Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Not About Polanski

In 1977, a publicly-admired man committed a violent crime against a woman, and the actual events are not in dispute. Between his arrest and his sentencing, the man fled the United States and settled in France. Decades later, the French strenuously resisted extraditing him to the States.

I'm talking, of course, about Ira Einhorn. Einhorn was a well-known Philadelphia activist who murdered his girlfriend, Holly Maddux, and stuffed her body in a trunk. He turned up living in France, happily married and using another name, in 1997. (h/t to Atrios for the reminder)The French didn't want to extradite.

Of course, Einhorn's case is nothing like Polanski's, because every time a famous or important or brilliant man commits a crime against a woman (or in Polanski's case a girl) our public discourse treats it as an unique and exceptional case, which the usual laws don't adequately address. Then a public debate commences on whether the rules should apply to such a man at all.

And the next time a famous man commits a crime against a woman or a girl, that case will be entirely unique and special, too, in exactly the same way. Just like the unique and special man who committed it.

Others have written about this better than I can. Kate Harding has a compelling post at Salon dismantling Polanski's apologists, and Flavia at Ferule & Fescue has a great think piece about the larger women's issues. And I find myself thinking about a passage from Maureen Corrigan's book Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading, in which she recounts the kickoff party for her first year of graduate school, in 1977, at UPenn, at which a senior member of the faculty
knocks back another glass (what is this, his fourth?), stares over our heads at a spot on the wall, and mutters an oracular verdict: "None of you will ever come close to Ira Einhorn. He was the most brilliant student the department ever had."

The double lesson that Corrigan gleaned from this spontaneous tribute was that only brilliance mattered, and that only men qualified as brilliant. Anyone else just had to watch out for herself:
a woman could even be murdered and stuffed in a trunk, but if her boyfriend was "brilliant," he would the one who would be mourned for having his promising career ruined....

And that's what the Polanski case comes down to: what a man does to a defenseless child is turned into a debate about his personal wonderfulness. When we talk about Polanski, the victim is already at a disadvantage, cast in the shadow by the spotlight of his celebrity. Everything is about him.

But this is not about him. It never was. It is about what was done to her.

The argument that great artists or thinkers deserve forbearance for their crimes is always made in bad faith; those making it would never be willing to accept its consequences personally. No one goes around saying, "Martin Scorsese should be permitted to rape me, beat me, or kill me if he feels like it, because Raging Bull was such a cinematic landmark." When people say that different rules apply for artists, what they really mean is that their favorite artists should have permission to hurt and mistreat other people. They are saying, "There are lots of people I don't give a damn about, and Martin Scorsese's work has given me great pleasure, so he should be entitled to beat them, rape them, or kill them if he happens to be in that mood. And he should have gotten his Oscar much sooner." Of course, that principle is never phrased directly. How could it be?

The debate isn't about Polanski. It's about whether or not that thirteen-year-old girl matters. To Polanski's supporters, she clearly doesn't. They're okay with whatever happens to her. My question to them is: who is special enough not to get raped? If thirteen-year-olds without significant film credits are not allowed to refuse sex, or have even minimal control over what others do with their bodies, who is high enough on the A-list that Polanski can't violate her? Obviously, people would be upset if he sexually assaulted Julia Roberts or Meryl Streep, because they're so special themselves. If raping a child is okay and raping an Oscar-winner is not, where's the line? Is Whoopi Goldberg big enough that Polanski can't commit a felony against her? Is Debra Winger? What about development executives, or agents? Come on, Polanski fans, lay it out clearly. Girls need to be able to plan ahead.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Libertarians and Immigration

A question that's been eating at me for a while:

Why do libertarians object to illegal immigrants?

Perhaps there are libertarians who do not, who extend their principles to encompass newcomers and their liberty to live and work where they please, without government interference. But my experience of libertarian pundits and of my own libertarian friends is that generally, they do not. The most anti-big-government libertarian of my friends also takes it as a given that illegal immigrants are a social ill.

