WHAT’S THE PLAN?

Two weeks ago, lots of folks were predicting that Scott Brown would win the next day’s election. I don’t think as many people predicted (I didn’t) that by February it would still be left to Washington Kremlinologists to try to figure out what exactly Obama, Pelosi, and Reid want to see happen, and how quickly, on healthcare. I thought by February, the American people, let alone the American Congress, would have a clear idea what the leadership wanted to see. I definitely would not have predicted that an hour after the vote Barney Frank would be on TV talking about scuttling the bill.

It’s like a thousand-times-magnified version of the 2006 dust-up over who would chair the Intelligence Committee in the new Democratic majority. It didn’t captivate the media, but it did provide a slow burn of embarrassing stories for the Speaker-to-be speculating whether she would tap hawkish Harman or impeached-as-a-judge Hastings. In the end, she went with the 3rd most senior Democrat. In the weeks it took Pelosi to make that call, I kept wondering: Why didn’t Pelosi mull this one over ahead of time in October when it looked clear she was headed to victory?

Speaking of what Dems should do now, Jon Stewart got at something last week: “No matter what you do, the Republicans are not going to let you into the station wagon. They’re never going to let you in. And here’s the worst part: You’re the majority. It’s your car!”

If Pelosi and Reid’s folks are indeed working on how to make the reconciliation sidecar work (we can only hope), now would be a good time to be reminding the members why it’s gotta happen. Nature abhors your vacuum, but Dick Armey doesn’t.

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS

Consider this a pointed non-endorsement of endorsements politicians make of each other on the grounds that they’re friends. Even when the endorser is John Lewis, one of the only people out there I could honestly describe both as a personal hero and as a member of Congress.

The argument that you should vote for someone because he’s my friend is up there with the argument that you should vote for someone because he’s principled – and the two questionable arguments tend to travel together. One substitutes motivation for worldview as the determinative qualification for office. The other substitutes the judgment of someone you know you like for your own judgment about how much you should like a candidate. To be sure, citizens in a democracy defer to each other’s judgment all the time (what makes it democratic is that we each get to choose when and whether and to whom to defer, rather than having the franchise yanked from us by elitists). But it’s one thing to make an electoral choice by turning to those who know the issues in most depth. It’s another to make it by turning to those who know the candidate personally. The latter is reminiscent of Jon Stewart’s quip that Bill O’Reilly was “the kind of swing voter who doesn’t make a decision until both candidates come and talk to you.”

Politicians in Washington only encourage a cynical view of our representatives when they trade endorsements on the grounds of having looked into each other’s hearts like Bush did to Putin. The irony here is that politicians, with a huge assist from the media, actually use the friendship rationale to escape critical reviews of their endorsements.

If you’re going to weigh in publically on someone else’s campaign – and by all means do – then it should be in terms that can be popularly evaluated and critiqued. It shouldn’t rest entirely on personal one-on-one experience any more than it should on personal religious conviction.

THE WAR ON RELIGIOUS PLURALISM

A few days ago, I watched Bill O’Reilly assure viewers of his TV show that Christians had won the War on Christmas (TM). “Christians have the right to defend their traditions,” he said triumphantly.

It’s easy to laugh at the excesses of the War on Christmas crusaders (Dan chronicled them well here). But it’s a campaign that’s worth paying attention to. It serves as a sobering reminder of how many of the standard-bearers of the right believe themselves to be spokesmen for a righteous majority besieged by hostile religious, sexual, and racial minorities.

Behind the rhetoric about religious freedom, the demand of the War on Christmas crusaders, as articulated by their most earnest advocates, is that both public and private employees greet people of all religions as if they were Christians. They want schools encouraging teachers to say “Merry Christmas” to their students and department stores encouraging check-out clerks to say it to customers. Having them say the “Happy Holidays” instead, which merely acknowledges the possibility of a multiplicity of religious observances, is to be seen as religious persecution of Christians.

Bill O’Reilly showed a Wal-Mart commercial in which “Merry Christmas” appeared on screen, but declared it only to be a step in the right direction from Wal-Mart because it appeared with the hated “Happy Holidays” and neither was mentioned in the voice-over. This is a few weeks after he showed a (year-old) clip of Samantha Bee on the Daily Show joking about separation of church and state and then sneered “Merry Christmas, Jon Stewart.”

So what we’re facing is self-appointed spokespeople for a majority insisting that everyone, be they members of the majority or not, speak as if that majority encompassed everyone in the country.

