Saturday, November 11, 2006

Barrel. Bottom. Scraped.

How low will the Reptilian Right sink in exploiting people's personal tragedies to promote their personal political agendas?

This low:
Adrienne Shelly put up a battle.

If only spineless politicians in both parties who have created a ripe atmosphere for such crimes would do the same.

Instead, we have Republicans--you know, the party of law and order--preparing to cut and run at the border and hand over a mass illegal alien amnesty to the Dems.

... The horrifying murder of Adrienne Shelly is just the latest addition to the human toll of open borders that no one in Washington wants to tally.

Memo to Michelle: Adrienne Shelly wasn't fighting for your pet cause. She was fighting for her life. I have no idea how she would feel about you exploiting her this way, but I have a hunch you would get an earful.

Visit only if you need to. I had to go shower afterward.

[Ya know, whenever nativists like Malkin bash whole classes of immigrants based on crimes committed by a handful of them, I like to ask them: What about white Kenworth workers? You know, like Gary Ridgway? Shouldn't we be worried about them too?]

Impeachment no, investigations yes

I'm curious what advocates of impeaching Bush as a central item on Democrts' agenda think, really, they would achieve, even were they take the long and difficult journey there -- the end of which, most likely, would come near the end of Bush's term of office anyway. As Molly in NYC puts it:
You're basically "punishing" the guy by firing him a couple months early from a job he was never too keen on anyway.

Much better: We quietly start putting together a case for war crimes and arrange to remove the relevant immunities Bush et al insisted on for themselves. Note that, unlike impeachment, you don't have to be still in office to be tried for war crimes.

If you really believe that Bush is a war criminal -- and I happen to think it's likely -- then which do you think will be more likely to obtain adequate punishment for this administration: impeachment, or war-crimes trials?

There's a problem with that, though: Because the Republican Congress refused to investigate any of Bush's mis- and malfeasance, all we have so far is suspicions. We suspect, for instance, that the directives on torture that resulted in Abu Ghraib came from the top ranks of the administration, but we don't know that. We suspect that Bush and Cheney themselves were directly responsible for deliberately skewing the WMD intelligence on Iraq -- but that hasn't been established in congressional hearings, since there haven't been any.

So what Democrats should be calling for is thorough investigations, including probes into detainee-interrogation policies, NSA wiretapping, WMD intelligence, war profiteering, and Bush's military tribunals. We can demand all these legitimately, because there's significant evidence of wrongdoing in each of these areas. And it may well be that evidence will be uncovered leading to criminal indictments and impeachment.

But what we can't insist on is proceeding as if impeachment were the final goal of these investigations. We can't presume guilt. That, after all, has been a movement-conservative specialty the past 10 years -- everyone remembers the Clinton Rules ("The Golden Rule is that all rumors about the Clintons are true").

One of the really troubling aspects of the fundamentalist right is the way it thinks and argues: It always starts from a core of belief and then searches for evidence to support it. This is why it is so naturally inimical to scientific and educational endeavors, which proceed in the opposite fashion -- gathering as much evidence and information as possible and then drawing conclusions based on that.

Reflecting this, the standard approach of Republicans in the past decade and longer has been to make assumptions based on their personal preferences and biases and then proceed as if they were matters of fact. So when progressives take the same approach, I have to object.

For instance, if you really believe that Bush violated the law with NSA wiretapping -- and again, I think there's overwhelming evidence he did -- then that needs to be established and on the record before we leap to impeach. We need to let due process take its course, because it can take any number of surprising turns along the way. The key is in initiating the processes, which under the do-nothing Republican Congress was never going to happen. Now it can.

Of course, it would be ridiculous to take impeachment off the table, and the right's demands that liberals pledge to do so are absurd. We don't know what we will find when we investigate, and neither do conservatives. Or maybe they do, and that's why they're so eager to elicit these pledges.

But at the same time, it's wrong in any event to presume guilt and demand Bush's head before we have all the facts in hand. I didn't vote Democrat just to have them start acting like a pack of Republicans out of the gate.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Abuse of office

[Click photo to see full letter.]

Reports of unethical Republican tactics continue to roll in post-election. Here in Washington state, as Noemie Maxwell at Washblog reports, we had a sitting attorney general named Rob McKenna -- one of the only Republican officeholders in the state -- sending out letters on official-looking letterhead to voters on the eve of the election that smeared a Democratic candidate for a state Senate seat.
Washington State's Republican Party has sent out a letter on official-looking but fake Attorney General letterhead that slams a Democratic candidate here in the 47th Legislative District -- and extols the virtues of the Republican candidate. McKenna misrepresents the Democrat's employment and accuses her of preying on the vulnerable. Relevant to note here is the fact that the candidate in question, Claudia Kauffman, has spent her career helping and protecting the vulnerable.

Here's a jpg of McKenna's letter. Interesting that Mr. McKenna would choose to denounce campaign literature of a local Democrat -- literature that stays on the issues and is respectful and ethical -- while he has repeatedly ignored illegal and questionable Republican behavior. Last year, there were the fake sex offender notices coming from Republican campaigns. In 2005, there was the use of illegally modified voter challenge forms to purge legitimate voters from Democratic areas from the rolls right before an election. In 2004, there were the illegal ads run against Deborah Senn by the US Chamber of Commerce.

Fortunately, McKenna's letter failed: Kauffman won 52.5 percent of the vote while her opponent, Mike Riley, got 47.5 percent. But the letter itself raises real ethical issues about the conduct of state officials, and reveals a legal loophole that needs to be closed.

Note the text of the letter:
In the final weeks of this campaign, I've been disturbed by the harshly negative campaign messages coming from his opponent, Claudia Kauffman. She is well known for her work, lobbying on behalf of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe on land use and other issues.

With her background, I would have thought Claudia Kauffman would have more experience than to turn to mud slinging and misleading ads at the last minute.

[Hey! Stop imitating Republicans!]
Our democracy treasures freedom of speech, but with freedom comes responsibility. In the business world, there are laws to protect consumers from fraudulent advertising. As Attorney General, it is my duty to assure that consumers are protected from scams and misleading ads. We have been aggressive in weeding out those businesses that prey on vulnerable people.

In politics, there are no consumer protection laws. Instead, it's up to each of us to view these attack mailers and television spots with a skeptical eye.

Unsurprisingly, there's no shortage of hypocrisy here. McKenna is moved to write this letter against a Democrat, but seems terribly uninterested in Republicans are involved. When Republicans began making shit up about Darcy Burner, McKenna's hand-wringing was nowhere in evidence.