Now, maybe some of these folks (my personal friend excepted, naturally) are merely using "libertarianism" as cover for another set of policy objectives. In that case, the explanation is that they're not sincerely libertarians. But what am I not grasping about the sincere ones?

If governments have no right to interfere in private economic activity and the pursuit of happiness, why can a government restrict the flow of labor from one place to another by erecting a border or, more intrusively still, by regulating how many immigrants are allowed to find jobs here. Immigration quotas don't seem to make any libertarian sense at all. And if not for the quotas, no one would be illegal. The "law" being broken is the law that government bureaucrats get to decided who can come in and who can't, while the government gets to set arbitrary numbers of immigrants from each group. ("Sorry, we've had all the Norwegians we can take for the year. Try us again in January.") The immigrants are only "illegal" because the very government authority that libertarians purport to despise labels those people as illegal.

Why shouldn't someone be able to get a job where there are jobs to be had? Why should someone be prevented from taking a job because too many other people from country X or Y have entered the country? (Talk about your identity politics....) Why shouldn't farmers be allowed to hire the people who want the harvest jobs? And why shouldn't an internet startup be free to hire a bunch of hotshots from IIT?

Seriously, I'd love any thoughts on this.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Wooden Cities

A quick (and true) parable from history: in 1189, Richard the Lion-Hearted decided that no Jews would be allowed at his coronation ceremony. When some leading London Jews showed up at the door, they were turned away, and when the gathered crowd saw this they concluded that the new King was solidly anti-Semitic and that the best way to celebrate would be to murder as many Jews as possible. Mobs killed almost sixty people and set the city's Jewish ghetto, the Jewry, on fire.

Of course, 12th-century London was mostly made of wood. It is impossible to burn only one neighborhood in a wooden city, and before morning a decent sized chunk of the city was on fire, too.

I think about that story from time to time, and more often lately, because it's a story about how uncontrollable civil violence becomes. You cannot burn one neighborhood and not the adjoining neighborhoods. You cannot start a fire and give it a list of people it should burn or not burn. Once it starts it is outside of your control. Political violence works the same way, through a political version of the same physics: once it starts it is difficult to stop. It spreads rapidly and unpredictably. It is in no one's control. It claims victims on every side, and innocent bystanders too. Everybody lives in a wooden city.

There has never been left-wing violence without right-wing violence in this country, never right-wing violence without left-wing violence. There was abolitionist violence as well as pro-slavery violence, anarchist violence and authoritarian violence, anti-civil-rights and pro-civil-rights violence. You can't read the history of Bleeding Kansas honestly and divide the killers from the martyrs along ideological lines. They go together. And once the violence begins, the violent make common cause against the rest of us, prolonging and intensifying the bloodletting as much as they can.

Am I saying that the violence was equal on both sides? No, and I am not the least bit interested in going through the box scores of old massacres. Am I positing moral equivalence for people on either side of these historical debates? No, because it's irrelevant. The fire doesn't care who's right. Am I ignoring who started the bloodshed in which case? Yes, I am, and so should you, because once the fire starts it's going to burn the just and unjust alike. The question is not who started it, but how to keep it from starting.

There is one civil peace, a single domestic tranquility, which protects us all. It is easy to disrupt and hard to restore. When it is disrupted, no one is safe. Every act of left-wing violence endangers people of the left. Every act of right-wing violence endangers people of the right. There is no safety but public safety.

The air in this country has been thick with inflammatory words since before the last election. It leaves an odor in the air, like gasoline soaking into rags. And when public figures speak of caution, some take that as partisan, or even as a provocation. That response strikes me as eerily disconnected from reality. The civil peace protects all equally, and if your political opponents want to preserve it, you should help them.