As for the real desecration of the values of Christ this holiday season, not a creature on the “religious right” is stirring, not even a mouse.

A generation ago, my Dad got kicked out of his first grade classroom for refusing to write a letter to Santa Claus. Unfortunately, that’s still what some people have in mind when they say “family values.”

Happy holidays to all our readers.

FIGHTING WORDS (INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DAY EDITION)

Jon Stewart: “And let me say to you, Bill O’Reilly, and the entire O’Reilly clan, Feliz Navidad to you. Although I’m sure you’re concerned that that’s getting too prevalent as well in this country.”

Gordon Lafer: “By cutting back on tenured positions while refusing to recognize teachers’ unions, NYU is undermining both pillars of academic freedom. In this way, academic managers are pushing a new vision of higher education – not a community of independent scholars freed to boldly pursue their notions of truth, but a place of permanent insecurity, where everyone is afraid to speak out against those in power. Universities were supposed to be model citizens of the community, but no longer.”

Kenneth Roth: “In a one-party system intolerant of dissent, petitioning is one of the only ways that ordinary Chinese have to air their grievances. By using or allowing violence to squelch grievances, the authorities are effectively closing off some of the only political space in the country. They should realize that this endangers the very thing they are trying to protect—social stability.”

Jimmy Carter, the Dalai Lama, Shirin Ebadi, Desmond Tutu, Lech Walesa, Jody Williams et al:”Protecting the right to form unions is not only required by the Universal Declaration but also is vital to promoting broadly shared economic prosperity, social justice and strong democracies…Even the wealthiest nation in the world–the United States of America–fails to adequately protect workers’ rights to form unions and bargain collectively. Millions of U.S. workers lack any legal protection to form unions and thousands are discriminated against every year for trying to exercise these rights. We cannot remain silent in the face of these and other serious abuses of workers’ rights.”

I got some skepticism from my family after we saw The Incredibles when I said I enjoyed it but I didn’t like the politics. But it really was the most conservative movie I think I’ve seen since S.W.A.T.. What’s interesting is the way it turns the liberal paradigm of a super hero film like Spiderman 2 on its head. In Spiderman the basic conflict is one extraordinarily powerful man’s struggle to resist, and then comes to terms with the great responsibility that comes with his great power. His exercise of great power for just ends is critical in facing down society’s great enemy: A creature seeking to consolidate all power for itself, at the expense of the most vulnerable members of society.

In The Incredibles, the victims are not the powerless, but the empowered. The movie is soaked in what Jon Stewart called “the anger of the enfranchised.” Society’s superior, more powerful members are held back by the resentment of the masses who are driven by jealousy to bring them down. Armies of lawyers and reams of regulations are deployed by the masses against their betters, leaving the super heroes bored and petulant and the masses unsafe. And who’s the ultimate adversary this elite must spring into action to confront? A scientist who resents that he couldn’t be a super hero. What’s his dastardly plan? To use science to give the masses super powers of their own so that they can be special too. And, various characters contend throughout the script, “If everyone’s special, then no one is special” (Says who?). The society of Spiderman is threatened by Enrons and Halliburtons; the society of The Incredibles is threatened by affirmative-action-admits and welfare queens.

The question posed by these movies, then, is which represents the real threat. Is America more endangered by those working to empower the disempowered, or by those working to further consolidate power for a narrow elite? I think it’s clear where I come down on this one.

I have to say, I was honestly impressed with Kerry’s performance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He laughed at the jokes without seeming forced and figured out how to play along with them and make one or two of his own, he talked about policy in a clear, concise, persuasive manner, and he managed to come off as relatively likable. His line about the attacks on his service was spot-on:

I’ve been through worse.

In a few words, it rebuts and disregards the attacks at once by minimizing them relative to the threats to real threats he faced down which said attacks are impugning. Equally clever was his assertion that

President Bush has won every debate he’s been in

Not only does he show that two can play at the expectations game and deprive Bush of the advantage of obscenely low standards he milked against Gore, he appears gracious towards the President while chipping away at one of his advantages: the perception that Bush is an unpackaged, unhandled straight-talker. Rather, Kerry rightly suggested, Bush has a shiny, studied presentation – but no record to run on.

If Kerry could find a way to walk on and wave without looking quite so awkward, or someone could tell him not to start re-buttoning your jacket until the cameras are off, it’d be even better.