Perhaps that's because McKenna himself has engaged in misleading campaign tactics.

But all that is somewhat beyond the point. The greater concern is that, unlike most elected state officials, the attorney general is a law enforcement officer. McKenna's use of a fake letterhead from the attorney general, with textual language implying some sort of shadiness or legal impropriety on Kauffman's part, is a real abuse of the authority implicit in that particular office.

Noemie reports, as you can see, that McKenna's office wrote assuring her that he did not break the law here:
I've verified that Attorney General McKenna did, in fact, authorize that letter under his signature, however, the letterhead on the letter is not the official "Office of the Attorney General" letterhead and as the letter reads, it was "paid for by the Washington State Republican Party."

Yes, in a tiny line at the bottom of the letter. Yet anyone looking at this letter would assume at first glance that it was sent out from the AG's office.

It's an ethical hole that needs closing. As Noemie tells me in correspondence:
There may be no current legal basis to prosecute him on this (though I wouldn't conclude that for sure). But if there isn't there should be. It should be illegal for a group to send out fake letterhead of a state office -- and for a state official to approve that. The legislature had to outlaw the sending out of fake sex offender notifications..... They should do this, no?

State officials of either party should not be able to abuse the authority of their office for campaign purposes. Closing this ethical loophole strikes me as a no-brainer for the next legislative session.

-- Dave

Eye on the ball

Impeach Bush?

Listen to Julie:
No way ... I emphatically disagree with this, as do most of our Democratic leaders including Speaker-to-Be Pelosi and DNC chair Howard Dean.

Instead, we must achieve some major policy accomplishments for the American people. Raise the minimum wage and offer incentives to companies that create good jobs. Pass legislation to advance alternative energy. Start work toward more comprehensive health-care coverage. Find a way to get our troops home from Iraq and start making real progress against international terrorism, instead of making it worse.

Americans did not elect Democrats to get mired in a year of impeachment hearings that would leave us with ... President Cheney?! Americans elected a Dem majority to start getting something done after siix years of incompetence and corruption. If we can make some positive advances in the first months of the 110th Congress, then and only then would it be worthwhile to take some punitive measures against Bush.

But I believe even that would be a waste of time. George W. Bush is now a lame duck whom history will judge most unkindly. America has many more urgent priorities than booting his sorry butt from the White House.

Bush is going to be completely hamstrung as it is. He's been essentially rendered a secondary entity. Impeaching him would be a complete and utter waste of time.

Better to keep our heads in the game, folks.

UPDATE, to clarify any confusion in my comments: Look, if in the course of investigating the gross mismanagement of the war and American policy in general we uncover criminal wrongdoing -- particularly when it comes to wiretaps -- then I think we need to take appropriate measures, and impeachment may well be one of these. But making impeachment a goal at the outset seems a really badly misplaced priority to me.

-- Dave

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Thugs R Us

[Russ Dove in action in 2004. Photo by Jeffrey Scott/Arizona Daily Star (corrected).]

The dust is still settling from the election, but I think everyone has breathed something of a sigh of relief that the eliminationist rhetoric we heard from the right throughout this campaign failed to blossom into action.

Not that there weren't those trying. Down in Tucson, for instance, the far-right wingnuts who've attached themselves to the anti-immigration movement did their damnedest. My old friend Kynn Bartlett reports:
In the morning on voting day, two men -- anti-immigrant crusader Russ Dove and his cameraman -- showed up at precinct 49 in Tucson, at the Iglesia Bautista church, 4502 S. 12th St. Their plan: To harass and intimidate Spanish-speaking voters by using an "English-only" petition to screen for "illegal immigrants" trying to vote, videotape them, and post their likenesses on the Internet. Roy Warden also came, armed with a gun -- as he usually does -- and the trio started approaching a small number of people. MALDEF monitors were there, to observe the effect of Arizona's new requirement for ID to vote, and observed the attempted intimidation tactics.

The trio left around noon to head to other polling places, then gave up after talking to only a few people. MALDEF reported this to the authorities, who are investigating; MALDEF has photographs of the men from when they were there.

Who is Roy Warden, the man with the gun?
With a fanny pack loaded with water bottles strapped to his belly, a Glock 9mm on his hip, and a bullhorn to amplify his outrage, Roy Warden, 59, emerged this spring as one of the country's most controversial, volatile, and, many believe, dangerous characters of the anti-immigration movement. Along with occasional sidekicks Russ Dove, a former militia leader and convicted car thief, and Laine Lawless, the founder of the group Border Guardians who earlier this year urged neo-Nazis to terrorize Hispanics, Warden has burned and trampled Mexican flags in public, nearly started at least one riot, regularly wreaked havoc on Tucson City Council proceedings, and E-mailed a death threat to a prominent local public defender. Without regular followers or even a named group behind him, Warden is a one-man band of immigrant-bashing hate, a man so untamed that other anti-immigration activists shun him as an embarrassment.

But the ringleader of the operation was Dove, an ex-con with a long background in the militia movement. Kynn provides a full complement of details, including Dove's published plans for harassing Latino voters:
We will be exercising our "First Amendment Right to Free Speech" at the preceint polling locations protesting that "foreign nationals - legal & illegal" are being allowed to vote in our elections.

We will do this on the grounds of the English Language. No speak English - No Vote! ~ IT IS THE LAW!

We will have a Citizens initiated "English Only Petition" and we will lawfully ask each voter to sign the Petition.

Those who cannot speak English and are under 75 will be photographed and posted on the Internet as a suspected illegal voter.

And he explains how Dove's "petition" scam was essentially a pretense for harassment:
See, the petition is the key. His "English-only" petition -- apparently circulating in an attempt to get a bill on the books, even though there was an English-only proposition in Tuesday's election -- is really his modern-day version of a literacy test, a type of voter suppression historically aimed at African Americans and banned by the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

It works this way: He approaches Latino voters and tries to get them to sign. The petition is his pretext for initiating conversations with people approaching the polling location, and allows him to judge whether or not they are, in his opinion, "fluent" in English. Those who sign it are presumably fluent; those who refuse to sign are, no doubt, illegal immigrants attempting to vote.

Pictures of these supposed "illegal voters" are then placed on the Internet, as well as potentially being reported to police. Their only actual crime? Being judged by Russ Dove, an anti-immigrant nativist, to be insufficiently fluent in English to vote.

