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September 17, 2010

The state of the nation's party politics

Now that the primary season for the 2010 mid-term elections is over, it might be good to revisit the question of where the Democratic and Republican parties are. While the basic pro-war/pro-business one-party oligarchic nature of politics is still intact, there have been some interesting developments in how the two factions have evolved.

The Democrats are still pretty much where they have always been, trying to faithfully serve the interests of the oligarchy while pretending to be concerned about the rest of us. As I warned a couple of months ago, it is the Democrats that the oligarchy use to really stick it to the poor. In this case, we see that Obama has stacked his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform with people determined to reduce social security benefits. The commission will deliver its report on December 1, conveniently after the elections. The plan seems to be that the Democrats can campaign on 'protecting social security' and then cut the benefits after the election is done.

Republican Party politics has been more turbulent. Immediately after the 2008 election I wrote a series of posts about what its future might look like. In December of that year, I wrote that there were four groups vying for leadership in the wake of their election debacle.

One group consists of the old-style conservatives, people who want smaller government and fiscal restraint, balanced budgets, rule of law, respect for personal liberties, and a non-interventionist foreign policy.

The second group is the rank-and-file social values base for whom guns, gays, abortion, stem-cell research, flag, the Bible, and immigration are the main concerns. Many of these people belong to the lower and middle economic classes.

The third group is the Christianist leadership, people like Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and John Hagee, who claim to speak for the social values base but, as I argued in the previous post in this series, whose overriding allegiance is to a low-tax ideology (especially for the rich) and who vehemently oppose any government programs that provide assistance to the poor.

The fourth group is the neoconservatives. The neoconservatives are the wild card in American politics, wreaking havoc wherever they go. Their interests lie less in domestic policies and more in creating a muscular foreign policy. They dream of America exercising hegemony over the world, using its might to destroy its enemies. They are firmly convinced that America is a force for good in the world and should not be shy about using its military, political, and economic muscle to dominate it.

In particular they want to remake the Middle East, to secure its oil supplies and change the governments of those countries that they perceive as threats to Israel, since they view the interests of America as identical with those of Israel (especially the hard-right spectrum of Israeli politics), and that what is good for one country is good for the other.

The second and third groups were always the ones that brought passion and enthusiasm to the party, who could be counted on to vote in large numbers. They really are the modern Republican Party. For a long time the first group was able to use that energy to win elections while effectively shutting them out from actual leadership. But this group has been steadily driven out of the party, hounded out as not being true believers in the cause, with the last few years seeing the process accelerating dramatically. The neoconservatives, while not driven out, seem to be lying low, waiting to see what is going to emerge from the infighting before tipping their hand.

The new leadership of the party seems to be coming in the form of the so-called 'Tea Party' activists that has seized control of the agenda of the Republican party. This consists of a vague coalition of the second and third groups in an uneasy alliance. The reason for the shakiness of the alliance is that while each group needs the other, they are not quite in sync in their goals. What unites them is an anti-government/anti-tax focus but the original Tea Party faithful seem to have a libertarian focus that puts them somewhat at odds with the ardent social conservatives who want to impose their narrow, intolerant, and sex-obsessed social agenda on everyone. The social conservatives want their social agenda front and center of this new movement but the libertarian faction fears that such issues will be divisive.

The Tea Party is using the Republican party to further its goals but it does not see its role as mainly electing Republicans at any cost. As can be seen in the primary challenges they mounted against the party establishment's candidates, they see having candidates who are 'one of them' as more important than being electable, though their candidates are doing surprisingly well in the polls despite their extreme, and sometimes even nutty, views.

Nowhere has this tension surfaced more than in Delaware where the Republicans selected as its senatorial nominee Christine O'Donnell. While she is well within the mainstream of the party in terms of her views, a few years ago she would not have made it to so far since she is an outsider. What makes her win so striking is that she won in the face of active opposition from within the leadership of the Republican Party. This particular race has truly alarmed the party leadership for that very reason but there is nothing they can do now. Having pandered to the Tea Partiers and the memberships of the second and third groups for so many years because of the energy and votes they bring in, they find they cannot control them anymore. Over time, the leadership have fed this group red meat in the form of a belligerent anti-intellectualism that scorned serious policies and campaigned on inflammatory slogans that appealed to visceral emotions but were empty of any serious content. And their fellow Villagers in the media of course, loved this, since it made for good theater. But their followers took these slogans as serious policy options and the perceived lack of commitment of the Republican party leadership to actually implementing these slogans has caused this revolt. The tiger has escaped and is turning on its masters.

The tension between the Republican leadership and the Tea Party is already clearly visible. The Tea Party is currently a loose federation of local groups, although there is one faction called the Tea Party Express based in California that seems to be well-funded and centralized and is seeking to dominate the agenda of the movement. You can see the tensions within the Tea Party begin to surface between the libertarian faction and the social conservative faction, as this interview yesterday on NPR demonstrates.

How will this all play out? It is hard to say. Historically groups that suddenly sprout up like this have ended up either withering away as their initial energy dissipates and they start infighting or they become absorbed into existing parties or they become unified and institutionalized under a single umbrella as a special interest group that hangs around for some time, like the Moral Majority.

But stepping back and looking at the big picture, what is clear is that there has been a steady shift in US politics over the last few decades so that, comparing the situation now to what it was like during the 1960s, the Democratic Party has become the Republican Party, while the Republican Party has gone nuts.

POST SCRIPT: The Daily Show's take on the primary results

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October 02, 2009

Racism and nepotism

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from the publishers Rowman & Littlefield for $34.95, from Amazon for $25.16, from Barnes and Noble for $26.21 ($23.58 for members), and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here.)

The desperate attempt by the nutters to claim that the Obama administration is not legitimate is truly weird given that he well and truly trounced his rival John McCain in the last election. The nutters seem to find it hard to accept that a black man (despite being smart, educated, well-spoken, poised, self-confident, and with an attractive family) has become the leader and visible face of the nation. Is this irrational and vitriolic response to Obama the fruit of racism, as this cartoon by Tom Tomorrow suggests? Racism is a loaded term that is normally reserved for active and conscious antipathy towards people of another race. What we may be seeing here may be more complicated than that.

There seems to be the sense among nutters that the presidency and other high positions in society are niches that are properly the domain of white people, the 'real Americans'. This reaction seems to be fueled by the sense that any black or Hispanic person who achieves a prominent position (apart from the sports and the entertainment worlds) must have got there using some kind of unfair advantage. So Barack Obama, being black and coming from an underprivileged background, must have cheated somehow to get where he is.

As former president Jimmy Carter says:

I live in the south, and I've seen the south come a long way, and I've seen the rest of the country that shared the south's attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African Americans.

And that racism inclination still exists. And I think it's bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the south but around the country, that African Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It's an abominable circumstance, and it grieves me and concerns me very deeply.

One also gets the sense that some people expect that Obama should show gratitude that he has been 'allowed' to become president and so should adopt the obsequious posture of the 'house Negro', as described by Malcolm X.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) said that Obama should show 'humility' when he spoke recently to the joint session of Congress about health care. In other words, he shouldn't be 'uppity'. The unctuous Sen. Lindsey Graham said after Obama's speech, "I was incredibly disappointed in the tone of his speech. At times, I found his tone to be overly combative and believe he behaved in a manner beneath the dignity of the office."

It did not bother Chambliss and Graham when George W. Bush, who epitomized arrogance, showed utter contempt for Congress and for anyone who disagreed with him. Bush's rudeness and condescension towards others was legendary. But since he was to the manner born, it was ok.

The nepotism that comes with the sense of privileged entitlement is also at play. When incompetent white people in the ruling classes use their family and social connections to perpetuate their privileges and reach positions of prominence, it does not even merit any mention, because the political and media world is filled with such people and they all think that is just fine.

William Kristol is the poster child of someone who rose to prominence and influence because of family connections and despite his manifest incompetence. His father, the late Irving Kristol, was the founder of the neoconservative movement and very influential politically. University of Colorado professor of law Paul Campos relays this telling anecdote about a conversation that Irving Kristol had with Columbia University political science professor Ira Katznelson.

The talk turned to William Kristol, then Dan Quayle's chief of staff, and how he got his start in politics. Irving recalled how he talked to his friend Harvey Mansfield at Harvard, who secured William a place there as both an undergrad and graduate student; how he talked to Pat Moynihan, then Nixon's domestic policy adviser, and got William an internship at the White House; how he talked to friends at the RNC [Republican National Committee] and secured a job for William after he got his Harvard Ph.D.; and how he arranged with still more friends for William to teach at Penn and the Kennedy School of Government.

With that, Prof. Katznelson recalled, he then asked Irving what he thought of affirmative action. 'I oppose it,' Irving replied. 'It subverts meritocracy.'

Campos writes that "my blogging colleague Robert Farley pointed out that "in the modern configuration of the conservative media machine, [William] Kristol occupies an unparalleled central position of power . . . Right-wing journalism and punditry is absurdly nepotistic; everything depends on relationships."

As another example, recently George Bush's daughter Jenna was hired as a reporter by NBC, at a time when many real journalists are losing their jobs. Last year Glenn Greenwald listed the hereditary political aristocracy that now exists in the US and, in a more recent post laced with biting sarcasm, commemorated the Jenna Bush announcement by naming some of the people in the media who have benefited from this kind of rampant nepotism, and noted the flagrant double standards at play.

They should convene a panel for the next Meet the Press with Jenna Bush Hager, Luke Russert, Liz Cheney, Megan McCain and Jonah Goldberg, and they should have Chris Wallace moderate it. They can all bash affirmative action and talk about how vitally important it is that the U.S. remain a Great Meritocracy because it's really unfair for anything other than merit to determine position and employment. They can interview Lisa Murkowski, Evan Bayh, Jeb Bush, Bob Casey, Mark Pryor, Jay Rockefeller, Dan Lipinksi, and Harold Ford, Jr. about personal responsibility and the virtues of self-sufficiency. Bill Kristol, Tucker Carlson and John Podhoretz can provide moving commentary on how America is so special because all that matters is merit, not who you know or where you come from. There's a virtually endless list of politically well-placed guests equally qualified to talk on such matters.

[A]ll of the above-listed people are examples of America's Great Meritocracy, having achieved what they have solely on the basis of their talent, skill and hard work -- The American Way. By contrast, Sonia Sotomayor -- who grew up in a Puerto Rican family in Bronx housing projects; whose father had a third-grade education, did not speak English and died when she was 9; whose mother worked as a telephone operator and a nurse; and who then became valedictorian of her high school, summa cum laude at Princeton, a graduate of Yale Law School, and ultimately a Supreme Court Justice -- is someone who had a whole litany of unfair advantages handed to her and is the poster child for un-American, merit-less advancement.

I just want to make sure that's clear.

That's how the word 'meritocracy' is currently interpreted in the US.

POST SCRIPT: Blackwashing

In his inimitable backhanded way, Stephen Colbert brutally exposes the attitudes behind some of the animosity towards Obama.

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October 01, 2009

Why are nutters taking over the Republican Party?

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from the publishers Rowman & Littlefield for $34.95, from Amazon for $25.16, from Barnes and Noble for $26.21 ($23.58 for members), and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here.)

The previous three posts have pointed out that the Republican Party is becoming more and more identified with the nutters, which consists of a coalition of birthers, deathers, tenthers, and Christianists. You can now add to that list the 'foppers' (standing for 'frightened old people') who seem to have bought into the notion that health care reform is part of some kind of secret agenda specifically aimed at harming the elderly. The comic strip Doonesbury has a nice series of six cartoons (beginning on September 21) on the foppers.

These groups are driving out from the Republican Party the old style conservatives who, whatever their politics, are reality-based and cannot believe that their party is being taken over by people who seem to be almost unhinged.

How did this come about?

When one observes these nutters in action at raucous town hall meetings, teabagger events, and the recent rally in Washington, it becomes clear that this phenomenon seems to be the product of a sense of inchoate and impotent rage, prodded from behind the scenes by those who want to oppose any Obama initiative. The nutters are really angry and, like wounded bulls, whirl around blindly seeking any target to gore. I think the rage is fuelled by the growing realization that they have lost the battle on many of the issues they hold dear.

One of those issues is homosexuality. I think it should be clear to anyone that the anti-gay movement is in its last throes. Equal rights for homosexuals is, I predict, at most a decade away. The corpse of the anti-gay forces may twitch occasionally and win an occasional battle here and there, but that is it. Discrimination against gays on a personal level will continue for some time because of religious bigotry but institutional barriers to equality will disappear. I think what happened in Iowa is telling. Gays were allowed to marry and the sky did not fall. Life went on as before.

