Sep 052012
 

Okay, here’s the thing about this Democratic National Convention, in my view.

Rallies can be great, but there’s a body-level thing that happens in humans when involved with a mob swept with enthusiasm…which can be good or bad, depending.

So I try to step back from the emotional surges that come with cadences of speeches and roaring crowd approval: as a speaker, I know how to make those things happen, and though when I do, I do it because I believe what I’m saying, I know that there are people who DON’T believe what they say who can nonetheless trigger those responses.

But independent of that, this convention has been a more full-throated endorsement of what this country is supposed to be than I have heard in my lifetime at a political convention. More than the 2008 DNC, when the idea of a Democrat as competitive was much more tentative and speakers had to be more gingerly.

Physics help me, I’m a Democrat. It’s a road that can be hapless and frustrating and throw-your-hands-in-the-air exasperating. More than once it has led to downright despair, as I’ve watched the slow-motion nightmare that Reagan ushered us into.

It got so very dark, under Bush. Kafka, wrapped in Orwell, sold by Goebbels. Hard to watch. Hard to bear.

But I’m a Democrat. I’m a sucker for optimism.

That Rosie-the-Riveter-We-Can-Do-It thing? Can’t help it: I believe it. I can’t help but believe in the City on the Hill. I love it too much to give it up.

So after the despair, I’m soon back at it. And finally, crazy as the Orcs have become—and yes, let’s start calling them Orcs, shall we?—the Democratic Congressional sweep in 2006 felt like light on the horizon; the election of Barack Obama, like sunrise at last.

Now, in the light of day, beset by Orcs who can no longer hide how ugly they are under darkness, Democratic politicians don’t have to whisper about what they stand for, the way they did in the Clinton years because they thought the whole country had flipped to the right. They don’t have to soft-pedal their caring about the poor and the disenfranchised. They don’t have to pretend free markets are the Magical Fairy Dust of Prosperity.

So when I listen to Michelle Obama and Elizabeth Warren and Bill Clinton speak at this convention, and they speak about heart and love and hope and future and mutual responsibility and inclusiveness and good-paying jobs and fairness to women and minorities and gay people—and basing policies on some goddamned FACTS for a change—they’re the words I’ve wanted to hear from people in a position to do something about it since the bitter, disillusioned years of the late 1970s.

We’re better than the small, mean people our opposition wants us all to be.

We’re the United States of America.

What we’re supposed to be doing here is making this joint match what we thought that meant when we were kids and they first told us those glittering, sanitized stories about Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln. The way Dr. King invoked the mountaintop.

Nobody at this convention is apologizing for anything any more. No one at this convention is weaseling around what we stand for.

Which is Justice.

And Reason.

And Responsibility to the Future: environmentally, economically, militarily, diplomatically, educationally, scientifically, technologically, culturally.

We stand for Good.

And damn, it’s good to hear it ringing from the Big Podium, at last.

At publication, the Dragon was MOVED

Aug 282012
 

There was a time when American politics didn’t involve one party that was stark raving mad.

We are about to watch a week of lunacy unfold in Tampa. Not harmless lunacy like Moon-landing-denial—RIP, Commander Armstrong—but deadly, morbid and obsessive lunacy which, if successful in taking control of the nation’s policy making, will more likely than not threaten your livelihood, strip you of liberty, possibly endanger your life and demolish any hopes for the future of humanity. If you’re elderly, welcome to the Catfood Diet. If you’re a woman, better get used to the idea that you might be forced to bear a child against your will, if you have a bit of bad luck. If you have children, you’d better be rich, because education, opportunity, and climatic conditions which are reasonably reliable for generating food are things of the past unless you can afford to buy your way into the bubble of privilege.

Oh, and if you’re not rich, get ready to pay a bunch more in taxes, too, because that’s the only way to fund another massive tax cut for the rich.

Seriously.

