I never pegged Senator George Allen as much of a reader. Nor, after his sister's memoir, did I imagine he spent much time worrying about the mistreatment of women. But last week he sounded more like a English major with a minor in gender studies than a foul-mouthed ex-football jock when he complained that his opponent's novels portrayed women as "servile, subordinate, inept, incompetent, promiscuous, perverted, or some combination of these."
It seems like a Saturday Night Live parody of a political attack until you focus on two of the adjectives: promiscuous and perverted. That is because the Republican's October surprise turns out to be moral depravity.
In Wisconsin they accused one Democratic Congressional candidate of spending tax dollars to study Vietnamese prostitutes and another of having connections to a child molester. In New York, they accused a Democrat of dialing a fantasy hotline. And in Tennessee, they accused Harold Ford of taking money from a porn producer and meeting a white woman at a Playboy party.
After ten years of corrupt Republican rule, this is apparently the best that Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman can come up with. Let us pray that election day the American public makes it their last, dying gasp.
Who's trying to use the war in Iraq for political gain, the Bush Administration or the insurgents?
"It's my belief that they're very sensitive of the fact that we have got an election scheduled," Vice President Dick Cheney said of the insurgency yesterday on Fox News. "Their basic proposition that they can break the will of the American people."
Oh yeah, and it's just a coincidence that Saddam Hussein's verdict will be delivered on November 5. "Shouldn't that raise a few eyebrows somewhere?" our own Tom Engelhardt wrote earlier this month.
The Bush Administration has a long and documented history of politicizing the war in Iraq. They marketed the war after Labor Day in 2002 to swing the midterms to Republicans. They delayed major assaults on insurgent strongholds until after the '04 election. So delivering a death sentence to Saddam two days before election day certainly wouldn't be out of character.
And since the Administration consistently confuses the insurgency with Al Qaeda, who do you suppose bin Laden is really rooting for in '06?
President Bush bungled the war in Afghanistan, failed to capture bin Laden in Tora Bora and played straight into bin Laden's hands by invading Iraq and turning a secular Muslim country into an Islamic extremist breeding ground. If Al Qaeda had their way, the US would probably stay in Iraq forever.
Bin Laden's pre-election videotape in '04 is widely credited with swinging the election towards Bush. So Osama, if you're reading this blog in your wireless equipped underground cave, I have a special message for you. Please sit this election out.
Do you get the feeling that every project the United States might once have undertaken is now either outsourced or simply handed over to others elsewhere on the planet? GM and Ford, for instance, took the SUV money and ran, handing over the market in fuel-efficient cars, and part of our economic future, to Japanese and other foreign automakers. Now, it turns out that the federal government has done both of those companies one better. In a front-page piece in Monday's New York Times, "Budgets Falling in Race to Fight Global Warming," Andrew C. Revkin points out that, as the global energy crisis revved up, American dependence on foreign oil imports grew, and military research of all sorts rose by 260 percent "annual federal spending for all energy research and development… is less than half what it was a quarter-century ago. It has sunk to $3 billion a year in the current budget from an inflation-adjusted peak of $7.7 billion in 1979."
Practically speaking, what that means is: From solar power to wind power, the US is ceding a lucrative energy future to other countries. Whatever breakthroughs might be achieved in alternative fuel development are ever less likely to happen here. Imagine what our world might have been like, if -- instead of laughing him out of American living rooms --- we had listened to Jimmy Carter in that "peak" investment year of 1979 when he gave his famous "crisis of confidence" speech in a sweater. "To give us energy security," he announced that night, "I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our nation's history to develop America's own alternative sources of fuel." Talk about what-if history…
In the meantime, here's an inconvenient truth to consider. In the America of George Bush and Dick Cheney (who undoubtedly expect to be driving their Ford and GM SUVs on some quail-hunting expanse in the middle of the country when global warming really hits), a former vice-president with a sideline expertise in climate change, is a totally exportable commodity.
On Monday, the British government released a major global-warming study, commissioned by Gordon Brown, leading candidate for Tony Blair's prime ministership. It suggested that, in the coming years, the impact of global climate change could make the Great Depression look like a tea party. The study's author, Sir Nicholas Stern, suggested that the possibility of avoiding catastrophe is "already almost out of reach." The Brits then promptly hired former Veep Gore, clearly unemployable in our country, to advise them on climate change and lobby on their behalf. Talk about a brain drain.
It's hard to imagine Gore as a foreign lobbyist jollying up to the Bush administration. Could it be that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are betting on another kind of climate change in the US soon?
Over the past quarter century, an increasingly influential legal movement on the far right has been working stealthily to impose a narrow social agenda on the broader body politic. The basic idea is to get judges appointed to the federal bench who will shred popular laws protecting workers, consumers and public health while expanding executive power--at the expense of basic civil liberties.