Just yesterday the city of Cleveland (located in the state of Ohio which has a reputation for being socially conservative) proudly announced that they had won the rights to host the international Gay Games in 2014, beating out Boston and Washington, DC. The mayor Frank Jackson said that the city "is prepared to roll out the welcome mat to the LGBT athletes, their families and spectators from around the world. Fans of the Gay Games will find that Cleveland is a great place to celebrate sports and culture and that we have tremendous assets and amenities for them to enjoy."

More and more young people, even the children of homophobes, simply don't see why homosexuality is a problem or why gay people should not be left alone to marry or adopt children or simply be allowed to live their lives like any other person. People are realizing that gays are just like other people. Once your attempts to demonize an out-group fails, your war against them also fails because people won't want to join your crusade.

The other issue that is driving the nutters batty is abortion. The power of the anti-abortion forces reached its peak between 2000 and 2006 when all the forces were aligned in their favor. George W. Bush was president, the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court was definitely conservative. And yet, abortion was not outlawed and only small additional restrictions were placed on it. This caused some frustration in the rank-and-file base of the Republican Party, which felt that their leadership had not pushed hard enough for their agenda. They realize that their time has passed and there are unlikely to be any advances by the anti-abortion movement in the near future.

But the final straw was the 2008 elections when they lost the White House and got trounced in both houses of Congress. If there is one thing that is clear it is that Obama drubbed McCain in the election, fair and square. So why is there this grasping at straws by the nutters that his presidency is not legitimate?

From the peak of power in 2006 to being completely out in 2008 is a steep drop. It is this sudden descent into political impotence that I think is driving this group of people in the Republican Party into the arms of those who warm that dark forces are at work, destroying the country from within. They cannot believe that they have lost so much power and influence so soon, and they suspect sinister elements at work behind the scenes. Hence the charges aimed at challenging Obama's legitimacy as president and the strange calls that they want to "take back our country". The phrasing 'our country' is telling, implying that he is some kind of usurper.

Is racism at work here? Former president Jimmy Carter seems to think so.

In the next post, I will examine that charge.

POST SCRIPT: Leave Aetna and Cigna alone!

Will Ferrell and a host of other actors speak out for the real victims of health care reform: the beleaguered insurance company executives.

Protect Insurance Companies PSA from Will Ferrell

September 30, 2009

Old style conservatives going into the wilderness

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from the publishers Rowman & Littlefield for $34.95, from Amazon for $25.16, from Barnes and Noble for $26.21 ($23.58 for members), and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here.)

As the previous two posts have discussed, the nutters seem to be taking over the Republican Party. The old style conservatives, taken aback by the enthusiasm with which the party rank-and-file unhesitatingly clasped true nutter Sarah Palin to their collective bosom in 2008, are now feeling even more marginalized, alarming them so much that they see no future for themselves in the party.

David Frum, a former speechwriter to George W. Bush, does not like what he sees and writes:

We conservatives are submitting our movement to some of the most unscrupulous people in American life. This submission disgraces conservatism, discredits Republicans, and damages the country. It’s beyond time for conservatives who know better to join us at NewMajority in emancipating ourselves from leadership by the most stupid, the most cynical, and the most truthless.

Bruce Bartlett, a leading conservative economist, writes:

In my opinion, conservative activists, who seem to believe that the louder they shout the more correct their beliefs must be, are less angry about Obama’s policies than they are about having lost the White House in 2008. They are primarily Republican Party hacks trying to overturn the election results, not representatives of a true grassroots revolt against liberal policies.

For another conservative columnist Rod Dreher, the last straw was the absurd flake-out by people in his party over Obama speaking to schoolchildren. He writes:

It would be a pleasant surprise if conservatives who took the president of the United States addressing youths as an opportunity to stumble toward the fainting couch realized that they had made fools of themselves. Fat chance. Obama Derangement Syndrome is pandemic on the right -- and it's leaving conservatives like me politically homeless.

Dreher took to task Mike Huckabee who on his radio program treated a notorious nutter, actor Jon Voight, like he was sage, even though he was spouting bizarre anti-Obama drivel. Dreher writes:

To his great discredit, Huckabee, a pastor, let this crazy talk pass unchallenged.

Perhaps conservative elites like Huckabee really believe this kind of vicious invective, which right-wing radio talkers routinely disgorge as well. Or maybe they're flat-out cynical. That is, they know that Obama is no more a socialist radical than George W. Bush was a fascist authoritarian, but they're happy to ride the wave of populist spite because it suits their short-term interests.

Which means what, exactly? That winning is the only thing, and to hell with the good of the country, civil society and the possibility of intelligent debate about serious matters? Watching the school-speech insanity blow up on the right, a friend who has been deeply involved for decades at the top of Republican politics, e-mailed to say that she was done. The conservative movement is hurtling off a cliff -- and she was bailing out.

Take me with you, said I.

Dreher correctly identified Fox News and right wing talk radio as the drivers of this movement. He discovers to his surprise that the charges that have long been made against Fox News, that it is a vehicle for right-wing paranoia and fear-mongering, may be actually true.

I've always taken complaints about the Fox News Channel as evidence of liberal whining and intolerance. But I don't watch TV news. And then I tuned in to Glenn Beck's popular Fox show the other night and saw him tutor his audience on the president's conspiratorial plan to institute "oligarhy" (sic) in America. And I thought: How does a paranoid like this get on national TV?

But he should not be surprised. In the world of TV, high ratings and the money it brings in take precedence over ideology or party interests. It takes much smaller numbers to be a cable news leader than it does to win elections. While you need about 50 million voters to win presidential elections, if you get just 500,000 viewers in the 25-54 age demographic (just 1% of those voters) you will easily be a cable news leader. So cable news shows can aim their message at the fringiest of fringe groups and still come out as big winners in TV land while simultaneously driving the Republican Party into the ditch.

David Brooks is another conservative who does not like what he sees:

The one danger -- the main danger of all this, the Glenn [Beck] and the Rush [Limbaugh] and all that -- they're not going to take over the country. But they are taking over the Republican Party.

And so if the Republican Party is sane, they will say no to these people. But every single elected leader in the Republican Party is afraid to take on Rush and Glenn Beck.

MSNBC talk sow host Joe Scarborough (a conservative who used to be a Republican congressman) also warns about the dangers of letting people like Glenn Beck rant crazily. Steve Benen lists other conservatives who are similarly alarmed.

Frum, Bartlett, Dreher, Brooks, and Scarborough are right to be concerned. The capture of the Republican Party by the nutters is not only bad for that party, consigning them to the electoral wilderness for years to come, it is also bad for the Democratic Party and democracy in general. Only highly partisan Democrats who think that winning is the only thing that matters can be happy watching the Republican Party walk into the wild.

A thriving democracy needs two vibrant parties that can articulate different visions of where they want the country go, and also to keep each other honest by exposing their lies. We have seen the rot that has set in because the US has already effectively become a one-party state when it comes to the interests of big business and war. If the Republican Party moves completely into the asylum, as it seems to be doing, the situation will get even worse. The Democratic Party can then serve unchallenged the interests of the wealthy even more easily than it does now, no longer feeling obliged to pay even lip-service to progressive causes. It can start new wars and continue old ones, continue to torture people, imprison them indefinitely without trial, and enhance wiretapping and other encroachments on civil liberties, all of which is what the Obama administration and the Democratic-controlled congress is currently doing.

POST SCRIPT: Cute

I came across this clever commercial online. I assume that it is running on TV as well.

September 29, 2009

Republican presidential hopefuls and the nutters

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from the publishers Rowman & Littlefield for $34.95, from Amazon for $31.65, from Barnes and Noble for $26.21 ($23.58 for members), and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here.)

Telling indicators of the strength of the nutter movement (consisting of birthers, deathers, and tenthers) within the party has been the fortunes of the prospective Republican candidates for the presidency. Sarah Palin is, of course, a true nutter and has always been much beloved by this group so her presence does not tell us anything new. But a good sign of the increasing nutter influence is that Palin's fellow nutter, congresswoman Michelle Bachman (R-Minn), seems to be hoping that god will speak to her and tell her to run for the presidency, and former senator Rick Santorum is also toying with the idea although he was drubbed in his last campaign for re-election as US senator from Pennsylvania. Any party with a reasonable grip on reality would be embarrassed to have these people as prominent members, let alone have them as potential standard bearers.

What is even more significant has been the shifting of the rhetoric by people like Mike Huckabee and Tim Pawlenty in efforts to woo the nutters. These two are conservative ideologically but up until recently they had seemed to be reality-based people. (See my earlier posts about Huckabee's and Pawlenty's politics.). In fact, Pawlenty is currently the governor of Minnesota, a state that usually elects moderate politicians, though Bachmann is putting a strain on that reputation. But he is not running for re-election, allowing him to pander shamelessly to the nutters, which he has decided to do by appealing to the tenthers and the deathers. The fact that both are moving towards nutterdom means that they think that this is where the future of the party lies.

In this they are emulating the 2008 strategy of Mitt Romney who seemed to be a moderate while governor of Massachusetts but moved quite a bit to the right when running for the Republican nomination in 2008.

Romney has not yet gone full-bore nutter but is also a good weathervane indicator of the strength of the nutter movement. As far as can be determined, Romney has no deep principles that he believes in, except that he thinks he should be president, so he can shift directions without much angst. Logic would suggest that he run as a sensible conservative and appeal to the adults in the party, and let the nutters split their votes among the panderers such Palin, Bachmann, Santorum, Huckabee, Pawlenty, and Newt Gingrich. But if Romney also starts competing strongly for the nutter vote, then it is clear that the nutters have taken over the Republican Party.

The nutters and their allies gathered together at the Values Voter Summit held in Washington, DC, earlier this month. Nearly all the potential presidential candidates were featured speakers at the summit, although Sarah Palin* was once again a no-show, the asterisk (signifying 'unconfirmed') that accompanies her name in the publicity for these events seeming to be a permanent fixture as organizers become increasingly aware of her penchant for backing out of engagements at the last minute, claiming that she never agreed to attend in the first place.

In a straw poll on presidential preferences conducted at the meeting, the results were as follows: Huckabee received 29%, Romney, Pawlenty, Palin and congressman Mike Pence (R-Indiana) each got about 12%. Gingrich, Bobby Jindal, Ron Paul, and Santorum had single-digit shares of the vote. Romney won the last poll in 2007. You can draw your own conclusions as to what, if anything, this means.

The titles and descriptions of their breakout sessions reveal nuttiness in all its glory. I would have particularly liked to attend the one titled SPEECHLESS - SILENCING THE CHRISTIANS, where they promised to reveal how Christians are a persecuted group in the US. Here's the description of the session:

Americans are at a greater risk of losing their basic freedoms today than ever before in the history of this nation. Political correctness and the voice of the liberal minority are undermining the morals and values of main-stream America. Christians are being silenced all across America: in the political debate, the public square, the schools, the workplace, and even in the sanctuary of their own churches. Through video, renowned author and commentator, Janet Parshall, takes you on a journey across the country to meet citizens who have been arrested for speaking out at a public rally, students who are being forced to attend classes that require them to recite verses from the Koran and to stage their own Jihad and activists pushing social tolerance to such an extreme that the Bible itself is being labeled "hate speech."

Who knew? There is probably a Islamocommunofascistic jihadi re-education camp in your own neighborhood!

Next: So where does this leave the old-style conservatives?

POST SCRIPT: Jon Stewart on the Values Voter Summit

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September 28, 2009

Update on the future of the Republican Party

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from the publishers Rowman & Littlefield for $34.95, from Amazon for $31.65, from Barnes and Noble for $26.21 ($23.58 for members), and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here.)

When I last wrote on this topic in July, I compared the various factions within the Republican Party to see which segment was likely to take leadership. The four major groupings I identified were the old style conservatives, the rank-and-file social values base, the Christianists, and the neo-conservatives.

At that time I said that while there was no clear winner yet, the first group seemed to be on the outs in the party, the second group seemed to be becoming more vocal, while the third and fourth groups seemed to be lying low for the present, trying to gauge which way the wind was going to blow. I said that a good indicator of the relative strengths of the groups would be the prominence given to them by Fox News.

Since then the picture has sharpened somewhat, and the outlook for the party is not good.