I’ve never been a conservative. The conservative school of thought has always struck me as rather cowardly, actually: unwilling to try anything new to make things better for our fellows on the odd chance that the Haves might Have a little less. I simply don’t respect the politics of fear: fear of difference, fear of diversity, fear of an Enemy, fear of Doing Something New. I think conservatism is inherently the orientation of small-minded people, whether they’re small-minded because they’re selfish, or because they’re ignorant.

But let’s face it: these are not our grandparents’ conservatives. Once, sobriety and practicality were the watchwords of conservatism. Conservatives generally didn’t want government to try to solve problems for us because it would cost money, because it would inconvenience those profiting under the status quo, because conservatives weren’t the ones suffering from the problems to be solved, and because it might not work, so they were too scared to try. “It’s working for me, so leave well enough alone” might as well have been the motto of the Republican Party since purging its Progressives during the Taft administration.

But at root, conservatives in those days were still patriots. They cared about the country as a whole and were grounded enough in reality not simply to conflate their personal interests with those of the nation. They considered facts in drawing their conclusions, rather than simply making up whatever they thought would sound good. They respected science…hell, they revered engineers. The pocket-protector crowd of aerospace and information technology and heavy-metal industry were in their camp.

Now we face a self-styled  “conservative” movement within which there is competition to see who can be most outrageous and shrill. Wherein callousness, violent rhetoric, bigotry, absurd exaggeration and distortion of fact, and appalling policy suggestions are no longer the fringe, but are the norm. Where science and reason are heresy.

I could go on. And on and on and on and on.

The crazy, ignorance, and flat-out stupid in the talk of these people pales only in comparison to their hate: the no-longer-even-thinly-veiled racism, the xenophobia, the reflexive demonization of difference or dissent, the loathing of anything or anyone they suspect of being involved with sex (generally women, gay people and minorities, because white males don’t do that sort of thing). Worst of all, in my opinion, the ends-justify-means moral blankness: “we are on The Side of Righteousness, which means we are justified in pursuing victory By Any Means Necessary.”

We’ve seen that sort of thing before, and it never, ever works out well. What with the goosestepping and ethnic cleansing and all.

I’m old enough to remember a time when American politics weren’t an ongoing teeth-and-elbows scrum between one party trying—however diffidently, unconfidently or disorganizedly—to serve the interests of the American people, and another that is a psychotic gang of evil clowns.

It started with Reagan. The Gipper Gang was the first to come into power operating under the principle that it did not matter what they said, so long as they did so with a straight face, and the first to speak in genuinely Orwellian terms: Ed Meese’s claim that “there is no hunger in America.” The paranoid jingoism of hero-in-his-own-mind Oliver North, of Elliot Abrams and Dick Cheney, and all the film-plot extemporizing of the Sleeper in Chief himself, already well into dementia, from recollections of when he was “liberating the camps” in Germany to jolly jokes about bombing in five minutes.

Thirty-one years on, we arrive here, debating whether or not contraception, for Christ’s sake, is morally acceptable. Whether or not women should be forced to bear children who are conceived via rape. Whether or not we should dismantle a program which transformed old age in this country from an experience of poverty for most of our citizens, to one wherein only one in ten of us is consigned to that fate.

Thirty-one years of steadily distilling crazy, evil, greed and stupid down to a black, delusional concentrate of sociopathy. The Republican Party has become cyanide for the lofty principles this country has always told itself it stood for…and towards which, until the advent of Reagan, it steadily made progress.

Somewhere around half of the people in this country who take the trouble to exercise their franchise in November will vote for a Presidential ticket which stands for lining its own pockets while impoverishing the rest of the country and shattering what remains of its social contract. They will do this because they believe things that are so far removed from reality that they are incapable of acting in their own interests.

How do you undo something like this? When you’re at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, you have to pretend as though the Hatter isn’t mad. You have to try to fit in. No one in a position of any significance inside the Republican Party dares to point out the madness, even if s/he can see it…which by this point, is doubtful.

How can fact, reason, and civility be reintroduced to a political culture this degenerate? I wonder: has any society ever recovered from this kind of decline in its public discourse?

