The ability to simultaneously maintain the triumphalism of a mandate, and the sense of being an embattled minority has much to do with the continued political success of the far right. It allows them to maintain the energy and righteousness of opposition even while they claim the most autocratic control of American political institutions since the 1920s. It is also a defensive shield that made it very difficult for Democrats in the past election to treat the Republican right as what it is: the ruling party, and a particularly corrupt one.
The pose of being an embattled minority in a statist and secular culture also helps bring together the economic libertarian and religious right elements of the conservative coalition. [...]
Democrats lose elections and comfort ourselves that our views represent a majority and we just have to convey them better. Republicans win elections and comfort themselves that they are still an embattled minority and need to keep fighting like hell -- ends justify the means and all that -- against the entrenched liberal power. We're both a little crazy.
(Yeah, maybe so, but I rather think that if anything we're crazy/wierd, while they're crazy/dangerous.)
Who was the Congresional GOP honcho (or was it deLay's lackey, Hastert?) who said something to the effect that it was so difficult to get anything done because they controlled all three branches of government? Now that's embattled minority triumphalism of the majority at its very best! -- Don't blame us, we're only in total control here.
Kevin Drum is one of my favorite bloggers: he's smart, perceptive and he bends over backwards to be fair, even to right-wing scum. But every now and then Kevin apparently goes haywire and posts something that's just plain dumb.
Remember when he casually proposed scrapping the fifth amendment as unnecessary since police interrogations are now (sometimes, in some jurisdictions) videotaped? (Well, maybe that wasn't as casual an opinion as I thought, since it now turns out that Kevin made the same suggestion two years earlier, back when he was running Calpundit.)
Well, now Kevin's done it again. In the midst of a trenchant analysis of why Jon Chait's suggestion that the Democrats jettison their support of the NEA is a non-starter as a potential wedge issue (basically because it doesn't in any way help to divide the GOP's coalition -- i.e., there's no wedge there), Kevin writes, again, rather casually, as an aside:
I actually agree with Chait [about abolishing the NEA], and I'd throw in a few other items, like NPR and Amtrak, things that the free market is capable of supporting perfectly well. (Did you know, for example, that Congress continues to support long-haul Amtrak routes largely because Amtrak provides jobs in their districts? And does anyone think that market failures have produced a shortage of radio and TV channels in this country?)
Read the comments for the various arguments for why Kevin is wrong.
For my part, I'll just point out that without the support of the NEA and similar state agencies, like NYSCA here in New York, there would be no theatre in this country except overblown Broadway musicals, tours of overblown Broadway musicals, two character plays featuring over the hill Hollywood stars, and amateur productions. In fact, for a sense of what theatre in America would look like if left to market forces, take a good look at what's on Broadway, and subtract everything there that's produced by or originated at a not-for-profit theatre like the Roundabout or Manhattan Theatre Club. What's left are the big musicals, the one-person shows, and the two-handers.
Now, perhaps Kevin doesn't like good theatre, or the arts in general, hates trains and can't stand NPR (actually, I'm not so fond of it either), and sees no value in keeping them in our cultural mix. If so, his remark makes perfect sense. But somehow I doubt that. I think he's laboring under the extraordinary delusion that these things can survive in a market system without state support, but he's clearly wrong.
There has never yet in human history been a society in which the arts have prospered without some kind of subsidy, either from the state or from wealthy patrons.
That's a basic fact about cultural history, and a guy like Kevin Drum should know that.
Speaking of jettisoning our values in search of a few votes, Digby's got a good rant on that subject.
I'm so relieved that we are having the discussion about which Democratic values we can safely shed early instead of waiting until closer to the next election like we usually do. I think we should get out ahead on these issues and put the Republicans off their game. I'm already on record as being in favor of scrapping our pesky insistence on teaching evolution. Clearly, it's disrespectful to those who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible to insist that it is true. That elitist fealty to reason and fact is why they hate us so.
When you look at it, our whole problem can be laid at the foot of the Bill of Rights. Maybe it's time to take a good hard look at how much good defending that puppy has really done the Democratic Party, eh?
Why don't we just poll the country about all these controversial subjects, and whatever positions are held by the most people, that's the position we adopt as a party, and as liberals? Surely that will help us get someone (anyone -- Zell Miller? Joe Lieberman?) elected in 2008, right?
My gosh, we are running scared, aren't we?