What seems to be happening is that a highly vocal subset of the rank-and-file base, those whom I have called the nutters, seems to be becoming the public face of the party. This group has a visceral opposition to Obama, making wild assertions of him as a fascist and/or socialist and/or communist, has absurd 'birther' and 'deather' obsessions, and irrational opposition to any health care reform.

As if that wasn't enough, to the birthers and deathers, you can also add the 'tenthers', people who think that the 10th amendment to the US Constitution, which states that "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people", can be used as a vehicle to block legislation they don't like.

Ian Millhiser writes that tenther sentiment is not new.

Such retreat to fringe constitutional theories is one of the right's favorite tactics during times of historic upheaval. The right-wing South justified both secession and the Civil War on the theory that the Constitution is nothing more than a pact between sovereigns that each state is free to leave at will. In the immediate wake of Brown v. Board of Education, 19 senators and 77 representatives endorsed a "Southern Manifesto," proclaiming -- in words echoed by modern-day tenthers -- that Brown "encroach[es] on the rights reserved to the States" because the "Constitution does not mention education." President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spent much of his first term combating a tenther majority on the Supreme Court, which routinely struck down substantial portions of the New Deal.

In their latest incarnation, tenthers argue that "Barack Obama's health-care reform is forbidden, as is Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security." They don't stop there. They add that "The federal minimum wage is a crime against state sovereignty; the federal ban on workplace discrimination and whites-only lunch counters is an unlawful encroachment on local businesses."

This kind of lunacy aimed at turning back the clock on landmark social progress has been actively promoted by the likes of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing radio and TV talk shows and this hysterical rhetoric has been given huge amounts of publicity, encouraging these groups to think that they represent some kind of mass popular movement when in reality they are on the fringes of the body politic. As a result, this group seems to be influencing the Republican Party well out of proportion to their actual numbers.

Some of the Christianists like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, seem to be moving towards the nutter group, and the resulting coalition threatens to take over the party.

The Republican Party leadership seems to be caught in a bind. Although the nominal leaders in congress are not themselves rabid nutters, it is clear that they are fearful of them and will not say anything that is even mildly critical of the crazy rhetoric they spout. They cannot bring themselves to repudiate this vocal and passionate group and its advocates in the media, but realize at the same to time that to endorse these ideas is to declare themselves to be also nuts.

They have created a monster and don't know what else to do but cling on to its tail.

Next: What we can learn from the potential candidates for the Republican nomination in 2012.

POST SCRIPT: Mary Travers

The folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary combined wonderful harmony with a lifetime of consistent support for social justice and progressive causes. Mary Travers died recently of leukemia at the age of 72. Here is the group singing one of their big hits If I had a hammer.

In I dig rock and roll music, they poked some good-natured fun at that genre and some of its practitioners.

July 16, 2009

The state of the Republican party

Immediately after the last election, I wrote a series of posts on the future of the Republican Party and said that where it ends up depends on the relative fortunes of the four elements within the party and which group or groups gain the ascendancy.

One bloc consists of old-style conservative Republicans, the ones who used to be known as 'Rockefeller Republicans'. They consist of people who are pragmatic, technocratic, more managerial and less ideological in their outlook, people who want smaller government, fiscal restraint, balanced budgets, rule of law, respect for personal liberties, and a non-interventionist foreign policy.

The second group is the rank-and-file social values base for whom guns, gays, abortion, stem-cell research, flag, religion, homosexuality, and immigration are the main concerns. Many of these people belong to the lower and middle economic classes. These people were always the rank and file of the party, the ones who existed in large numbers in parts of the country and gave it voting clout, but they were never the leaders.

The third group is the Christianist leadership, people like Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and John Hagee, who claim to speak for the social values base but, as I argued in an earlier post, whose overriding allegiance is to a low-tax ideology (especially for the rich) at whatever cost, and who oppose any government programs that provide assistance to the poor.

The fourth group is the neoconservatives. The neoconservatives are the wild card in American politics, wreaking havoc wherever they go. Their interests lie less in domestic policies and more in creating a muscular foreign policy. They dream of America exercising hegemony over the world, using its might to destroy its enemies. They are firmly convinced that America is a force for good in the world and should not be shy about using its military, political, and economic muscle to dominate it. They see the interests of the US as almost identical to the interests of the hard-line right-wing segments of Israeli politics.

So what has happened since I wrote this? The situation has evolved but not clarified yet, but one interesting feature is how the four groups have started relating to Sarah Palin.

The old-style conservatives seem to have been routed and are even more marginalized than before. At this stage, they look like people unhappy with what the Republican Party has become and not sure if they can bring it back to what they see as sanity or whether it is hopelessly under the control of nutcases and they need to look for a new home. This group hates Palin with a passion, seeing her as perfectly symbolizing the depths to which their party has sunk. They despise her ignorance on the issues, her lack of competence, her fractured logic and syntax, her pride in despising learning, and her anti-intellectualism.

The second group has not grown larger but has grown more militant. It is digging in its heels and demanding to be in the party leadership and will not go back to their former role as mere foot soldiers. This group has always been made use of by their party leaders but never given a real shot at leadership. McCain's choice of Palin changed that. For the first time, they felt that one of their own was close to the driver's seat and they are not returning to the back of the bus. This group loves Sarah Palin and will not tolerate anyone who disparages her, which put them at direct loggerheads with the old-style conservative Republicans. Her abrupt resignation as governor of Alaska has not cooled their ardor. They see that, as they see everything she does, as a clever strategy. Whatever her next wacky stunt may be, it will be trumpeted as another example of her mavericky credentials and her policy of not practicing 'politics as usual'. They fervently hope that she stays in politics and runs for president so that they can rally round her, although such an action probably dooms the party to a massive defeat and gives all the other potential Republican candidates the heebie-jeebies.

Jackie Broyles from Red State Update captures the views of this group precisely:

As for the third group, the Christianists, one does not hear much these days from Pat Robertson and John Hagee and the like. The Christianist leaders seem to be either on the wane or more likely are simply biding their time, waiting to see which of the candidates is most committed to their pro-rich/anti-poor/no-tax policies. They may simply be reeling from the string of sex-related scandals hitting their party and a little wary of aligning themselves too early with someone who may later taint them with scandal. They are political opportunists and although they may like Palin a lot, they love power more and would be quite willing to dump her and align themselves with someone who can win, even if that person is not completely aligned with their religion-based agenda.

The neo-conservatives within the party seem to be lying low too, licking their wounds after they lost the deep access to the high levels of the administration that they had under Bush/Cheney. But one can never write them off. They are always seeking to pursue their war-like agenda. This group is split on Palin. Since they love war and want the US to invade Iran and start fights with practically the entire Muslim world and renew the cold war with Russia, they are attracted to Palin because her own apocalyptic religious views make her sympathetic to these crazy ideas. On the other hand, they are also urbane intellectuals and Palin is simply not one of them. Some are uneasy that she could be a loose cannon they cannot control. Right now the neoconservatives are mostly a media presence on Fox News and other sites. If they think the Republicans are going to be losers for the foreseeable future, watch for them to make overtures to the Democratic Party, where they have some allies.

Probably the best barometer as to the fortunes of these groups is Fox News. The people and views that are given the most prominence on Fox are likely the ones on the upswing. So far, it seems to have dismissed the first group of old-style conservative Republicans and has tried to be the umbrella support group for the other three. It tried to drum up some enthusiasm for teabag parties, opposition to Sonia Sotomayor, and the like but those efforts seem to have fizzled, and so they seem to be resorting to even more extreme scare-mongering to raise the energy level of their supporters.

POST SCRIPT: The Daily Show on the Palin resignation

If Sarah Palin thought that she could avoid The Daily Show treatment by resigning just as they went on vacation, she misjudged them.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Half Baked Alaska
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

December 12, 2008

The future of the Republican Party-14: The once and future queen?

It is time for me to leave that seemingly inexhaustible well of material that is Sarah Palin, though it is clear that we are not going to be free of her presence any time soon. There is no question that Sarah Palin was the phenomenon of the election. When was the last time that the losing vice-presidential candidate garnered so much continuing media attention after the election, totally eclipsing the winning counterpart?

The last question that I want to explore before moving on is whether she represents the future of the Republican party.

It is often the case that post-mortems of losing campaigns can be quite nasty, as people try to wash their hands of any blame for the debacle and seek to salvage their reputations so that they can hook up with future campaigns. What is startling about the McCain campaign infighting was its particularly vicious nature and that this process started even before the election was over. I think it is because there are some within the Republican party who recognize the long-term danger that Palin represents. The brutal internal sniping that erupted is a sign that they think her rise should be nipped in the bud.

On her side, there were reports that they think McCain campaign advisors made serious tactical errors, that she saw defeat looming and was distancing herself from him in order to maintain her own future political viability and laying the groundwork for her own presidential run in 2012, that she blames the McCain staff for her disastrous introduction to the nation and for the public relations fiasco over her $150,000 clothes shopping spree.

On his side, leaked reports say that McCain was annoyed with her and that his staff thinks that she is the main reason the campaign lost. People close to McCain have called her a 'diva' who had 'gone rogue' by pursuing her own agenda and going off-message, and some have even called her a "whack job". But the McCain camp's attempt to blame Palin for their loss is a bit disingenuous since he is the one who freely picked her.

Her inability to think or speak coherently seemed to come as a big surprise to the McCain campaign, and her unwillingness to quickly study up on the issues suggested an intellectual laziness.

"Her lack of fundamental understanding of some key issues was dramatic," said another McCain source with direct knowledge of the process to prepare Palin after she was picked. The source said it was probably the "hardest" to get her "up to speed than any candidate in history."

It is clear from her ignorance on so many issues that she has not shown any interest in national and international affairs all her life, and had to learn to deal with them only after being nominated for vice-president. But such habits and interests are formed early in one's life and without that desire to know such things I am not convinced that she can get up to speed within the next few years.

It was notable that even a few days before the election she still could not give a correct or even coherent answer to the question of what the vice president's role was, even though she had first flubbed that question when it was posed to her months earlier when her name was first floated as a possible running mate for McCain. The US constitution is notable for its conciseness. How hard would it be to read the few sentences that deal with the very post to which you are aspiring? She seems to think that a breezy confidence in your gut instincts is all you need.

It is now clear that even during her vice-presidential debate where her supporters think she acquitted herself well, she was reading much of her answers from notes and using pre-packaged responses whatever the question. If you go back and look at her interview with Katie Couric, you see that she frequently looks down at her lap, as if taking a quick peek at something.

She also lacks self-discipline. One example of this is her continuing to buy expensive clothes for her and her family after the scandal about them broke. The other is her tendency to repeat falsehoods (such as the story about the 'bridge to nowhere') after they have been exposed.

As we have seen in the few interviews she gave before the election, when asked a question, instead of pausing a moment to consider what point she wants to make, she has the unfortunate tendency of immediately launching into a blizzard of words and phrases without having a clear endpoint in mind, so her answers meander all over the place, a stream of consciousness monologue that is both oddly captivating and grating at the same time.

She squirts words out like a squid squirts ink when it is cornered, creating a cloud of incoherence. Take this recent example when she was trying to explain away the issue of whether she thought Africa was a country:

"My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska’s investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars."

Dick Cavett writes:

What will ambitious politicos learn from this? That frayed syntax, bungled grammar and run-on sentences that ramble on long after thought has given out completely are a candidate’s valuable traits?

What on earth are our underpaid teachers, laboring in the vineyards of education, supposed to tell students about the [above] sentence, committed by the serial syntax-killer from Wasilla High?

Some have responded that this pre-occupation with Palin's shaky grammar and syntax is an elitist obsession of those with expensive educations. But there is a huge difference between being plainspoken and expressing your ideas in the vernacular, and saying things that no one can make any sense of. Jim Hightower and the late Molly Ivins are examples of people who know how to wield Texas colloquialisms and regional idioms like scalpels, using breezy language to skillfully dissect any issue to quickly expose the underlying core. The problem with Palin is not that she says things badly but that we cannot tell, without careful parsing of her words, what idea she is even trying to convey.

Language can be an important clue as to the state of one's thinking. George Orwell said it best in his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language:

A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

Sarah Palin is a textbook example of the point Orwell is making. An immersion course in grammar and syntax by itself is not going to help Palin become a clear thinker, although it would help her to not embarrass herself so much. Her use of language indicates that her problems go much deeper, to her very thought processes. The Republican party would be unwise to place its future in such thoughtless hands.