I don’t have any answers. But I know that a first step is that Republicans need to be drubbed in this election. They need a resounding rejection of their insanity: a solid rolled-newspaper to the snout.

Sure hope it happens.

At publication, the Dragon was APPALLED

Is Romney Cursed?

 Posted by at 4:49 pm  National Politics
Aug 212012
 

You kind of have to wonder.

Mitt Romney certain brings a lot of his own disadvantages to the party. He’s unlikeable, demonstrably avaricious, dishonest, and a political “Etch-a-Sketch”, and his track record is littered with juicy bits of ugly testimony to his cold and predatory character. He is so burdened, in fact, that it is only because he was the one candidate that the Plutocratic wing of his party—the gang that really calls the shots—had confidence would do their bidding that he survived the primary campaign.

Now, on the eve of the convention, he is still trying to solidify his base, doing so with the cowardly selection of Paul Ryan as a running mate.

The idea was to change the subject from Romney’s refusal to release his tax returns, with which he was being hammered flat, to Ryan’s radical proposal that the United States government cease to serve its people, but instead become a fully-functioning profit center for the very rich.

That isn’t the spin, of course, but for five minutes, anyway, the gambit worked and the subject was successfully changed. I have argued this is a temporary reprieve, but for a moment, Romney got to enjoy it. He and his new pal Gomer Pyle went to work on confusing the public about their position on Medicare, and it seemed like the road to the White House, though rough, might be navigable.

But what happens? Missouri GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin changes the subject again…to abortion. A divisive and polarizing topic on which the GOP takes a position decidedly out of step with the opinion of a majority of Americans.

To make matters worse, Akin does this with an outrageous claim certain to offend every last American voter who isn’t a right-wing nut: the claim that a “legitimately” raped woman can’t get pregnant.

These are the sorts of vile rationalizations that have circulated among anti-choice conservatives for years, but the wink-and-nudge rule is that you don’t articulate them in public. Having blurted what he and many anti-abortion zealots really think, though, Akin has spotlighted three issues: the GOP’s extremist opposition to choice even in cases of rape, incest, or threat to the health of the mother; the fact that Republicans are trying to assert distinctions over who has “really” been raped; and the sheer looniness of the current state of Republican scientific beliefs.

So now, Two-Faced Mitt is in the spotlight on abortion policy—the last place he wants to focus attention. He must somehow take a position on Akin’s obscene claim that will both keep happy the right-wingers he has only recently mollified, and leave him some chance of gaining the support of voters—particularly women—who are rightfully appalled by Akin’s inadvertent candor.

Today in the midst of this scheissesturm, the Republican Party approved a platform plank which supports banning abortion and makes no exceptions.

Front and center, Mitt.

It isn’t as though Republicans have many strategies that can win them this election. Blanketing the airwaves with falsehoods is about all they’ve got. But they need, at minimum, to make the debate about topics they can win on if they are successful in deceiving voters. Abortion is not such an issue, and it carries with it the association of the Christian right’s deep influence within the Republican Party…a fact with which the American electorate—especially independentshas become increasingly fed up.

Akin’s statement echoes far beyond Missouri; it brings back into high relief the barbarism of Republican policies regarding women’s health and rights. It is a major blow to Republican hopes to take the Senate this year, and will force GOP candidates in every contested seat to navigate the very minefield in which Romney now finds himself.

You could almost—almost—feel sorry for the guy.

At publication, the Dragon was: GIGGLING

Aug 122012
 

Paul Ryan as VP! Oh, noes! Please, please don’t throw me into that briar patch!

Anybody remember that Paul Ryan was actually created as a national figure by Barack Obama…so he could use Ryan’s radical budget to chop the GOP off at the knees?