I've reported on Dove's activities recently, largely quoting from a Blog for Arizona post:
American Democrats for a Secure Borders is the brainchild of Mr. Russ Dove, the man who does 'U.S. Constitutional Enforcement' polling place patrols looking for illegal aliens trying to vote and runs Truth in Action News. Russ hangs out with such folks as Tom Tancredo, Randy Graf and his just-fired manager Steve Aiken, perennial candidate and avowed racist Joe Sweeney, and Mexican flag burning, public official threatening Roy Warden. Billionaires for Bush even gave Dove a card in their Deck of Block the Vote Heroes: he's the three of diamonds.

Another piece authored by Joseph Pothier has more:
Unlike Vanderboegh and Wright, who head state organizations of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, Russ Dove's role in the MCDC is more circumspect. A member of the militia umbrella group the Third Continental Congress, Dove managed to escape association with that militia's most notorious criminal action-- Bradly Glover's planned attack on the US Army base at Fort Hood in 1997, which eventually sent seven members of the militia group to prison.

Based in Tucson, Dove has long been involved with the Sovereign Citizen Movement in Arizona, calls himself "Russ 'Sovereign' Dove," and styles himself a "biblical constitutionalist." His hatred of government was no doubt stroked by his 1980 felony conviction in California for attempted grand theft (two first-degree burglary charges were dismissed).

Dove's current principal role in the MCDC is as a propagandist. He produces video tapes for the Minutemen, filming interviews with many MCDC participants during their border patrol operations and authoring frequent reports on immigration issues on his Web site and "Truth In Action News" radio show.

These are the kinds of figures who feel increasingly empowered by the mainstreaming of the anti-immigration movement, which has proven to be the most significant conduit for far-right extremism to pollute our mainstream discourse in the past decade and longer.

It was this kind of ugliness and extremism, emblematic of so much of the recent nature of right-wing discourse (see, e.g., Ann Coulter), that voters turned against last night. And yet, to listen to the urgings of the right-wing pundit class, it is the unleashing of this side of the movement-conservative psyche that is being urged on.

In their shocked state of denial about the meaning of the election, the right's pundits are busy fobbing it off onto the Bush administration's incompetent execution of the True Conservative Master Plan -- or perhaps more precisely, Republicans' failure to adhere to True Conservative Principles.

Hugh Hewitt's stand-in, Dan Bartlett (he of the astonishing predictive capacity) admits that
In the closing weeks of the campaign season, I felt like I was a lawyer who had a bad client while writing this blog. That client was the Republican Party which had broken its Contract with America from 1994 and had become unmoored from its conservative principles.

Moreover, the Great Repudiation, in this Bizarro Universe view, was a good thing, because it wiped the slate clean and now gives conservatives room to speak, and act, as they really want:
At the risk of committing apostasy, last night's defeat is good not only for our party but more importantly for our ideas and ideals. Those ideas and ideals have for too long taken a backseat to other less noble concerns. New leadership must emerge, leadership that understands our principles, can articulate them, and will not abandon them. A long overdue reckoning must now begin.

This is, of course, patent nonsense. Bush has been nothing if not slavish in his devotion to the conservative-movement line, and these same right-wing pundits have been nothing if not slavish in their praise and support for him every step of the way. Bush has delivered on so many aspects of the conservative movement's agenda -- particularly in reshaping the courts in the image of the religious right's agenda -- that it's hard to find an area in which he hasn't gone along.

The only area in which a significant number of conservatives have disagreed with Bush has been in immigration, where his proposals were greeted by the paleo-conservatives who have been driving the immigration debate with all the warmth reserved for Marxist professors at John Birch gatherings.

So if the paleos are going to be calling the shots on how real conservatives will govern, look for them to get positively medieval on immigration. After all, Fox's Neil Cavuto just gave none other than Tom Tancredo a near-endorsement as the likely Republican nominee for president in 2008, saying: "Illegals coming into America are sure to be front and center in the next presidential election here."

Rush calls the election's outcome "liberating," as though it now gives him license to be as nasty as he wants to be. And where Rush leads, Cro-Magnons follow.

Those fellows in Tucson just gave us a glimpse of how that will play out in real life.

UPDATE: Rusty Idols, keying off a Tucson Citizen report, also blogged about the Arizona harassment. And got an ugly visit from Roy Warden himself.

Under the bus

Shorter Rush Limbaugh:
"I was willing to foist a pack of incompetents upon an unsuspecting public and defend them endlessly because they think the way I do."

The real losers

Conservatives lost.

No matter what Rush Limbaugh or Michelle Malkin or the entire circus of right-wing nutcases, thugs, and theocrats, in their early stages of denial, may try to tell the rest of the country, the results of Tuesday’s election were a full-throated repudiation of conservative rule.

We're getting the right-wing pushback on this already, voiced last night by Malkin:
The GOP lost. Conservatism prevailed.

I'm sure the tidal wave that washed over the American right last night was disorienting, and really, it's just fine with me if this gang that has been mismanaging the country for the past six years wants to swim farther out to sea.

But the evidence that "conservatism won" is scant indeed. A handful of Democrats won last night by offering mixed plates of middling right and middling left positions. But the vast majority -- especially in the Northeast and Midwest -- staked out specifically liberal positions and won as liberals. Meanwhile, Democrats who ran largely as faux conservatives, like Harold Ford and Lois Murphy, lost. Kos and Atrios have more.

Yes, it's true that, if they looked hard enough, conservatives could find little corn kernels in the turdpile that the public threw at them last night. If they want to pretend that they are jewels plucked from velvet, well, that's their own little Bizarro Universe, and they're welcome to it.

However, there is at least a nugget of truth in what they say: genuine conservatism -- the kind of conservatism that is about restraint and level-headed governance; that is a mindset and not a movement -- did not lose last night, because many Americans retain that outlook, which on the whole is a good thing.

Many of those Americans, as it happens, are now Democrats because the Republican Party, as it was being driven by the conservative movement, ceased to represent anything even remotely resembling restraint or level-headedness. Example A: soon-to-be Democratic Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., who was Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Navy.

So perhaps we should be more specific: The conservative movement -- which by now clearly is quite distinct from anything we can call genuinely conservative -- lost last night. It -- including its wholly owned subsidiaries, the Republican Party, the Republican Congress, and the Bush administration -- was stomped. Folded. Mutilated. And now, we can only hope, discarded.