"If they succeed," says University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein, "we will, without really seeing it happen, end up with a very different country--one that's both less free and less equal."
This story is succinctly exposed in a new, short documentary (The Quiet Revolution) produced by the Alliance for Justice (AFJ), a national association working to oppose reactionary court appointments, to strengthen the public interest legal community's influence on public policy, and to foster the next generation of progressive legal advocates.
As the visionary Nan Aron, president and founder of AFJ, explained to a Nation editorial meeting recently, the failed nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987 forced a change in tactics as the right learned that being open and honest about its views--as Bork had been during his confirmation hearings--would trigger widespread opposition to its nominees. So the fictitious "liberal activist judges" became the enemy and rightwing nominees learned how to duck, charm and dissemble--a strategy perfected last year by the ultra-smooth John Roberts.
As Aron explained on the Huffington Post on October 12, "most people would never buy the far right agenda if it were clearly labeled. Most people want the government to protect public health and safety, our environment, our civil rights and our reproductive freedom. So the right relies on stealth marketing behind the smokescreen of abortion, gay marriage and other hot-button issues. That's how George W. Bush was able to appoint two Supreme Court Justices with only token resistance from Senate Democrats."
The AFJ's film is one attempt to blow away this smokescreen. Narrated by actor Bradley Whitford of West Wing fame, The Quiet Revolution traces the growth of the far right legal community's development and exposes extremist hopes for reshaping American law and life around a narrow agenda alien to much of the American citizenry.
What You Can Do:
Watch Quiet Revolution online by clicking here. Better yet, order a free copy and share it with your friends and neighbors. Write letters to your local newspaper, comment on blogs, and call talk radio shows to explain how court decisions affect our daily lives.
If you are a student or a professor, click here to find out how to arrange an event on your campus.
If you're not a student, please consider contributing just $20 to Alliance for Justice to help distribute the film to schools, libraries, student groups, nonprofit organizations and activist groups all over the country, as well as to ordinary Americans nationwide.
A version of this post appeared in The Guardian's Comment is Free blog.
In 2004, the American news media made much of the finding that a fifth of voters picked "moral values" as the most important issue in deciding their vote--as many as cited terrorism or the economy. Many pundits quickly concluded that moral values were ascendant as a political issue. What soon emerged, however, was that this poorly devised exit poll --and a dose of spin --threatened to undermine our understanding of the 2004 presidential election. What the poll failed to address, for example, was the definition of "moral value." It's common sense to understand it's a phrase that means different things to different people. But many in the media quickly concluded that "moral values" only appealed to people who oppose abortion, gay marriage, and stem-cell research. But why not consider that "moral value" also appeals to people who oppose torture, poverty, war, the death penalty and environmental degradation?
Fast forward to 2006 and the midterm Congressional elections. It's still hard to predict but I think the minimum wage will emerge as the moral values issue of November's midterm elections. Two large reasons: the war and the economy. The other, and related to the first two: "hot button" social issues like same-sex marriage or abortion have dimmed in importance. In Ohio, where one of the hottest Senate races in the country is being waged (it looks like the populist Democratic candidate Sherrod Brown will win) on-the-ground reporting shows that not much is being said on the campaign trail about what are often called the three "Gs"--gays, guns and God. One article quotes a longtime Republican--someone who saw President Bush in 2004 as a man who reflected his own moral and Christian beliefs--as fed up with how his party has "overplayed its churchiness."
What's resonating this year in Ohio--and in most parts of the US--is the reality that the economic prosperity President Bush and the GOP constantly tout isn't to be found in factories or on Main Streets around the country. It certainly isn't benefiting people who are working harder than ever just to keep up with mounting personal debt, healthcare costs and pension obligations. And it isn't benefiting Ohio's economy --where 200,000 jobs have been lost since 2000. That's why the minimum wage ballot initiative is capturing some 70 percent support. (The initiative would raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.85 and index it to inflation. And, according to Policy Matter Ohio, a progressive think tank, increasing it would benefit about 700,000 low wage workers.)
Advocates of the measure --a coalition of faith groups, labor unions and progressive activists --are consciously framing an increase in the minimum wage as a moral values issue. As one activist put it: " Rewarding hard work with a fair wage is not just an abstract pocketbook economic issue but a statement of values." And it's made easier considering that for nearly a decade a Republican-controlled Congress has repeatedly refused to raise the federal minimum wage from its shameful low of $5.15 per hour, yet they have raised their own salaries nine times--to about $165,000 a year.
The "Let Justice Roll" coalition (letjusticeroll.org) --an alliance of religious denominations, including Baptists and evangelicals--community, labor and business groups--is playing a leading role in five states (Ohio, Montana, Missouri, Arizona and Colorado) where raising the minimum wage is on the ballot. In a recent statement, "Let Justice Roll" organizers pointed out that "The Golden Rule--Do to others what you would have them do to you--is the most universal value, found in most religions. CEOs who make millions while paying poverty wages, Congress members who approve pay raises for themselves while denying a raise to low-wage workers: these are widely seen as violating the Golden Rule."
