Doctor doctor

8 03 2014

Psst, Ben Carson, I gotta tip fer ya:

If you don’t want people thinking you’re equating “Obamacare” to slavery, homosexuality to bestiality, and a liberalizing culture to Nazi Germany, then, maaayyybe you shouldn’t, y’know, compare “Obamacare” to slavery, homosexuality to bestiality, and a liberalizing culture to Nazi Germany.

Just a thought.

Mayan campaign mashup 2012: Keepin’ it cool

13 08 2012

Fist, stick, knife, gun: I’ve been approaching this campaign as if it were gang warfare—and it is, of the metaphorical sort.

Total up the blows, the blood, the chipped teeth and broken bones; politics as smashmouth. It is unfortunate, as I mentioned to someone who recoiled from my cold analysis, but the evidence leaves little room for any other conclusion.

There is another reason for my phlegmatic response to outrageous behavior: I really do find it outrageous, and only by turning off my emotional reaction to the bullshit and the lies that I can get through the day without hurling my computer out the window.

For example: Romney and Ryan argue that they can “save the American dream” and that Obama is “trying to change America … into something we might not recognize.”

Pure boilerplate, nothing out of the ordinary for a presidential campaign, designed both to run down the other guys and fire up your own side. It isn’t and won’t be the worst thing said during this election season.

The analyst observing this cage-match from the catwalk merely takes note of the theme: the country’s going off track and we’re the men to get it back on track—again, nothin’ new, there.

But the citizen, the partisan, reacts to this boilerplate with her own boiling rage. What the fuck are they talking about, save the American dream? The fuck they know about anyone else’s dreams? And Obama trying to change this country into something we don’t recognize? The fuck these motherfucking motherfuckers saying about the goddamned president of the goddamned country? This pomaded pair calling the rest of us traitors? Motherfucking mother. . . .!

You see how it is.

There are some political matters on which I can genuinely modulate my response, allow room for both emotion and reason, but when it comes to the depravity underlying presidential campaigns I have to choose between the fanatic screaming LIES! or the dispassionate amoralist jotting down points for this side or that.

The bloodlessness I bring to this campaign isn’t entirely affected—there is a kind of satisfying. . . calm to the Machiavellian perspective—but it is willed. I cannot see through the turbulence of my partisanship, so I use cynicism to tamp it down and grant me clarity. That, to me, is a reasonable decision.

Yet if I am unbothered by the amorality of the choice itself, I do admit that my willingness to make it marks a kind of resignation on my part. I don’t know how things could get better, don’t know that I could have any role in making them better, so instead of trying to find a way through this, I set myself above it all.

Or below, as the case may be.

Campaign 2012: Mitt speaks!

8 10 2011

Anything goes in politics.

I have declaimed this often and loudly on this and other (well, TNC’s and sometimes Emily’s) blogs: the only thing that matters in political campaigning is what works. That’s it.

What about the law? If breaking the law doesn’t work, don’t do it. Most of the time it doesn’t, but some of the time—particularly as regards campaign finance—it doesn’t matter: any final rulings on the matter take place after the election and involve only a fine, if that.

More to the point, I see no point in getting OUTRAGED or offended! by campaign rhetoric  because so much of this rhetoric is designed to rouse one’s base, which pretty much has the effect of OUTRAGING and offending! the other side.

C’est la vie politique, in other words.

Anyway, there are limits the O and o! tactic, in that presidential candidates need to convince the undecideds to toss their votes to them. You don’t want to O & o! these folks, you want to bring them along; given that by definition they’re already more skeptical of your candidacy, you don’t want to do anything which causes them to squint their eyes, twist their lips, and say that’s dumb.

I nominate former governor Mitt Romney’s foreign policy speech to the Citadel for the squint treatment.

He says a lot of contestable items in the speech, repeating, for example, the canard that Obama has “apologized” for America. Whatever: that’s a Republican theme manufactured to sow doubts about Obama’s fealty to the US, and while there is no evidence of any sort of “apology tour”, this attempted theming is a standard part of any political campaign (see: Al Gore and his alleged invention of the Internet).