As the Republicans jockey to see who will lead the party in the future, look behind the actual names and faces that are bandied about and focus on which of the three groups (the old-style conservatives, the Christianists, and the neoconservatives) are supporting them. The key struggle to watch is the extent to which the Christianists are successful in convincing the more traditionally religious base of the Republican party that they represent their values, or whether other religious leaders who are dismayed by the current dominant coalition of end-timers and neoconservatives will successfully challenge the Christianists for the leadership position.

Which group emerges as the victor of that struggle will tell you which way the party is moving.

POST SCRIPT: Brain teaser

I received this interesting puzzle and thought I'd pass it on. I will post my solution in the comments.

December 10, 2008

The future of the Republican Party-13: The case against Palin

Should Sarah Palin be the next Republican nominee for president?

It is clear that she thinks she is up to the job. She says that whether she should be president or not depends on what god wants.

Palin told Greta Van Susteren Monday on Fox News that her faith will guide her on a 2012 run. "I'm like, O.K., God, if there is an open door for me somewhere — this is what I always pray — don't let me miss the open door," she said. "Show me where the open door is, even if it's cracked open a little bit, maybe I'll plow right on through that and maybe prematurely plow through it."

But like all delusional religious people who say they seek a sign of god's will, she will see what she wants to see. It is clear that Palin thinks god has big plans for her and will view random events as god 'cracking open' doors for her. She likely thinks that McCain selecting her is already a sign of that.

I recall a study that compared competent people and incompetent people. One reason the incompetents were incompetent was that they were incompetent at judging their own competence. They had a breezy and unshakeable confidence in their own abilities and so never felt the need to work to improve themselves, whereas competent people were better able to judge their strengths and weaknesses and thus recognized which areas they needed to develop themselves in.

Palin strikes me as someone who is completely oblivious to her shortcomings. Her vanity and sense of entitlement, coupled with her tone deafness to the image she creates, has provided endless material for comedians.

The biggest example was, of course, her $150,000 shopping spree at upscale stores and the way she responded when the news broke.

When Politico reported on Oct. 21 that Palin had spent $150,000 for clothes for herself and her family, the governor had been all wounded innocence. At a campaign stop in Tampa, she said, "These clothes—they're not my property, just like the lighting and the staging and everything else that the RNC purchased. I am not taking them with me. I am back to wearing clothes from my favorite consignment shop in Anchorage, Alaska." Publicly, McCain aides backed up Palin, saying that a third of the clothes had been returned immediately, before they were worn in public, and that the rest would be donated to charity. Privately, however, McCain's top advisers fumed at what they regarded as Palin's outrageous profligacy. One senior aide said that Nicolle Wallace had told Palin to buy three suits for the convention and hire a stylist, but thereafter Palin had "gone rogue," as the media buzz put it. She began buying for herself and her family—clothes and accessories from top stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. A week after she announced that she was going back to her consignment shop she was still having tailored clothes delivered. According to two knowledgeable sources, a vast majority of the clothes were bought by a wealthy donor, who was shocked when he got the bill. Palin also used low-level staffers to buy some of the clothes on their credit cards; the McCain campaign found out last week when the aides sought reimbursement. One aide estimated that she spent "tens of thousands" more than the reported $150,000, and that $20,000 to $40,000 went to buy clothes for her husband. Some articles of clothing have apparently been lost. An angry aide characterized the shopping spree as "Wasilla Hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast," and said the truth will eventually come out when the Republican Party audits its books.

Such things invite ridicule. Maureen Dowd writes:

As Michael Shear reported in The Washington Post, on top of the $150,000 first cited in F.E.C. filings, Palin spent “tens of thousands of dollars” on more clothes, makeup and jewelry for herself and her family, including $40,000 in luxury goods for the First Dude. The campaign was charged for silk boxers, spray tanners and 13 suitcases to carry the designer duds, Shear reported, adding that one source said, “She was still receiving shipments of custom-designed underpinnings up to her ‘Saturday Night Live’ performance” in October. Silk boxers and custom-designed underpinnings? Sounds like Sarah and Todd were treating the vice presidential run as a second honeymoon."

There had been other warning signs (that the McCain camp would have easily discovered if they had bothered to vet her) that she liked having others pay for her high style of living, such as her practice as governor of getting a per diem for staying in her own home and having taxpayers pay for her family's travels and luxury hotel accommodations even though they had no official function.

She also courts controversy because of her habit of not thinking things through. For example, she gratuitously dismissed scientific research on fruit flies when she had no need to. She seems to be unable to resist the sarcastic one-liner that gets immediate laughs, and that is a recipe for trouble.

The latest fiasco was when she was speaking about Thanksgiving while a turkey was being slaughtered behind her. People wondered how Palin could be so oblivious to the poor scene being set. Instead she just rambled on and on, seemingly delighting in the sound of her own voice, whether she has anything to say or not. Jay Leno joked that the reason for the photo op fiasco was that the turkey couldn't bear listening to her anymore and said "Please kill me now."

Even if the more outlandish stories about Palin (such as her not knowing that Africa is a not a single country) are not true, her problem is that she has now acquired a reputation for deep ignorance that they are seen as plausible, and that image will be hard to shake off.

As a counter-example, in mid-September John McCain had an interview with a Spanish-language newspaper in which it seemed like he did not know that Spain was in Europe or that it was a US ally in NATO. But after some initial eye-rolling by commentators, that story did not gain much traction because it was highly implausible that someone like McCain would be so ignorant about geography. Even McCain's critics looked for plausible alternative explanations for his strange comments. But if the same thing had happened with Palin, people would easily believe that she does not know that Spain is not in Latin America. That is not a good reputation for a national leader to have.

The real problem, as I said above, is not that Palin is ignorant about many things that she should be aware of. All of us are. The problem is that she seems oblivious to the fact that she is ignorant and hence is unlikely to improve. If the Republican party does choose her, they will be taking a huge political gamble.

Next: The once and future queen?

POST SCRIPT: Talk on Israel-Palestine

The well-known Middle East scholar Norman Finkelstein, who has long advocated for a two-state solution based on 1967 borders, will speak on:

Israel and Palestine: Roots of Conflict - Prospect for Peace

The talk is on Thursday, December 11, 2008, 6:30 pm in the Ford Auditorium, Case Western Reserve University. This is in the Allen Library building at the corner of Euclid and Adelbert.

The talk is free and open to the public.

December 08, 2008

The future of the Republican Party-12: Puppet or puppeteer?

The key issue that will determine the future of the Republican Party leadership is whether it will revert to the control of the old-style conservatives that can reclaim the support of numerically large social values base, or whether leadership of the party will remain with the new alliance of Christianists and neoconservatives, united under the banner of Sarah Palin.

At present, it seems like the latter are firmly in control. These people don't worry too much about whether Sarah Palin is competent, since they feel they can 'manage' and 'control' her. Randy Scheunemann is a neoconservative and PNAC project director who is a strong supporter of Palin and was the person assigned to brief her on foreign policy (which did not turn out too well, to put it mildly). He is also strongly anti-Russia, a paid lobbyist for Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, and someone who pushed for a strong US reaction against Russia over the conflict with Georgia over South Ossetia even though it has become clear that Georgia provoked it.

Under his tutelage, Palin's first important meeting that took place just before her convention speech was with the board of directors of AIPAC, a leading member of the Israel lobby. So clearly, the neoconservatives seem to think that in Palin they have someone they can influence.

Republicans who think Palin is the future also planned a secret meeting to be held two days after the election to plot long-term strategy. It is clear that they are going to use support for Palin as a litmus test to determine who, in their Manichaean worldview, is with them and who is against them.

Jim Nuzzo, a White House aide to the first President Bush, dismissed Mrs Palin's critics as "cocktail party conservatives" who "give aid and comfort to the enemy".

He told The Sunday Telegraph: "There's going to be a bloodbath. A lot of people are going to be excommunicated. David Brooks and David Frum and Peggy Noonan are dead people in the Republican Party. The litmus test will be: where did you stand on Palin?"

Mr Frum thinks that Mrs Palin's brand of cultural conservatism appeals only to a dwindling number of voters.

He said: "She emerges from this election as the probable frontrunner for the 2012 nomination. Her supporters vastly outnumber her critics. But it will be extremely difficult for her to win the presidency."

Mr Nuzzo, who believes this election is not a re-run of the 1980 Reagan revolution but of 1976, when an ageing Gerald Ford lost a close contest and then ceded the leadership of the Republican Party to Mr Reagan.

He said: "Win or lose, there is a ready made conservative candidate waiting in the wings. Sarah Palin is not the new Iain Duncan Smith, she is the new Ronald Reagan." On the accuracy of that judgment, perhaps, rests the future of the Republican Party.

Those of us who think Palin is utterly inept and incompetent based on her performance are aghast that anyone would seriously consider her to be their candidate for president. These backroom power brokers who support her are not stupid and cannot be blind to her obvious deficiencies as a national leader, even though she does have some crowd appeal. So what can they be thinking?

The fact is that politics has a long history of people who think they are so clever that they can control a useful, popular, but politically ignorant puppet leader, usually a woman. Such attempts almost always have a bad end. We have seen this played out in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.

In Sri Lanka, a charismatic Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was assassinated in 1959. His party's leaders responded by appointing his widow as his replacement although she had no background whatsoever in politics. Their thinking was that she would be a figurehead who would reap the sympathy of voters and keep their party in power while they could control her from behind the scenes. While serious political analysts ridiculed the idea of a total novice being thrust into national leadership, what happened was that Sirimavo Bandaranaike turned out to be a shrewd manipulator of power who outmaneuvered and outlasted all her would-be puppeteers, and retained leadership of the party for over three decades, serving three terms as Prime Minister.

But while she proved to be a tough and wily politician, her previous lack of any interest in politics or even a coherent political and economic philosophy resulted in an ad hoc and chaotic style of governing, driven by personal whims and vendettas and intrigues, lurching from one policy to another, based on short-term tactics and no real long-term strategy.

The Christianists and neoconservatives backing Palin risk a similar fate. She reminds me of Mrs. Bandaranaike, someone with no coherent political or economic philosophy, ignorant and uninterested in national and international issues, but who knows how to appeal to a particular segment of voters, has shrewd political skills, and a lust for the trappings of office that she will use to her advantage. Those who support her thinking that she will be malleable to their agenda may be in for a nasty surprise once (and if) she gains power. In Alaska, she already has a reputation of someone who has no qualms about using people to propel her to higher office and then turning her back on them, and treating anyone who disagrees with her as an enemy to be destroyed.

So we should not be so quick to write her off as a political force.

Next: The case against Palin

POST SCRIPT: Proposition 8 – The Musical

Despite the passage of Proposition 8 in California and similar defeats for gay rights in Arizona and Florida on election day, there seems to be a surge in support for gay rights.

Watch Proposition 8 – The Musical, starring John C. Reilly and Jack Black as Jesus.

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

December 04, 2008

The future of the Republican Party-11: The last straw

As this series has tried to show, there was an increasing divergence between the vision of the Republican party as seen by the old-style conservatives and that seen by the new alliance of Christianists and neoconservatives. Looking back, it seems inevitable that the tension would become too great and the party finally snap.

It was Sarah Palin that was the last straw. We saw how towards the end of the campaign, many leading old-style conservative Republicans, their party's intellectual backbone for so many years, abandon their party and support Obama, citing McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as the reason for their defection. I suspect that that was not the sole reason but that their disillusionment had been brewing for a long time and this was the defining event that pushed them over the edge.

The split over Palin resulted in bitter and public infighting within the Republican party, with many stalwarts jumping ship. The website Talking Points Memo has put together a nice graphic and quotes from the many Republican stalwarts who distanced themselves from the McCain-Palin campaign, particularly because of their reservations about Palin.

Andrew Sullivan is a good example of someone for whom the scales fell from his eyes. When reading the excerpt below written after the election, it is good to recall that he was one of the most gung-ho of conservative supporters of Bush and his policies, especially the Iraq war, who believed without any evidence that Iraq was behind the anthrax attacks, and who heaped vitriolic ridicule on all those of us who expressed concerns that the Bush administration was leading the country into a ditch.

