31 August 2007

Clinton: The Hate Factor

Elizabeth Edwards hints that it might not be a good idea for Democrats to nominate Senator Clinton for the Presidency because so many Republicans hate her (see http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Elizabeth-Edwards-Clinton.html). She says that Republicans might be more motivated to vote for their own party by hatred of Mrs. Clinton than by any enthusiasm for their own nominee. Really, that's just for starters. Mrs. Edwards doesn't mention the numerous independents and Democrats who will certainly be influenced by what we should fairly call legitimate suspicions about the Senator's character and policies. It would be more surprising if people weren't suspicious about an avowed feminist who rode toward power on her husband's coat-tail, or a professed champion of the common folk who's been a board member of Wal-Mart and a beneficiary of Rupert Murdoch. These suspicions don't exempt us from objectively weighing her qualifications against those of her rivals, but if they make people think twice about their normal reflex vote for a Democrat, no matter how they feel about Republicans, it might also embolden them to take a step in a new direction, away from a two-party system that forces a Hilary or Worse choice upon them.

30 August 2007

A Note on Death Anniversaries

The news media and the people of Great Britain are making a big deal of the tenth anniversary of the death of Diana Spencer, the erstwhile Princess of Wales. Many who mourn the anniversary believe that Diana was a person of great accomplishments, or at least great promise. For my part, I notice that the commemoration fits into a pattern. You may wonder, if so many think Diana a great woman, why few seem to mark her birthday. Consider the case of Elvis Presley: his birthday is noted, especially by cable movie channels that program his movies that day, but certainly the anniversary of his death is the bigger occasion for his fans. Go back further and ask how many Americans know John F. Kennedy's birthday, compared to those who know the day he died. Compare all these examples to the civic honors heaped on Washington, Lincoln and Dr. King on the approximate occasion of their birthdays. Why, in most modern cases, are people more inclined to commemorate the death days of their idols rather than the birthdays? I think it goes back to Kennedy's assassination and the commonplace assertion that people would always remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. People today can probably tell you where they were and what they were doing on 16 August 1977 or 31 August 1997, or possibly even 8 December 1980. Of course, their location and activities are not the objects of remembrance on the anniversaries. Instead, these little cultural holidays are all about how you reacted to the great one's demise and recreating how you felt at those terrible moments. Death anniversaries, for celebrities at least, aren't so much commemorations of great lives as they are occasions for people to wallow in memories of their own sensations. They are phenomena that won't outlast their founding generations, leaving future generations to determine whether the objects of such morbid adoration deserve commemoration in their own rights.

29 August 2007

Sen. Craig, continued.

Mr. Right's prediction is looking better. The Republican caucus in the Senate has stripped Senator Craig of his committee assignments, while Sen. McCain and Sen. Coleman had called on him to resign. Craig himself remains defiant, as far as we can tell.

The Dan Abrams program on MSNBC had a fascinating segment on Craig tonight. Abrams noted that Republicans have been involved in twice as many sex scandals as Democrats over the last ten years. He raised the question of hypocrisy with his panel, and Pat Buchanan suggested that Craig may not be a hypocrite, but simply a sincere man who could not control an overpowering urge. He may have a valid point that people struggling with urges they abhor aren't necessarily hypocrites when they weaken, but the heart of the hypocrisy question is whether they should preach when they can't practice. I'd say they can as long as they're honest about themselves. That is, if Craig, despite his denials, is gay and yet abhors gay sex, as might be inferred from his rhetoric, he should let people know that he has gay impulses and is struggling against them. Whether he should consider his impulses wrong is another matter, but pragmatically speaking, giving in to them in an airport men's room can only be bad if you're a public figure.

Inevitably, Abrams raised the question of partisan gains or losses from the scandal. He asked whether the GOP could actually gain by taking quick action to purge Craig. Of course, no one else would have to worry about being tainted by association with Craig if they didn't belong to the same electioneering cabal, but that thought never occurred to anyone. Nevertheless, count that as another disadvantage of the two-party system: it makes you, as a politician, a hostage to other people's fortunes for no good reason.

Calm down, Fidel!

