Richard Kim is the executive editor of The Nation. He is co-editor, with Betsy Reed, of the New York Times bestselling anthology Going Rouge: Sarah Palin, An American Nightmare. Kim has appeared on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, Up with Chris Hayes/Steve Kornacki, Melissa Harris-Perry, CNN, NPR, Al Jazeera, Democracy Now! and other media outlets. He has taught at New York University and Skidmore College.
I spent today with LGBT Democrats--it's very important here to say L/G/B/T or else someone will make a point, later on in conversation and not so subtly, of reminding you about a very important issue for the Bs or Ts (and sometimes Ls) that flies under the gaydar. I'll blog about those later tonight, but right now I'm heading off to the Pepsi Center for the second night and so, as mental armor, share my thoughts about the first.
The Pepsi Center is quite simply the biggest echo chamber I've ever encountered, not so much groupthink, but GroupFeel--an attunement of emotion that would seem overly choreographed (picture: Beijing Olympic ceremonies) if it weren't also visibly earnest. I watched Michelle Obama's speech next to a group of older women delegates, and by the end, all were openly weeping. Afterwards, the one question everyone got asked by everyone was--whaddya think of Michelle's speech?--by which they really meant--how much did you LOVE Michelle's speech? A lot or a lot?
For the record, I thought it was fine, as far as the odd genre of first-lady-in-waiting speeches go. But it's hard to discern, inside the bubble, just how it played to the outside. Wishing I had watched from a red-neck bar on the outskirts of the city, I made due and asked some friends at home who watched on TV like most Americans what the going read was. "Off-Broadway monologue," quipped one. "She seemed really black. I worry about racist backlash more than before," said another. These are not conceivable ideas inside Pepsi where the only other possible answer to--whaddya think of Michelle's speech?--is the kind of pundit neologisms that pervade electoral politics and in which, thanks to cable news, everyone is well versed. "She humanized Barack. Home Run!" and "She successfully beat back her negatives." Before these were heard on CNN, this blogger heard them on the floor.
Jesse Helms' death on July 4 was read by many as the last gasp of a no longer breed of conservatism--the explicit defense of Jim Crow, the escalation of homophobic rhetoric to murderous levels, the hard-edge of red-baiting imperialism. But Helms was in many ways the epitome of the New Right, and his significance should not be dismissed as merely colorful commentary. I asked my friend, Lisa Duggan, professor of American Studies at NYU, how she'd characterize Helms' legacy. She's at work on a political biography of Helms. Here are her thoughts:
Jesse Helms, American Bigot
by Lisa Duggan
If you haven't already, check out my colleague Betsy Reed's compelling account of how Hillary Clinton's campaign has deployed the racist playbook of the right against Barack Obama. As Betsy argues, Clinton has positioned herself to take advantage of the feeding frenzy around Rev. Wright, and her surrogates have portrayed "the black candidate" as less American, less patriotic and most importantly in what is now a race for superdelegates, less electable.
It's that last word--electable--that really rankles me because it imputes "electability" to the candidates themselves. It's as if "electability" were a personal quality--like integrity, compassion or in more biologized accounts, say, blonde hair--that candidates possess in varying degrees. All of this is absurd since "electability" is wholly determined by the voters, usually. (In 2000, George W. Bush didn't possess "electability" so much as he was gifted it by the Supreme Court.)
Now, in order to convince superdelegates to buck the will of the majority of Democratic primary voters, Hillary Clinton is arguing that she's the more "electable" candidate, and some of her surrogates are suggesting that Obama is not "electable" against John McCain. But just what is it about Hillary that makes her more "electable" than Barack? From reading the Clinton campaign's material, you'd never know it has anything to do with her race. Instead, they talk in euphemisms and codes. In a memo titled "HRC Strongest Against McCain," Clinton strategist Harold Ickes points to her superior polling in "swing states" and among "swing voting blocs" like "Catholics," as well as Obama's rising "unfavorables." Departed advisor Mark Penn has said that the working class is "a critical vote" that superdelegates should consider because "these are voters who in the past have gone either way in the general election."
