Sunday, August 27, 2006

Reminiscing About the Future: Chuck Hagel vs. Hillary Clinton

Richard Nixon manipulated Americans into believing he had an honorable exit strategy from Vietnam. Ronald Reagan successfully convinced voters he championed a Norman Rockwell society that valued hard work and neighborhood generosity. In 1988, oilman George Herbert Walker Bush won in part as the “environmentalist” candidate. Twelve years later his son stole the presidency after campaigning as a “plain spoken” truth telling man of the people with a “humble” foreign policy.

Perception usually triumphs reality in politics. That is apparent in Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel’s nascent campaign for president. Hagel is shrewdly positioning himself as the sole antiwar candidate in the Republican Party. Ironically, Republicans just might nominate a candidate running on an anti-war platform in a brazen display of chutzpah and hypocrisy. PsiFigther37 posted an especially trenchant analysis about Hagel in My Left Wing on August 20th. It’s worth reading as he/she catalogued Hagel’s misrepresentations of his own record on various issues. PsiFighter37 concluded that,

“The blogosphere may appreciate what they view as Hagel's truthfulness in addressing our foreign policy. But he is nothing more than your ultraconservative Republican who is scheming for a political run in the future. The man does not deserve praise. He deserves the greatest of scorn for being a politician without principles, someone whose political ambitions are written all over his actions.”
I agree with PsiFighter37 but suspect reality will be dwarfed again. Typically, the GOP’s nomenklatura rallies behind a candidate they consider both a winning horse and reliable steward of their interests. Usually, a GOP nominee is deemed acceptable with varying degrees of enthusiasm by their rank and file after the party establishment gives its’ blessing.

Several months ago the favored candidate of Republican apparatchiks was Virginia Senator George Allen. Allen’s combination of affability and vapid intellect is just the sort of politician Republican elites know can win and be controlled. But Allen’s recent stumbles have wounded his national stature and he may not even prevail against James Webb this November.

Hence, there is a void in the Republican Party with no obvious heir to George W. Bush. GOP elites are flocking to John McCain, who in spite of his recent calculated outburst against the Bush Administration has fully embraced neo-con policies. However, GOP core constituents do not respect McCain and his continued support for the Iraq War will undermine his national stature. In 2008 the strongest Republican candidate will likely be the one with the most rhetorical daylight from the Bush Administration’s national security policies. That is not John McCain who has actively courted Bush’s supporters.

Hagel has carved a niche as a traditional Republican realist on foreign policy. Other candidates may attempt to break with the Administration in 2008 but will appear opportunistic in doing so. Chris Shays for example is vulnerable to ridicule because he conveniently flip-flopped on Iraq three months prior to facing the wrath of disgruntled Connecticut voters. It’s an obvious deathbed conversion with no credibility.

Hagel is different because he rhetorically challenged the rationale of Bush’s policies in Iraq even more than some Democrats in recent years. Furthermore, Hagel has rhetorically challenged Bush for portraying dissent as unpatriotic. His record as PSI37 points out suggests support for neo-con imperialism as well as corporatist greed. There is also Hagel’s unsavory relationship with Diebold. Nonetheless, it’s perception that counts and the press appears eager to anoint the former Vietnam veteran as a sensible and tough centrist who is up to the job.

It’s not hard to see Hagel prevailing in the 2008 Iowa caucuses. Even conservative Iowans are far less enthusiastic about Bush’s foreign policy. Disenchantment with the Iraq war will only increase nationwide the next two years and probably more so in Iowa. Meanwhile, Hagel can shamelessly pander to the state’s religious fundamentalists, preach the virtues of lower taxes and smaller government and appeal to Iowans as a regional son from Nebraska. For good measure he might also be able to say, “I’m the only candidate who can appeal to Democrats and independents in a general election.”

Republicans rejected McCain’s in 2000 when he attempted to promote his general election appeal. However, Republicans may feel even more endangered in 2008 then they do today. If Democrats retake congress this November then Hagel can easily appeal to their instinct for survival. Should Democrats fall short this November the GOP will remain accountable for all that is wrong in 2008. That also works to Hagel’s advantage because on foreign policy he’s positioned himself as the only agent of change in the Republican Party.