What the conservative movement of the past decade and more has been about, as I've argued at length, is not any conservatism but the Machiavellian lust for power by any means necessary, built around a kind of pure reactionarism that really isn't about being for anything but rather about opposing things -- specifically, liberalism and its effects.

The whole conservative-movement model of governance -- as well as its model of winning elections -- has been about dismantling progressive gains of the past century or more: labor and wage gains, educational gains, economic gains, environmental gains, minority and civil-rights gains. Above all, it's about dismantling government itself. As a result, the Bush administration has proceeded with an agenda that is almost nakedly part of an effort to roll American politics and economics back to McKinley and the turn of the 20th century.

As Alan Wolfe put it last summer:
This conservative presidency and Congress imploded, not despite their conservatism, but because of it.

Contemporary conservatism is first and foremost about shrinking the size and reach of the federal government. This mission, let us be clear, is an ideological one. It does not emerge out of an attempt to solve real-world problems, such as managing increasing deficits or finding revenue to pay for entitlements built into the structure of federal legislation. It stems, rather, from the libertarian conviction, repeated endlessly by George W. Bush, that the money government collects in order to carry out its business properly belongs to the people themselves. One thought, and one thought only, guided Bush and his Republican allies since they assumed power in the wake of Bush vs. Gore: taxes must be cut, and the more they are cut -- especially in ways benefiting the rich -- the better.

But like all politicians, conservatives, once in office, find themselves under constant pressure from constituents to use government to improve their lives. This puts conservatives in the awkward position of managing government agencies whose missions -- indeed, whose very existence -- they believe to be illegitimate. Contemporary conservatism is a walking contradiction. Unable to shrink government but unwilling to improve it, conservatives attempt to split the difference, expanding government for political gain, but always in ways that validate their disregard for the very thing they are expanding. The end result is not just bigger government, but more incompetent government.

Moreover, its reflexive reactionarism -- fueled by a toxic brew of avaricious opportunism, mendacity, viciousness, and arrogant stupidity -- has driven the conservative movement literally over the cliff.

And yes, the war in Iraq was a significant factor in all this, precisely because it stands out as the foremost example of the inevitable malfeasance of conservative rule. But it was hardly the only example.

There was, it seemed, an endless litany:
-- The Katrina debacle.

-- The Terri Schiavo circus.

-- The North Korea nuclear fiasco.

-- The Mark Foley scandal.

-- The Jack Abramoff scandal.

-- And while we're at it, let's not forget 9/11.

That's the short list. Indeed, the Bush administration's legacy will be an American landscape littered with the rubble and ruin of its many grotesque failures of governance and its vicious, pseudo-fascist brand of politics.

Last night, the American people said they'd finally had enough. They've had enough of people like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, DeLay, Hastert, Limbaugh, Coulter, and Malkin. They've had enough of the kind of governance the conservative movement has given them.

Mind you, none of them are going away. Their lust for power will probably grow even greater. And so will their willingness to do literally anything to obtain it.

Look, in the next couple of years, for movement conservatives to swim deeper out into the dark waters of the right. Look for them to get nastier and more nakedly eliminationist, both in rhetoric and action. Look for them to raise the volume of personal smears against Democratic and liberal figures.

For awhile, it's going to get worse, not better. But at least we finally took that first step toward healing the wounds inflicted by conservative rule.

-- Dave

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald has more here and here.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Liberals And The Vison Thing

Sara Robinson

We all know the story now. In 1964, after Barry Goldwater's humiliating defeat, a group of Republicans doggedly set forth on the path that led them to the pinnacle of power in all three branches of government 40 years later. Starting with a kernel of corporatists, small businesspeople, and military leaders and contractors, the conservative army grew by assiduously courting powerful new allies -- the deep South in the sixties, the fundamentalist right in the seventies -- and integrating them into a tight, seamless vision of power and glory that ultimately brought us here -- to George Bush, to Iraq, and to this Election Day.

Today is a referendum -- not just on Bush and his regime, but on the whole four decades over which that post-Goldwater Republican juggernaut has been rolling. When we look behind us now, we can see, beyond any possibility of denial, where it has taken us -- and where they mean to take us. The landscape they've dragged us through is scarred by broken lives and ruined hopes: the gutting of the middle class; the growing divide between rich and poor; the raging ugliness of the Culture Wars; the collapse of the educational, scientific, and planning infrastructure that fed our industries and empowered us to meet the future on our own terms; the humiliating exposure of the limits of American power; the reckless fouling of our air, land, and water; and -- perhaps most iconically -- the battered and exhausted army now making its last stand in the sands of Iraq.

Americans are looking at trail behind them -- the blood and the mud, the stench of corruption and decay, the undrinkable water and unbreatheable air -- and realizing that nothing about this trip looks like the sunny golf courses and well-kept Main Streets pictured in the GOP's bright and happy Morning-In-America travel brochures.

Our Depression-era grandparents could have told us this was coming. After all, the GOP has driven us into precisely the same ditch it ran them into in 1929, fueled by the same ignorance and graft, flaunting the same blatant disregard for any sense of the common good, pillaging our vast accumulated social capital for its members' own private enrichment. Now that the devastating results are coming clear to all but that last deluded 30%, we need to make the words "conservative" and "Republican" forever synonymous with this mess.

We need to teach it in our history classes, and tell the tales to our own grandchildren. This, children, is what happens when you abandon liberalism. This is what's happened every damned time we've ever handed conservatives the keys and let them drive. Don't let them kid you. It's not about two different views of democracy; it's about whether your democracy lives or dies.

Today, as the final hours of that triumphant and disasterous ride tick away, I'd like to talk a little bit about vision and leadership. The GOP may have dumped us in this swamp. Some of them may have even known from the outset that this is where we were headed. Still, they got hundreds of millions of us to sign up for the trip, mostly because they understood things about vision and leadership and commitment that the Democrats once knew, and had forgotten. Before we leave the wreckage behind and try to slog our way out of this mess on foot, I'd like to stop and take a minute to see what lessons we can pull off their collapsing machinery that might aid our own coming ascent.

1. The core philosophy -- I've already given too much space here to John Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience, but still unmentioned (here or anywhere) is one of the book's most interesting chapters, in which he freely admits that the conservative movement has almost no coherent intellectual basis. Unlike liberalism, which is rooted in the contributions of dozens of the Enlightenment's most insightful thinkers, Dean argues that conservatism started with Burke...and pretty much ended there, too. (Even Adam Smith doesn't offer conservatives much comfort if they read him in full, instead of selectively.)