The last two months have been rough for Barack Obama. He's been left-baited, race-baited, red-baited and tarred as an "elitist." Perhaps that's why he finally consented, after 772 days of holding out, to be interviewed by Chris Wallace on Fox News. It was a strong move from a defensive position, and Obama gave an agile performance on the whole, deftly parrying Wallace's efforts to nail him on Rev. Wright, Bill Ayers and the infamous oft-missing American flag pin. But what's up with Obama's shout-out to Republican ideas?
Pressing Obama on his credentials as a "uniter" and measuring his record against the alleged bi-partisanship of John McCain, Wallace asked: "As a president, can you name a hot button issue where you would be willing to cross Democratic party line[s] and say you know what, Republicans have a better idea here?"
Obama's response: "Well, I think there are a whole host of areas where Republicans in some cases may have a better idea...on issues of regulation, I think that back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, a lot of the way we regulated industry was top down command and control. We're going to tell businesses exactly how to do things. And I think that the Republican party...came with the notion that you know what, if you simply set some guidelines, some rules and incentives for businesses, let them figure out how they're going to for example reduce pollution."
For all the sordid and developing details of Eliot Spitzer's rendezvous with a high-priced prostitute, go to TPM's excerpt of the actual prosecutor filings on Temeka Rachelle Lewis, "Kristen" and "Client-9." As I write, it's unclear if Spitzer will resign, but it seems unlikely that he has the political capital neccesary to gut this one out.
His chances of staying in office, however, would vanish if prosecutors charged him under the 1910 Mann Act--known at the time as the White-Slave Taffic Act. Passed at the end of the Progressive era during the height of a moral panic over alleged "white slavery"--the Mann Act banned the interstate transport of women for "immoral purposes." It's survived numerous court challenges and modifications by Congress over the years, but it's still on the books. Spitzer arranged for the prostitute's Amtrak ticket from New York to Washington (and her hotel room), so he could be subject to federal felony charges under the present day incarnation of the Mann Act. Indeed, the four defendants charged last week in the sting that swept up Spitzer were charged under the act.
One of the crowning accomplishments of 19th-century moral crusaders (along with the Comstock Act of 1873), the history of the Mann Act is drenched with racism and political intrigue--from the fantastic images of Arab harems and Chinese hookers used to sell the bill itself to Jack Johnson, the great black boxer, who was prosecuted under the Mann Act for sending his white girlfriend a train ticket. Johnson served a year in Leavenworth.
I won't attempt a grand summary of the late William F. Buckley's legacy. The man was undeniably one of the great political forces of the 20th century--so too were Ronald Reagan and Milton Friedman. But in seeking to capture the scope of his influence, writers on the left have taken to applauding Buckley's "brilliance."
My colleague John Nichols, for example, recently described Buckley as "intellectually bold and ideologically adventurous," and applauded his "political playfulness." John was writing about Buckley in the '60s, when he campaigned for mayor of New York City. But Buckley's so-called boldness and playfulness had an ideological flip-side: cruelty, pettiness and a tendency to embrace fascistic solutions in the guise of pragmatism.
Case in point, and as pointed out on Digby's blog, during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, Buckley suggested that "Everyone detected with AIDS should be tattooed in the upper forearm, to protect common-needle users, and on the buttocks, to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals."
Observing Barack Obama run for president has been like watching a home movie blown up into a glorious, IMAX blockbuster spectacle. It's been more than a little unnerving to see the thread of something so familiar writ so large. But there he has been on TV, in the newspapers and in front of stadium-size crowds, winning the lavish praise of white liberals (you don't get more lavish or more white liberal than Caroline Kennedy's endorsement). At the same time, he's patiently borne the skepticism of his fellow minorities, slowly garnering their support. Every day he risks igniting the wrath of either clan. Run too far away from the Sharptons and the Jacksons, and you get tarred a race traitor. Run without the Kennedy-liberal establishment, and you become nothing more than a race man, a mouthpiece for the ghetto. Suspicion abounds on all sides; trust is always hard-won. This is the gauntlet of American racial politics that Barack Obama has skillfully navigated to date, and every model minority knows the wily tricks he has had to use in this game of representation.