I find this exercise in jettisoning our long held core beliefs -- expressions, after all, of our liberal VALUES -- not only highly insulting but a piss-poor strategy for winning elections. What we need is not to create a party which looks like the GOP of 40 years ago by getting rid of everything we stand for, what we need is to craft a cohesive and easily understood narrative which encompasses and communicates those values and can compete with the GOP's obviously successful narrative of no taxes, "moral" values and strong defense.
Gun control may be unimportant to many of the posters here, but I'll wager that the majority of them didn't live in a major American city as adults in the 70's and 80's when gun violence was at its peak. Urban dwellers (and not just women) appreciate that guns are not nearly as rampant as they were in the recent past, and gun control laws are a significant part of the reason. Oh, they're far from perfect, there's loopholes galore, and no one thinks they're the only answer, but they are necessary, and any party which drops support for them will lose my vote and, I think, the votes of a large portion of those who live in urban areas -- and where, exactly, was Kerry's strength the most pronounced in this election? So the idea is to alienate that segment of the population that gives us the most consistent and strongest support in order to, perhaps, sway a few voters over from the right side of the middle?
Just how many NRA members do you think are going to change a lifetime's preconceptions of what being a liberal or a Democrat means and switch their vote over, just because the party abandons its support for gun control? It's ridiculous to think that it would do anything but lose us a significant amount of votes.
Not only that, but I object to throwing out principled positions, and the idea of standing for and doing the right thing, just to eke out a few measly votes. Democrats and liberals don't lack values, they have values which are different from (and, in my mind, superior to) the fundamentalist-Christian based "moral" values of the right and the GOP. Every time we shuck off more of them, in a pitiful attempt to triangulate ourselves to a few more votes, we hand a tremendous victory to the right, because not only will they have won an election, they will have caused us to put a stake through our own hearts.
I want to win elections as much as the next person, but there's really no point in winning unless there are specific things we want to accomplish, or prevent from happening (unless, of ocurse, we're just in it for the power and the loot). Once we've jettisoned our dearly held liberal values in the attempt to win, and stand for nothing in particular (except winning elections), what the hell good are we, and how, precisely, do we then differ from the right? Our heart being in the right place isn't enough.
That's why I'm more interested in alternate methods and mechanisms -- such as outlined below -- rather than shedding liberal values as a means toward winning elections. I'd rather give in to the triumph of style over substance than lose our actual substance altogether.
If by "Liberal" they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer's dollar, then the record of this party and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of "Liberal." But if by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."
This is my political credo:
I believe in human dignity as the source of national purpose, in human liberty as the source of national action, in the human heart as the source of national compassion, and in the human mind as the source of our invention and our ideas. It is, I believe, the faith in our fellow citizens as individuals and as people that lies at the heart of the liberal faith. For liberalism is not so much a party creed or set of fixed platform promises as it is an attitude of mind and heart, a faith in man's ability through the experiences of his reason and judgment to increase for himself and his fellow men the amount of justice and freedom and brotherhood which all human life deserves.
I believe also in the United States of America, in the promise that it contains and has contained throughout our history of producing a society so abundant and creative and so free and responsible that it cannot only fulfill the aspirations of its citizens, but serve equally well as a beacon for all mankind. I do not believe in a superstate. I see no magic in tax dollars which are sent to Washington and then returned. I abhor the waste and incompetence of large-scale federal bureaucracies in this administration as well as in others. I do not favor state compulsion when voluntary individual effort can do the job and do it well. But I believe in a government which acts, which exercises its full powers and full responsibilities. Government is an art and a precious obligation; and when it has a job to do, I believe it should do it. And this requires not only great ends but that we propose concrete means of achieving them.
Watch Dan Rather apologize for not getting his facts straight, humiliated before the eyes of America, voluntarily undermining his credibility and career of over thirty years. Observe Donna Brazille squirm as she is ridiculed by Bay Buchanan, and pronounced irrelevant and nearly non-existent. Listen as Donna and Nancy Pelosi and Senator Charles Schumer take to the airwaves saying that they have to go back to the drawing board and learn from their mistakes and try to be better, more likable, more appealing, have a stronger message, speak to morality. Watch them awkwardly quote the bible, trying to speak the new language of America. Surf the blogs, and read the comments of dismayed, discombobulated, confused individuals trying to figure out what they did wrong. Hear the cacophony of voices, crying out, “Why did they beat me?”
And then ask anyone who has ever worked in a domestic violence shelter if they have heard this before.
They will tell you, every single day.
