THE MEANING OF THE WORD "CRIMINAL"

Media-appointed populist Mike Huckabee reassures CEOs everywhere that raking in the cash while laying off the workers who made it possible isn’t the kind of “criminal” activity that the government should do something about:

In one memorable riff at the Reagan Library early this year, Mr. Huckabee called it “criminal” for corporate CEOs to take fat bonuses while shipping the jobs of ordinary workers overseas, adding “If Republicans don’t stop it, we don’t deserve to win in 2008.” In a Christmas eve interview on CNBC, I asked Mr. Huckabee what he intended to do about it. His answer: nothing soon in the way of new laws or regulations. He said he would use the bully pulpit to shine a spotlight on the practices and seek increased responsibility from corporate boards of directors.

So breathe easy, rich guys: under a Huckabee administration, the only CEOs who get locked up will be the ones with HIV.

PERSONALLY ATTACKED?

A telling and all too common moment from this week’s debate:

EDWARDS:…And the most important issue is she says she will bring change to Washington, while she continues to defend a system that does not work, that is broken, that is rigged and is corrupt; corrupted against the interest of most Americans and corrupted…(APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: All right…

EDWARDS: … and corrupted for a very small, very powerful, very well-financed group.

BLITZER: We’re going to…

EDWARDS: So we have fundamental differences.

BLITZER: We’re going to get to all of these issues, including energy and Iran and everything else.

CLINTON: Well, Wolf, I’ve just been personally attacked again, and I…

Can anybody explain to me what’s personal about that attack? Brings me back to a certain incumbent’s decision four years ago that every criticism of his record was “political hate speech.”

And does she disagree with the idea that the system in Washington is broken, or that she’s been defending it?

WORLD’S SHORTEST POLITICAL QUIZ

Guess where you can read the following political history:

You know, it is a word that originally meant that you were for freedom, that you were for the freedom to achieve, that you were willing to stand against big power and on behalf of the individual. Unfortunately, in the last 30, 40 years, it has been turned up on its head and it’s been made to seem as though it is a word that describes big government, totally contrary to what its meaning was in the 19th and early 20th century.

Is it the pages of Reason Magazine? The declaration of some self-described “classicaly liberal” professor? Nope. Those words were spoken at last night’s Democratic Debate by the party’s frontrunner.

This is what people mean when they complain about the Clintons’ much-vaunted triangulation – although this particular argument is really worse than triangulation, in that rather than positioning herself between two bad boogeymen of the hard left and hard right, she’s just defining her politics against left-wing “big government” (didn’t her husband already declare it over?). And she’s defining “individual freedom” against “big government” too.

It’s not a mystery why she would do this. Conservatives have done an impressive job of convincing people over the past decades that more government means less freedom. That’s how they’ve peddled their attacks on the majority’s ability to legislate against plutocracy. It’s how they’ve pushed forward an agenda that leaves Americans less free – prisoners of fear of disaster, dislocation, and disintegration of their communities and their hopes for their families.

Democrats have not done a great job over the past few decades of framing the debate in a way that elevates freedom from want and freedom from fear and challenges the idea that we are more economically free if your boss can fire you for being gay or fighting for more money. Right-wing frames are powerful. That means contemporary candidates need to either co-opt them or challenge them. Which choice they make is telling.

SENSE AND SENSITIVITY

Keith argues that my article is “lacking in coherence” on two grounds: that I should not expect papers to print a word George Allen has not himself admitted to using, and that the choice not to print the word evidences a keen awareness of race and racism that we should approve of.

On Keith’s first point, I’m not sure why he thinks the certainty of the allegations should determine the specificity with which they’re related. Should the acts of admitted murderers, for example, be reported with more gruesome detail than those of alleged murderers? If the allegations weren’t newsworthy, they shouldn’t have been in the news at all. I’d say they were, since they came from a range of sources with personal interaction with Allen. I doubt they would have sparked the same interest or had the same staying power with reporters or with voters had they not fit into what was perceived as a pattern of troubling behavior on race. If one accepts that the story is newsworthy, the story is worth telling in full. My point was that leaving the speech act itself to be extrapolated by the reader lessens the impact of that news. I don’t think that’s a courtesy George Allen should expect or deserves. And I don’t think the willingness of friends of his to say he never said it, or of certain blacks to endorse Allen anyway, is particularly reassuring. Of course I was glad that papers printed the word “macaca,” which they must have done in part because the story would be difficult to tell with allusions, and relatedly, because the word doesn’t strike the same chords and isn’t on the same list of “epithets” that too many reporters place “nigger” and “shit” together on. My comparison between the reporting on those two words wasn’t about the proof of politicians saying them – it was about the use of allusion as if with the former, as with the latter, the problem was the coarseness of the language and not the outrageousness of the sentiment.