This lack of depth on their intellectual bench, Dean continues, was a huge problem in the early days of the Goldwater Revolution. The founders of that movement understood they needed a set of core principles on which to build an enduring vision for where they wanted to take America -- principles that Americans would recognize as being part of their own native traditions of government. However, since great philosophers have seldom offered lofty justifications to robber barons and earth-rapers, they were coming up embarrassingly short. That, says Dean, is how Leo Strauss was recruited to fill the hole; and his neo-conservative disciples at the University of Chicago became the intellectual lights of the new era. Lacking a philosophical foundation, the modern conservatives had to jerry-rig one out of whatever they found, and hope it was good enough to build a movement on.

In the 70s, this core structure was plastered over with Christian fundamentalism, which had to perform impossible perversities upon its own philosophical corpus in order to turn Jesus into an anti-Communist, pro-military free-marketeer. If you looked at it closely, the whole edifice was nothing more than spit, duct tape, and paint; but given sufficient ignorance and the right lighting, it looked like a plausible spiritual and philosophical foundation on which to construct a conservative vision for America's future.

Moving foward, liberals are facing no such poverty. If they could build all this on such a rickety intellectual foundation, we're starting with more granite than El Capitan. The Constitution and the Declaration are, at heart, liberal documents. We could ask for no clearer or more unassailable statements of our core philosophy of government. The language is lucid, strong, and beautiful; the ideals stand in such stark contrast to Republican rule that no one will fail to see the implicit choice inherent in them.

For those who like their morality in absolutes, we can offer a beauty. You stand with us for democracy -- or you stand against everything this county was built on.

2. A detailed dream -- The dreams of 1964 succeeded because huge numbers of Republicans saw, in intricate detail, what they wanted to achieve. They wanted a return to the 50s. A well-ordered world for the white, male, and wealthy. The "freedom" for business to profit however and wherever it could, with generous government help. Docile, properly-girdled wives. Obedient, shaven, and respectful children. People of color who "knew their place." An American empire that controlled the world's goods and people. Some added: A country run according to the Bible instead of the Constitution.

One of the core tenets shared by futurists is that the future belongs to groups of people who share clear, detailed dreams of what they want to create, and are able to continue to hold fast to those visions through all manner of change and adversity. The odds of any given future ever happening go up with the number of people who share it, the clarity and detail with which they can envision it, and the tenacity with which they pursue it over time.

Without a doubt, this clarity and tenacity were the GOP's single biggest advantage over the past 40 years. They had the courage of their convictions, boundless enthusiasm in selling their vision, the willingness to endure ridicule, and a constancy that allowed the vision to endure almost unchanged for nearly half a century. They showed people a strong picture of where they were leading them; and they confidently proceeded to take them there (…or, at least, so they said...)

So far, Democrats have been very slow on the uptake when it comes to presenting a detailed vision of what our 21st century America will look like. Part of this is that we're still in opposition mode, and still factionalized enough that it's hard to reach consensus. But we had better get on with this, and soon. We might win this election on voter disgust with the Republican vision; but we will lose the next one if we can't replace it with a strong, vibrant, enduring narrative of our own. They need to know, immediately, what the progressive movement stands for and where we intend to take America -- not just programs and processes, but the entire philosophical value system that will guide our moral and political decision-making. This must be our very first task, starting tomorrow morning. It will not wait.

3. Vision over leadership -- Everybody knows that the job of a leader to articulate visions. However, there are two serious and common misunderstandings that follow from this. Both lead straight into a pair traps that we will need to avoid -- and, which, remarkably, the rising GOP kept itself almost entirely out of.

First, we misunderstand exactly what visions are, and what role they play in the life of an enterprise. At their best, they are overarching statements of meaning. Who are we? What is our enterprise about? What value do we bring to the world? What future are we in business to create? These aren't slogans or mottos or mission statements or policies (though all those should proceed from the core vision); they are long-term answers to long-term questions. The most successful enterprises are the ones that are able to develop a rock-solid vision of what purpose they serve -- and then sustain that same vision for decades at a time, regardless of who's leading them or how conditions change. Strategy and methods come and go. Leaders are hired, fired, or retired. All of these changes are endurable, as long as they're made in the service of the larger vision.

The GOP set its vision in the late 1960s; and it formed the unchanging map for everything they've done since. While they've had some serious setbacks, and their leadership has varied from charismatic to criminal, their vision has survived, undimmed and largely unchanged.

Second, we misunderstand the role leaders play in articulating visions. Modern CEOs market themselves as visionaries, their services bought by companies who want to sign on to their vision. The dismal upshot of this is that company visions change every time upper management changes. The new Big Dog comes on board, pisses on the goals laid down by his predecessor, and proceeds to rip up the doghouse to re-arrange it according to his own plan.

This constant psychic remodeling is hell on any enterprise, and a set-up for ultimate failure of the entire structure. If you've been in corporate life for a while, you've probably succumbed to "vision fatigue" as you watched these guys come and go. From below, all the lofty posturing and preening about "vision" just looks like a bad sales job. You know instinctively that it's nothing more than a colossal time and energy sink, that it promotes nothing but cynicism and draws people's energy from the real work of the business. If this goes on long enough, the institution finally loses its ability to engage any vision at all. Adrift without purpose or coherent meaning, its collapse is not far behind.

On the other hand, we can all name companies that have walked the same talk for 20 or 30 years. Their employees are engaged with the firm's vision; and feel supported by it in return. Creating and maintaining this kind of vision is what real leadership is all about. Worthwhile visions take years, even decades to emerge; and when you've got one that's working for you, everything -- including your CEO's ego -- needs to be subordinated to it. That's why successful companies hire low-key leaders who are willing to serve and nurture the existing vision, rather than egomaniacs who will attempt to impose nightmares of their own.

Again, the GOP did this well. Their vision, however horrifying we find it, proved durable enough to transcend the leaders who promoted it. It survived Nixon, found its avatar in Reagan, and was barely dented by Bush I. Still, all things must end -- and, finally, this vision may also be running out of relevance, the shine obscured by the grease of corruption, the sand of Baghdad, and the mud of New Orleans. Even so, it's served them so well for 40 years that we'll probably be finding pockets of die-hards tenaciously keeping a grip on it for the rest of their lives.