McCain prevailed in the 2000 New Hampshire primary because of cross over independent voters. Those independent voters in New Hampshire may rally to Hagel’s banner after a victory in the Iowa caucuses and the momentum that goes with it. Hagel would then be on a roll and national polls would further reinforce his stature as the GOP’s strongest candidate in November.

After New Hampshire in 2000, McCain was overwhelmed by a vicious counterattack from the Republican establishment. Does McCain sanction the sort of counter attack against Hagel that Bush waged against him in South Carolina? Hagel stood up for McCain then. Such a counterattack on McCain’s behalf would only backfire. There’s no way he can. And rhetorically Hagel will appear more in step with the majority of voters that decide general elections than McCain because of Iraq – even though they’re records are indistinguishable.

Perhaps the other candidates such as Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee or Sam Brownback might get traction but they haven’t established their own bona fides on national security separate from Bush. Hagel is the one Republican with rhetorical daylight from the Bush years. Yet Hagel can also combine his rhetorical daylight from Bush with appeals to cultural conservatives far easier than McCain. Brownback has the cultural appeal but comes up short on Iraqi policy and Romney is a flip flopper on abortion. I can’t see Republicans nominating Mike Huckabee and for damn sure they’re not nominating Rudolph Guilani no matter what the polls say.

So two years from now the headlines may read, “Republican nominee Chuck Hagel declared he’s the one to get America out of Iraq.” There will be the necessary platitudes about prudence, coordination with allies, and a methodical withdrawal that preserves our strategic interests. But the message that will stick is only the sensible conservative and military veteran Chuck Hagel can get us out of Iraq. That is powerful.

Is the Democrats best answer to this challenge Hillary Clinton? Personally, I’m partial to Senator Russ Feingold and would also be enthusiastic about Al Gore’s candidacy. Perhaps John Edwards could prevail in Iowa and stop her. Wesley Clark also appeals to me. But what if the Hillary juggernaut can’t be stopped and her institutional advantages sweep her to the Democratic Party’s nomination?

If Democrats fail to coalesce around an alternative early on Hillary prevails whether we like it or not. Furthermore, there may also be consequences to Hillary winning too easily. If the anti-war Left does not mount an effective challenge, Hillary will straddle the political fifty yard line on Iraq and foreign policy generally. She’ll take the usual partisan pot shots (perhaps Rumsfeld will still be there!) but not renounce her initial support for the war or propose any timelines to withdraw.

Hillary is boxed in. Unlike Edwards, Hillary can’t apologize for her vote to authorize the war without appearing insincere. As a woman she’s confronted with the stereotype about toughness and doesn’t want to appear soft. And she’s rhetorically advocated for more troops in Iraq. Her partisan criticisms of how Bush has prosecuted the war will fail against a nominee such as Hagel telling voters he will get us out. How can Hillary criticize Republicans for diverting resources from the war on terror to Iraq when she’s advocated for more troop deployments?

An office colleague I respect is a good bellwether for how independent voters think. He describes himself as a political “agnostic” when it comes to Democrats and Republicans. A veteran who served in Vietnam he despises Bush’s record on national security and voted for Kerry in 2004. When I asked him about a hypothetical match up between Hillary and Hagel he immediately said he would vote for Hagel because, “he can get us out of Iraq. Only Nixon could go to China. Maybe it takes a Republican to get us out of Iraq.” His visceral reaction disturbed me. It’s the Republicans who got us into Iraq and Hagel is just as guilty as the rest of them! Perception triumphs reality again.