He now makes an about-face and puts the current old-style conservative view most brutally:

Let's be real in a way the national media seems incapable of: this person should never have been placed on a national ticket in a mature democracy. She was incapable of running a town in Alaska competently. The impulsive, unvetted selection of a total unknown, with no knowledge of or interest in the wider world, as a replacement president remains one of the most disturbing events in modern American history. That the press felt required to maintain a facade of normalcy for two months - and not to declare the whole thing a farce from start to finish - is a sign of their total loss of nerve.

It happened because John McCain is an incompetent and a cynic and reckless beyond measure. To have picked someone he'd only met once before, without any serious vetting procedure, revealed McCain as an utterly unserious character, a man whose devotion to the shallowest form of political gamesmanship trumped concern for his country's or his party's interest. We need a full accounting of the vetting process: who was responsible for this act of political malpractice? How could a veep not be vetted in any serious way? Why was she not asked to withdraw as soon as the facts of her massive ignorance and delusional psyche were revealed?

The Palin nightmare also happened because a tiny faction of political professionals has far too much sway in the GOP and conservative circles. This was Bill Kristol's achievement.

It was a final product of the now-exhausted strategy of fomenting fundamentalist resentment to elect politicians dedicated to the defense of Israel and the extension of American military hegemony in every corner of the globe. Palin was the reductio ad absurdum of this mindset: a mannequin candidate, easily controlled ideologically, deployed to fool and corral the resentful and the frightened, removed from serious scrutiny and sold on propaganda networks like a food product.

This deluded and delusional woman still doesn't understand what happened to her; still has no self-awareness; and has never been forced to accept her obvious limitations. She cannot keep even the most trivial story straight; she repeats untruths with a ferocity and calm that is reserved only to the clinically unhinged; she has the educational level of a high school drop-out; and regards ignorance as some kind of achievement. It is excruciating to watch her - but more excruciating to watch those who feel obliged to defend her.

Her candidacy, in short, was indefensible. It remains indefensible. Until the mainstream media, the GOP establishment, and the conservative intelligentsia acknowledge the depth of their error, this blog will keep demanding basic accountability.

Even I have not have been so harsh in my critique of Palin but this just shows how resentful the old-style conservative Republicans feel about being squeezed out of the leadership. What the Palin selection did was to confirm in their mind that the party had passed the point of no return, that their worst fears were confirmed. Robert Draper of GQ magazine gave one of the many insider views at how the Palin choice was made and the disaster it had become.

Such reports must have persuaded the old-style conservatives that their party had completely abandoned any commitment to basic competence or traditional conservative philosophy in favor of short-term expediency and neoconservative ideology. They could no longer shut their eyes to the plain fact that Republican party had been taken over by deeply unserious people with a wrong vision for the future.

POST SCRIPT: The failure of the credit ratings agencies

Some time ago I wrote about the role of the credit rating agencies in creating the subprime mortgage mess.

Last week, PBS's NOW had a good 25-minute program on this topic.

December 03, 2008

The future of the Republican Party-10: The rise of neoconservative influence

The neoconservatives reached their pinnacle of influence with the election of George W. Bush in 2000.

The neoconservatives succeeded in planting key people in important positions. To the extent that we can discern any coherent political philosophy, Bush seems to be not a neoconservative himself, but through Dick Cheney and other key people in the Department of Defense, State, and NSA (such as Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, Douglas Feith, David Addington, Elliot Abrams), the neoconservatives have been able to achieve many of their goals.

Aided by the events of 9/11, they used and accentuated the fear and paranoia generated by that attack to create a mindset within the administration and the country that the US was at war with pretty much the entire Muslim world, especially in the Middle East, that this war must be won by any means necessary, and that the way to do that was to project American power, to show the world that America cannot be trifled with.

Looking back, it is amazing how so many people within government, the Congress, and the media, people who should have known better and in fact did know better, allowed this revved-up national sense of bloodlust to misdirect attention from al Qaeda, the organization behind the actual 9/11 attacks, to an attack on Iraq which had nothing to do with it and in fact was at odds with al Qaeda.

As a prime example, here is what so-called 'moderate' New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman was saying in 2003 justifying the invasion of Iraq:

We needed to go over there basically, and take out a very big stick, right in the heart of that world, and burst that bubble. . . .

And what they needed to see was American boys and girls going from house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, and basically saying: which part of this sentence do you understand? You don't think we care about our open society? . . . .

Well, Suck. On. This. That, Charlie, was what this war was about.

We could have hit Saudi Arabia. It was part of that bubble. Could have hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could. That's the real truth.

And guess what? People there got the message, OK, in the neighborhood. This is a rough neighborhood, and sometimes it takes a 2-by-4 across the side of the head to get that message. But they got the message and the message was, "You will now be held accountable."

This puerile macho posturing was what passed for serious analysis in the mainstream media. But it fit in perfectly with the neoconservative mindset because in their grand plan, Iraq was the first on the list of Middle Eastern countries that they wanted to dominate, followed by Iran and Syria, with the idea that Saudi Arabia would then naturally fall into the US orbit. So the fact that Iraq was innocent of the 9/11 attacks was deliberately obscured.

Getting the Bush administration to start the unprovoked, illegal, and immoral war with Iraq was the major 'success' of the neoconservatives and as a result of it, the Republican party has received strong support from them, that group seeing it as the best vehicle for advancing their agenda. In order to solidify their influence, they have provided the intellectual cover for this administration's deliberate expansion of presidential power and authority, seeking to remove all judicial and congressional oversight.

It is this increased role and influence of the neoconservatives within the Republicans that poses a significant problem for the party.

Any political party needs a political philosophy, an ideological and intellectual base around which it can define its political and economic strategy. While the religious social values base provide the raw voting numbers for the Republican party, religious views by themselves are not sufficient on which to base a governing philosophy.

For a long while, the political philosophy of the Republican party was provided by the old-style conservatives. Things began to change with the rise of Christianist leaders like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and the like who veered away from traditional religious concerns and added on three new features: a determined commitment to low tax policies, a total aversion to any government aid to the poor, and a belief in an 'end times' theology which sees the world as ending soon with Armageddon and Jesus's second coming.

It was this last crazy belief that played a significant role in shifting the ideological base within the Republican party. The old-style conservatives are not particularly religious (and definitely not end-timers) and are uneasy with the many excesses of the Bush administration and its naked power grab. As a result, the crazies of the religious right now found themselves moving closer to the crazies of the neoconservatives because in both visions, the dominance of Israel in the Middle East and the subjugation of its Muslim neighbors play important roles in their eschatology. The neoconservative crazies saw Israel's supremacy as a desirable foreign policy end in itself, while the religious crazies saw it as a signal, the immediate precursor to the really desirable end they fervently wished for, the end of the world.

As a result of this shift, what we have seen within the last decade or two has been the rapid decline in influence of the old-style conservative group within the intellectual and political leadership of the Republican party and its replacement by the neoconservative group, the key factor being the shift of allegiance of the Christianist leadership from the former to the latter. As a result, we saw the abandonment of a non-interventionist foreign policy with one that seemed to actually seek out confrontation with other countries to be used as vehicles for the projection of raw military power. The sophistication and education of the neoconservative crazies gave intellectual cover to the most outrageous policies, even to the extent of having 'serious' discussions of what kinds of torture was allowable and what was not.

In the last eight years, the old-style conservatives have seen almost everything they value being overturned by their party: A huge rise in government spending leading to record deficits, reckless and illegal wars started, the alienation of traditional allies, government breakdown as ideology replaced competence as criteria for job selection, violations of the constitution and rule of law justified by the most extreme arguments, people's individual liberties trampled upon cavalierly, and finally the collapse of the economy due to reckless deregulation and a cavalier attitude towards the public trust.

While these changes may have been distasteful to them, for a long time the old-style conservatives seemed to be willing to go along with it as a winning electoral tactic, and they could delude themselves that they still had some influence within the party leadership. They were willing to remain silent and to even provide cover for some of the changes. Thus one found traditional old-style conservative Republicans bending logic into pretzel shapes trying to explain how the Bush policies could be consistent with what their party had always stood for, even though this was manifestly false.

But there had to come a breaking point and the last election provided it.

Next: The last straw.

POST SCRIPT: Finding the right Christmas gift

It helps when everyone knows what you really want.

December 02, 2008

The future of the Republican Party-9: The neoconservative problem

The struggle for the future of the Republican party has four groups vying for dominance.

One group consists of the old-style conservatives, people who want smaller government and fiscal restraint, balanced budgets, rule of law, respect for personal liberties, and a non-interventionist foreign policy.

The second group is the rank-and-file social values base for whom guns, gays, abortion, stem-cell research, flag, the Bible, and immigration are the main concerns. Many of these people belong to the lower and middle economic classes.

The third group is the Christianist leadership, people like Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and John Hagee, who claim to speak for the social values base but, as I argued in the previous post in this series, whose overriding allegiance is to a low-tax ideology (especially for the rich) and who vehemently oppose any government programs that provide assistance to the poor.

The fourth group is the neoconservatives. The neoconservatives are the wild card in American politics, wreaking havoc wherever they go. Their interests lie less in domestic policies and more in creating a muscular foreign policy. They dream of America exercising hegemony over the world, using its might to destroy its enemies. They are firmly convinced that America is a force for good in the world and should not be shy about using its military, political, and economic muscle to dominate it.

In particular they want to remake the Middle East, to secure its oil supplies and change the governments of those countries that they perceive as threats to Israel, since they view the interests of America as identical with those of Israel (especially the hard-right spectrum of Israeli politics), and that what is good for one country is good for the other.

Neoconservatives seem to think the end justifies the means and if they need to, they will support the shredding of constitutional protections, committing torture, starting illegal wars, abusing the powers of government, and the administration accumulating almost dictatorial powers in pursuit of their objectives. A world dominated by sheer America power is their dream.

The neoconservatives have been around for a long time and eventually in 1997 created an organization headed by William Kristol and somewhat grandiosely titled The Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Their mission statement can be found on its website.

The Project for the New American Century is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American leadership is good both for America and for the world; and that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle.

The PNAC intends, through issue briefs, research papers, advocacy journalism, conferences, and seminars, to explain what American world leadership entails. It will also strive to rally support for a vigorous and principled policy of American international involvement and to stimulate useful public debate on foreign and defense policy and America's role in the world.

For a while the neoconservatives wandered in the political wilderness, searching for a home. They are not particularly politically partisan, except for tactical reasons for the purposes of executing their long-term political strategy. Many of them are socially liberal and have been Democrats in the past, belonging to the strongly anti-Soviet/anti-Russian wing of that party that used to be headed by Senator Henry 'Scoop' Jackson. (Leading neoconservative Richard Perle was a staffer for Jackson for over a decade.) Many are not religious at all but believe in the utility of religion as a powerful means for influencing people to adopt particular political positions and keeping them in line.

They neoconservatives tried to influence the administration of George H. W. Bush (1988-1992) but did not have much success. That administration was dominated by so-called 'realists', people who dealt with the world as it was and not as they wished it to be, and who pursued a multilateral foreign policy based on alliances rather than on unilateral projections of American power. Ray McGovern, a long-time CIA analyst who worked in that administration and gave George H. W. Bush his daily intelligence briefing, says that the neoconservatives were then called "the crazies" and kept at arm's length.

The neoconservatives may be crazy but they not stupid. They don't care too much about who actually is the titular leader of the country or what party is in power. While they seek actual political power, they also believe that they can influence policies through occupying senior policy-making positions in government and dominating the discussions in the opinion-making media. They did the latter by building up their so-called think tanks and using them to gain prominence as media analysts. (For more analysis on how this works, see my series on the propaganda machine.)

After their failure to significantly infiltrate the administration of Bush Sr., the neoconservatives tried to move in with Democrats and influence the Clinton administration (1992-2000) to adopt their hard-line military interventionist policies, but again met with only limited success.

But then they hit the jackpot following George W. Bush's victory in 2000.

Next: The rise of neoconservative influence.

POST SCRIPT: On being #1

Lewis Black comments on some American preoccupations. (Strong language advisory.)

December 01, 2008

The future of the Republican Party-8: Compassionate conservatism versus brutal conservatism

(For the previous posts in this series, see here.)

If you look at his Wikipedia page, it becomes clear that Mike Huckabee is too pragmatic on economic issues for the Christianists. He is someone who as governor of Arkansas sought to find ways to solve the social problems that he faced, even to the extent of cutting deals with Democratic leaders rather that sticking rigidly to the lower-tax ideological script demanded by the Christianist leaders.

