Several ghosts from the civil rights movement haunted Capitol Hill on February 27, but it was a little unclear how many were the ghosts of CRM past and how many were the ghosts of CRM future. The State of Alabama, where so much civil rights history was made, had built the house from which many of these ghosts came.
On one side of First Street the ghost of Rosa Parks, embodied in a 9-foot-tall statue, waited in the Capitol’s Statutory Hall to be unveiled by President Obama, her political descendant. He was assisted by both party’s leaders while some still-living civil rights activists, a few blood relatives, members of the public and a lot of press crowded the space trying to see.
On the other side, the ghosts of CRM past, present and future were duking it out at the Supreme Court. Shelby County, AL had challenged the section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that requires covered jurisdictions to clear any changes in how they conduct elections with the Department of Justice. Its lawyers argued that ghosts of racial sins past had no place in the present. The DoJ maintained that these racial sins were not yet ghosts.
Outside, a couple hundred civil rights supporters rallied on the sidewalk. Some of the speakers soon walked across the street where they had reserved seats in front of the stage in Statutory Hall. The ghosts of CRM present could be seen in the faces of the six elected officials who sat on that stage. The two Republican leaders were both white men. The four Democratic leaders included one white man, one white woman and two black . . .
Read more: Civil Rights Ghosts Haunt Capitol Hill
Accused of being an optimist once again last year, I was sure that Barack Obama would be re-elected and that this potentially had great importance. As the election contest unfolded, it seemed to me that Romney and the other Republican candidates made little sense and that a broad part of the American electorate understood this. A major societal transformation was ongoing and Obama gave it political voice: on the role of government, American identity, immigration, social justice and a broad array of human rights issues. Thus, I think the re-election has broad and deep significance, and I conclude the year, therefore, thinking that we are seeing the end of the Reagan Revolution and the continuation of Obama’s.
But, of course, I realize that my reading is a specific one, and partisan at that. My friends on the left are not as sure as I am that Obama really presents an alternative. From their point of view, he just puts a pretty face on the domination of global capitalism and American hegemonic military power. I have to admit that I view such criticism with amusement. It takes two forms. The criticism is either so far a field, so marginal, that it is irrelevant, leftist sectarianism, which is cut off from the population at large, confined to small enclaves in lower Manhattan (where I work and have most of my intellectual discussions) and the upper west side, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Austin, Texas, Berkley, California, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Brooklyn and the like. Or there is the happy possibility that the critiques of Obama and the Democrats engage popular concerns and push responsible political leaders to be true to their professed ideals. I have seen signs of both of these tendencies, significantly in the Occupy movement. I hope the leftist critics of Obama pressure him to do the right thing. Marriage equality is an important case study.
I think the criticism of Obama from the right is much more threatening. If conservative critics of Obama don’t take seriously the significance of the election results, they are not only . . .
Read more: Happy New Year: Hope Against Hopelessness for the New Year 2013
Now that it’s over, I’ve spent two days reading reactions to the election results on conservative media, from self-proclaimed highbrow platforms like National Review and Human Events to populist platforms like Free Republic. What I see everywhere I look are central and fundamental internal contradictions in the values of the American Right.
On the one hand, the Right maintains an originalist attachment to American-style democracy. One of the most common criticisms made by the Right is that there exist in the U.S. a number of groups (the Left, minorities, gays, atheists and secularists) that seek to impose a policy agenda on the public by non-democratic means—a bad thing, they implicitly argue. They further often argue that the American system has become too open to undemocratic forms of manipulation by these groups, and that the result is an undemocratic society far removed from the intentions of its founders.
At the same time, through two presidential election seasons (but particularly in this most recent one), the Right has also maintained that there are other fundamental “American” values that these groups do not share. Anyone that has paid nominal attention to the campaigns is familiar with this list: limited or no government, self-sufficiency, Judeo-Christian morality, a kind of rugged individualism, the right to bear arms, a kind of practical nativism (integration rather than multiculturalism, limits on immigration, and cultural and demographic change), a particular affirmative conception of religious freedom (that the separation of church and state must create a believer’s right to practice his or her faith according to the dictates of conscience even when this practice imposes constraints, within the context of the policy status quo, on the rights of others), and so on.
In the Right’s estimation, a changing American public simply does not embrace these values in the way that it once did—in better times. What is interesting to me is that this is seen not as a problem with which the Right must come to terms, but rather . . .
Read more: After 2012: The Troubled Values of the American Right
I believe that the victory of truth over truthiness is the most important result of the elections last week. The victory is beautifully documented in Frank Rich’s latest piece in New York Magazine. In my judgment, the defeat of truthiness is even more important than the victory of Barack Obama over Mitt Romney and the victory of the Democratic Party over the Republicans, important though these are. A sound relationship between truth and politics will provide for the possibility of American governability and progress, informed by both progressive and conservative insights.