This, however, is dumb:

I will not surrender America’s role in the world. This is very simple: If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on Earth, I am not your President.
You have that President today.


All of the other nonsense about a military build-up and world leadership and big sticks are interpretive-partisan matters, that is, whether or not you see it as nonsense likely varies on where you stand. Romney may or may not believe that the Navy has been “hollowed out”, but it is within the realm of possibility that he thinks that the shipbuilding rate of 9 [nine what? nine ships? which ships?] is alarmingly low, and that increasing this to 15 will secure the nation.

But this, that President Obama wants a weak America, does he really believe that?


Romney is often hit with the charge of a Gumby candidacy: he’ll bend and fold and spindle himself into any shape his audience wants. From pro-choice to pro-life, pro-gay rights to anti-, from moderate to rightist, from the craven sane to the craven un-sane—again, whatever works.

But declamations on the president’s devotion to this country are dumb. Yes, there is a rump portion of the Republican electorate who question Obama’s bona fides, but there are likely many more who simply think he’s wrong; they question his strategy, not his motives.

Now, this latter group may not care if Romney dissects Obama’s heart, but as any Republican nominee will have to contest in a national election, he’ll want to avoid saying anything to his base that could cause undecideds to squint at his words.

Saying that Obama doesn’t want a strong America is squint-worthy for two reasons:

1) He authorized the killing of Osama bin Laden and drone strikes which have killed dozens of al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, gave the go-ahead in the capture of Somali pirates, and in his positioning of special-ops military teams around the world, has made clear that the US will do what it will do, regardless of national borders and international law.

(I have my own disputes with some of his actions, but I am in the minority in questioning what I see as presidential overreach.)

In any case, Romney is working against easily-available and hard-to-dispute evidence, such that he leaves himself open to the question of “what would you do differently in these cases?”, a question which allows him no good answers.

2. Along the same lines, he leaves himself open to the questions along the lines of  “do you really believe that President Obama wants a weak America/doesn’t put America first/doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism/etc.?”

This is dumb because, again, there’s no quick-and-easy way to answer this question, not only because of the evidence, but also because of the presumption of bad-faith.

Pundits and operatives can engage in bad-faith, but the president is supposed to be bigger than all that, he’s supposed to be generous and broad-minded and able to embrace all of America. (Yeah, yeah, I know, but what can I say: it’s a campaign trope.) He’s supposed to say stuff along the lines of “My opponent and I both love this country, but only one of us has what it takes to lead the nation forward.”  He’s not a bad man, he just has bad ideas.

You want questions which allow you in your response to demonstrate both your generosity and superiority. You want questions which allow you to focus unreservedly on your policies and vision, on your depth and far-sightedness. You want questions which allow you smoothly to rise above, even as you whack away at your opponent.

“Governor Romney, in your speech before the Citadel you stated that President Obama does not want the United States to be the strongest country in the world. Do you really believe that? Do you really think your opponent wants to destroy America? ” is not that kind of question, because any attempted smooth rising-above will be stuck on your own bad-faith words.

Which is why opening himself up to this line is. . . dumb.

(Edited for typos, grammar, and some nasty syntax errors.)


12 05 2011
From the New York Times Caucus blog:

May 11, 2011, 1:16 pm

Republicans Decry Tactics the Party Used in 2009


Yes, it’s true, Republican House freshmen say, our party did help storm town-hall-style meetings to protest changes in the Medicare plan during the debate over the health care overhaul. But they would appreciate it if Democrats did not take that page from their playbook.

On Wednesday, 11 newly elected representatives held a news conference outside the Capitol to promote a letter sent to President Obama and signed by 42 freshmen Republicans asking him “join us to stop the political rhetoric” surrounding their Medicare proposal. In asking the president to work with them to untangle the issues facing massive entitlement programs, the letter further implores Mr. Obama to “condemn the disingenuous attacks and work with this Congress to reform” the programs.