The answer is quite simple. They beat us because they are abusers. We can call it hate. We can call it fear. We can say it is unfair. But we are looped into the cycle of violence, and we need to start calling the dominating side what they are: abusive. And we need to recognize that we are the victims of verbal, mental, and even, in the case of Iraq, physical violence.
As victims we can’t stop asking ourselves what we did wrong. We can’t seem to grasp that they will keep hitting us and beating us as long as we keep sticking around and asking ourselves what we are doing to deserve the beating.
There's a lot of truth in this, the right is abusive of their power, and dismissive of any suggestion that they should work with the opposition. Think of the comparison Grover Norquist drew -- reported in the Denver Post -- between bipartisanship and date rape. Their ideal is clearly the one party state. The excuse they offer is that Congressional Democrats were high-handed and controlling when they were on top, but, as usual, the lack of comparable proportion is telling.
Partly this harsh attitude may stem from their dismissal of the value of government to do good, but it must also be said that they're just plain old mean and nasty people.
(Often it's possible for me to see the potential that people who are powerful and abusive in their public dealings could well be loving and caring in their private lives, to their families and close friends, but it's interesting that with a goodly number of the public figures on the right, their personas are so hard-edged and without any apparent redeeming values, it's difficult, if not impossible, to imagine them being loving and beneficient in private.)
As for the Democrats, while certainly their current behavior is in some ways like the abused partners of a dysfunctional relationship, not all of it can be ascribed to this. The soul-searching that's going on right now within the party and the ranks of progressives and liberals, isn't simply a reaction to being beat up by the right -- although there's a danger it can turn into that when we start talking about jettisoning our long-held values in the attempt to attract a few extra votes -- it's mostly an honest attempt to explore methods and mechanisms which can help us to break free from being the weak partner in that pairing.
There's lot of talk going around the blogs and the media about what went wrong, why Kerry lost, and what the Democratic party needs to do about it, and amid all of it is this analysis in The New Republic by Alexander Barnes Dryer. He looks at eight different theories put forward to explain the outcome of the election, and weighs each of them. Two (blaming it on Theresa Heinz Kerry and the Clintons) he rejects outright (correctly, I think) but the other six he assigns these values:
5%: Values (the perception that Dems don't have them, but Republicans do)
5%: Gay marriage (backlash to events in Mass. and S.F.)
10%: Bob Shrum (Kerry's primary strategist, a serial loser)
20%: Geography (population shift and the need to expand the Dem. base)
30%: John Kerry (his looks, his demeanor, his elitist inability to connect)
30%: Iraq (the inability to triangulate a viable position to counter Bush)
I'm not in any position to argue with the specific percentages he assigns, but I do think he captures the essential flavor of a loss which cannot be put down to a single overriding factor. (I'd also add at least one other, which perhaps many liberals and Democrats are too polite -- or circumspect -- to mention: stupidity and ignorance on the part of the electorate.) If that's true, that multiple causes were involved, then it also means that no one single step (moving to the center, moving to the left, creating a simple and easily comprehensible Democratic narrative to counter that of the GOP, etc.) is going to solve the problem for the next time.
I also think that he's overlooked another aspect, which perhaps could be considered a subset of the "John Kerry" problem (i.e. the personality of the candidate), which is that I think a significant percentage of Bush's vote went to him because of the persona he projects, and which, to those people who aren't apt to think in critical or skeptical terms, is strongly received and significantly influenced their vote. To these people, Bush appears to be a strong leader who knows what he wants to do and lets nothing get in the way of doing it. At the same time, he seems to them to be close enough to a "regular guy" that they believe they'd be comfortable sitting down next to him and having a beer, or having him over to the house for dinner.
Needless to say, these aspects of Bush's perceived persona are carefully crafted and almost certainly false. I've got no special personal knowledge of Bush's true character, but it's possible that my years of working in the theatre, watching and helping actors adopt, build, alter and finesse the characters they present to their audience may have trained me to be able to look behind the superficial presentation to see some of the true personality behind it. Or, perhaps I'm simply kidding myself -- but it is nonetheless true that I see behind Bush's projected personality a very different person, a hard, cruel and selfish man. I see it in his posture and body language, in the way he walks and his facial expressions. (I find that watching him with the sound off is one of the best ways to get in touch with the reality underneath the surface.)
So, if Bush's perceived personality was a significant factor in his victory, and I think it was, it leads to an obvious factor which is not, at least that I can currently see, being seriously considered as something we need to do to win the next Presidential election, and it has to do with the type of person we select as our candidate.
I think that the Democrats had better start looking outside the normal ranks of the party for their next Presidential candidate.
