Adam Rice

My life and the world around me

Tag: politics (page 1 of 2)

The next fight

As left-leaning people hunker down for the Trumpocalypse, we naturally think about the 2020 election. I don’t think Trump is going to serve the duration of his first term—I think he’s going to hate being president and will resign partway through—but I could be wrong. So let’s suppose that the Democratic nominee will be running against Trump. What will that look like? It will look bad for the Democrats.

On the Trump side:

  • Trump feels completely unconstrained by normal rules of political behavior or ethics, as evidenced by his refusal to release his tax returns, his refusal to divest from his businesses, and his nepotistic appointments.
  • Trump has had Roger Stone and Paul Manafort as campaign consultants (the two have been business partners). Roger Stone was literally part of Nixon’s dirty tricks team. Paul Manafort has helped burnish the reputation of dictators around the world, and is one of Trump’s connections to Russia.
  • Trump did not run on policy, he ran on personality, and to the extent that he offered policy ideas, he was staking out some ground that would normally belong to the Democrats anyhow.
  • Trump’s supporters will put up with the basest behavior from their candidate, sometimes denying the evidence of their lying eyes, or saying it’s not so bad. Trump himself thinks he can get away with murder.

On the Democrat’s side:

  • Many Democratic voters were understandably upset with Hillary Clinton when the hardball tactics her campaign used against Bernie Sanders in the 2016 election were brought to light (apparently with Russian help). It’s not clear whether this alienated enough potential HRC voters to swing the election, but considering how close the election was, it’s plausible.
  • Democratic voters expect some kind of Democratic-looking policies from their candidates.

Where this leaves us:

  • We can expect Trump to make use of every power, legal and illegal, at his disposal when running against the Democratic nominee, and he’ll have people on tap with relevant experience.
  • It is demonstrably impossible for Trump to alienate his supporters, but we’ve seen it’s easy for Democrats to alienate theirs.
  • Democratic candidates will fight personality with policy, using at least some policies that Trump has already staked out as his own.
  • Democratic voters will expect their candidates to behave like the primary campaign is the Spring Cotillion, but will need someone prepared to play hardball in the general election. The two probably cannot be reconciled.

Inconceivable

It’s not bad enough that abortion rights are under attack in much of the USA, conservatives are going after contraception now too. This has become a hot issue because of three things:

First: Rick Santorum, who has emerged as the Not-Romney candidate du jour, said the following to a right-wing Christian blog:

One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea. Many in the Christian faith have said, ‘Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s okay.’ It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also [inaudible], but also procreative. That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act. And if you can take one part out that’s not for purposes of procreation, that’s not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women, so why can’t you take other parts of that out? And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure. And that’s certainly a part of it—and it’s an important part of it, don’t get me wrong—but there’s a lot of things we do for pleasure, and this is special, and it needs to be seen as special.

Again, I know most presidents don’t talk about those things, and maybe people don’t want us to talk about those things, but I think it’s important that you are who you are. I’m not running for preacher. I’m not running for pastor, but these are important public policy issues. These have profound impact on the health of our society.

Second: Santorum’s patron Foster Friess recently said “Back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.” Classy.

Third: the Obama administration angers the Catholic hierarchy and gives the GOP something to bash him over by insisting that even Church-affiliated institutions must cover birth control in their health-care plans. For the Catholic church, their opposition is presumably sincere. For the GOP, it’s tactical.

All of this contributes to a climate of demonizing sex and treating women as either sluts who deserve to get pregnant for their wantonness, or baby-making machinery with no say in the matter.

That is, by far, the worst part of it. But any self-respecting man who doesn’t want to have as many kids as Santorum (seven) should be angry as well as women, and not just from a sense of solidarity with women (although that too). It’s a ridiculous state of affairs that we have three kinds of boner pills on the market, but the only forms of male birth control are mechanical or surgical. I took the surgical option years before I ever met Gwen, and I’m happy with that decision. Santorum is telling me that our marriage is as invalid as he considers a gay marriage to be (another can of worms for another time).

Ultimately, this is just another facet of the right wing’s war on anyone who’s having more fun than they are.

The new GOP playbook

Republicans are philosophically opposed to the idea that government can play a useful role in the lives of citizens, or as Reagan put it, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'” During his administration, George II tried to prove time and again that government cannot be helpful, by appointing Michael “heckuva job” Brown to run FEMA or by appointing Young Republicans whose prior work experience amounted to working in ice-cream trucks as administrators overseeing large parts of Iraq’s economy.

Republicans do not currently have that appointive power at the national level, but in any case, they seem to have shifted strategies. Their current approach is fiscal. First, starve the government of funds by passing tax cuts (preferably one that disproportionately benefits their wealthy patrons). Then, discover a budgetary crisis that requires “hard choices” and cuts on the kinds of programs that benefit most people. Eventually, make the government small enough “to drown in a bathtub,” as Grover Norquist puts it, or “Texas is going to shrink government until it fits into a woman’s uterus,” as State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte put it.