Still worse is keeping a selective list of partisan grievances, reciting a litany of all the horrible things the other side has done to your side lately while discounting the behavior of your own lunatic fringe. This accusatory stance can only hasten conflict, and never help to avoid it. And why does it matter if the "other side" has left more oily rags on the floor than your side? The question is how many oily rags pile up, not who does the piling, and you can only reduce the pile by reducing your own share of it. Throwing down more rags because "they" left even more is just self-destructive.

And discounting crimes against one's ideological opponents because the criminal was a lunatic or a loose cannon or not a "real" member of your movement is simply weak. The violent always come from the deranged and fanatical and weak-minded, especially during the build-up to a conflict. The fact that Abraham Lincoln didn't personally murder anybody in Kansas didn't calm anything down. Your side doesn't get to use the "just a nutjob" excuse because the other side's nutjobs won't honor it.

Progressive bloggers can discount the freak who bit off that tea-bagger's finger (!) and the freak who killed the poor demonstrator with the pro-life sign, claiming they "don't count," but there are people who are carrying around real or virtual press clippings of those events, building up their rage and justifying future acts of violence. They are counting those people. Conservative bloggers can claim that neo-Nazis like the one who shot up the Holocaust Museum "don't count" as conservatives, but the leftists most likely to commit atrocities count him. Every one of these people leaves another oily rag on our collective floor. Saying that we didn't put it there, and aren't responsible for removing it, is no help.

Civil violence is a lowest-common-denominator thing. The addled and hopeless are disproportionately attracted to it, and they are the primary audience for provocations. When a politician speaks in a way that reasonable people would only take as hyperbole or gamesmanship, that's not enough. What matters is how your speech is misunderstood.

Does it matter whether or not public figures intend to provoke violence? Well, to go back to my original story, Richard the Lion-Hearted never intended to start a pogrom. Of course not. He was an anti-Semite, but certainly didn't want any anti-Semitic bloodshed inside his kingdom. He was actually furious (he needed England's Jews to help finance his crusade), and did his best to stop the violence. But he could not. It spread to other towns and cities: to Norwich, to Lynn, to York. What Richard intended was not the point.

Dozens died in some towns. Hundreds died in York. It went on for months, well into the spring of 1190, like fire carried on a dry wind.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

McArdle's Crusade

Megan McArdle finds it funny that Nancy Pelosi is worried about political violence. I'm not sure which element tickles McArdle's funny bone. Maybe it's Pelosi's request that public officials speak responsibly. Maybe it's Pelosi's embarrassing and uncool emotional sincerity. Perhaps it's that Pelosi is soooo amazingly old that she actually remembers the Mayor of San Francisco's thigh-slappingly funny murder. (Can you imagine being that old? Silly grandma!)

McArdle has titled her comic response "There Will Be Blood," thereby establishing her credentials for highly literate snark. It follows in its entirety:

I'm not sure what Nancy Pelosi is trying to say in this video. Is she furthering the largely unsubstantiated claim that the American right is planning a reign of terror? Or is she trying to tell us that Owosso was just the beginning? Either way, this doesn't seem like it's adding much to the national conversation.

McArdle does have a remarkable talent for crowding slippery debating tactics into a limited space, a kind of spin doctor's haiku. In four sentences she's got at least two straw men, some misleading rhetorical questions, an appeal to moral equivalence: a post like this requires one an elaborate and unwholesome genius. There isn't time enough in the world to deal with every one of McArdle's pithy distortions, but I'd note the two biggest ones. First she treats Pelosi's worry about unbalanced people taking political rhetoric too seriously as a conspiracy theory about an organized "reign of terror" by "the right" as a whole. Easy to refute that one, isn't it, Megan? (That McArdle considers her own fantastic straw man only "largely unsubstantiated" is rather chilling.)

McArdle's second big move is the your-side-does-it-too riposte, familiar from school yards, street corners and protracted civil wars the world over. By bringing up the murder of a pro-life activist in Owosso, McArdle implies that it is really the liberals who are killing the conservatives, or that both sides are equally violent, or some other idea which McArdle seems to think wins her a debating point.