In late 1996, Huckabee campaigned for ballot Amendment 1, a plan to adjust property tax rules to make school funding more equal across the state, and Amendment 2, a constitutional amendment increasing the state sales tax 0.125 percent to improve the state's park system and natural resources.

On April 1, 1999, Huckabee signed into law a three cent increase in tax on gasoline and a four cent increase on diesel. Attached to the bill was a bond issue to pay for highway construction.

Huckabee also seems to be genuinely progressive on race, concerned about the state of the environment, and interested in trying to improve the conditions of the poor.

Huckabee proclaimed 1997 as a year of racial reconciliation by saying "Let every one of us make it our priority to bring reconciliation, not so much that we can force it or legislate it, because we cannot, but that we begin in each of our own lives to purpose in our hearts that we will not harbor anger, hostility, prejudice, bigotry and racism toward any person."

Huckabee signed legislation to create a health insurance program which extended coverage to children of lower-income families, to be funded in part by Medicaid, SCHIP, and a tobacco industry lawsuit settlement. The program, ARKids First, reduced the number of uninsured children to nine percent (compared with 12 percent for the nation) in 2003. Also in his first year as governor Huckabee signed a partial birth abortion ban and a $7.6 Million Smart Start program for primary school students to learn "the basic skills of reading, math, and character."

He was also not too hard-line on immigration issues.

Huckabee supported a 2005 bill by Arkansas State Representative Joyce Elliott to make some illegal immigrants eligible for scholarships and in-state college tuition, while vehemently opposing a bill sponsored by Arkansas State Senator Jim Holt which would deny state benefits to illegal immigrants, calling it "un-Christian."

All these actions were taken as signs of his lack of ideological purity and earned him the deep ire of the low-tax ideologues.

[T]he Club for Growth argues Huckabee increased state spending 65.3 percent (1996–2004) and supported five tax increases. . . Ernest Dumas of the Arkansas Times, a consistent Huckabee critic, responded . . . [that] Huckabee was "the biggest taxer and spender in Arkansas history." Former Arkansas State Representative Randy Minton (R) has said; "[Huckabee's] support for taxes split the Republican Party, and damaged our name brand." The group has pointed out that Huckabee publicly opposed the repeal of a sales tax on groceries and medicine in 2002, signed a bill raising taxes on gasoline in 1999, and signed a $5.25 bed-tax on private nursing home patients in 2001.
. . .
The Club for Growth accuses Huckabee of being a liberal in disguise, saying Huckabee increased state spending 65.3 percent (1996–2004) and supported five tax increases.
. . .
The Cato Institute, a libertarian non-profit public policy research foundation, gave Huckabee an "F" for spending and tax policy in 2006.

And this is the main hidden fault line that is dividing the Republican party. For all their professed concern about religion-based social issues, this group's fundamental allegiance is to an extreme form of free-market economics that serves mainly the interests of the very rich class. Any candidate that they approve of must support lower taxes (especially for the top echelons) and oppose any and all government programs that seem to benefit the poor.

These religious leaders have striven over the years to convince Christians that wealth is a sign of virtue and poverty is a sign of god's disapproval. Hence, by eliminating government assistance programs, poor people should be left to fend for themselves, to prove that they are worthy by raising themselves out of their situation without any assistance from the government, while the well-to-do deserve to be rewarded for their obvious good character by being given even more tax cuts and other benefits. These Christianists seem to take literally Jesus's words, "For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." (Matthew 25:29)

They have partially succeeded with this message but they may be pushing it too far and alienating some of their base. Many Christians are not as callous as the Christianists are. They may think that they are entitled to a good life simply by virtue of being born-again Jesus lovers but they also believe in being their neighbor's keeper and are not comfortable turning away from people in dire need. They take Jesus's story about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) as a prescription for action. Many are also concerned about the state of the environment and worry about the excesses of greed that have led to deep inequalities.

Huckabee's understanding of Christianity seems to push him in the direction of being an actual 'compassionate conservative' even though he remains religiously extreme, and the low-tax, ideology-driven religious right leaders did not want to have anything to do with him. While Huckabee may have fit the bill as far as social issues goes, he was too pragmatic and lacked gut-based, ideological approach to decision-making and the steely-eyed determination of Bush, McCain, and Palin.

In their rejection of Huckabee, these Christianist leaders are revealing a major fault line within the Republican party and showing themselves to be out of step with the values of many of their followers. Their rejection of the Huckabee candidacy reveals clearly more than anything else that their desire to serve the very rich triumphs over their so-called religious values.

This major schism within the Republican party is compounded by the rise of neoconservative influence within it, and this is what has driven the party off the rails.

Next: The Republicans' neoconservative problem.

POST SCRIPT: The Modern Apostle's Creed

What liberal Christians really believe.


November 26, 2008

The future of the Republican Party-7: Why don't the Christianists ♥ Huckabee?

Mike Huckabee, who saw himself as the real deal, is understandably peeved at the way he was treated by the very people who should have embraced his candidacy and been his most ardent supporters. A review of his just released memoir shows that he is willing to name names:

Many conservative Christian leaders — who never backed Huckabee, despite their holding similar stances on social issues — are spared neither the rod nor the lash. Huckabee writes of Gary Bauer, the conservative Christian leader and former presidential candidate, as having an "ever-changing reason to deny me his support." Of one private meeting with Bauer, Huckabee says, "It was like playing Whac-a-Mole at the arcade — whatever issue I addressed, another one surfaced as a 'problem' that made my candidacy unacceptable." He also accuses Bauer of putting national security before bedrock social issues like the sanctity of life and traditional marriage.
. . .
He calls out Pat Robertson, the Virginia-based televangelist, and Dr. Bob Jones III, chancellor of Bob Jones University in South Carolina, for endorsing Rudy Giuliani and Romney, respectively. He also has words for the Texas-based Rev. John Hagee, who endorsed the more moderate John McCain in the primaries, as someone who was drawn to the eventual Republican nominee because of the lure of power. Huckabee says he spoke to Hagee by phone before the McCain endorsement while preparing for a spot on Saturday Night Live. "I asked if he had prayed about this and believed this was what the Lord wanted him to do," Huckabee writes of the conversation. "I didn't get a straight answer."

I think Huckabee is justified in being angry at the way he was treated. But what was the problem? Why didn't all these religious right heavyweights rally around Huckabee who had enthusiastically supported all the social issues of the culture wars that they have been agitating for all these years, and had proven himself in the Iowa caucuses as someone who had strong appeal with Republican voters?

In his memoir, Mike Huckabee takes a stab at trying to answer this question, and in the process reveals the real fight that is going on within the Republican party over its future. The above review of his book finds Huckabee pointing a finger at what he sees is the problem within the Republican party.

In a chapter titled "Faux-Cons: Worse than Liberalism," Huckabee identifies what he calls the "real threat" to the Republican Party: "libertarianism masked as conservatism." He is not so much concerned with the libertarian candidate Ron Paul's Republican supporters as he is with a strain of mainstream fiscal-conservative thought that demands ideological purity, seeing any tax increase as apostasy and leaving little room for government-driven solutions to people's problems. "I don't take issue with what they believe, but the smugness with which they believe it," writes Huckabee, who raised some taxes as governor and cut deals with his state's Democratic legislature. "Faux-Cons aren't interested in spirited or thoughtful debate, because such an endeavor requires accountability for the logical conclusion of their argument." Among his targets is the Club for Growth, a group that tarred Huckabee as insufficiently conservative in the primaries and ran television ads with funding from one of Huckabee's longtime Arkansas political foes, Jackson T. Stephens Jr.

But the Christianist opposition to Huckabee is based on more than just their anti-tax purity. It is also based on their opposition to any government intervention to aid those less fortunate.

Next: Compassionate religio-conservatism versus brutal religio-conservatism

POST SCRIPT: Money as an incentive

It is an article of faith amongst low tax advocates that money is what motivates people and by taxing people more, they have less incentive to work. Thus the huge bonuses paid to some executives on Wall Street and big corporations are justified on the grounds that this makes them work harder.

MIT business professor Dan Ariely examines this myth by offering low, medium, and high bonuses to people for comparable work and found that:

The people offered medium bonuses performed no better, or worse, than those offered low bonuses. But what was most interesting was that the group offered the biggest bonus did worse than the other two groups across all the tasks.


November 25, 2008

The future of the Republican Party-6: The Huckabee puzzle

The clue to the real problem facing the Republican party lies in what happened to Mike Huckabee's candidacy when he ran for the Republican nomination in the last election. I thought that he had the perfect credentials for the party and was surprised that he did not do much better. He is a former two-term governor of Arkansas (1996-2007), showing that he has executive experience and the preferred rural Southern profile. He is an ordained Baptist pastor who worked as an actual minister from 1980 to 1992. He has been married to the same woman for 33 years and there has been no hint of personal sex scandals or even impropriety.

The scandals that he was involved in while governor tended to be the kind of fairly petty financial ones that politicians from smaller states tend to get embroiled in. In the hands of a determined prosecutor they can be blown up into a major issue (like Ken Starr did with Whitewater for Bill Clinton, Huckabee's predecessor as Arkansas governor) but more often are treated as business as usual and blow away.

He has all the right positions on social issues to appeal to the party's religious base, showing him to be a hard-core conservative. He believes in the inerrancy of the Bible and even favors amending the US constitution if necessary to reflect his belief that the country is founded on Christian principles. Austin Cline, creator of the excellent website About Atheism/Agnosticism, analyzes Huckabee's views on church and state relations and claims that his views make him a theocratic fascist.

At the same time he is affable, telegenic, has a sense of humor, plays bass guitar in a rock band, has an engaging personality, and can appear on programs like The Colbert Report and win over an audience that would not be at all sympathetic to his views. Even I, who disagree strongly with him on almost every position he holds and cannot imagine myself ever voting for him, find myself liking him. He seems thoughtful and intelligent and articulate, a persuasive spokesman for his positions. He looks like someone with whom you could seek common ground by having a civil and reasoned discussion, even while the two of you hold opposing views.

He should be the dream candidate of the religious and conservative right, having qualities that could appeal to centrist voters despite his right-wing conservative views. And yet, after getting a surprisingly big win in the Iowa caucuses, he failed to get the support, especially financial, that he was entitled to expect from religious leaders of the social values base that should have propelled his candidacy.

All the Christianists like Pat Robertson, James Dobson, John Hagee, Gary Bauer, Bob Jones, etc. found excuses to not support him and instead pledged their allegiance to pretenders like McCain, who not only has been hostile to them in the past, but gave lukewarm support to their pet issues. McCain is also twice married, a self-confessed adulterer, not overtly religious, and has been tainted with serious sex and financial scandals in the past.

These Christianists were even willing to support the cross-dressing Rudy Giuliani who publicly humiliated his former wife with his open affairs, supported women's choice on abortion, and had been the mayor of gay-friendly New York City, that den of iniquity that epitomizes the very opposite of the 'real America' that Christianists claim to represent.

Mitt Romney was also preferred by some of these conservative religious leaders, even though he is a Mormon and his commitment to their social issues was seen by many as a late conversion based on political expediency, and thus its genuineness was suspect.

Huckabee, who saw himself as the real deal, is understandably peeved at the way he was treated by the people who should have embraced his candidacy and been his most ardent supporters. As a review of his just released memoir reveals:

Many conservative Christian leaders — who never backed Huckabee, despite their holding similar stances on social issues — are spared neither the rod nor the lash. Huckabee writes of Gary Bauer, the conservative Christian leader and former presidential candidate, as having an "ever-changing reason to deny me his support." Of one private meeting with Bauer, Huckabee says, "It was like playing Whac-a-Mole at the arcade — whatever issue I addressed, another one surfaced as a 'problem' that made my candidacy unacceptable." He also accuses Bauer of putting national security before bedrock social issues like the sanctity of life and traditional marriage.
. . .
He calls out Pat Robertson, the Virginia-based televangelist, and Dr. Bob Jones III, chancellor of Bob Jones University in South Carolina, for endorsing Rudy Giuliani and Romney, respectively. He also has words for the Texas-based Rev. John Hagee, who endorsed the more moderate John McCain in the primaries, as someone who was drawn to the eventual Republican nominee because of the lure of power. Huckabee says he spoke to Hagee by phone before the McCain endorsement while preparing for a spot on Saturday Night Live. "I asked if he had prayed about this and believed this was what the Lord wanted him to do," Huckabee writes of the conversation. "I didn't get a straight answer."

