I’ve been hard – I’d say appropriately so – on John Kerry recently. I’ve also tried to acknowledge intermittently the moments of political courage when he’s rejected the DLC mantras by hewing to the left of where Bill Clinton ran in 1992. The major one of these areas, as I see it, is crime. I’d say it speaks well of the electorate that even after Clinton’s eight-year concession to counter-productive right-wing assumptions on crime, Kerry could run on a promise to attack crime by funding Head Start rather than more prisons, intimate concerns about the drug war, and only somewhat scale back his opposition to the death penalty – all without seeming to lose any support. Another issue where Kerry deserves some measure of credit, apparently, is gay marriage. Turns out his position, shameful as it was, wasn’t as shameful as Bill Clinton’s would have been. But don’t take it from me:
Looking for a way to pick up swing voters in the Red States, former President Bill Clinton, in a phone call with Kerry, urged the Senator to back local bans on gay marriage. Kerry respectfully listened, then told his aides, “I’m not going to ever do that.
There’s no way I would have been watching The West Wing this season if not for a perhaps perverse sense of loyalty to what it was back when it was Aaron Sorkin’s show. The writing, as many have observed, has tanked, and everything else has gone down with it. Tonight, however, may have been a new low. Whereas Sorkin could actually (and did) make the census riveting television, this season’s writers have made the policy discussion so dry and so trite that the one clever line of the show was when Leo responds to the President’s monologue by asking the others whether they were taking notes. And the character development may actually be worse. It was only in the last minutes of the episode, however, that I was offended in a way I can’t remember ever (despite often coming down pretty far to the left of the positions advanced there) being offended by the show.
President Bartlett has rightfully chosen to take a strong stance against mandatory minimums in drug sentencing and has commuted the sentences of thirty-some first-time non-violent drug offenders stuck with outrageous sentences under mandatory minimums. After the State of the Union, he’s introduced to a Black woman who’s one of the thirty-plus just released and expresses her gratitude. At this point Bartlett launches into a lecture on how lucky she is to be getting a second chance, how dire the consequences if she screws up again, how much the futures of other prison inmates are riding on her behavior, and how important it is that she appreciate her freedom. The sight (fictitious or not) of a white Nobel Laureate/ US President born to privilege taking the opportunity of having taken small steps towards ameliorating awful, punitive, and racist policy lecturing a Black woman who’s just made it out of years of humiliating and unjust punishment for a non-violent offense on how grateful she should be to him and how if she played by the rules he might be more magnanimous to others of her kind was offensive to the point of being difficult to watch. And that the woman simply smiles, blushes, and thanks him again for his kindness is absurd. I expected better.
Rush Limbaugh’s alleged drug addiction represents a public embarassment for the organized right. As well it should. The story here isn’t that national leaders sometimes call for morals that they themselves are unable to live up to. The real story is that Limbaugh’s addiction to large quantities of expensive painkillers will be – and already is being – played not only in the media but on the organized right as a personal indiscretion Rush needs time to reconcile with and move past, and not as, say, an evil crimminal felony. The latter term would be reserved with non-violent first time marijuana possession by lower-class teens. David Brock and Michael Lind, both ex-conservatives whose books I read this summer, both argue in different ways that the social conservative agenda is, for the Republican elite, a tool to rally the base and divide the working class in the wake of the Cold War so as to advance economic conservatism. Brock describes his disgust at discovering that his homosexuality was an acceptable foible as long as he was a rising star on the right and a cause for moral condemnation once he left it. Lind suggests that the social agenda of the right is counter to the personal values of most of its elite but provides a cover for its economic libertarian agenda. Arguments like these gain more credence with each public spectacle of a fallen angel of the right, be it Rush’s drug addiction or Bill Bennet’s gambling addiction. Few right hypocrisies can match that of Bob Barr, who defended his daughter’s choice to get an abortion on the grounds that it was “a private decision.” Conservatives who want to demonstrate their integrity could go a long way right now by calling for Rush Limbaugh to be sent to a prison cell – across from the one Ken Lay should be sitting in.