Of course, Pelosi did not denounce violence by the right. She denounced violence, full stop:

I wish we would all curb our enthusiasm in some of the statements and understand that some of the ears that it is falling on are not as balanced as the person making the statements might assume.

Pelosi's appeal to responsible speech, explicitly aimed at a universalized "we" than any specific or partisan "they," warning that overheated rhetoric can be misunderstood by the unbalanced, has immediately been taken by the conservative media as an unjust accusation against conservatives. That response speaks like a thunderclap. When saying things that excitable lunatics might misunderstand feels like a core value of your movement, your movement should disband.

In McArdle's world, of course, there is no such thing as a non-partisan statement. Pelosi says "we" and McArdle hears "you." McArdle's snark about Owosso presumes that Pelosi would not be bothered by the senseless murder of a protester on the right. But Pelosi said no such thing; it is McArdle who cannot imagine anyone mourning violence against an ideological opposite.

The question of violence has been on McArdle's mind intermittently over the last few months, including her repeated defense of people bringing guns to Obama speeches, and her thought experiment about the moral coherence of murdering abortion providers:

Now I can move onto the observation that if you actually think late-term abortion is murder, then the murder of Dr. Tiller makes total sense.

Of course, McArdle never explicitly advocates murder. She identifies herself as pro-choice. She calls bringing guns to public events "counterproductive." McArdle merely urges us to accept murder as reasonable. Not that she would ever do such a thing, of course. She simply demands that people who would, and people who have, be treated as serious contributors to the public debate. In McArdle's world brandishing a weapon, or even using that weapon to kill another human being, should not discredit one's beliefs.

This strange fixation on McArdle's part, her crusade make sure the armed and even the violent are not penalized in the public debate, helps explain her hostility to Pelosi. An appeal for responsible speech, for considering the consequences of one's words, is anathema to McArdle; she seems to believe that ideas must always be judged upon their abstract and intrinsic merits, rather than on their material consequences, and still less on the behavior of their adherents. It would offend McArdle heartily if an idea that seemed to her logical and consistent were discredited simply because its advocates were violent or anti-social. She demands that ideas be judged only as ideas, and for McArdle an idea doesn't become any less true, beautiful or good just because someone who believes in it kills someone who didn't.

Thus Pelosi's obvious emotion, the tears that unexpectedly started welling when she recalled the bloody deaths of people she had known and worked with, evidently struck McArdle as tasteless or ridiculous. That sort of thing, as Jay Gastby put it, is "only personal." And that Pelosi appealed to her own lived experience must have struck McArdle, for whom politics is a long series of seminar-room hypotheticals, as uncouth. McArdle values being "contrarian," by which she means offering logically valid arguments with surprising conclusions; these conclusions are often surprising because they are at odds with the experience of living in the world. McArdle doesn't view guns at public assemblies as dangerous, because for her guns are primarily ideas. And whether or not guns are dangerous is a question to resolve with a syllogism, before moving on to another observation.

Movement conservatives have been working hard since 1980 to build their presence on college campuses, and groom a new generation of conservative thinkers and pundits. McArdle is one of the fruits of their success: focused on winning adversarial debates, favoring abstract logic over experience and snark over sobriety, not only thriving on a polarized atmosphere but insisting on one. McArdle still argues in the ad hoc style of dorm rooms and dining halls: facile, punchy, never overly burdened by research. She is bright. But her intelligence is focused on winning games. When someone gestures to something bigger than the partisan game, she can only hear a play for partisan advantage. When Nancy Pelosi talks about avoiding violence, McArdle can only understand that as a ploy. McArdle is so blinkered cannot imagine that avoiding civil bloodshed might be valuable to people on both sides of the aisle. She cannot see what is in it for her. Megan McArdle is still a sophomore, in the most literal meaning of the word: a bright and highly-educated fool.