We’ve been seeing it in action at the national level, and at the state level, here in Texas and more prominently in Wisconsin.

At the federal level, this graphic has been making the rounds lately, showing how tax breaks for the wealthy come very close to being balanced out by proposed cuts to job training, educational programs, etc.

Texas, which was previously praised for staying solvent in the face of the Great Recession, is now facing a $27 billion shortfall. The seeds of this shortfall were planted in 2006, with a change in tax rates that was known at the time to be problematic. But, as Forrest Wilder puts it, the budget shortfall is not the cause of pain. It’s the justification.

And then there’s Wisconsin, where Scott Walker claimed that he needed both budget austerity and union-busting (and then decided he could make do with just union-busting), despite the state’s Fiscal Bureau having concluded just a month before that that the state will end the year with a balance of $121.4 million.

I’m sure some variation on this theme is happening in Michigan and elsewhere.

Blago

Imagine you are the governor of a fairly large state. After a historic election, a Senator from your state and member of your party has just been elected President. The incoming Senate will be close to—but not quite at—a cloture-proof majority. The incoming President will be facing a historic crisis, is enjoying unprecedented levels of goodwill, and ran as a transparent, clean-government candidate. It is your job to appoint his successor. Do you:

  • Appoint a caretaker who will step down in two years when the term ends, to avoid giving an appointee the advantages of incumbency (which, as it turns out, may not be such a big deal)?
  • Appoint someone who will be a strong candidate able to keep the seat for your party?
  • Attempt to shake down the President-elect, creating an aura of guilt-by-association for him, threatening the ability of the incoming administration to get work done, and weakening your party in your state?

If you picked #3, congratulations, you’re Rod Blagojevich. You’re also a fucking moron.

The fact that Blago did this over a phone that he knew was being bugged speaks not only to his obvious corruption, it is a sign of his deep, deep stupidity. The idea that he’d try to wring some mean little personal advantage out of the situation is obviously corrupt, but also shows his inability to see beyond his own nose: wouldn’t it be better all around to be in the good graces of the President? My former classmate (and let me tell you, it is very weird seeing her on TV) Lisa Murray Madigan is seeking to have him removed from office on the grounds that he can’t serve.

Forget about corruption. This guy is too dumb to breathe without assistance, much less serve the people of Illinois.

Mutts like me

In an his first press briefing as president-elect, Barack Obama referred to shelter dogs as “mutts like me.” Apart from the bracing self-deprecation, that offhand remark resonates for many Americans, who consider themselves mutts and are proud of it. Indeed, in a melting-pot society, what could be more American than being a mutt?

There’s some sublime conceptual jiu-jiutsu in this phrase. The enlightened position is that race is a cultural construction. We know that there is more genetic diversity among the members of one race than between races, and the lines separating one race from another are arbitrary. For America’s first black president and first biracial president—the fact that both of these are valid statements reinforces the arbitrariness of race—to identify himself in this way turns his race, which could be a point of division, into a point of commonality.

I like that. I decided it should be on T-shirts. And now it is. Go get yourself one.

The text is set in Gotham, the typeface used in Obama’s campaign materials. The dog is Suki, and I worked up the image from a photo taken by my friend and his person, Casey.

We won—now what?

It’s been hard for me to organize my thoughts about this election, and I won’t even try to cram them all into one blog post. Suffice to say I am very pleased with the outcome.

The big question in my mind is “now what?” When Bush was re-elected in 2004 with a razor-slim margin in both the popular and electoral vote, he claimed a mandate; he and his party were remarkably corrupt and high-handed in government. Obama has been elected with a healthy margin in the popular vote and a near-landslide in the electoral vote, despite which he is taking a conciliatory, cautious tone. But he was elected on a message of change, and right now, with national and world events such as they are, change is going to happen—the question is whether he’ll be engineering the changes or be tossed around by them. Hope has gotten him this far. Now is the time for audacity.

When one party has had the run of Congress and the White House, they’ve tended to overreach and then get beat down in short order. One time when this conspicuously was not the case was during the Great Depression, when one party in the legislative and executive took bold action that was met with public approval. Everyone in the news telling us that our current economic peril is like nothing since that time.

And then there’s the Republicans. Shortly before the election, I wrote a comment on Metafilter that when the GOP is reduced to a bunch of anti-gay, anti-science, anti-abortion, anti-rest-of-the-world populists, it becomes self-limiting and easy to dismiss. If the USA had a GOP that stood mainly for things like limited government and fiscal responsibility—Eisenhower Republicans, you could say—it might bring something useful to the table.