4. Faith in their own inevitability -- If it ever occurred to the GOP for a moment that long-term failure was even possible, they kept it to themselves. Even defeats were spun as victories. Whatever happened, it was good news for Our Side. With God and Wall Street at their backs, their glorious vision was such a fait accompli -- and their confidence in it so assured -- that small setbacks (or even large ones, like Watergate) just rolled off them. And they kept on rolling.

These days, we're hearing a lot about how "Conservatism didn't fail -- specific people failed conservatism." This is also a necessary stance if you're holding a vision that's bigger than any specific leader, and are convinced of that vision's ultimate rightness. Liberals would do well express an equally confident belief in liberal Constitutional democracy -- an idea that is bigger than any person or party, and cannot be defeated by any human failure.

5. A commitment to the long haul -- The post-Goldwater conservatives believed from the start that they were in this battle not just for life, but for generations. To that end, they started early on to find and cultivate young conservatives, and founded institutions -- colleges, churches, media outlets -- that would serve as perpetual repositories and promoters of their vision. They were, and will continue to be, determined to bring down liberal democracy in America, and replace it with a hereditary aristocracy governed (at least nominally) by the Word of God. As long as that institutional infrastructure stands, they'll be producing soldiers to keep up the fight.

Right now, the Republicans are facing some bad moments. The recent sexual scandals may peel off some of their Evangelical base. The horror of Iraq, and the mounting financial scandals yet to come from it, are scaring off the investors whose funding they depend on. Americans are looking at the mess, and losing confidence in both the GOP vision and its leadership.

But Watergate did not stop these people. Iran-Contra barely slowed their pace. The embarrassment of the Clinton impeachment debacle hardly registered at all. If we think they're going to slink away quietly after today's defeat, we will only choose greater defeat for ourselves.

We may vote them out of Congress today. We might even, with luck, take back the Senate. We can make George Bush's next two years a living hell (and I hope we do). But let's not forget that these are True Believers with 40 years already invested in a vision -- and no matter how badly we thrash them at the ballot box or on the floor of Congress, they will not be going away.

The only way we can defeat them is:

1) Reaffirm our deep philosophical commitment to Constitutional principles as the guiding force for a truly American morality and politics

2) Draw our own vibrant narrative about the kind of America we want to create -- one that will not require much change or amendment, and which we can rely on to guide our choices for the next 50 years

3) Elevate and support that vision over the priorities any faction, any strategy, or any single leader. The ultimate criterion for all our choices should be: "How does this help manifest our vision?"

4) Have complete and unshakeable confidence in the inevitability of our own victory. We will win because we are keeping faith with the best ideals of America.

5) Realize that we and our children and grandchildren will be in this battle, probably fighting these same people, for as long as it takes to win. In the long term, defeating them will not mean defeating individuals or candidates, but rather the issues and institutions that feed their cause.

A day for standing up

It's all kind of odd for an off-year election, but this has the makings of a special year. What kind of landmark it leaves will be seen soon enough, but it feels momentous. It's a collection of local races, really, but the mounting sense that they're going to represent a kind of real grass-roots change is exciting and heartening.

We all have our own special races -- I'm keeping a close eye on Washington's 8th District and Idaho's 1st District, while I think the Connecticut Senate race has been fascinating if nothing else -- but there are some races that are just special in themselves and deserve our wider appreciation. Take, for instance, Michigan.

The voters in Michigan are not only being confronted with a divisive initiative on affirmative action, but as Hans Johnson at In These Times reports, a larger trend -- which the initiative reflects -- toward the takeover of the mainstream Republican Party by its extremist elements:
Overshadowed by Ned Lamont's Aug. 8 primary win for Senate in Connecticut was an ugly ouster the same day of a moderate GOP incumbent congressman from Michigan, Joe Schwarz. In his first term in Congress, Schwarz, a doctor, backed lifting the ban on stem-cell research and raising the minimum wage. But in the low-turnout primary, he narrowly lost to Tim Walberg, a minister who took money from the anti-immigrant Minutemen and had to deny involvement in an episode of antigay vandalism at Schwarz's campaign office. Walberg’s win is the latest by a far-right insurgency in the state. Since 2000, this small group has shoehorned attacks on abortion rights, intolerance against gays, and even racist appeals into the strategy of the state Republican Party.

The power of this insurgency has also become a subplot of the race for governor this fall. Republican candidate Dick DeVos, who vows to rev up the auto industry if he beats incumbent Jennifer Granholm, has drawn fire for five-figure grants given by his wife's foundation to the antigay American Family Association (AFA). The AFA is leading a boycott against Michigan-based Ford Motor Company for including gay and lesbian consumers in its marketing campaigns. In July, the group boasted that its boycott had cut severely into Ford's sales. Last week, the company announced $5.8 billion in third quarter losses.

The allegations of kicking the carmaker and its workers while they're down are dogging DeVos all the more because the millionaire former Amway executive has appeared to welcome their plight. Automakers should "stop crabbing," he once told the Grand Rapids Press. And his wife Betsy, while chair of the state GOP in 2004, famously linked "high wages" among the state's union households to "economic problems." Yes, she actually said that.

Media Mouse has fully detailed DeVos' connections to the American Family Association. What's especially noteworthy here is the prominent role played by AFA's Michigan affiliate, which is run by a former roght-wing political operative from Idaho named Gary Glenn:
The Director of the Michigan affiliate of the American Family Association, Gary Glenn, has received considerable attention in recent years for his attacks on gays and lesbians. Glenn has opposed anti-discrimination policies of several Michigan cities by asserting that if passed, public bathrooms and showers would become co-ed. After the legislation passed in several towns, Glenn organized petitions to overturn the legislation, asserting that gays and lesbians pose a "public health hazard." He has further criticized homosexuality stating in a 2001 press release that "Under homosexual activists' political agenda, our children would face a future in which traditional marriage and families have been legally devalued, while state government -- despite the severe threat it poses to personal and public health -- not only legally endorses but uses our tax dollars to subsidize deadly homosexual behavior." Glenn also has expressed satisfaction when gay men are arrested having sex in public and further stated that according to his "files," "in almost every case ... public school employees" are involved in such acts. As recently as 2004, Glenn argued that "homosexual activity among men remains the single biggest cause of AIDS infection" despite numerous studies to the contrary. Glenn organized in favor of filters in libraries, arguing that with pornography on the Internet, libraries are "the most dangerous place for a child today."