Repeatedly, the members called for a “fact-based conversation” and criticized Democrats for filling town-hall-style meetings with political operatives and citizens who complained – often loudly – about the Republican proposal on Medicare at constituent meetings over the Easter recess. The Republican proposal would convert Medicare into a program that subsidizes future retirees in private insurance plans.

The freshmen conceded that Republicans used similar organized tactics during the health care debate over the summer of 2009, when Tea Party organizers and Republican groups spoke out against the overhaul.

“I’m not going to defend anything in the past,” said Representative Adam Kinzinger, a freshman from Illinois, who led the news conference calling on Democrats to stop their public critique of the plan. “Let’s get past the past.”

Representative Nan Hayworth of New York, a former doctor, said it was time to “have a civilized conversation” and her class was “standing ready to work with the president.”

. . . .

Here’s the letter (via Talking Points Memo).

My favorite bits?

We have all been guilty, at one time or another, of playing politics with key issues facing our country.

As the freshman class, we have the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and fulfill the mandate set by the people to strengthen our country for future generations—not continue the petty politics we have seen in the past, which only creates an environment of stalemate. [. . .]

We ask that you stand above partisanship, condemn the disingenuous attacks and work with this Congress to reform spending on entitlement programs. [. . . ]

As new members of Congress, we are committed to having a fact-based conversation immediately. [. . .]


Oh, now they want a “fact-based conversation”. . . .

Eliminationist rhetoric: bad

16 01 2011

See, this is what I’m talking about:

A few bits from Insurrection Timeline:

  • April 4, 2009—Neo-Nazi Richard Poplawski shoots and kills three police officers responding to a 911 call to his home in Pittsburgh. His friend Edward Perkovic tells reporters that Poplawski feared “the Obama gun ban that’s on its way” and “didn’t like our rights being infringed upon.” Perkovic also commented that Poplawski carried out the shooting because “if anyone tried to take his firearms, he was gonna’ stand by what his forefathers told him to do.”
  • May 31, 2009—Scott P. Roeder shoots and kills Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider, in the foyer of Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas. The FBI lists Roeder as a member of the Montana Freemen, a radical anti-government group. In April 1996, he had been pulled over in Topeka, Kansas, for driving with a homemade license plate.  Police found a military-style rifle, ammunition, a blasting cap, a fuse cord, a one-pound can of gunpowder, and two 9-volt batteries in his car.
  • July 13, 2009—Gilbert Ortez, Jr. kills a police deputy in Chambers County, Texas, with an assault rifle. Police were responding to reports that Ortez or his wife had fired shots at utility workers in the area. Police searching Ortez’s mobile home after a 10-hour standoff find more than 100 explosive devices; Nazi drawings and extremist literature; and several additional firearms.

Go to the website for many many many—sigh—more examples.

Tom Scocca makes direct connections between violent rhetoric and violent acts:

[R]egarding this crazy, evidence-free narrative about how right-wing media incited someone to violence? The one dictated to the leftist media by their bosses at the Democratic National Committee? Here’s what happened a little less than six months ago:

A California man accused in a shootout with California Highway Patrol officers in Oakland early Sunday told officials that he traveled to San Francisco and planned to attack two nonprofit groups there “to start a revolution,” according to a probable cause statement released by police.

Bryon Williams, 45, a convicted felon with two prior bank robbery convictions, targeted workers at the American Civil Liberties Union and the Tides Foundation, said Oakland police Sgt. Michael Weisenberg in court documents.
And where did Williams get the idea that he should load up his mother’s pickup truck with guns and go try to assassinate members of liberal organizations?

Williams watched the news on television and was upset by “the way Congress was railroading through all these left-wing agenda items,” his mother said.

Scocca credits a commenter, Andrew Brockover, with mention of this incident:

In July of 2008, unemployed truck driver Jim Adkisson opened fire with a shotgun during a performance of “Annie” at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, killing two people and wounding several others.

Adkisson attacked the church because he identified it as liberal, and he had specifically planned to go out and assassinate liberals. “This was a symbolic killing,” he wrote in a four-page manifesto. “Who I wanted to kill was every Democrat in the Senate, + House, the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg’s book. I’d like to kill everyone in the Mainstream Media. But I knew these people were inaccessible to me.”