To be sure, on the issues, foreign and domestic, and on various public policies, the differences between the two presidential candidates and their two parties were stark, clearly apparent now as the parties position themselves for the fiscal cliff. Yet, these differences pail in comparison to the importance of basing our political life on factual truths, (as I analyzed here) instead of convenient fictions (fictoids), and on careful principled (of the left and the right) judgments and not the magical ideological thinking offered by market and religious fundamentalists (as I also previously examined) and by various xenophobes and racists (who promise to take their country back).
Stephen Colbert, the great political philosopher and public intellectual, the leading expert on truthiness, disguised as a late night comic, has most clearly illuminated the truth challenge in his regular reports. His tour de force, in this regard, was his address to the White House press corps in George W. Bush’s presence. But now it no longer takes a brave comic genius to highlight the problem. Republican and conservative responses to election polling and results provide the evidence, both negative and positive.
Though the polls clearly predicted an Obama victory, it is noteworthy that the Republican leaders and their advisers really didn’t see the defeat coming. They operated in an ideological bubble, which facts did not penetrate. Now they must (more on their alternative courses in our next post by Aron Hsiao on . . .
Read more: Truth Defeats Truthiness: Election 2012
In this post, Łukasz Pawłowski a contributing editor for Kultura Liberalna, one of the groups I met with while in Poland, offers his reflections on the American elections for a European audience. Pawłowski is currently an academic visitor at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford. -Jeff
Barack Obama won re-election, his party managed to hold the Senate, and the House of Representatives is still – exactly as before the elections – dominated by the Republicans hostile to presidential administration. Nothing has changed? By no means, potential changes are more than plenty, but the most important one concerns the American right.
The Republicans, who for the last few years have been leaning heavily to the right, lost the second election in a row, and in their own interests, it is better they rethink this strategy. In a rapidly changing American society this party is becoming, as the political scientist Benjamin Barber told “Kultura Liberalna” magazine, “the face of an already disappearing America – white, protestant, poor and rural.” And indeed, exit polls indicate that Barack Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, 73 of the Asian-American and 93 percent of African American. Given that the share of the first two minorities in American society is increasing dramatically fast, GOP should start thinking of how to appeal to them.
Little better did the Republicans do to captivate other important demographic group – the young. Only 36 percent of American voters between the age of 18 and 29 marked the Romney’s name on their ballots. Obviously this does not mean that in a few years, when these young people entirely replace the now older generations, the Republicans will entirely cease to matter – let’s not forget voters get more conservative with age. Yet, in a society as relatively young as American – in 2010 the median age was 37.2 – winning the presidential election without the support of this age group is hardly possible.
Truly terrible . . .
Read more: Change is a “Right” Thing Now
What of Akin? What sense should we make of the fervid controversy surrounding Missouri Senate Candidate and Congressman Todd Akin’s musings on abortion? What do the howls of protest say about the Republican Party: true-believers and cynical consultants?
As Akin’s moment is apparently over (though he might yet become the distinguished gentleman from Missouri), his remarks require reprise. Interviewed on St. Louis television, Congressman Akin was asked about his opposition to most abortions, even after rape. The congressman replied,“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”
Akin’s unscripted remark produced a firestorm of protest, first, not surprisingly, from Democrats and then, more surprisingly, from Republican politicians and consultants who concluded that Akin could no longer defeat vulnerable incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill.
Politics must be understood through context, not through truth. Congressman Akin, labeled a “Tea Party favorite” (a term that deserves unpacking) had just defeated two Missouri Republicans considered more “electable.” The party establishment was suspicious of this true believer. A replacement might make the seat “more winnable.” In social psychological terms, Akin did not have what Edwin Hollander spoke of as “idiosyncrasy credits,” allowing a do-over for a rabid gaffe. Akin lacked capital in the Grand Old Party’s favor bank. Soon after the remarks were publicized, Republican leaders, as well as former Republican senators from Missouri, called for Akin to quit. Rush Limbaugh suggested that Akin should look into his heart and do the right thing. Todd Akin was crucified by his allies, betrayed by his peeps.
But what of his remarks? The controversy centered on three claims: 1) some rapes are “legitimate,” 2) women rarely get pregnant through forcible rape, and 3) if a woman becomes pregnant, the unborn child should not be punished.
The most controversial, but the least substantial, is the . . .
Read more: The Three Stigmata of Todd Akin
Those of us in the U.S. find ourselves embroiled in that recurring cabaret often euphemistically called “election season.” It is a time for those of us that prefer to be informed to prepare to read the political platforms that are to be revealed in coming conventions and to evaluate the candidates to which they have been matched.