As PsiFighter37’s August 20th diary illustrates, Hagel has many contradictions and should be held accountable for them. Hillary is the wrong messenger for Democrats to defeat him. She’s too mealy mouthed, too corporatist and too insincere. True strength stems from authenticity combined with a record of clarity and sound judgment. Hillary Clinton embodies none of those virtues. Preposterous as it sounds, a Hagel vs. Clinton race means Republicans prevail on a platform to exit from Iraq. We can’t let them get away with it.
I cross posted the above topic on Daily Kos and the comments, critical and favorable make for interesting reading. Click here to review them.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Power, Politics, Principle and Overpriced Latex Gloves

It was autumn 1992 and I was out of college for a year. Like many undergraduates from liberal art schools I was well educated but didn’t possess any skills for the “real world.” So I telemarketed for a hideous company that sold overpriced latex gloves to nursing homes while living in the East Village.

The market value for these gloves was approximately $30 per case (10 boxes per case) and we sold them for $400. I earned either $8 an hour or 5% per sale if commissions exceeded my base salary. The company provided us with names of nursing homes nationwide on index cards and we read from a script.

The script was useless and typically anyone we called wasn’t seduced by our offer of a free coffee maker with a purchase. Once price was mentioned the conversation usually ended abruptly. Sales were not being made and management wasn’t interested in our excuses about selling a grotesquely overpriced product.

With no jobs on the horizon and George Herbert Walker Bush waging class warfare against working people from the White House, I was desperate. So, I improvised and deviated from the script.

I used fear mongering and told the purchasing managers diseases where everywhere! AIDS! You had to be careful. Our gloves cost more because they met OSHA requirements and prevented the transmission of blood borne pathogens! Most gloves didn’t and nursing homes owed it to their staffs to use our gloves instead.

All lies that I just pulled out of my ass to make sales. It worked. For nearly three weeks I was making sales and others adopted my methods. The company even changed our script and utilized my words. I was ashamed but needed money and rationalized I had no choice.

However, after three weeks the company wasn’t providing new leads anymore. Instead they redistributed the same index cards listing nursing homes we called previously. The second time around our solicitation calls provoked hostility. Several threatened lawsuits. One woman in Colorado even threatened to send her brother Luke to New York and beat me up. She noted that our gloves were identical to any she purchased previously from her regular suppliers at $30 and the free coffee maker didn’t work either.

I stopped making sales. Others stopped making sales. The company blamed me and I moved on to another job. Such was my life back then. It wasn’t until the Clinton years that I had steadier pay and more respectable work. Fourteen years later the memories remain fresh.

It took those nursing homes three weeks to realize they were paying through the nose for lies and scare tactics. Americans are finally waking up from their coma after five plus years of Republican propaganda and fear mongering. I hope the public is not simply fed up with the Bush era but having an epiphany about the legacy of modern conservatism. Sadly, a generation of conservative hateful manipulation and the American public’s gullibility produced brutal repercussions.

Stateless and decentralized thugs threaten civilization in the name of God. Global warming is eroding the world’s water supply while America’s governing party denies that human behavior is the cause. Christian radicals in America contest the teaching of evolution and assault the human rights of women and gays. We’re currently engaged in two wars going badly and right wing ideologues are hungry for more. Obviously, a coalition of corporate militarism and Christian radicals is ill equipped to govern with tolerance and good sense.

The forces of religious extremism in the Islamic world are ascending. Meanwhile, the neo-cons in Washington perceive America as a modern Rome and Islamic radicals as 21st century Visigoths poised to undermine our birthright of hegemony. Corporations such as Blackwater USA continue to make money hand over fist while blood spills and the religious right cheers for the “end of days.” Approximately one year ago we failed to look after our own during a hurricane while nation building in Iraq.

America’s unique blending of corporate militarism and Christian radicalism has resulted in a dysfunctional culture of plutocracy and Puritanism. As the mega rich avoid paying taxes and playing by the same rules as everyone else, the middle class and working poor can’t earn a living wage or afford healthcare. A corporation such as Kaiser Permanente is not accountable for their misdeeds but there are women who can’t buy morning after pills from their local pharmacies.

This duality of maximum autonomy for corporations and plutocrats while eroding civil liberties and prosperity for individuals is producing an era of entropy. Entropy at home and abroad is the legacy of modern conservatism and our collective susceptibility to their assault on truth. Meanwhile, the so-called libertarians and “moderates” dismiss their culpability for empowering a reign of indecency and decay.