I don’t blame Bernard Goldberg or the half-guv or various other right-wing bloviators for attacking and killing people. They clearly have not done so.

(And to be fair to Goldberg, I don’t think he’s engaged in eliminationist rhetoric. He’s a conservative critic of what he considers the liberal media, and that’s it.)

They’re not criminals and shouldn’t be treated as such, but they can be held responsible, in words, for their words.


Violent rhetoric and actions are hardly the sole province of rightists. Leftists have their—our—own sordid history of denunciation and assassination, bloviations and bombings, and we have made our own poor excuses for the likes of the Weather Underground.

This isn’t about “balance” and “both sides do it”; it is about history and evidence.

And the evidence today points right.

Put down that weapon

10 01 2011

I don’t know Jared Loughner.

I don’t know his politics. I don’t know his mental state. I don’t know his background, his personality, his history of drug or alcohol use, or his genetic profile.

I don’t even know that he killed six people and shot twelve others, although, given the evidence reported thus far, it appears likely.

It appears likely that Jared Loughner is an assassin.

But that’s just one piece of this murderous political puzzle, isn’t it? Some have examined his online postings and concluded that he was widely read or maybe just trying to impress people with works he couldn’t understand; one woman Tweeted that when she knew him he was left-wing; some speculate on the influence of the anti-semitic American Renaissance or conspiracist David Wynn Miller; Andrew Sprung labels him a “sui generis make-your-own reality psychotic”.

Many others have noticed have noticed that this occurred in a poisonous political atmosphere, wherein Senate candidates talk about “Second Amendment remedies” and elected members of Congress call President Obama an “enemy of humanity”.

And the half-guv, of course, has her part to play, both in refudiating any role her noxious metaphors may have contributed to that atmosphere, and to serve as a rally point for those who insist that no one even consider politicizing these killings.

Sticks and stones may break my bones/but words may never hurt me.

What rot, for in what other media do we perform politics but in words? Of course words matter!

You don’t need to delve into the ontological dimensions of the speech-act to grasp that this is the primary way we relate to one another—that our language itself is a marker of our species. We are not only linguistic creatures, but we would not be who we are without language. And we would not have politics without language, without words.

Of course words matter.

That’s not all that matters. Loughner was able to purchase a semi-automatic weapon (which would have been illegal under a law which expired in 2004)  and carry it on his person, concealed, with no permit whatsoever.

Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.

True—in this case, Jared Loughner used a semi-automatic gun to kill six people.

Don’t suppose we should politicize casual access to deadly weaponry, either.

But Loughner was nuts, right? Suspended from school, scaring the hell out of his college classmates, a sui generis psychotic—can’t blame rhetoric and guns on this crazy man, could we?

I’m not trained in either psychology or psychiatry, and if I were, I hope I’d be disciplined enough not to diagnose someone I only read about in a newspaper. But I do have my own history of mental illness, and I do know how what I once called a “bad brew” of chemistry and history lead to acts of self-destruction great and small. I never tried to hurt anyone else, but it was very important to me that I hurt myself. And no, I didn’t consider myself crazy.

It made sense to me not only that I would kill myself, but that I should kill myself.

This decades-long belief didn’t come from nowhere: it came from the reactions of people around me to my erratic behavior, from romantic notions of the successful suicide, from my own constant intake of movies and books and television shows about depression and suicide, from The Thorn Birds (long story), and, of course, from my own depression and personality.

I was the one making the attempts, and I was the one who worked out the rather elaborate moral justification for my suicide, but I got help from the society around me.

No, society didn’t know it was helping me—I don’t blame society for my troubles—but it gave me the pieces I needed to construct a an overwhelming and destructive narrative of my life. It all made so much sense, then.

I don’t know what, if anything, makes sense to Jared Loughner. All I have are a very few inadequate pieces—violent rhetoric, weapon, possible mental illness—but enough to know that, even if this wasn’t a conspiracy, it certainly wasn’t sui generis, either.

h/t Daily Dish, Huffington Post, New York Times