As it happens, I’ve read an already released party platform a few days ago that offers a fresh look at many of the problems that we face as a nation and that ought to have a place in U.S. national political dialogue.
Though I certainly don’t agree with the entirety of the platform, I found much of it to be sensible or at the very least no more objectionable than what is expected from either of the major parties in the coming election.
Some Platform Highlights –
Because not everyone has the time (or wants) to read these things, I’ve taken the liberty of surveying and summarizing what I found to be some of the more interesting points of the platform in question. It calls, in part, for—
In the “Taxation and Fiscal Policy” section:
Reduction of government size only while safeguarding essential government services to the public. Reductions in taxes “with particular consideration for low and middle income families.” Tax policy with an eye toward the unequal effect of taxes on those being taxed. Strong support for the Federal Reserve and the tools available to it.
In the “Business and Economic Policy” and “Small Business” sections:
Massive highway, air, and maritime programs to support economic expansion. Federal loans to small businesses and strong support for the Small Business Administration. Closer federal scrutiny of mergers and enhancement of anti-trust enforcement. Vigorous SEC regulation to protect investors and small businesses.
In the “Labor” section:
Raising the minimum wage. Applauding collective bargaining and labor unions and suggesting that the government ought not interfere with these, save to protect their rights. Providing federal assistance to struggling workers. Guaranteeing the integrity of private pensions with the force of law. Equal pay for . . .
Read more: Back to the Future: A Party Platform
There was an interesting exchange on my Facebook page following my last post. I am re-posting it this afternoon because I think it opens some important points and may serve as a guide to understand more deliberately this week’s Republican National Convention. The dialogue reveals alternative positions on conservative politics and the way progressives engage with conservative thought and practice. I think it is an interesting beginning of a discussion beyond partisan intellectual gated communities, as Gary Alan Fine has called for in these pages. I welcome the continuation of the discussion here, hope it illuminates theoretical and pressing practical questions . -Jeff
I opened on Facebook by quoting a central summary of the post. The irony: “Ryan’s nomination, I believe, assures the re-election of President Obama. The basis of my belief is a judgment that Americans generally are guided by a conservative insight, an American suspicion of ideological thought. Conservative insight defeats the conservative ticket.” And then a debate followed.
Harrison Tesoura Schultz: Would you say that the conservatives have become too extreme for most people to believe that they’re still actually ‘conservatives?’
Alvino-Mario Fantini @Harrison: What I always want to know is: “too extreme” in reference to what? Public opinion? (It seems to shift.) In comparison to conventional wisdom? (It, too, seems to change over the centuries.) The problem, I would suggest, is not that conservatives have become too extreme for people but that basic conservative ideas and principles are no longer known or understood, and increasingly considered irrelevant.
Jeffrey Goldfarb: Extremism in defense of liberty is a vice and it is not conservative. So, I think you are both right. People who call themselves conservatives are often not, rather they are right wing ideologues. Too much for the general public, I think, hope. On the other . . .
Read more: Conservative Principles vs. Conservative Practices: A Continuing Discussion
The people have spoken, and they have decided that “fat cat teachers,” and not greed gone wild on Wall Street and beyond, are the source of their problems. A deep disappointment. A defeat. This was my initial response to the results of the special recall election in Wisconsin.
I noticed a Facebook post blaming Obama and the Democratic Party. They betrayed the grassroots. He who engages in a crazy militaristic foreign policy killing innocents abroad was denounced. This is irrational, self-defeating and irresponsible. Politics is about alternatives, and the direction the country would go if it follows Wisconsin’s lead last night is profoundly problematic. There is a deep seeded problem in our political culture that must be addressed at the grassroots and in the Democratic Party.
Big money surely played a role, as John Nichols at the Nation quickly declared, reflecting on whether people’s power can overcome money power. But something more fundamental is at issue. How the broad public understands the problems of our times. Somehow in Wisconsin, at least last night, the Tea Party’s diagnosis of our problems made more sense than the view of those engaged in and inspired by Occupy Wall Street. This was my first reaction this morning.
This afternoon I feel a bit less alarmed, though still deeply concerned. There is considerable evidence that the campaign itself made a difference. With the 7 to 1 spending advantage of the Republicans, many Wisconsinites seemed to be critical of the idea of the recall absent major malfeasance in office. They, along with Walker’s most passionate supporters, prevailed. The Democrats were not as united as they needed to be. Their message was muddled. Yet, despite this, in fact, there was a progressive advance. The Democrats took control of the State Senate. Governor Walker won’t be able to count on the rubber-stamp approval of his proposals anymore.
And oddly polls indicate that if the election were held today, Obama would win in . . .
Read more: On Wisconsin