crossposted at http://dagblog.com

Monday, September 14, 2009

Falling Behind the "Socialists"

Yesterday Meet the Press ended with an attempt to discuss the economy; calling it an actual discussion of the economy might be going a bit too far. The participants did manage to conclude that ten percent unemployment is A Big Deal (although they were preoccupied with using it to handicap political horse races), and they stumbled around the notion that we are in the middle of huge economic changes. But how far the chattering classes are from any real grasp of the world economy is illustrated by one quote from Joshua Cooper Ramo, who has a story about unemployment in Time:

Last week we had the dubious honor of passing Europe in terms of unemployment, which has, you know, long been sort of the pride of the United States; well, at least we're not Europe.

The jingoism of that sentence originally distracted me from the truly shocking phrase, "at least." Ramo evidently believes, and assumes everyone else believes, that the United States economy has been eclipsed by economic rivals, but at least we have stodgy old socialist Europe to look down on.

The assumption here is that America is losing out to the more dynamic developing economies of the Pacific Rim, especially China's. It's become an article of faith among the financial press that America cannot compete with the less-regulated Asian economies and their lower labor costs. But the European Union, with its highly-paid workers, elaborate government regulation, and generous national entitlement programs, is imagined as far too handicapped to compete with the United States. China is imagined as the United States' prime economic rival and also as a model for imitation; Europe is imagined as an ineffective rival, and as a model to be avoided.

Like many long-standing assumptions, this one has gone unexamined well after reality began to contradict it. When the German automaker Daimler buys Chrysler, and later sells it off again as a bad deal, the words "at least we're not Europe" don't strike me as overwhelmingly persuasive. When the Euro climbs relative to the dollar, and the contrast between the exchange rate at the beginning and the end of the Bush Administration is dismaying, the presumption of American superiority seems quite shaky. I don't suggest either of those facts represents the whole economic picture, and I'm sure the American economy still outperforms the European in a number of ways, but the treating Europe as destined to be second-best forever is an enormous mistake. If the Big Three automakers can't compete because Western workers cost too much, how do you explain Daimler? If higher taxes and social programs handicap the EU's economy, are they weathering the recession as well as we are, or better?

While China is a very real economic rival, with whom the States will have to both compete and cooperate, Europe is also an economic superpower which, over the long term, represents a more direct competitive threat to the United States. Its economy is more analogous to ours and it competes to fulfill the same economic roles that the United States does. Moreover, it represents a far more useful potential model for the United States than China does. China's economic situation is so radically unlike our own that it's hard to draw any broadly-applicable lessons from it, while the European Union represents a different approach to managing an economy broadly like our own.

China is not simply America without a Food and Drug Administration. It is a huge country building a serious industrial base for the first time, as we did in the 19th century, and its rapid growth is the result of that structural change. We cannot follow that model because we've followed it already. We are not going to transform our economy by taking millions of farm laborers from the countryside and turning them into factory workers. There are actually not that many American farmers left. We are not going to build a transportation infrastructure in a country that doesn't have one; we can only upgrade the one we started building in the 19th century. We are not going to build an industrial base from scratch; we did that already, too. We have opportunities for economic growth, but not the kind of growth that took us from horses and sails to trucks and planes. That kind of transformation only happens once.

Americans who propose China as a model for development are essentially nostalgic; it is a proposal to repeat our own industrial past. But industrial development cannot be repeated in that way; the circumstances and opportunities are different now. We can be a better economy, but we cannot go back and become a newer economy, as China is.

The European Union represents a mature developed economy like our own, already industrialized, with modern transportation, modern financing, and a modern workforce. Indeed, Europe has, if anything, an older economy than ours, and represents a possible future (albeit not the only one) rather than a glorified past. In the European model, obviously, there is far more social spending than in the United States, and a far greater socialization of worker benefits. In the current American version of classical economics, this should hamper Europe's economic growth. But in some ways it also removes the burden of labor costs, and especially the burdens of medical and retirement spending, from individual employers, and allows more mobility in the workforce and more flexibility for employers.