Nobody had heard of Paul Ryan until the President made him the face of the Tea Party’s radical vision of government.  Business Week:

“…Obama himself…recognized the need for a foil and elevated Ryan’s stature–and that of the Roadmap–by discussing it in speeches and interviews. Members of his administration attacked it. This forced everyone running for Congress to take a position on Ryan’s budget, which quickly became the standard litmus test of conservative bona fides.”

Once all the Republicans had joined the newly anointed Tea Party Boy Wonder in the pool, the President then proceeded to toss them an anchor, shredding the priorities, mathematics, and even the courage of the Ryan budget.

“That’s not socialism. It’s math.” Easily my favorite soundbite of last year.

The Obama campaign chose as its reelection campaign theme “FORWARD”. They knew more than a year ago that they were going to run against the GOP’s embrace of the Ryan budget’s priorities, and from the beginning, have been framing the race as between “Forward” and “Backward”. And now they have what they wanted and planned for: a campaign on exactly their terms. The Ryan budget will be front and center in the fall debate.

True, turning to policy priorities takes some pressure off Romney’s tax returns. But only temporarily, because the fact that Romney would pay less than 1% in taxes under the Ryan plan necessarily leads to the question of how much he has paid in the past. And the core point of that push from a tactical standpoint was never about getting the returns, anyway: it was to communicate that Romney is a) so rich he has offshore accounts and takes tax deductions for dancing horses, and b) untrustworthy. The first has been accomplished and the second will continue to penetrate as Romney attempts to mealy-mouth his way around the draconian elements of the Ryan budget…which he has already embraced.

As we get into the details: the way the deficit climbs under the Ryan budget, but Mitt Romney would pay less than 1% in taxes…the way student loans would be slashed (that ought to get the young folks back to the polls), the way Medicare and SS would in essence be dismantled…the whole conversation will take place in the framework of Backward vs. Forward, as articulated by The Children of Privilege vs. The Self-Made Men Who Understand People Like Us.

The first headline of the Miami Herald after the announcement? “Ryan Could Hurt Romney in Florida”. That flushing sound you hear is 29 electoral votes for which Mitt Romney is no longer in contention. Democracy Corps‘ focus groups say focusing on the Ryan budget pops up Obama’s margin over Romney by ten points. And have you heard any serious worry expressed by anyone in the Democratic Party about how this affects downballot races?

Me, neither.

So…what does this all mean from a strategic standpoint?

I think Obama set this guy up last summer to bring national attention to how radical the Tea Party agenda is, and to force Republicans to hitch themselves to it so there would be no question about the contrasts between themselves and the President. Now they’re having exactly the debate Obama has been framing for months: “this election is about two different visions for the future”. That’s a debate Romney and Ryan cannot possibly win.

The Tea Party wanted this because they have no strategic sense. Their only approach is to scream louder, and refuse to budge. They are crowing because they view Romney’s selection of Ryan as the moment they have taken over the Republican Party, and they may be right. But if so, in the process they are finalizing the breaking of the Republican Party as a nationally competitive brand.*

Over the long term, just as Ronald Reagan snapped up working people for Republicans in the 80s, Ryan’s gang is driving them towards Democrats. With single women and minorities already heavily tilted towards Democrats, it’s getting to be pretty thin picking for a Republican Presidential candidate. Looking at their bench and their agenda, it is hard for me to imagine a way they can get to 270 electoral votes–not just this year, but going forward. And given the Tea Party faction’s complete inability to compromise, it’s going to be hard for them to back away from positions that put states like Florida safely in blue territory, like voucherizing Medicare.

Romney and his people think picking Ryan is a game-changer, but choosing Paul Ryan for the ticket just locks Romney into playing the game Obama’s team wanted all along.

Team Obama has been patiently pushing Romney into a corner where the last move he had left was to bow down to the crazies. He has done so, and his campaign from here on out will be defined by crazy. Petard, meet match.

 

At publication, the Dragon was LOVING IT

*As their inability to win becomes evident, believe me: Wall Street and the Plutocrats will look elsewhere for their support. We’ll be seeing a lot more Lieberman-style Democrats running with healthy war chests in coming years.