Fidel Castro must be losing focus in his declining years. From his sickbed he has issued an order (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6969763.stm) that really wasn't necessary. Wouldn't a defector, particularly a boxer seeking to jump over for economic gain, be considered an illegal immigrant in the U.S.? Or is Castro under the impression that Chicago is some sort of sanctuary city? His confusion is probably understandable, because the U.S. has played by different rules regarding Cubans for a long time. Cuban immigrants, especially if they're illegal by Cuban standards, are useful political symbols of Castro's alleged illegitimacy. But Americans are supposedly tired of people coming here illegally just to make money. So if a Cuban boxer rings your doorbell asking for asylum, what would you do?

28 August 2007

Back at the Office, the Subject is Sen. Craig

Mr. Peepers was giddy in anticipation of Mr. Right's arrival in the newsroom. No sooner had the sportswriter settled into his desk when Mr. P. danced over and asked if he had heard about the latest scandal. "What scandal?" Mr. Right asked, as if knowing the answer already. Mr. Peepers giggled like someone out of Reefer Madness. "What about Senator Craig?" he clarified.

"I'll tell you one thing," Mr. R. finally answered, "Conservatives resign. Liberals don't. That's because the end justifies the means for them when it comes to fighting conservatives."

That was before Craig made his incredible appearance later today (see http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20467347/). After that, Mr. Right revised his position. "The Republican leadership will make him resign," he predicted.

"Why would they do that?" I asked him. "Because he's apparently proven himself to be a terrible hypocrite," Right explained, "But I'll tell you one thing. There isn't a congressional district anywhere in the country where a Republican could get away with the sort of things that Barney Frank or Ted Kennedy have done and still get re-elected. What does that tell you?"

"I suppose it has a lot to do with the voters," I suggested. "I'd say it also has a lot to do with the Main Stream Media, but I have a feeling I'd get into an argument if I brought that up," Mr. Right concluded as he let the matter drop.

Mr. Right is convinced, as are many of his ilk, that a double standard prevails according to which Republicans are persecuted for offenses that would be ignored, if not applauded, if committed by Democrats. He attributes this to raw partisanship, of course, which only means that according to the Think 3 rulebook he damns himself, for our law is: if you accuse a person of partisanship simply because that person disagrees with your agenda, it's you who are partisan.

That aside, to blame partisanship misses a point he made himself. He presumes that the RNC will purge Craig because Craig has proven a hypocrite. That in itself explains much of the "double standard" that Mr. R perceives. Especially in matters involving sexual conduct, conservative Republicans set themselves up as paragons of traditional morality in a way that Democrats do not. Understandably, if an R and a D get caught in the same sort of sexual scandal, the D might get denounced for the deed, but the R will get denounced for hypocrisy besides. Maybe it isn't fair, but they only have themselves to blame, and people like Craig specifically must blame themselves for making their beds with the Religious Right. He could be a solid conservative on many issues, but he wanted the fast track to power, so instead of standing for himself as a conservative he allied himself with the Republicans, and thus with the Religious Right, and therefore dedicated himself, if the charge against him is true, to hypocrisy. That's the price he pays for trysting with the two-party system.

27 August 2007

All God's Warriors

Ever since CNN's "God's Warriors" series was announced, I expected someone to complain about it. By devoting equal segments to Jewish and Christian extremists as well as Muslim extremists, the network was just asking for someone to accuse them of "moral equivalence" or something along those lines. Well, Dan Abrams is on MSNBC right now, as I write, to make that charge, and here's an article (http://hnn.us/articles/42197.html) along the same lines. The complaint is predicatable: Christians and Jews are not committing acts of mass terrorism, the critics say (not counting military bombings, of course), so how can you discuss them in the same breath as the Muslims? This complaint misses the point of the series, which was that Muslims are not the only people on earth driven by what they take to be God's command. The author of the article notes that Christians in the US seek legal redress rather than resort to terrorism. Besides noting bombings of abortion clinics to correct his view, we might note that legal redress is often not available to Islamist dissidents. Americans like to imagine that they could never be driven to terrorism, but that only shows their failure of imagination, which in turn explains their stubborness in the face of Muslim opposition. But keeping the topic to religion, part of the complaint against Islamists (or jihadis, or caliphists if I can coin a term) is that theirs is a totalitarian worldview. To the extent that "totalitarian" is a valid term, I concede the point, if only to note that Christians, at least, must also be termed totalitarian if they hope to have the whole world governed by the Gospels. Totalitarianism is about ends, not means. The Christian and Jewish "warriors" on CNN may not be terrorists, but in their totalitarian aspirations they belong in the same category as their Muslim cousins.