I think Huckabee is justified in being angry at the way he was treated. But what was the problem? Why didn't all these religious right heavyweights rally around Huckabee who had enthusiastically supported all the social issues of the culture wars that they have been agitating for all these years and had proven himself in the Iowa caucuses as someone who had strong appeal with Republican voters?

Next: Why don't the Republican religious right leaders ♥ Huckabee?

POST SCRIPT: Who would you like to have been?

One of the positive developments during the election was the low visibility of Ann Coulter. Her shtick is always the same: say something outrageous to gain attention.

But here is a clip from the past where she and Al Franken discuss the question of which character from the past they would have liked to have been, and where Franken one-ups her shtick and makes her look silly.


Ann-coulter-al-franken - Click here for the funniest movie of the week

(Thanks to Ashali.)

November 21, 2008

The future of the Republican Party-5: McCain opens the Pandora's box

One of Al Gore's biggest sins for which I will never forgive him is his putting into the spotlight the insufferable Joe Lieberman by selecting him as his running mate in 2000. Lieberman has milked his gift of prominence to the maximum so that it is now hard to avoid his smug, sanctimonious, and unctuous presence in the media.

John McCain is likely to suffer similar reproof among large segments of the population for his inflicting of Sarah Palin on the American public. She too has a grating personality, though in her case it is her snide and sneering tone mixed with her ignorant but pugnacious self-assurance that tends to irritate.

But in many ways, McCain's choice of Palin will do a lot more harm to the Republicans that Lieberman did to the Democrats, even though the latter actually campaigned against the Democratic candidate and provided cover for some of the most despicable allegations made against Obama. In the end, Lieberman represents just himself, a voting bloc of one, and will eventually disappear, most likely losing his next senatorial election in 2012.

But Palin does represent a large constituency that will not go away even in the event that she does, and this group has been newly energized by the Palin selection and their claim to power is what is going to cause problems.

McCain belongs more to the old-style conservative Republican wing of the party, does not seem particularly religious or enamored of the religion-based agenda of the social values bloc, and he probably saw that bloc in the subservient role it has traditionally played, which is to mainly turn up on election day. It is very likely that when McCain selected Palin, he saw her as bringing female and outsider and youth and energy credentials to the ticket, nothing more.

I think it is now obvious that the vetting of Palin prior to her selection to be McCain's running mate was cursory to the point of being almost non-existent. I am almost certain that he did not realize that the elevation of Palin would open a Pandora's box of expectations of the social values bloc of his party and did not anticipate the outpouring of religious fervor that would accompany her selection. For the first time, the religious base has had one of them be part of the top leadership. Now that they have got so close to the driver's seat, they are not going to return to the back of the bus. I think they will insist on a true believer as the next leader of the party.

This is where the battle lines are going to be drawn within the Republican party. What is happening now is that the culture wars that were used in the fights against Democrats is becoming a weapon to be used within the Republican Party, to determine who the 'real Republicans' are. The Southern strategy tactics of dividing the country on cultural issues that worked so well for the Republicans on the national level for nearly four decades, has now suddenly turned in on itself and is being used to divide up the party internally in order to see who will lead it and in what direction it will go.

This is why the jockeying for leadership within the Republican party will be interesting to watch, as various candidates try to keep their names in the public eye while at the same time trying to gauge which way the wind is blowing.

As is usually the case, the names of candidates from the previous election are being bandied about the most. Mitt Romney is the one who is most nakedly revealing his ambitions. But he is a Mormon and however much he and his church may protest that they are really just another Christian denomination, they are still seen by many Christians as not one of them, a little too out there, more like Scientologists and Wiccans. Furthermore his earlier softer stances on gay rights and a woman's right to choose may make his true-believer credentials suspect. For these reasons, I think that he has a tough road ahead of him to gain the Republican nomination.

Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who was short-listed as a possible vice-presidential candidate, might serve the bill. He seems to have the required positions on social issues such as abortion, gay rights and stem-cell research, though he does not seem to flaunt his religion, perhaps because of that famous Minnesota reserve.

But earlier in his career he had softer stands on abortion and stem-cell research and supported anti-discrimination laws against gays. He is also one of the few evangelicals to support actions to combat global warming, and these will hurt him with the true believers.

While Pawlenty should be acceptable to the social values base of the party, it is not clear if he gives out that special frequency signal that only true believers can hear that enables them to identify those who are truly one of them and thus support them enthusiastically.

Another rumored vice-presidential candidate Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal is also seen as a possibility for future party leadership. Does he have the required religious cred? He is the son of Indian immigrants and a Catholic convert from Hinduism and describes his conversion in a 1993 article.

He seems to hold orthodox, hard-line conservative Catholic views, which puts his in agreement with the evangelical social values voters on most of the issues dear to them. He is fervently anti-choice, anti-gay rights, and anti-embryonic stem cell research.

His youthful involvement with an exorcism might worry old-style conservative Republicans but will likely strengthen his religious credibility among the true believers, who see such nuttiness as signs of genuine faith, enough to overcome their misgivings about him being a former Hindu and the child of immigrants.

But the real clue as to the problems the Republican party faces lies in their puzzling response to the candidacy of Mike Huckabee.

Next: The Huckabee puzzle

POST SCRIPT: Hopeful signs of overcoming bigotry

Jed Lewis points out something important.

Let us remember when this election is in the history books that it wasn't just that majorities of white voters in states like Iowa and Wisconsin and Oregon supported Barack Obama for President, but it was also black voters in Tennessee who overwhelmingly stood up for Stephen Cohen, a white Jewish congressman who was challenged by Nikki Tinker, a black woman who ran a Jew-baiting primary campaign against him.

Tinker thought that black voters wouldn't support a white Jewish candidate, but they did. She ended up winning only 19% of the vote.

The elections of Barack Obama and Stephen Cohen (who supported each other in their primaries) may not mean that we have overcome. But they do show that we can. And eventually we will.

I really hope that this is a sign of the beginning of the end of stupid and vicious identity politics.

November 20, 2008

The future of the Republican Party-4: Palin's appeal

The radio show This American Life once had an amusing episode about how Americans of Canadian origin somehow immediately know if any person or thing is also Canadian, even if that fact is not at all obvious to anyone else.

David Rakoff . . . claims that there must be a chip in his head — or something like it — that automatically tells him when someone or something famous is Canadian. Lorne Greene? Canadian. The American space shuttle? It has a Canadian-built arm.

The religious right seems to have a similar sixth sense, an antenna that picks up the secret frequency sent out by those like them. While the rest of us were dumbfounded by the Palin choice for vice president and scrambled to try and figure out who she was and what she represented, they immediately sized her up as one of them and embraced her warmly. In the mere five days between her debut as the vice-presidential nominee and her acceptance speech at the Republican convention, she had become their darling on whom they pinned their hopes and dreams.

Palin is rural and attended the Pentecostal Assembly of God church in her hometown of Wasilla. Whatever one might think of their religious practices, such as getting into trances and speaking in tongues, one cannot deny that these are true believers. I know because I have relatives who are Pentecostals and they do not take their faith lightly. People who as adults belong to such churches are not your mere do-gooder Christians, those who value their church as primarily social organizations that happen to also give their lives some spiritual meaning. For these people, Jesus is real and present and speaking to them on a regular basis. The rapture and Armageddon are not some laughably goofy ideas but something they look forward to and pin their dearest hopes on.

So when during the campaign news stories and video emerged of Palin being prayed over by a witch-hunting priest who exorcised her of all demons, some of us were aghast at the idea of a political leader actively participating in such rituals, but the true believers were delighted at this evidence of genuine religion. After decades of being strung along by what they viewed as the false prophets of the Republican party, at last they had a true messiah, someone who would lead them to the promised land of a Christianity-based America. Her carrying to term of her Downs syndrome baby and even her teenage daughter's unwed pregnancy were seen as further evidence that she was not paying mere lip-service to anti-abortion views. (There were always suspicions that the leadership of the Republican party might well allow secret abortions for their own family members while publicly opposing it.)

So Sarah Palin was seen as the real deal for the religious faithful. At last, they had someone who was truly of them. It did not hurt that she was attractive too. This is why the present battle over the direction and leadership of the Republican Party is going to be rather bitter. It is currently being fought over Sarah Palin the person but the real underlying fight is over whether the large voting bloc she represents is going to continue to be in the top leadership of the party.

Those who oppose her point out that she was significantly responsible for the party's defeat in the last election.

There is evidence that Palin’s presence on the Republican ticket has hurt McCain with some voters. Fourteen percent of Obama's supporters say they once supported McCain, and the top reason given for their switch was McCain's selection of Palin as his running mate.

That is a huge number of defections, probably coming from the old-style conservative wing of the Republican party. For such people, these numbers are a compelling argument that in order to build a winning coalition again, the party has to go back to embracing traditional Republican values and not those of the social values bloc. Republican Kathleen Parker who was one of those old-style conservatives who defected from the party at the last election explains the problem.

Mainstream media conservatives are amazed that Palin and her supporters do not recognize what seems to them to be obvious, that she doomed the party and needs to fade away onto obscurity. They cannot believe that she is instead going in the opposite direction, raising her profile even more, giving a hectic round of interviews with all kinds of media outlets and raising the possibility of running for the presidency in 2012. Meanwhile Joe Biden, her counterpart who actually will become the vice-president, is totally ignored.

Palin is not being delusional in her seemingly feeling that she has a real chance of being the party's future standard bearer. It all depends on whose opinion you think should matter. A poll taken after the election found that 69% of Republican voters think Palin helped McCain, not hurt him. Furthermore,

Ninety-one percent (91%) of Republicans have a favorable view of Palin, including 65% who say their view is Very Favorable. Only eight percent (8%) have an unfavorable view of her, including three percent (3%) Very Unfavorable.

When asked to choose among some of the GOP’s top names for their choice for the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, 64% say Palin. The next closest contenders are two former governors and unsuccessful challengers for the presidential nomination this year -- Mike Huckabee of Arkansas with 12% support and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts with 11%.

Given that Palin clearly loves living the high life (her clothes shopping spree is a good clue) and relishes being in the media spotlight, you can be sure that with poll numbers like these within the party, she is not going to disappear into the Alaskan backwoods.

Brace yourself for the new reality series (or soap opera) that is going to last for four years at least: Sarah Palin, Republican sweetheart.

POST SCRIP: Eddie Izzard on Christianity


November 19, 2008

The future of the Republican Party-3: The social values bloc gets a top spot

There may be a little truth in the belief that culture war issues are losing some of their appeal, and that is a good thing. Looking back, we can see that the Southern strategy based on those culture wars was already losing some steam before the current election. In both the 2000 and 2004 elections the Republicans followed that same path and yet barely hung on to power. The mid-term elections in 2006 saw the Republican party lose its majorities in both houses of Congress for the first time since 1992, and the presidential election year of 2008 saw the further deterioration of their support, resulting in even larger majorities for the Democrats.

But I don't think the issues around which the Southern strategy was built have disappeared or even largely diminished. What I think has happened is that the balance of power within the Republican party has shifted for two reasons in ways that threatens the coalition that had been created.

One reason has been increased demand for real power from the social issues bloc. The second has been the rise within the Republican Party of a third group that has upset the working arrangement that existed between the old-style conservative Republicans and the social issues voters. This group is the neoconservatives. Although they are not a large voting group, they have grabbed the ideological reins of the party away from the old-style conservatives. The rise in influence of the social values bloc and the neoconservatives has seen a huge diminution in the influence of the old-style conservative group that had always run the Republican party.

As I said earlier, the social issues voters formed the backbone of the Republican party electoral base but they never really controlled the party. If one looks at the Republican presidential tickets from 1968 onwards (Nixon-Agnew, Ford-Dole, Reagan-Bush, Bush-Quayle, Dole-Kemp, Bush-Cheney), none of them emerged from the social values base. All of them said they were religious of course, and they occasionally hobnobbed with the radical clerics such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and James Dobson of the religious extremist Christianist groups, but they did not give the impression of being true believers. Many of them did not even go to church regularly or, if they did, went to mainstream, middle-of-the-road Christian churches, not the born-again, come-to-Jesus, snake-handling varieties. George W. Bush came the closest to paying at least lip-service to that role but even he does not seem like a true believer.