I won't go so far as to call Obama "the first Asian American" presidential candidate--though the metaphor might suit him just as well as Bill Clinton's coat of blackness once did--but he is our first "model minority" candidate if you consider model minority-ness a matter of situation. The term might just as well accommodate the pioneering black lawyer or the postcolonial subject on a special visa from the tropics. It is the racial other that both represents and transcends race itself [see Patricia Williams], and whatever the unlikelihood of blood relation, there is something that I (a "high-achieving," Korean American scholarship boy) recognize in him (the Kenyan American Senator with the Harvard JD). It is this recognition that both attracts me to and, frankly, repels me from Barack Obama as a presidential candidate.
At times I have watched him speak and been struck with awe--not at his eloquence or charisma--but at the sheer nerve with which he's executed the model minority role. Indeed, he has flaunted his racial virtuosity throughout his campaign--nowhere more so than in his South Carolina victory speech when, having turned the tables on the Clintons' race-baiting strategy and won with 24 percent of the white vote and 78 percent of the black vote in a state where the Confederate flag flies in front of the Capitol and blacks are far more likely than whites to be in jail, foreclosure or poverty, he had the chutzpah to say that he did not "see a white South Carolina or a black South Carolina" but rather "South Carolina" while the mixed crowd below chanted "Race doesn't matter!"
I don't know anything more about Leeland Eisenberg--the 40-something year old man who held Hillary Clinton's campaign office in Rochester, New Hampshire, hostage for several hours this afternoon--than what's being reported on network news. But the ordeal--which thankfully ended without any casualties--ought to focus attention on the dire state of mental health care in this country. More than a third of this country's homeless population have severe mental health issues, including schizophrenia and manic depression. At least one in every six inmates in America have been diagnosed with serious mental health conditions.
The gutting of public mental health services began with Reagan, first in California where he closed state-funded mental health facilities. As president he cut aid for federally-funded community-run mental health programs. The result: thousands of more homeless people in California and nationwide and a spike in the prison population. The New York Times recently reported that despite a rapid rise in the suicide rate in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the city has half of its psychiatrists, social workers and mental health care workers.
Just this year, John Broderick, the Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, drew attention to this crisis when his son was released from prison. Suffering from depression and severe anxiety, Broderick's son injured him in a violent attack in 2002 and served three years in prison. As Broderick noted in a press conference earlier this year, only 1.5 percent of New Hampshire's prison budget went to mental health services.
"WE DID NOT VOTE FOR BUSH." Those words were handwritten on the back of a menu by the US women's bridge team and held aloft during the award ceremony at the world team championships in Shanghai last month. The team had just won the tournament, destroying Germany in the final, and were making what they thought was a small political statement. It wasn't a particularly radical message (who else didn't vote for Bush?), and it was made spontaneously, in a moment of international goodwill and humor.
As today's NYT chronicles, the United States Bridge Federation was not amused. Its president, Jan Martel, and executive board are pushing for tough sanctions against the entire team--a one-year suspension, plus a one-year probation, 200 hours of bridge-related community service and a formal apology. Bridge Federation lawyer Alan Falk threatened team members with "greater sanction" if they reject the Federation's offer. Team members have been accused by other players of "treason" and "sedition," according to the NYT. On message boards they've been compared to the Dixie Chicks and Tommie Smith and John Carlos--US sprinters who raised a fist in salute to Black Power at the 1968 Olympics and were subsequently ejected from the games.
This is not your grandmother's card game! I've dabbled in the world of bridge myself, and as anyone who's played a tournament can tell you--bridge is ruthless. Little old ladies, so sweet pre-game, will mercilessly ruff you up once the cards are dealt. But what are the folks at the Bridge Federation thinking? The game's logic is punitive (you get spanked for bidding too high), but the game itself should not be--particularly on matters of free speech. Nothing makes the game look more backwards, small-minded and elitist than punishing a championship team for using their moment of glory to send a political message well within the mainstream of American society. What's next? Banning certain t-shirts? Buttons? Maybe bridge should only be played in uniform?