Abrams says that CNN was "defending" Islamic terrorists by equating them with Jewish and Christian extremists. He accuses Christiane Amanpour of a "pro-Muslim bias" and moral relativism, and takes offense that any Jews or Christians might be called "God's Warriors." He objects to her efforts to explain why Muslims feel aggrieved, and takes umbrage at her apprarent skepticism toward Christian grievances. Abrams apparently wants us to believe that Islamic terrorism is a unique, incomparable force of evil, as if that alone were the source of all the world's trouble. He brings on noted Islamophobe Steve Emerson to second his objections. Emerson says that to call a Christian lawyer group "God's Warriors" is to demonize them, but I would think devout monotheists of any persuasion would be proud of such a label. Now there's nothing wrong with Islamophobia unless you're irrationally exclusive about it. Monotheism everywhere is a thing to be feared and fought against, and if Islam seems more extreme, that's only because they're the most extremely monotheist or "totalitarian" of the three groups at this moment in history. Monotheism itself, however, is totalitarianism in its original form.

26 August 2007

Florida vs. the Democrats

The Democratic National Committee will refuse to seat a delegation from Florida unless the state reschedules its primary (see http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20443681/.) The Democrats can do as they please, since its their convention, but so should the Floridians. The people of that state ought to be able to nominate anyone they please for the Presidency at any time within the bounds of state law. For that matter, if the person who won their primary didn't win the Democratic nomination, they should still be able to vote for their favorite in November. There is no rational reason why Florida should defer to New Hampshire or Iowa, nor do they owe unconditional loyalty to the national racket that is the Democratic Party. As a balance-of-power state, imagine the impact Florida could have if its citizens voted for their own candidate in November, rather than the major-party nominees. They could throw the final decision to the House of Representatives, an outcome that would get more people thinking about how the system works and how it could work better.

25 August 2007

Why should a party benefit?

Returning to Senator Clinton's comment, I'd like to be able to say that what she was talking about wouldn't be the case if we weren't stuck under a two-party system, but in this case I don't think I can. Even if we had a no-party system, the herd instinct to rally around the leader after a "9/11" style terror attack would still work to the benefit of the leader himself, and therefore to the Executive Branch. The President, or his faction, could still exploit the herd instinct to advance a particular, partial agenda, or if the President was near the end of his term, he could use his renewed public support to promote a personal favorite as his successor. The benefit of a no-party system would be that no one in Congress would be automatically allied with the President or bound by partisan loyalty. As a result, Congress might be more likely to resist any excessive executive measures. In the present case, I'll concede that any bounce Bush or the GOP would get from another attack would be much less than that of September 2001 because more people this time will be willing to blame the government for failing to protect us. On the other hand, the U.S. is not Spain, and I doubt whether another attack would result in a wholesale repudiation of the current regime, as happened after the Madrid attacks. Not that I wish an attack to happen, but if it did, I'd like to be proven wrong in my prediction.

24 August 2007

Scary to Think About ...

I ride the bus to work. That will provide a writer plenty of material over time. Here's an example: a guy gets on board whom I recognize as a regular rider. He suffers from some sort of autism that impels him to repeat certain phrases incessantly in a droning voice punctuated by a deep HMMMMMMMM. Here's his selection for Friday morning, in part:

"Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom and Gomorrah. HMMMMMMM. This country is a Sodom and Gomorrah. This country is a Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom and Gomorrah. HMMMMMM. One big Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom and Gomorrah. This country is one big Sodom and Gomorrah. This country is one big Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom and Gomorrah. HMMMMMM."

The scary part of it is that, two thousand years or so ago, that kind of talk would have been taken for a voice of prophecy.