Having lost the presidency and seen their contingents in the House and Senate reduced, the GOP is now in the introspection and wound-licking mode. One might hope that those Eisenhower Republicans would stand up and guide their party back to sanity. As Paul Krugman predicted, one would be disappointed. I had previously thought of RedState as one of the saner right-wing community sites. And they’re not as frothingly mad as, say, Free Republic (where some members were suggesting that Obama killed his own grandmother), but it is clear they have allied themselves with what we might call the Palin wing of the GOP: anti-gay, anti-science, anti-abortion, anti-rest-of-the-world, and from what I’ve read, party leaders are headed in that direction as well. If this really happens, it guarantees that the party will marginalize itself not only in terms of its representation in Washington, but in terms of its relevance to the country at large and questions of policy. Politics benefits from multiple viewpoints, but only when all of those viewpoints are founded on informed, open-minded, and reality-based positions.

The Democrats are not going to have a supermajority in the Senate, so the Republicans there may choose to gum up the works with filibusters. They may choose to sit back and watch while the Democrats screw things up (or so they will hope). They may not be able to filibuster at all if a few of their more moderate members decide to play along with the Democrats and the Democrats manage to maintain party unity. There may even be a few party-switchers coming over the to Democrats, as there were going the other way following the Republican revolution in 1994. If the GOP takes a more dogmatic tilt, this seems likely.

There’s a lot of work for Obama to do. There’s a lot that his supporters are expecting from him. And there may be little standing in the way of his taking bold action. He’s already made history and moved the country forward simply by being elected. I hope he keeps the momentum up.

Thought for the day

John McCain may find there is not much distance between leading an angry mob and being chased by an angry mob.

Separated at Birth?

In the course of my relentless obsessing over the upcoming election, I’ve noticed something odd about two of McCain’s top advisors.


Steve Schmidt is a protege of Karl Rove’s and is McCain’s campaign strategist.

Evan Handler played a political operative on The West Wing.

Rick Davis is a lobbyist and is McCain’s campaign manager.

Tim Heidecker plays a complete goofball on Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job.

The Unforeseen

Saw The Unforeseen over the weekend. Despite its flaws, this movie should be mandatory viewing for Austinites.

Austin inspires a strong affection in its citizens, whose pride in the city can sometimes grate on residents of other Texas cities (then again, they’re probably just envious). That, coupled with the long, rapid growth that this city has seen, has led to the widespread nostalgia for how much better the city used to be that is the badge of its citizens and a ready topic of conversation.

The attachment Austinites have for their city, and awareness of its rapid growth, projects forward in time as well as backward. Austinites seem unusually concerned with the shape their city will take. Development is the central political issue in the city. Especially as it affects the environment, and most especially as it affects Barton Springs.

The movie The Unforeseen takes Barton Springs as the nexus for all these issues and dives in.

The movie rolls back the clock to roughly 1970, when Gary Bradley, the developer of Circle C and Barton Creek, came to town. The filmmakers spent a lot of time interviewing Bradley, and it was interesting how they humanized one of the leading demons of Austin progressives. Bradley made the interesting observation that when planning out a development, the only problem he couldn’t fix was access to water. The filmmakers also showed how, right from the beginning, there was strong opposition to these developments—how there was already proto-nostalgia forming.

It also goes into the hydrology of the area—this was one of the most important parts of the movie, and one that really deserved to be expanded. Simply getting to see the interior of the Edwards Aquifer was worth the price of admission—the aquifer was always an abstraction to me. Now it’s a place. Key fact: city hydrologists tested the speed that water flows through the aquifer to the Springs. From 20 miles upstream, it took three days for water to exit at the Springs. Not enough time for significant filtration to occur. The pollution entering the aquifer comes right back out. Underwater footage taken at the Springs in 1994 and 2004 illustrates this fact: water that was once clear is now cloudy.

The movie closes on Hutto, a town to Austin’s northeast that I last saw back in college Back then, it was a small farming community. Today, lots for 11,000 houses have been platted there, and the mayor readily admits that he doesn’t know where they’re going to get the water. Aerial footage of cookie-cutter housing developments butting up against the few remaining farms was enough to get me choked up.

The main flaw in the movie is its ham-fisted sentimentality and preachiness. The facts and the record speak powerfully enough. Cutting away to stock footage of a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis and children frolicking is just whacking the audience upside the head.

A minor flaw is the title. The movie makes very clear that none of this was unforeseen.

Absolution

For the last eight years, I and a lot of other Americans have looked at our president as the unembarrassed standard-bearer of so much that is wrong with American politics: privilege, dynastism, cronyism, corruption, secrecy. He’s even managed to borrow some of the unseemly aspects of East German politics. And we have felt ashamed of our country.

And then there’s Barack Obama. Just the existence of a candidate like Obama says that American ideals like plurality, tolerance, and opportunity still mean something. Perhaps some of Obama’s popularity is not because of his potential as a president, but because he lets us feel better about ourselves.

When I vote for Obama in two weeks, it won’t be because of that. But it’s a nice bonus.

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