All of the candidates genuflected at the altar of opposition to abortion but apart from nominating conservative Supreme Court justices, they did not enthusiastically fight for the issues dear to the social issues voters. So after four decades of Republican leadership that ostensibly supported the positions of the cultural issues voters, a woman's right to choose is still not outlawed (although it has been severely curtailed), flag burning is still legal, gay rights have been steadily increasing, people of color are still immigrating to the US, illegal immigrants are not being detained and kicked out en masse, and the Ten Commandments and other religious symbols are still not allowed in the public square and in schools. One can understand the rising frustration of the social values voters.

It is with this background that we can understand why the choice of Sarah Palin electrified the social issues base of the Republican party. Here, for the very first time, was some who was just like them almost at the very top of their party hierarchy, just the proverbial heartbeat away from the presidency.

An interesting feature about the Palin choice is that in its aftermath most media attention focused on the concerns about McCain's age, and the danger that he might die in office leaving the nation with the novice Palin at the helm. So the ticket's supporters in the media tried to reassure us that McCain was in very good health, had good genes for longevity (his mother is still alive!), and that he would be a good mentor for Palin and would help her grow quickly into readiness for the job if the need should arise.

But many people in the party's social values base did not much like McCain. His heart did not seem to be into some of their passions and he seemed to be just the latest in a line of Republican pretenders who said he shared their values but would not really push their agenda once in office. What is less-well known is that his advanced age was seen by them as a good thing because they hoped he would die soon after taking office, leaving Palin in charge.

The enthusiastic crowds who started appearing at the McCain rallies after the Palin choice were her supporters, seeing her as more truly representing their interests than McCain. These people were hoping that soon after his inauguration, McCain would shuffle off his mortal coil and join that Big Maverick in the sky.

Next: Palin's appeal

POST SCRIPT: Eddie Izzard on James Bond


November 18, 2008

The future of the Republican Party-2: The Southern strategy takes hold

The coalition of old-style conservatives and social values voters held up because the former pandered to the latter by taking advantage of their relatively lower levels of urbane sophistication, by appealing to their vanity as being 'the real Americans', the people who epitomized the highest values of the country. Sarah Palin's Republican convention speech in which she quoted an unnamed writer who said "We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity, and dignity" is an echo of that appeal. What she left out was that the author of that quote was an unreconstructed bigot by the name of Westbrook Pegler (1894-1969) whose other views are appalling.

Their lack of education was exploited by feeding them a diet of anti-intellectual rhetoric, appealing to the virtues of 'common sense' as superior to book learning. Again Palin's convention speech echoed that theme: "I was just your average hockey mom, and signed up for the PTA because I wanted to make my kids' public education better. When I ran for city council, I didn't need focus groups and voter profiles because I knew those voters, and knew their families, too." In other words, we don't need no fancy book learnin' and stuff like them latte-drinking, Volvo-driving, Birkenstock-wearing city slickers who think they are better than us. What we learn from our parents, our community, and the Bible is enough.

The old-style conservative Republican party leaders were largely of this supposedly despised educated urban class and did not, of course, believe any of this rubbish. There was no way that they were going to let these people actually run things. But the strategy required them to pander to this group and so they had to adopt a façade of being 'regular' folk. So one had the spectacle of the patrician, old-money, upper-class, Yale-Harvard educated Bush family from Connecticut adopting Texas and its down-home mannerisms for its own. George H. W. Bush famously declared his love for pork rinds as his favorite food and took to wearing cowboy hats and boots. It is not widely known that George W. Bush, now so closely identified with his rural Crawford ranch, bought it just before he ran for president as part of his campaign strategy, and assiduously cultivated his image of a plain-spoken rancher, a good-old-boy from rural Texas, with a history of drunken and riotous behavior who found Jesus and went straight, a plot line familiar to any lover of country and western songs.

By this means, the Republican party was able to cobble together a winning voting bloc that was divided according to social values rather than economic class. This enabled the wealthy ruling class, who were the leaders of both parties, to remain in power whichever party won.

The Southern strategy that led to Richard Nixon's wins in 1968 and 1972 also led to Ronald Reagan's victories in 1980 and 1984, George H. W. Bush's win in 1988, and George W. Bush's wins in 2000 and 2004.

It is telling that the only Democratic victories in that post-civil rights legislation period, Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, involved candidates from the south, thus enabling them to partly neutralize the Republican Southern strategy since they could be portrayed in the south as 'one of us'. It should not be forgotten that both of them adopted elements of the Southern strategy, Carter playing up his 'just a simple peanut farmer' country boy image, and Clinton also emphasizing his down home rural small state roots.

Furthermore, there were exceptional circumstances in both those Democratic victories. In 1976 Carter undoubtedly benefited from Nixon having had to resign in disgrace, while in 1992 Bill Clinton became president with only 43% of the votes, since third-party candidate Ross Perot made that presidential election into a really wild race and got 19%.

So what has happened to the Southern strategy? Why did it fail in 2008? While Obama did speak about the Kansas roots of his grandparents (and Biden referred to his working class origins in Scranton, PA) he did not really try to obscure the fact that he was a highly educated product not only of urban America but of fairly exotic Hawaii and even foreign cultures. You did not see much of Obama shucking corn or drinking beers in small town bars or whooping it up at rodeos. The only attempt in that direction (bowling) did not go well and the campaign quickly reverted to showing him playing something he was good at (basketball) even though it is a sport that epitomizes urban living.

How was it that issues of abortion and gay rights and immigration and religion and guns failed to dominate this last election despite efforts to resurrect them as galvanizing issues? Even race was not a major issue even despite the presence of a black candidate. It is tempting to think that there has been a sea change in public sentiment that has made voters realize that all those issues are the distraction they always were. Is it the case that the Southern strategy is exhausted, at least on the national stage?

While it is tempting to think so, I am not so sanguine. I think there were other factors at play in the last election that were dominant which I will discuss in the next post.

POST SCRIPT: Auto industry woes

The state of the US auto industry is a source for some concern. Although the administration and Congress rushed to bail out banks and other financial institutions, they seem to be very reluctant to bail out an industry that employs lots of working class people who actually make things.

This is a tricky issue. The failure of the auto industry will have major repercussions since there is a huge nationwide chain of suppliers and dealers reaching into every corner of the country who will be thrown out of work. This argues for a bail out.

On the other hand, the reason the US auto industry is in such deep trouble is because they are making products that not enough people want to buy and it is not clear how bailing them out is going to do anything other than delay the inevitable. As one analyst said, if a restaurant is in trouble because it sells lousy food at high prices, bailing it out is not going to solve the problem.

One suggestion that appeals to me (although I don't know how feasible it might be) is to use the bailout money to create some sort of health care system for the auto industry employees, taking that huge financial burden off the companies, thus enabling those companies to be more price competitive with foreign manufacturers based in countries which have a government-run single-payer health care system.

Then perhaps people will realize that the present US system of funding and providing health care is insane, and that the country as a whole should switch to a single-payer health care system. If the auto industry can be made to support it, it may have a chance.

November 17, 2008

The future of the Republican Party-1: The Southern strategy

Given the back-to-back defeats of Republicans in 2006 and 2008 that have resulted in the Democrats regaining control of the White House and both houses of Congress, there will be deep re-evaluation within the Republican Party about the direction in which they should go. Such evaluations, accompanied by vicious intra-party warfare, are normal for losing parties, especially if the defeats are big ones.

What made this year a little unusual was that the sniping started even before the election was over. The difference may have been due to the fact that this division was over the role of a person than the usual ones of issues or campaign strategy. Sarah Palin, a relative unknown until a few months ago, seemed to be the flashpoint for the early fighting, the dividing line separating the factions. But rather than focus on Palin the person, an admittedly fascinating topic that the media can't seem to get enough of, it may be more helpful to look at what she represents.

To see how the Palin phenomenon came about and why the warfare within the Republican Party is so vicious, we need to go back a little in history. Modern Republican politics has had at its core the 'Southern strategy'. This was developed following the bitter battles for desegregation in the 1950s and the early 1960s, many of them occurring in the South, that led to the golden age of civil rights legislation of the 1960s.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed racial segregation in schools, public places, and employment. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited states from imposing any "voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure ... to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color." Congress was outlawing the practice in some which southern states were preventing otherwise qualified African-Americans from voting by having them pass literacy tests in order to register to vote.

These laws were seen as direct rebukes to Southern whites and in signing the second piece of legislation, president Lyndon Johnson is reported to have predicted "There goes the South for a generation." But the effects actually lasted even longer.

Richard Nixon pioneered the Southern strategy that won him the presidency in 1968 and 1972. It basically exploited the resentment of Southern whites against the Democratic-led civil rights legislation to seal Southern support for Republicans. Once they had secured that large bloc of electoral votes, they then used race and religion-based issues as wedges to divide the rest of the country along cultural fault lines to carve out winning majorities in the electoral college by bringing together two large blocs of people.

One bloc consisted of old-style conservative Republicans, the ones who used to be called 'Rockefeller Republicans'. They consist of people who are pragmatic, technocratic, and managerial in their outlook, and less ideological. They believe in the rule of law, a small but responsible and competent government, and a non-interventionist foreign policy. On economics they favor pro-business, lower-tax, fiscal policies and balanced budgets. On personal matters, they tend to oppose the expansions of social welfare programs and be somewhat libertarian in their outlook and believers in individual freedoms. They tended to be well educated and had a sense of noblesse oblige, that although possessed of a sense of entitlement that they were properly the ruling class, they had a responsibility for the welfare of people not as fortunate as themselves.

Allied with this group was the second bloc, those people for whom social issues were paramount, people for whom issues such as abortion, gays, guns, god, and flag were important. These people were always the rank and file of the party, the ones who existed in large numbers in parts of the country and gave it voting clout but they were never the leaders. They were the infantry and junior officer corps of the army, not the top brass. They were thrown the occasional bone to keep them satisfied and in line, but their main role was to get riled up at election time and come out in large numbers to vote for the Republican party. This was done close to election time by raising issues like flag burning, abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, immigration and border fences, and the Ten Commandments. After the election ended and the furor was over, it was scarcely mentioned that nothing much had actually changed on any of these issues, so that they could be resurrected the next election if needed.

So we saw campaign after campaign fought on issues of abortion, god, gays, guns, patriotism, xenophobia, pitting church-going rural people against the supposedly multicultural, non-patriotic urban populations, and setting less-educated working class urban people against supposedly effete sophisticates. And race was always a subtext.

Next: The Southern strategy takes hold.

POST SCRIPT: How right wing talk radio operates

This is a fascinating article by a former local station news director on how right wing talk radio manages to plug away in a coordinated fashion day after day on selected topics and thus controls the political conversation. (Thanks to Digby.)

These radio hosts exploit and perpetuate the sense of victimhood of their listeners.

To begin with, talk show hosts such as Charlie Sykes – one of the best in the business – are popular and powerful because they appeal to a segment of the population that feels disenfranchised and even victimized by the media. These people believe the media are predominantly staffed by and consistently reflect the views of social liberals. This view is by now so long-held and deep-rooted, it has evolved into part of virtually every conservative’s DNA.

To succeed, a talk show host must perpetuate the notion that his or her listeners are victims, and the host is the vehicle by which they can become empowered. The host frames virtually every issue in us-versus-them terms. There has to be a bad guy against whom the host will emphatically defend those loyal listeners.

This enemy can be a politician – either a Democratic officeholder or, in rare cases where no Democrat is convenient to blame, it can be a “RINO” (a “Republican In Name Only,” who is deemed not conservative enough). It can be the cold, cruel government bureaucracy. More often than not, however, the enemy is the “mainstream media” – local or national, print or broadcast.
. . .
[T]he key reason talk radio succeeds is because its hosts can exploit the fears and perceived victimization of a large swath of conservative-leaning listeners.

The audience for these shows is a lot more diverse than is commonly thought.

The stereotyped liberal view of the talk radio audience is that it’s a lot of angry, uneducated white men. In fact, the audience is far more diverse. Many are businesspeople, doctors, lawyers, academics, clergy, or soccer moms and dads.

These hosts actually do get daily memos about what to talk about and what point of view to take, so that a coordinated message can be promoted.

Conservative talk show hosts would receive daily talking points e-mails from the Bush White House, the Republican National Committee and, during election years, GOP campaign operations. They’re not called talking points, but that’s what they are. I know, because I received them, too. During my time at WTMJ, Charlie would generally mine the e-mails, then couch the daily message in his own words. Midday talker Jeff Wagner would be more likely to rely on them verbatim. But neither used them in their entirety, or every single day.

You really need to read the whole thing to see in detail how the system works.