Face it, this year's field doesn't really have a lot of strong survivors. I like Edwards, but he didn't seem to give the boost to the Kerry ticket I thought he would, and, as the #2 on a losing ticket, he's going to be a little sullied next time around. Dean is popular among liberals, but probably unelectable. Vilsack is a nobody, and will remain that way. Lieberman is a 3-day old stinking fish who's perhaps poised to cross the line and go over to the opposition (he's being bandied about as a possible replacement for Rumsfeld, and if he takes it I think we should kneecap the guy -- metaphorically speaking, of course), Gephardt will be unknown next time around (who?), Obama will not have enough experience yet. Clark, whose main problem was that he didn't have enough experience, may be in better shape for '08, but it depends a lot on what he does in the meantime. Hillary's unelectable (and please, oh please, she shouldn't even try -- just get over it, Friends of Hillary, she's never going to be President).
There're surely others who are below the radar now who will pop up in 2008, but if they're Congressman they won't have a wide enough national reputation (think Kucinich) and if they're Senators they'll have their Senate voting record hanging over them to be abused and lied about by the GOP. Governors will have the best chance of winning (as I said before the election), but not liberal governors, and certainly not liberalish Governors from the northeast. Besides, governors can be smeared as easily as anyone (can you say "Willie Horton"?).
No, I look at Bush's persona advantage over Kerry, and I look at the reception that Schwazenegger got in Japan when he was on a trade mission there, and I look at Reagan and (to a certain extent) Ventura, and my conclusion is that the best hope we have of breaking the right-wing stranglehold on national politics is to run an actor for President.
What we need to do, I think, is to consider casting the role of President.
Yep, I'm advocating that we give in utterly and completely to the triumph of style over substance and groom a figurehead that people will like and vote for.
A man, of course. White, of course, but vaguely ethnic would be good. (We're trying to get ourselves back into the game, and need every advantage we can get.) Someone not too liberal, of course, and without any history of radical politics behind them. Someone who mostly plays parts that are lovable or likable, or at least radiates "I'm a good guy" even when playing a bad one.
Not Rob Reiner -- someone with hair and in good physical shape. Doesn't have to be an "A" list star, could be someone on the "B" list, as long as their Q rating is pretty high, and they've got solid name recognition across all demographics (see Reagan for what may perhaps be the ideal level of stardom). No one too old (under 65), but not too young either (over 45, which a President has to be anyway).
The name that jumps to mind is, of course, Martin Sheen, but I think his playing a President on TV would be a distinct liability (in a way that making movies with monkeys was for Reagan), too easily the butt of late-night comic jokes. Warren Beatty and Robert Redford are probably too identified with liberal causes, but they're in the right ballpark as well.
In 2008, we can't allow another persona gap with the Republicans.
Postscript: I neglected to mention that the electoral victories of at least two of the post-war Democrats (Kennedy and Clinton) was probably due in part to their projection of movie-star-like personas. (Carter and Johnson are another thing entirely).
If there were Democratic politicians waiting in the wings (preferable moderates from the border South or the mid-West brought up on that old-time religion but who see the world in basically liberal humanistic terms, even as they speak in Biblical ones) who had that kind of (you should excuse the expression) charisma that I'm looking for, then they should go to the top of the list as well, but the plain fact is that actors, whose craft involves honing personas, both their own and that of their characters, have a real head-start in this area. (Politicians, for all their attention to their public image, have to, at some level, deal with the nitty-gritty of politics, which puts them at a disadvantage.)
Update: I posted an earler version of this to a private e-mail discussion group I'm a member of, and this was brought to our attention just minutes ago:
Tom Hanks for president?: Looks like "Fahrenheit 9/11" director and proud lefty Michael Moore is hatching a scheme to draft Tom Hanks for the White House in 2008.
"We need to find our Arnold," Moore told Lowdown at Sunday's "Hotel Rwanda" premiere, adding that the box-office star is the Democratic Schwarzenegger.
"You know, Americans want to vote for someone that they trust, that they like, that has a friendly face. They don't expect their President to be the one who's actually setting the policy and writing the laws. They know Bush doesn't do that. They want the person in charge, though, to be someone who will make them feel safe and someone who they like and who they trust.
"Americans love celebrities, they love movie stars, and when they get the chance to vote for them, they do."
Yesterday Hanks, in London promoting "The Polar Express," expressed amusement at Moore's musings but insisted he has no political aspirations.
"That will never, ever, ever happen," Hanks declared through his PR rep.