Because European governments provide a greater share of workers' expensive benefits, individual businesses shoulder less of those costs. Every business pays steeper taxes, but large firms do not face massive legacy costs associated the workers of a previous generation, and startups or small businesses do not face prohibitive costs because they must provide health insurance for each new employee. Meanwhile, European workers, complacent and secure as they may be, are free to move to the highest-paying job they can find, and thereby to the sector of the economy where they create the most economic value. American autoworkers have to hold on to their automaking jobs as long as they can, even if the economy has too many autoworkers, because if they change jobs they lose their health insurance. A factory worker who wants to quit and start a small business will either find the capital she's saved devoured by the price of her own insurance, or go uninsured and face financial catastrophe if she falls ill. A European factory worker who thinks she could do better starting a cafe will get more of a shot to do it, and if the cafe fails she can rejoin the workforce without worrying about going uninsured for the rest of her life.

Does the European model have drawbacks? Yes. But we can no longer afford not to weigh those drawbacks against its advantages. And if we pretend to ourselves that their system cannot possibly compete with ours, even though that system is already competing with us and having real success, one day we may find one that we're no longer worried about falling behind Europe. We'll be worried about catching up.

Cross-posted at http://dagblog.com/, where I'm going to be guest-blogging starting today.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Preston Brooks Award

Representative Joe Wilson, of South Carolina, called the President of the United a liar tonight, while the President was in the House Chamber addressing a joint session of Congress. This isn't news to any of you; it was quite startling.

Shocking as this was, this wasn't the worst breach of civility a Congressman from South Carolina has ever committed. That dubious honor goes to his predecessor Preston Brooks.
I hereby nominate Congressman Wilson for the Preston Brooks Award, an irregular honor to be given to Members of Congress whose incivility undermines our civil institutions and the integrity of our public debate. May Wilson hold the award unchallenged for many years to come.

Preston Brooks, Congressman of South Carolina, walked into the Senate Chamber in 1856 and beat Senator Charles Sumner over the head with a cane. Sumner had to be carried from the chamber, unable to walk; he could not see because of the blood in his eyes; his desk was torn from its place on the floor when he took shelter under it. Brooks felt that Sumner had been discourteous in a floor speech, and beat Sumner because he felt the Senator had not been civil enough. Sumner was not well enough to resume his duties until 1859; the Massachusetts legislature actually returned Sumner to the Senate that time, because they felt that his empty chair in the Senate Chamber spoke more eloquently than any successor could do.

Brooks refused to apologize, survived an expulsion vote, resigned anyway (because he was affronted that anyone would impugn his character by voting for his expulsion) and was re-elected as a triumphant hero by his constituents. In the sectionalism leading up to the Civil War, Sumner was treated as a martyr in the north, and Brooks was lionized throughout the South. (There are towns named after him in Georgia and Florida.) And the Civil War came all the closer for it.

The beating was a sign of terrible sectarian division, and aggravated that division. But the partisan whooping and cheering that followed was a far worse sign, and in the long run even more corrosive. If the spirit of Preston Brooks moved another South Carolina Congressman tonight, in a small way, the question the rest of us have to ask is how we deal with it tomorrow. If all parties can agree that his behavior was out of place, then we're still having a healthy public debate. If, on the other hand, we see a backlash against criticism of Wilson, if the radio charlatans and cable shouting heads decide to defend him tomorrow, then it's a sign that out national discourse is fraying, and reasonable solutions are drifting further out of reach.