In just a few days, we'll know whether the minimum wage is the values issue of the 2006 election. And we'll also find out if we're witnessing the emergence of a new economic populism in America.
Who needs The Onion when you can find this report on the AP wire? (Hunter is Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.)
Washington (AP) -- California congressman Duncan Hunter looks like hemay be mulling a presidential run.
A party official says the San Diego-area Republican plans to announceMonday that he's considering a bid in 2008.
Hunter is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee -- aposition he would lose if Democrats take control of the House afterthe November 7th election.
Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper won't comment on the congressman's plans,except to say that he would be holding a press conference in San DiegoMonday morning about plans for 2008.
Hunter's announcement comes as a surprise to leadership in theRepublican Party in Washington.
He has not been discussed as one of the many candidates considering apresidential bid, among them Senator John McCain of Arizona andMassachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
If this political season seems especially nasty, that's because it is. In fact, the Republican game plan centers around fear and smear.
In 2000, 40 percent of presidential television advertisements went negative. That number jumped to 50 percent four years later. Now Republicans are spending more than 90 percent of their $50 million ad budget attacking Democrats.
If you only watched Republican TV spots, you'd think Democrats want to abort black babies, dial phone sex hotlines and let convicted child molesters into the country.
"In general, '06 is the most negative campaign in recent memory," says John Geer, a Vanderbilt University professor who studies political advertising.
But there's a distinction between the two parties. "The Democrats are, on average, running more attacks on issues," says Geer. "The Republicans are more likely to go personal."
In other words, while Democrats talk about Iraq, oil companies and Jack Abramoff, Republicans focus on Playboy parties, sex scenes in novels and attacking Parkinson's victims.
It's deeply ironic that the party responsible for the most scandals in decades now wants to question the personal integrity of the other side.
Last week, I noted that when I was interviewing former House Republican majority leader Dick Armey for PajamasMedia.com, the retired congressman told me that his Republican pals in Congress might deserve to lose the coming elections for having made the wrong call on Iraq. I did not quote Armey directly on this point; I paraphrased our conversation. And Armey's office complained to Pajamas about my posting, saying that Armey had expressed no such sentiment. I have reviewed the audio of the entire interview--a video excerpt of which can be viewed here--and below is what he said. You can decide if my "might deserve to lose" formulation fits Armey's remarks.
Armey noted that "the war in Iraq is the 800-pound gorilla in the room." He remarked that the war was of "questionable necessity" and "questionable execution." He added, "As long as Democrats can keep the discussion on Iraq, our party loses ground. That's why you see Republicans, particularly in Senate campaigns, expressing some different points of view....The war in Iraq, is, I think, the big, big issue of the election." I reminded Armey that he is quoted in the book I co-wrote with Michael Isikoff, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, saying he deeply regretted his vote to give President George W. Bush the authority to launch the war on Iraq. I asked:
Do you still regret that vote today and if so, if people like you, if Republicans voted the wrong way, is it not, according to the rules of the marketplace, a good thing to sort of pay a price now, at least in political terms. Should people hold your party to account for making the wrong vote?
Here's how Armey replied:
I think it was the wrong vote. I felt it at the time....And yes, if you make a bad vote, in the final analysis, you need to expect to live with it. And to some extent that is happening now--with current officeholders. You might say, "Well, Armey, he dodged the bullet because he made his bad vote and then retired by the time the country woke up to it." But right now I don't think very many people seeking office are going to be running around to very many constituents and saying, "You better reelect me because I voted to get us into Iraq."
Armey went on to say
I'm not clear why we got in here [in Iraq] in the first place. We're mired down here. It doesn't seem to me we're making any progress. I wonder if they're doing it right and how in the heck are we ever going to get out of it. And then you take a look at that and say, who's to blame? Well, there's only one guy to blame, and that's your commander in chief...I don't know how you get out of [Iraq]. Sooner or later, there's going to have to be a decision to get out, probably with some disregard for the consequences.
This is how I read Armey's remarks: (a) he believes invading Iraq was misguided and that Republican members of Congress should not have voted to hand Bush the authority to launch that war; (b) legislators sometimes have to pay for a "bad vote." Does that mean he wants the Republicans to be voted out of office? Clearly, not. He hopes that his party--despite this grave mistake--keeps its stranglehold on Congress. And he's certainly not calling for Bush to resign. But, at the same time, he recognizes that the Republican party's unabashed and across-the-board support of the Iraq war is indeed legitimate cause for voters to boot it out of power.
Armey's great passions in life are free-market economics and country and western music. He cannot deny the workings of the political marketplace: you screw up, you ought to be voted out of office. Does that mean he believes the Republicans "might deserve" to lose?