What is the antidote to this condition? We need more than a “new direction” or change from Republican rule to Democrats. America needs a progressive reformation that detoxifies our culture from corporate militarism and Christian theocrats. The time has come for a modern enlightenment.

The world is crying for America to lead as the guiding light of enlightenment instead of pouring more kerosene on the world’s fire of disorder and facilitating greed based globalization. In this instance leading means becoming better global citizens and nurturing a culture of community values at home. The time has come to jettison the failed ethos of hyper individualism in our country as well as the hubris of imperialism abroad.

This may become possible because American conservatism is discredited and sucking wind. All that remains is defining the terms of their surrender and what comes next. That is what the next two election cycles are truly about. The struggle for what replaces conservatism is underway. Republicans may survive if they adapt in coming years. Democrats may prevail in the short term. Regardless, the center of political gravity is poised to change.

If we truly want a progressive reformation based upon truth, merit and social justice to prevail then we must never surrender integrity for expediency. As a progressive pragmatist I don’t want to lose this opportunity to establish a governing philosophy based upon social justice and realism. It is incumbent upon progressive activists and the netroots community to remain vigilant and committed to our principles after victory. Strange as it seems, in the coming years we may become the establishment.

Once upon a time conservatives championed some worthy principles such as fiscal responsibility, values and individual responsibility. They squandered them in favor of expediency and patronage. They forgot where they came from and lied as if truth were an endless supply of counterfeit money. I hope we never forget where we come from and abandon our principles at the first taste of power. To do so would be catastrophic. My personal reality check is remembering the gloves.
My thanks to "Suan G." for once again rescuing my cross posting on Daily Kos. I estimate she's done this for me at least six times this year and it's highly appreciated.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

At Long Last Have You No Decency David Brooks?

David Brooks is a lightweight whom I typically ignore. Other progressive bloggers critique his sophomoric punditry and infantile analysis with enthusiasm. Until Friday, I considered attacking Brooks akin to abusing the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

Standing on an overcrowded A-Train with malfunctioning air conditioning, I read Brooks’ column "Bye-Bye Bootstraps" while commuting to Manhattan from Brooklyn. Brooks had the temerity to suggest that a “Wal-Mart leisure class” was emerging in America. One wonders how my fellow passengers suffering from the heat as we commuted to our jobs would’ve responded to this soft minded propagandist of America’s plutocracy.

The New York Times recently did a piece about how some people out of work were taking advantage of their free time. Brooks cleverly exploited quotes from these individuals to suggest that today’s work ethic belongs to the hard working wealthy. Even worse, Brooks’ perverts the word “dignity” to claim it as the property of elites:

“Once upon a time, middle-class men would have defined their dignity by their ability to work hard, provide for their family and live as self-reliant members of society. But these fellows, to judge by their quotations, define their dignity the same way the subjects of Thorstein Veblen’s ‘The Theory of the Leisure Class’ defined theirs.

They define their dignity by the loftiness of their thinking. They define their dignity not by their achievement, but by their personal enlightenment, their autonomy, by their distance from anything dishonorably menial or compulsory.”
You see what he’s doing? Brooks is hijacking the egalitarian concept of dignity. Dignity is a virtue that no single economic class, race, religion or nationality can lay claim to as his or her own. Dignity belongs to all of us. As Robert Fuller has written so persuasively, dignity is a universal right. Brooks has twisted dignity into a virtue belonging to the wealthy.

Obviously he hopes to justify the status of today’s mega wealthy by implying elites possess superior dignity. The wealthy are hard working souls driven to achievement while those lazy people working at Wal-Mart just don’t have the same dignity of ambition. This man is a jerk.

I immediately thought of my good friend known by some in the blogosphere as ”Breaking Ranks.” She is a driven person down on her luck professionally without steady work. I could think of no one more qualified to refute the garbage inside David Brooks’ column.

