in large part because of the authoritarian power that employers wield over the process of establishing collective bargaining. A labor movement so invigorated, in addition to helping to democratize the increasingly oligarchal American economy, would be a crucial influx of power for the broad progressive movement. I don’t need to explain how helpful it would be to a Democratic Party still struggling to speak meaningfully to a majority of working-class voters.
For Santa Barbara locals, you need only look at the drama over at the SB News Press to see how brutal current conditions are for workers seeking union representation. Even when workers vote in overwhelming numbers for a union, the bosses are still able to tie the process up in expensive red tape for years. They are able to threaten, even fire active employees without the threat of meaningful sanctions. Busting a union is cheap in America. Ignoring a union organizing drive is just too damn easy.
So, for the next year, or as long as it takes, hoverbike will be following the progress of the Employee Free Choice Act. Expect hysteria from the anti-union industry, even some hand-wringing from labor’s fair weather friends in the Democratic Party, and, perhaps, excuses from Dem leadership about their inability to turn the rhetoric of every Democratic Presidential Candidate since 1947 into a reality.

Current status (Senate Version) SS. 842: Awaiting re-introduction
Current status (House Version) H.R. 1696: Awaiting re-introduction