For Hubris, Armey recalled for us a moment in December 2002--two months after he had voted to give Bush the authority to attack Iraq. He was driving along a stretch of Texas highway when a country song came on about a fellow who looked in the mirror and saw a stranger. The line hit him hard. Against his better instincts, he had voted for the war, though he had serious doubts about the intelligence on Iraq's WMD that had been presented to him personally by Vice President Dick Cheney. Listening to this song, Armey thought that he had become that stranger. He had been untrue to himself. And he was thankful that he was about to retire from the House.
Now it seems that he will have no beef with those voters who on Election Day punish his Republican colleagues for having committed the same mistake he did. Armey might even be able to suggest an appropriate song for his party-mates that day: "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."
FOR INFORMATION ON HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, click here. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.
Maybe there's something to the timing. As Americans turn against a war and occupation whose origins and conduct are defined by arrogance, mendacity and lawlessness, a new translation of Virgil's epic poem about empire, "The Aeneid," is being published this week.
In an interview in Monday's New York Times, translator Robert Fagles speaks of the timelessness and timeliness of the epic --and of its relevance for the contemporary situation. "It's a poem about empire," Fagles explains, "and was commissioned by the emperor Augustus to celebrate the spread of Roman civilization. To begin with it's a cautionary tale, about the terrible ills that attend empire--its war-making capacity, the loss of blood and treasure both. But it's all done in the name of the rule of law, which you'd have a hard time ascribing to what we're doing in the Middle East today."
"It's also a tale of exhortation. It says that if you depart from the civilized, then you become a murderer. The price of empire is very steep, but Virgil shows how it is to be earned, if it's to be earned at all. The poem can be read as an exhortation for us to behave ourselves, which is a horse of relevance that ought to be ridden."
Isn't it time we rode that "horse of relevance"?
Remember back in 2004 when delegates at the Republican presidential convention waved those flip-flop sandals and Republican crowds throughout the campaign then chanted with delight, "flip-flop, flip-flop," mocking, in part, John Kerry's I-voted-for-it-before-I-voted-against it Iraq CV. At the time, Democrats were vociferously claiming that Kerry's "resolute" opponent was, in fact, the Flip-Flopper-in-Chief, but they could never make the charge stick, while Republicans had the times of their political lives with those "whichever way the wind blows" windsurfing ads.
Two years have passed. Another election season is more than upon us and, though no Democratic-sponsored waffle ads are out there, nor are Democrats waving beach footwear or shouting flip-flop mantras, the fact is top Republicans have been performing Olympic-level flips and flops recently. George W. Bush, for example, suddenly cut-and-ran from his signature Iraq phrase: stay the course. Our steadfast president turned chameleon in the face of politically terrifying polling figures on the Iraq War, congressional performance, and himself. In Florida, visiting a company that produces devices to detect roadside bombs, no longer was he the plodding "stay the course" guy of the last year. Instead, he was suddenly a maestro of "change," a darting, dashing Wile E. Coyote of a president, zipping off a cliff while saying things like: "We're constantly changing. The enemy changes, and we change. The enemy adapts to our strategies and tactics, and we adapt to theirs. We're constantly changing to defeat this enemy." Change or flip flop?
Or take Tennessee's Bill Frist, Republican Senate majority leader. As the political season was just heating up in June, even before the President and his advisors launched their seven-speech terrorism and Iraq August/September assault on the Democrats, Frist was already leading the political charge with his election issue of choice. He was standing in the Senate "slamming" Democrats and thundering: "This amendment effectively calls on the United States to cut and run from Iraq. Let me be clear: retreat is not a solution. Our national security requires us to follow through on our commitments."
Like the president, deep into September he was still excoriating the Democrats not just for their positions on the Iraq War, but for their "surrender" policies in the war on terror. As he put it in a PBS interview with Jim Lehrer on September 14th:
"I'd say, ‘Wake up, Harry Reid. Wake up, Harry Reid…' I think that [the president] has got it right, that we're not going to do what Harry Reid wants to do, and that is surrender, to wave a white flag, to cut and run at a time when we're being threatened… as we all saw just three or four weeks ago, in a plot from Britain that was going to send 10 airplanes over here."
He then characterized the Democratic Party as a group "who basically belittle in many ways this war on terror, who do want to wave this white flag and surrender."
This was to be the election program of the Republican Party that would be resolutely repeated over and over until… uh, but then those polls started pouring in and the course got a little bumpy to stay on. Recently, according to Washington Post reporters Peter Slevin and Michael Powell, Frist offered the following succinct advice to congressional candidates: "The challenge is to get Americans to focus on pocketbook issues, and not on the Iraq and terror issue."
Call it waving the white flag or cutting and running, if you want… or, if the occasion moves you, why not just start up that chant: flip-flop, flip-flop...