Anyone who covered Idaho politics remembers Glenn well; his legacy in Idaho includes an onerous right-to-work law and a raft of anti-gay measures that floated through the Legislature at various times. He's also, as it happens, one of the driving forces behind the candidacy of the extremist Republican who is running against Larry Grant for the open seat in Idaho's 1st District.

Since his move to Michigan, it's obvious he has his sights set on bigger game. This includes a front group called the Council for Responsible Government that operates as a political funding "black hole," running smear campaigns on behalf of far-right candidates while ostensibly pushing for term limits.

Glenn and his operations in Michigan are only a symptom of the larger pathology that has infected the Republican Party. Everywhere you look, it's becoming clear that conservative rule in America has done nothing but empower demagogues who believe that ideology can trump policy, and when disaster inevitably results, ideology trumps reality. And increasingly, that ideology is growing hateful and malignant.

Every one of us today has a chance to say something about that. Every one of us can say that we've had enough. We may not be able to vote in Michigan or Connecticut, but our votes are still capable of being part of a greater sea change -- one that is increasingly overdue.

I'm very much looking forward to casting my ballot today.

Monday, November 06, 2006

That one party. You know. The icky one.

A screen grab from today's Fox News broadcast:

They seem to be choking on certain words ...

[H/T to Karl in my e-mail.]

-- Dave

Fronting for the man

Ward Connerly, the black man from California who has made a career out of promoting racially divisive measures that all, strangely enough, happen to find favor with white conservatives, has finally made clear that there's literally no one whose support he won't welcome.

Connerly's latest effort is another anti-affirmative action measure, this time in Michigan. It's attracted the approval of such right-wing luminaries as George Will and Rich Lowry. But no one in Michigan supports it, including the Republican nominees for public office there, because it's a measure whose negative impacts on African Americans are so unmistakable and so obviously intended. Moreover, it's also obvious to everyone that the history of the impacts of these measures definitively hurts both the universities affected and the states that pass them.

So Connerly has become so desperate for endorsements that he's now welcoming support from the Ku Klux Klan:
Ward Connerly, the California man leading a ballot measure to end most affirmative action in Michigan, accepts Ku Klux Klan support for his position in a video clip posted this week on the Internet.

Connerly on Friday defended his remark in a statement, saying he accepts support for banning affirmative action wherever he finds it.

He said he does not support hateful activities.

His precise words, defending the Klan support:
"If the Ku Klux Klan thinks that equality is right, God bless them. Thank them for finally reaching the point where logic and reason are being applied instead of hate."

Ironically, when Connerly's opponents in California in 1996 ran ads that included images of the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke, he called that an "act of pathetic desperation."

The Klan isn't the only white supremacist group endorsing the Michigan initiative. So is the Council of Conservative Citizens:
Last month, the Grand Rapids Press reported about a photo showing Connerly shaking hands with John Raterink, chairman of the Michigan Council of Conservative Citizens, which is considered a white separatist group.

Connerly said he didn't know Raterink's background when the picture was taken.

"I have nothing but contempt for separatist groups based on race that have done so much to hurt black people throughout American history. Proposal 2 is about equality and fairness, not separation and preferences," he said in his statement.

Let's cut, momentarily, through Connerly's bullshit: The Ku Klux Klan's entire reason for existence is inequality. The only reason that it, and fellow organizations like the CofCC, have signed onto Connerly's anti-affirmative action initiative is because they can see, quite correctly, that the real-world outcome of the proposal is create barriers to achievement for young blacks. That's something they very much support and approve.

Rich Lowry's smoke-blowing notwithstanding, Connerly's efforts a decade ago in California, where he successfully promoted the anti-affirmative-action Proposition 209, have reaped truly bitter fruit for that state, as Ellis Cose at Newsweek reported just this week. In a separate piece examining the Michigan fight, Cose notes:
This is not to say Proposition 209 had no effect. In two areas—minority enrollment in the state's top public universities and contracts awarded to women and minorities—the vote was a watershed event. In 1998, the University of California, Berkeley, admitted less than half the number of blacks it had the previous year and nearly half the number of Latinos. At UCLA, the numbers of incoming "underrepresented" minorities also dropped precipitously. At the law schools, the falloff was startling. In 1997, Berkeley's law school enrolled only one black first-year student out of a total of 268. UCLA did not fare much better.

This summer, UCLA projected its lowest black enrollment (96 prospective students out of nearly 5,000 freshmen) in more than three decades. Partly in response, UCLA's academic senate approved a "holistic" admissions process, meaning the university would focus on the whole student—not just the academics—and hope for a more diverse student body.

A quote from the full report is fairly representative of this plays out in the classroom:
Goodwin Liu, assistant professor of law, observed, "At Boalt, you can't escape the obvious result [of Proposition 209]; and the most obvious result is just the tremendous dearth of black students. ... Staring out at a hundred-person Constitutional law class, and you have maybe one, two or three black students. ... It's odd to teach Constitutional law, so much of it informed by race, in a setting like that."

The experience of Washington state, where we passed a Prop. 209 clone called Initiative 200 back in 1998, has been nearly identical, as Mark Trahant detailed in a recent column:
Washington's experience with I-200 shows similar trends. A draft report by the Higher Education Coordinating Board shows that African Americans, Hispanic and American Indian students "were not participating -- nor were they achieving academically -- at rates comparable to statewide averages."

There is lower than average participation at the undergraduate and graduate levels -- and American Indian, Hispanic and African Americans are more likely to become "early leavers," attending school for a short time and not returning within two years. And, the number of minority faculty members remains even smaller than the pool of students.

While I-200 was enacted, more than half of all American Indians who graduated from high school were college bound. Today the number is 38 percent -- and showing a downward trend.

It's clear that the arguments for I-200 were wrong. Higher education is becoming less representative of the state -- and our economic future.

When voters looked at this issue eight years ago, the discourse was framed about fairness. That might have been the right argument then -- but it's exactly wrong now.

The issue is now one of economic security -- not for minority students -- but for every American.

Of course, one of the biggest cheerleaders for I-200 in this state back in 1998 was the woman who at the time was our own version of Ward Connerly: Michelle Malkin, who back then was a Seattle Times columnist (and one of dubious quality at that). And as I've pointed out a few times, Malkin has displayed not only a lack of compunction about associating with white nationalist organizations, she's proven positively gifted at transmitting their foul ideas and kooky conspiracy theories into the mainstream of public discourse.