She did not disappoint. My friend is a gentle soul but Brooks’ column provoked her into posting a diary on Daily Kos entitled, "F*** YOU DAVID BROOKS AND NYT." Her title made me laugh. In nearly twenty years of friendship from our days as undergraduate classmates, I don’t recall her ever dropping an F-bomb. For her to even have “F” followed by three asterisks was a big deal. Brooks may be a mediocre scribe but he managed to provoke the most gentle and civil of souls.

Her post was a tour de force and a must read. It should’ve made the recommended list at Daily Kos but didn’t. A talented writer she got to the point quickly:

“I've been limping around in agony for three weeks. An ingrown toenail got seriously infected, and the only thing Neosporin seems to be doing is preventing it from getting worse. Why haven't I gone to a podiatrist? I don't have any health insurance. Thus this NYT article by David Brooks makes me want to scream with rage.

I haven't worked regularly since 2003. Nothing is going into Social Security for me, and it's likely that I will be a renter (or possibly a homeless person) until the day I die. I've never held a full-time job that made use of my education and talents, much less enabled me to pursue my dreams. I haven't been to the movies in over three years, and I don't conspicuously consume at Wal-Mart or anywhere else. I handwash all my clothes, and I'm down to one pair of pants.

Yep, I'm sooo sure this is what Veblen had in mind when he described the Leisure Class. My take on the dignity of my condition diverges considerably from Brooks' mean-spirited screed as well.

So forgive the INAPPROPRIATE CAPS - I'm officially PISSED THE HELL OFF!”
Alas, David Brooks enjoys a veneer of respectability. The New York Times is discredited from the Judith Miller fiasco and other transgressions. However, the gray lady remains a powerful forum and Brooks is a frequent commentator on the inside the beltway talking circuit. Consequently, he has the ability to shape the terms of debate and discussion that influences political discourse. Those who control the terms of debate rule the day in politics.

Since Barry Goldwater’s landslide defeat in 1964, conservatives have managed to define the social safety net as evil and taxes on wealth as immoral. With ruthless skill conservatives have promoted an ethos in America that rewards wealth over work and hyper individualism over community values.

These people realize their reign of indecency may be coming to an end if the terms of debate are not altered before November. Enter David Brooks at stage right with his mean spirited diatribe sullying the dignity and virtues of hard working people. Our corporatist policies that reward wealth over work can be justified because in Brooks’ view the wealthy are the only people who are truly working.

During his weekly appearance with Mark Shields on the PBS News Hour, Brooks even criticized the attempt to raise the minimum wage because it would only help “teenagers.” Mark Shields promptly corrected him and noted that minimum wage earners are the primary earners in forty percent of households.

Sadly, abstract columns by David Brooks and others that justify class warfare from the top are not effectively refuted. Media Matters is terrific at exposing disinformation and falsehoods but this sort of diatribe often survives and eventually becomes an accepted part of the lexicon. It sounds absurd yet given Republican success at manipulating language it’s not hard to imagine liberals soon having to defend that regular working people have dignity too.

My friend did a beautiful job in responding to Brooks. More is needed however. I urge anyone reading this posting to write to the New York Times and demand that Brooks recant and apologize to millions of working Americans. This should be done in a respectful tone without profanity. Blogosphere etiquette will be ineffective. Instead, please utilize civil assertiveness to persuade the New York Times editorial board that David Brooks has created a firestorm with his indecency.

One aspect of the New York Times I always appreciated is the diversity of their columnists. Columnists for the Wall Street Journal are nothing but a total echo chamber for corporate fascism. At least the New York Times tries to promote a diversity of views with their columnists. Nevertheless, David Brooks’ column on Friday requires a heavy volume response from the working people of this country. I can think of no better place to start then the netroots.

To submit a letter to the New York Times click here.
I'm thrilled to report this posting was linked on The Nation's website in their important articles and newsfeeds section from the afternoon of Sunday, August 6th until late afternoon on Monday, August 7th. Why this happened I don't know but I'm gratified by the recognition and hope it results in many letters to the New York Times editorial board.

Also, I cross posted this topic on Daily Kos and the comments both favorable and otherwise make for interesting reading. Click here to review them.