Charles Sumner's seat in the Senate Chamber stands empty again tonight. It is, of course, Senator Kennedy's seat. And tonight a sitting President ended his speech to both Houses and our nation by appealing to the eloquence of that empty chair, and of its sorely-missed occupant. There's poetry in that, but chance and history wrote the poem.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Firing Van Jones Is a Win ... For Liberals

As galling as it is to discover flaws in anyone Glenn Beck attacks, I'm not sorry that Van Jones resigned. Signing a petition that calls for "investigating" the truther conspiracy theories is actually a superb reason to not work in the White House. Van Jones shouldn't work in the White House. Neither should anyone who endorses the birther lunacy, even if it's just signing a petition they later deny believing in, should be allowed in any future Republican West Wing.

There's a feeling, I understand, that Glenn Beck shouldn't be allowed to "win." But what has Beck won? Advertising endorsements? No. Beck got someone who founded the group that's promoting his boycott. Maybe he feels some personal satisfaction. But the canning of Van Jones doesn't mean advertisers are signing back on to Beck's show. He's gotten some petty revenge. But he hasn't gained anything for himself.

Has the Jones resignation made Obama look bad, or weak? Only to people, whether on the left or right, who already thought Obama was bad and weak. Only the hardest-core political junkies noticed the Van Jones story at all, because the lunatic right stepped on the story. The opportunity to make Obama's White House looks like a truther loon sanctuary was cast aside in the giddy assault on Obama's dangerous socialist speech about studying hard.

Liberals are actually in luck. The lunatic right overlooked the first nugget of genuine leftist irrationalism they'd happened across for months and months, because they were so eager to run out and prove themselves irrational and irresponsible. I rejoice at their timing.

We have to meet the crazies with sanity, not with more crazy, and it's important not to confuse political passion with political credulity. Being willing to believe any crazy silly thing doesn't make you a more passionate or more committed leftist. It makes you an undisciplined and ineffective leftist. In the long run, and too often in the short run, it makes you a liability.

Being the mirror image of the Rump Republican Party is not a strategy for victory. There is no advantage in adopting the opposition's folly and weakness. "If the enemy," as a character in Shakespeare puts it, "is an ass, and a fool, and a prating coxcomb, is it meet, think you, that we should also ... be an ass and a fool and a prating coxcomb?" Being a truther is an attempt to match the right wing craziness with more craziness, like fighting kamikaze pilots by crashing your own plane.

Liberals and progressives need to defeat the crazy right on the ground of cold hard, sanity. Keeping around truthers and other conspriacy theorists only muddies that crucial division between the party that wants to move the country forward in real ways that help real people and the party that is mired in its own fetid paranoias. We need to represent the reality-based community, all day every day. That's the only way to win and the only way to deserve to win.

And the plain unpleasant fact is, the left has no route to victory except virtue. Playing down and dirty in the swamps of paranoia and conspiracy will always be a losing strategy for progressives. Conservative fantasies and fear-mongering will always have a wider and deeper pull in the public imagination than progressive fantasies will; the conservative fantasies are deeply familiar and grounded in long cultural traditions; they come easily. Being progressive is precisely about doing the good that we have to imagine into being, the things we have to work to imagine. Imagining a better world is hard work. It's always easier to fall back into old, comfortable fears. We will never win by talking about the monsters under the voters' beds; the right wing fringe midwived those monsters, long before we were born.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Beginning a List

I've heard so much about socialism these days, and the word clearly doesn't mean what I think it means, or really what any of the dictionaries say it means. So what is this socialism that people keep accusing Obama of? What do the people who call him "socialist" mean by that?

Formal theoretical definitions aren't so much the way to go. So I'm going to start a purely descriptive list, cataloging the Obama policies that are labeled "socialist."

Let's start with
Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer, who this week called President Obama’s planned speech to school children an attempt to “indoctrinate America’s children to his socialist agenda,”

OK, so:

1) Socialists tell children to work hard and stay in school.

Got it.

I think there are a lot of socialists around these days. George H. W. Bush, you Andover pinko, I'm looking at you.

(h/t http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/9/3/776437/-Late-afternoon-early-evening-open-thread)