On Keith’s second point, I of course agree that “the n-word” is loaded and provokes strong reactions. Unfortunately, there are a not insignificant number of Americans who speak about it as if it were a matter of rudeness rather than racism. One of the blights on discourse about race in the United States is the confusion of racism and talking about racism (see Ward Connerly’s attempts to make it illegal for the government to keep track of racial profiling). That’s exemplified in the conflation of using the word “nigger” to refer to blacks and using the word to refer to how racists refer to blacks. The word strikes a chord for a reason. It’s a nasty, ugly word. The New York Times doesn’t demonstrate it’s racial sensitivity to only alluding to that nastiness and ugliness in a story about allegations that a (one-time) presidential aspirant made casual use of it. It just reduces our sense of the story.

EVERY OTHER DAY VOCABULARY

Count me less than totally reassured by George Allen’s latest response to charges he referred to Blacks as “niggers”:

I don’t recall every word I’ve said,” Allen told conservative talk-show host Sean Hannity. “But this portrayal that it was part of my everyday vocabulary is false.”

Did he just save the word for special occasions?

What Allen seems to be maintaining here is that there were at least some situations in which – however much of an effort it may have been – he wouldn’t use the word. Maybe even most. Which probably conflicts with accounts that he threw it around at public events in earshot of strangers. But doesn’t conflict with the developing sense that not so long ago he saw the word as something other than abominable.

SORE POINT

Can we please put the phrase “Sore Loserman” to bed forever? There’s plenty to criticize about Joe Lieberman’s independent run, but surely we on the left should be creative enough to come up with a pithy pun of our own, right? No need to ressurrect a Republican phrase (it sounds like Gore-Lieberman! Get it?!?) designed to disparage the Democratic ticket’s (woefully insufficient) objections to the willful and systematic disenfranchisement of voters of color in 2000.

The invocation of the “Sore Loserman” line by progressives betrays the same maddening tunnel vision evinced by the “Chirac for President” signs I would run into at anti-war rallies back in the day.

NED AND JOHN

Sometime in the next few days, or at least well before September 12, some reporter is going to think to ask Ned Lamont to take a position on Hillary Clinton’s anti-war primary challenger, Jonathan Tasini, who’s so far mustered a small, small fraction of the media attention and political support Lamont has achieved. There are all kinds of reasons Tasini’s gotten far less traction. Clinton is both somewhat more progressive and far more politically savvy than Lieberman, and she doesn’t have quite the taste for controversy he does. Jon Tasini has less money than God.

When the question comes, I suspect Lamont will back Clinton. First, he’ll be trying to extract all the help he can get from the Democratic Party establishment – which did its best to clear the way for Bob Casey (successfully) and Joe Lieberman (unsuccessfully) – in squeezing Lieberman out of the race. Second, he’ll be trying to sell himself to folks who didn’t vote in the Democratic primary or voted for Lieberman as a moderate with an MBA.

What seems worth noting about Lamont’s rhetoric of the past few months is that the animus he summoned was almost always directed at Republicans individually or collectively, at incumbent Washington as a whole, or at Joe Lieberman individually. It was hardly ever directed at incumbent Democrats as a group. There was little to compare to Howard Dean’s “I want to know why so many Democrats are…” lament of a few years ago. It was an insurgent campaign, no doubt – and a truly impressive one whose results bode well for progressives everywhere with the audacity to expect better than the neoliberal/ neoconservative brand of centrism. But it was a carefully targeted one which took clever advantage of Lieberman’s stalwart outrageousness and singal willingness to give/ take bait like few others.

Lamont could of course surprise us announce that he was, say, going to endorse whoever won the New York Senate primary and not endorse Clinton before that. But I doubt it. And assuming he does endorse Hillary Clinton, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of reaction he gets.

ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL

Guest Istapundit Brannon Denning makes what might be a clever point based on a reasonable comparison – if it weren’t a tortured point based on an absurd comparison:

Mitt Romney apologized for using the term “tar baby” to describe the Big Dig debacle. Can we save the public shaming for public officials who actually intend their comments to be offensive? Like, say, Mel Gibson?

How short-sighted of critics to focus on the offensive comments of a prominent governor and presidential aspirant rather than those of a celebrity crank, right? I mean, these are probably the same critics who think that George Bush lying about intelligence to sell a war was more important than Usher implying to his fans that he had cheated on his girlfriend in order to sell an album.

EIDELSON AND THE UNNECESSARY EXEGESIS

That’s what Alek and I recently decided my band would be called, given my penchant for, well, unnecessary exegesis (take these seven paragraphs analyzing one from Barack Obama). If that didn’t satiate you, here’s some more:

Last month, I argued that there was only room in media discourse for one “Un-Hillary,” and that the lack of consensus about Hillary Clinton’s political profile creates the potential for that “Un-Hillary” to emerge from the left or from the right. Over at TNR, Ryan Lizza suggests, I think rightly, that John Edwards’ star as a candidate for the Un-Hillary mantle is rising at the moment. There’s plenty to agree with in his analysis. And then his piece ends with a peculiar turn of phrase:

A southern, moderate, antiwar, pro-labor candidate with low negatives and high positives who has already run for president is not a bad combination.

Why “moderate”?

Now, opposing our invasion of Iraq and the President’s plan to “stay the course” there is a majority position in this country, as is support for the right to organize a union free of intimidation and the negotiation of trade deals that don’t accelerate the race to the bottom. These are both areas where, at least for now, a majority of Americans are on the left. As Paul Waldman argues, there are more of them than one would think from listening to talking heads. And as David Sirota argued in a series of pieces after the 2004 election, “centrism” in the dominant media discourse has been warped to describe a set of policies with much greater support among the elite than the electorate. That said, the fact that most people in this country take a progressive position doesn’t in and of itself make that position moderate, at least in the short term.

Sure, in the long term social change depends on pulling the center towards your end, as the right has done much better than the left over the past few decades. And the most effective political leaders we have are the ones who can communicate progressive positions in ways which resonate with fundamental shared values even amongst people who don’t see themselves as on the left. But I still think it’s worth questioning what, especially in the pages of the New Republic, qualifies Edwards as a representative of moderation – other than the fact that he’s popular, and if you believe moderation to be popular with the American people, you’re inclined to look at someone as popular as him to be moderate as well (remember the DLC essay right when it looked like Kerry was going to beat Bush that celebrated how Trumanesque he was?)

Otherwise, what is it that makes Edwards moderate in Lizza’s eyes? His voting record when he last held office (by which standard the likes of Howard Dean and Ned Lamont – neither likely to win any popularity awards from TNR – are at least as moderate)? His support for the death penalty? His equivocation on civil unions? Or is it just the fact that he’s from the South, and liberalism in some pundit’s minds is a cultural affectation and not an ideological vision, and thus not something a southerner could or would want to take part in?

Look, Edwards is no uber-leftist by any means, and there are certainly issues on which he could be more progressive and deserves criticism for not being. But it’s hard to escape the sense that he wins the moderate label here and elsewhere because he comes off as likable and electable, and it’s assumed that any likable electable politician must be a moderate.

A PETTY POST

I’ll happily agree with all those saying that the President of the United States using the word “shit” in what he believed to be private is one of the least newsworthy angles on the current carnage in the Middle East. But seeing as it’s in the news anyway, I think it’s worth asking whether he really believed it to be private.

As with other ostensibly unscripted accidental colorful moments from George Bush (see Paul Waldman’s account in Being Right Is Not Enough of Bush calling the Times’ Adam Clymer an “asshole”), this seems to read as easily as a scripted reminder that George Bush is a tough guy from the heartland who doesn’t “take shit.” What better contrast with the legions of smooth-talking caviar-eating French-speaking girly-men whom conservatives imagine sliding through the halls of the United Nations and the G8? What easier way to grab headlines pitting the President against inaction without requiring much in the way of action?

And what could make for better Fox News headlines for a week than if some college professor somewhere comes forward criticizing Bush for using coarse language to talk about Hezbollah?