Moore was probably being sardonic but Hanks is almost precisely the kind of guy we'd be looking for, perhaps deficient only in a certain amount of gravitas. Of course, I don't have a clue about his politics -- which is exactly the point -- but you surely do get a warm and fuzzy feeling when you're watching him.
To my mind, it's much, much better to give in to the general contemporary trend to value style over substance than it is to jettison liberal values which are extremely important to me (like gun control and a woman's right to choose), as is currently being discussed over on MyDD. After all, if that's the kind of person who's going to get elected anyway, shouldn't it be our guy?
And there's really no necessity for the projected persona of our guy to be false or misleading -- for all I know Tom Hanks really is a nice guy -- or for the person we choose to be an empty shell of a figurehead -- in my experience, most actors, despite the cliches, are far from ignorant or uninformed. They are, in fact, mostly extraordinarily well informed and vitally concerned about what's going on in the world -- which is why so many of them are liberals.
Update: Of course, as luck would have it, when I finished updating this, I surfed around on my TV to see what was on, and Fox Movie Channel is showing 1984's Bachelor Party, starring Tom Hanks, which is not exactly the kind of material you want the opposition to have in hand when it starts its negative advertising.
Update: In comments, loyal unfutz reader Gloria Otto suggests a reality TV show: The Casting of the President. Unfortunately, Showtime already did it with American Candidate:
Ten candidates from across the country have been chosen to compete in Showtime Networks' unscripted and unprecedented reality series, AMERICAN CANDIDATE. The series focuses on six men and four women of various ages, backgrounds and political views, including Independents, Democrats, Republicans, Greens and Libertarians. AMERICAN CANDIDATE is hosted by Emmy® Award-winning talk show host Montel Williams.
Week-by-week, candidates will face-off against each other in a series of challenges designed to identify one individual who has the qualities to be President of the United States. Episodes of AMERICAN CANDIDATE will feature well-known political experts who advise the candidates on the challenges they will face. These consultants help the candidates shape their messages and campaigns, as well as give advice on everything from political ad creation and media coaching to image consulting and polling.
As Josh Marshall points out, the common demoninator seems to be the replacement of quasi-independents voices with loyal vassals of the House of Bush. That's good, in one way, since he could have named hard-line ideologically-driven neo-cons, and, ultimately, the House of Bush has no ideology except the furtherence of its principals (not principles, which are, of course, sadly lacking); but in another way it's very bad, for with the removal of any possibility of dissenting views, we should expect Bush to face no opposition at all within his cabinet to whatever he decides to do, on whatever basis he decides to do it, and that means that we can expect internal friction in the Bush II Administration to fall to an all-time low. Therefore, expect that Bush will be making even more egregious errors this time around, since no one will dare to stand up to him or correct him, even moreso than before.
Bottom line: you think we were screwed before? Well, you ain't seen nothin' yet.
Update: On the other (third) hand, Rice might be counted on to give more realistic advice than, say, Wolfowitz, but given that Powell was presumably giving that kind of advice (and look where we are anyway), I'm not sure it makes much difference.
hostile to science
lacking in empathy
lacking in public spirit
out of control
Thanks to: Breeze, Chuck, Ivan Raikov, Kaiju, Kathy, Roger, Shirley, S.M. Dixon
i've got a little list...
Steven Abrams (Kansas BofE)
Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson
Roger Ailes (FNC)
Alan Bonsell (Dover BofE)
Bill Buckingham (Dover BofE)
George W. Bush
Bruce Chapman (DI)
The Coors Family
William A. Dembski
Leonard Downie (WaPo)
John Gibson (FNC)
Fred Hiatt (WaPo)
James F. Inhofe
Philip E. Johnson
by Joel Pelletier
(click on image for more info)
Stephen C. Meyer (DI)
Judith Miller (ex-NYT)
Sun Myung Moon
Elspeth Reeve (TNR)
Martin Peretz (TNR)
Richard Mellon Scaife
Susan Schmidt (WaPo)
John Solomon (WaPo)
Richard Thompson (TMLC)
Bob Woodward (WaPo)
All the fine sites I've
Be sure to visit them all!!
Arthur C. Clarke
Daniel C. Dennett
Philip K. Dick
Stephen Jay Gould
"The Harder They Come"
Ursula K. LeGuin
The Marx Brothers
Michael C. Penta
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
"The Red Shoes"
"Singin' in the Rain"
Talking Heads/David Byrne
Hunter S. Thompson
"2001: A Space Odyssey"
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.
If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.
(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)
Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.