Maybe "tasteless," but true

Some of Senator Clinton's competitors are chiding her for saying that Republicans would benefit politically from another large-scale terrorist attack in the U.S.
(see http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/08/24/clinton.terrorism/index.html)

Senator Dodd and Governor Richardson call it tasteless for her to talk like that. I wasn't aware that there was still a standard of taste in political rhetoric, but I will concede that it certainly is cynical of Mrs. C. to say what she did. The harsh thing about cynicism is that it's often based on truth. Look at President Bush's approval ratings for the second half of September 2001 compared to August of that year. There wasn't a lot of criticism or incrimination or condemnation of his administration's awful neglect of al-Qaeda. Instead, it was time for folks to rally behind the leader, simply because he was the leader. It was likewise with Giuliani the lame duck mayor. Since Republicans remain the party of the Presidency until January 2009, at least, the same herd instinct will most likely renew Bush's prestige and grow him a fresh set of coattails for the GOP nominee to ride on. It would only be tasteless to say this if you meant to imply, as some might, that the Bush Administration might somehow facilitate another attack in order to reap the benefit that Senator Clinton predicts. I don't think she meant to imply that, but the outraged reactions of the other guys suggest that they might have inferred it.

23 August 2007

If you like what you see ...

Visit www.myspace.com/crhymethinc for an audio-visual experience from a cultural arm of the Institute. You'll hear some cool music and read a provocative blog that covers some different ground from this one, but from a similar perspective. If you like it, let others know.

Another Day at the Office

I work in a newspaper office. It isn't the bustling environment you imagine from old movies, but you still see interesting characters. As you might expect, politics enters into some of the discussions.
Hang around a while and you'll get to see stereotypical partisanship express itself. In my office it comes from two sources most of the time. We'll call one of them Mr. Right. He's a sportswriter most of the time, but was invited to write a weekly political column in the interest of diversity of opinions. Leave him alone and he'll stick to sports most of the time, and apart from an irrational hatred of one particular baseball team he's tolerable. The other fellow we'll call Mr. Peepers. He's a born and bred Democrat from a machine town and he likes to taunt Mr. Right and get him angry.

Today, Mr. Peepers wanted Mr. Right to know that he had heard a radio talk show in which an avowed Republican had called George W. Bush the worst President in American history.

"On what basis?" Mr. Right demanded.

"He didn't really say."

It's not the first time I'd heard of a Republican saying such a thing. Jeffrey Hart, a senior editor of National Review, has said it, but no set of credentials would make the argument convincing to Mr. Right.

"Anyone who can say that George W. Bush is the worst President ever is ignorant. Beyond a doubt Jimmy Carter is the worst President in American history."

Mr. Right is technically a Reagan Democrat. He's told me in the past that he voted for Carter in 1976, thinking him to be a sound conservative Democrat. Carter drove him into the Republican party, but while the theoretical Reagan Democrat might be brought back into the fold (so Democrats still hope), Mr. Right is beyond recovery. He has absorbed the whole conservative ideology. Carter, he said today, drove the economy to the brink of ruin with wage and price controls, did nothing to end intolerably long lines for gas, and appeased our country's enemies. He had no accomplishments worth noting.

"What about the Egyptians and Israelis at Camp David?" Mr. Peepers suggested, "Carter gets credit for the peace treaty."

"That was Menahem Begin and Margaret Thatcher," Mr. Right replied.

I corrected him: "Sadat went to Jerusalem long before Thatcher was elected."
This made little impression since the two were fully engaged in their debate. As usual, neither was capable of persuading the other. Finally, a frustrated Mr. Right resorted to petulant sarcasm: "Fine. Have it your way. Carter was a great President. I suppose Reagan didn't do a damn thing, though. He didn't win the Cold War. That was all Mikhail Gorbachev."

"Actually, it was," I intervened, "He's the only reason it ended when it did. It's not as if Reagan invaded Russia or bombed it."

"Of course not, but he spent more on defense than the Soviet Union could match."

"Sure, but the main reason the Soviet Union fell was because Gorbachev was unwilling to behave like a dictator to hold it together."

"And you don't think Reagan had anything to do with that?"

"You make it sound as if Ronald Reagan put his fingertips to his head and sent thought waves through the Berlin Wall and made it fall. The fact is, no matter what Reagan did or what he said, if there had been someone like Stalin in power, or maybe even someone like Putin, there's no telling how much longer the USSR would have lasted. It might still be around today for all we know."