BILL FRIST: NADER-LITE

One of the consequences of the way I chose to furnish my apartment (futon on one side of the room, table and chairs on the other), is that having the wired internet reach my laptop on the futon – which due to some trouble following the Ikea instructions only works as a bed – means that it can’t reach the table. So I’ll pull things up sitting on the bed, unhook the laptop from the internet, and then take it over to the table to read whatever web page I’ve pulled up while I eat.

I mention only because otherwise it’s unlikely I ever would have read the entire past week of blog posts from Marshall Whitmann. I say this not because I disagree with him (although on most things he chooses to write about I do), but because reading a page of Marshall Whitmann felt a lot like reading a paragraph of Marshall Whitmann several times in a row. Although there are some variations: On Friday, Joe Lieberman was like JFK in that he’s a “blue collar, bread and butter” type unlike the “upper-crust” Ned Lamont; on Monday, Joe Lieberman was like JFK in that he’s a “pro-growth progressive” and not “the darling of liberals” like Ned Lamont.

But the most tendentious of the analogies employed repeatedly by “The Moose” is one that crops up again and again in neoconservative, neoliberal, “New Democratic” and other discourse on the internet: the comparison of left-wingers and Pat Buchanan. Lieberman’s critics, Whitmann warns, are part of a “neo-isolationist, MoveOn.org, Pat Buchanan-lite imperative to rid the Democratic Party of the centrist hawks.” And many of them “are merely Pat Buchanan lite who share the paleo-conservative animus toward America’s special relationship with the Jewish state.”

The logic seems to go something like this: Pat Buchanan is famous and really unpopular. He believes Hitler was “an individual of great courage,” that women lack “the will to succeed,” and that AIDS is “nature’s retribution for violating the laws of nature.” Also, he promotes an isolationist doctrine in which America should minimize its presence abroad. One application of that doctrine has been opposition to the invasion of Iraq and criticism of the ongoing American presence there. And he doesn’t much like neo-cons. Ergo: Anyone who is overly critical of the Iraq War is “Pat Buchanan lite” and one step away from embracing isolationism and bigotry. And since labeling lefties as Buchananite is counterintuitive, it’s guaranteed to be right – and to demonstrate the sophistication of whoever makes the charge, especially if it’s a conservative lumping another conservative in with a leftie.

The folks who trot out the Pat Buchanan slur like to pitch it as some kind of sophisticated exegesis of the philisophical first principles underlying criticism of the neoconservative project. But it’s not. Certainly, Democrats have been more comparatively more hesitant in polls to express support for phrases about government pursuing aggressive foreign policy or democracy promotion since the man who’s running the government gave both a bad name. But that doesn’t make them isolationists. And it doesn’t mean there aren’t worthwile interventions they would support, especially if they had reason to trust the people making the case for them. Plenty on the left – to the chagrin of some at The New Republic – have decided that US military intervention in Darfur would be a very good idea while remaining convinced that unilateral US military intervention in Iraq was a very bad one (as Alan Wolfe notes, unilateralism is itself the “first cousin” of isolationism).

And it should go without saying, but if you’re looking for a constituency with greater animus than most towards people who are Jewish, women, Black, or gay, the left isn’t it.

It’s hard to come up with an equal and opposite absurdity to compare to the charge that war critics on the left are like Pat Buchanan. It would need to compare people on the right based on a policy view they have to a wildly unpopular figure on the left who shares it for different reasons. Maybe “Conservatives who tried to use the federal government to re-insert Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube are Ralph Nader lite!” Difference is, Ralph Nader may be unpopular, but unlike Pat Buchanan, he’s not a bigot.

OUT GROUP

A couple paragraphs into Patrick Healy’s New York Times analysis on the New York Supreme Court’s decision rejecting equal marriage rights for gay couples is this peculiar turn of phrase:

Yesterday’s court ruling against gay marriage was more than a legal rebuke, then — it came as a shocking insult to gay support groups.

Gay support groups? It’s old news that the Times is loathe to describe the camps in language like “pro-gay” or “anti-gay” for fear of bringing down another round of rebuke from those in the latter camp, many of whom were last seen promoting the idea that the paper is willfully trying to help Al-Qaeda assassinate Donald Rumsfeld. But it’s really disappointing to see the paper slip into language in describing political groups engaged in collective action to transform policies hostile to gay people which makes it sound like we’re talking about individuals struggling with how to make it through a plight or pathology.