I know I didn't convince him, but he let the matter drop. This was one of our more civil political exchanges. Mr. Right is an all-out supporter of the Iraqi Occupation and an all-out enemy of liberals, most of whom, he proclaims, are motivated by nothing more than hatred for President Bush and god-fearing people. The next time he goes on a real tear in that direction, I'll try to share it with you. At the same time, you may find the robotic Democratic loyalty of Mr. Peepers and others in our office instructive or amusing. This is what partisanship does to people when it takes the place of original political thought.

22 August 2007

The President's History Lesson

In his talk before the VFW (http://www.msnbc/com/id/20387818/), Mr. Bush compared his Iraqi adventure with the occupation of Japan after World War II, the defense of South Korea in 1950, and the Vietnam War. Each analogy fails.
The Japanese comparison is an insult to the Iraqis, since the Americans entered Japan in 1945 as conquerors, not self-styled liberators. The Korean comparison is irrelevant, since the Americans are not defending Iraq from any foreign army. The Vietnam/Cambodia comparison is hysterical, since the U.S. decision to contest the Viet Minh takeover of the entire country after the French left turned the country into a Cold War battlefield and probably made the inevitable Communist purges angrier and bloodier than they might have been otherwise.
Senator Reid was little better in his response to the speech. The Majority Leader spoke as if no President had ever misled the country toward war before, having forgotten, apparently, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident and the entire domino-theory rationale for the Vietnam war. Despite that, Reid was right to call people's attention to the speech so they could see for themselves that Bush still believes the same bunk he was preaching four long years ago.

The Party's Over (or ought to be)

In the declining months of the Bush Administration, too many people still assume that the Democratic Party is the solution to the country's problem. The performance of the Democratic Congress testifies to the contrary. The Democratic leadership is unwilling to take the radical steps necessary to purge the nation of the Bush influence. In part, that's because the likes of Reid and Pelosi tremble in fear of Fox News and talk radio. At the same time, they assume that they don't really have to go to all the trouble. They have the two-party system in their favor. No matter what they fail to do, they know people will vote Democratic out of sheer fear of the Republican Party and its neocon/theocon/just-plain-con baggage. They assume that no matter how badly they get beat in some election, e.g. 1994, they can just wait until people get tired of the Republicans and put Democrats back in power. They have no incentive to do more than the minimum necessary to mark them as different from the Republicans. Most of the time they don't have to do much more than talk.

The problem is that too many Americans vote anagramatically: they make their votes into vetoes. Instead of voting to advance an agenda they actually believe in, they vote defensively, rallying behind one of the two big parties in order to prevent the other one from taking power. This wasn't what the Founders had in mind, but they failed to anticipate the rise of the two-party system as we know it today. James Madison expected a variety of different interests (regional, economic, ethnic, religious) to cancel each other out, preventing any one group from becoming an oppressive majority. But thanks to Republicans and Democrats, we're stuck with an oppressive majority every time, a revolving duopoly in which both sides agree to perpetual struggle under a set of rules that gives each a fair chance at power and effectively excludes everyone else -- as long as people believe.

Like the major religions, the two-party system is founded on faith. In this case, it's a negative faith that presumes that no one who doesn't wear an R or D label is competent to govern the country. There is no basis whatsoever for believing this, and if you don't believe that, we at the Institute intend to drive the point home repeatedly in the months to come. We intend to remind you as often as possible that all you have to do to end the era of two-party stagnation is vote for somebody else. Once you abandon the idea that the ancient histories of the two parties give them some special, exclusive expertise, once you break the spell of brand-name loyalty, their power will be at an end.

Time to Begin Anew

Welcome to one of the official blogs of the Think 3 Institute, an informal organization dedicated to disrupting complacency about the way things are. With a Presidential Election year approaching in the United States, we want to remind Americans that alternatives to the existing order are always possible so long as the people demand them. Too often, people don't realize that alternatives exist, and that they can will them into being anytime they choose. We're here to remind them of that possibility. The Institute challenges people to figure things out for themselves rather than accept them without question. We oppose the Bush Administration in particular and the two-party system in general. If you want to read intelligent and (we hope) original criticism of these phenomena that doesn't come from the usual playbook, you may find this blog helpful. If you want to make intelligent criticisms, we welcome your comments.