Put another way:
In sum, the entire arc of Malkin's career has been predicated on one primary accomplishment: she can get away with publishing racially charged nonsense that, if written by a white person, would raise immediate questions of racism. Because Malkin is Asian American, she gets a pass. Talk about playing the race card. Malkin's only real talent, it seems, is providing bigots with prepackaged excuses for their bigotry.

Malkin and Connerly are not exactly alone at this. I've already noted the way that certain black activists have been allowing themselves to front the efforts of white nationalists to create a wedge between blacks and Latinos on the immigration front. A recent Southern Poverty Law Center report provides the fuller details of how this comes about:
In recent months, Anderson and a smattering of other African-American anti-immigration activists, most notably longtime Los Angeles homeless activist Ted Hayes (see interviews with both men), have become the front men for a campaign orchestrated and funded by white anti-immigration leaders. The campaign aims to convert black Americans to their cause, and simultaneously to provide groups like the Minuteman Project and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) with cover against accusations of racism.

Beyond putting a black face in the spotlight as often as possible at rallies and conventions like Unite to Fight, this effort also consists of the new FAIR front group, Choose Black America -- a supposedly nationwide coalition of black business and community leaders spreading the message that "mass illegal immigration has been the single greatest impediment to black advancement in this country over the past 25 years."

"The danger here is [black activists] being co-opted by a group who may not have the African-American community's best interests in mind," says Shayla Nunnally, a black professor at the University of Connecticut and co-author of a Duke University study on Latino immigrants' attitudes towards blacks. "It goes back to minorities fighting minorities, while fighting the overall oppression isn't being addressed."

More to the point, these men are all too happy to let themselves be used as front men for white racists who are eager to promote their own claim to not being racists:
It's white folks who have paraded Anderson all over the country in the past year, financing his appearances at the Unite to Fight convention in Las Vegas, a Minuteman Project summit in Arlington Heights, Ill., and a Capitol Hill rally where Anderson warmed up the crowd for anti-immigration hard-liner and U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), among other events. When officials at white-dominated FAIR needed black figureheads for their front group, they knew Anderson was their man. He signed on as a founding member of Choose Black America (CBA), along with 10 other activists, academics, clergymen, and entrepreneurs.

The formation of CBA was announced at a FAIR-sponsored press conference last May at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. To date, that press conference is the only verifiable action CBA has taken. It otherwise seems to exist only as a website and a public relations gambit.

"The African Americans they brought there were just to put a black face on their position," says Hutchinson, who, unlike Anderson and Hayes, declined an offer to join CBA. "These blacks had no other further use. [FAIR] got what they wanted, so why would they have meetings [of the CBA]? Why would they create an organization? These individuals are so loosely affiliated, what kind of organization are you going to form out of that?"

Also, when Minuteman Project co-founder Jim Gilchrist kicked off his group's cross-country caravan to Washington, D.C., last May 3, he picked Leimert Park, a mostly black Los Angeles neighborhood, as the caravan's rallying point. Gilchrist brought out the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, African-American head of the right-wing, Christian fundamentalist Brotherhood Organization for a New Destiny, along with Ted Hayes, the black homeless advocate, to back him up.

The rally was supposed to be an invitation to Minuteman discipleship, but it didn't end in benediction. Faced by dozens of African-Americans calling Gilchrist a racist and labeling his black associates as "Sambos," Gilchrist dropped the friendly face. "Minutemen, stand your ground," he barked. Then, referring to a man leading chants against his followers, Gilchrist added, "If it's war he wants, then let it begin here," according to the Los Angeles Times.

"We confronted them and chased them out of our community with that racist nonsense," says Najee Ali, president of the Islamic H.O.P.E. civil rights organization in Los Angeles. "We wanted to let them know that they are not welcome in our community and we were offended they chose that as their departure point."

As a white man involved in the work of combating white supremacist beliefs and organizations, I find people like this fascinating: minorities whose belief in their own exceptionalism allows them to identify more with white exceptionalists than with minority communitarians.

They remind me very much of the people that James Loewen describes in his remarkable work Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (for my money, the most significant book on race written in the past decade). These were the "exceptions" to the so-called "sundown" laws that existed in thousands of American towns (most of them outside the South, and particularly prevalent in the Midwest and Northeast) forbidding blacks to remain within town borders after sundown. Many "sundown towns" had one or two black residents, usually servants of local wealthy landowners, or people in subservient positions (hotel workers, nurses, janitors, shoeshiners) who had longtime resident status.

How did they manage it? As Loewen tells it, there were several survival strategies involved, including an emphasis on their eccentricity and individuality, which played to the way whites often responded to the cognitive dissonance of knowing blacks who were fine, upstanding, individuals, in contrast with prevailing stereotypes depicting them as lascivious criminals and rapists. That is, they made exceptions for them. Loewen cites an interview with a woman Klan member from Indiana:
"You get several of them together and they become niggers. Individually, they're fine people."

There was also a tendency to play to white stereotypes about negroes. All of this was designed to encourage whites to identify them as being on their side:
Overt identification with the white community was another survival tactic. Such blacks became "Tonto figures" -- taking pains to associate with the "white side," differentiated from the hordes of blacks outside the city limits. White workers in Austin, Minnesota, repeatedly expelled African Americans, and Austin became a sundown town, but like many others, it allowed one African American to stay -- the shoeshine "boy." Union member John Winkola tells about him:

And I'll tell you a good one: So one time we had Frank -- I forget his last name -- he was shining shoes in the barbershop and then afterwards he bell-hopped for the bus in town here, and everybody liked him ... He'd never go in the packing house because he knew he couldn't, he didn't want to go there.

So one day I was walking along ... and here came a couple of niggers, and they stood there by the bridge facing the packing house, and ... [Frank] says, "Y'know, John," he says, "when the damn niggers start comin' into this town, I'm gonna get the hell outta here." And he was black! He was black! He didn't want them to come into town either ... But we never had no trouble with Frank at all.

Indeed they didn't; Frank knew with which side of the color line he had to identify if he was to remain in Austin.

... Kathleen Blee, author of Women of the Klan, collected a good example from an Indiana woman in the 1980s: "We didn't hate the niggers. We had the Wills family that lived right here in [this] township. And they were like pet coons to us. I went to school with them." Often they got known by nicknames, such as "Snowball" for the only African American in West Bend, Wisconsin, or "Nigger Slim" for the father of the only black family in Salem, Illinois.

... The Austin, Minnesota, story shows another ideological payoff that allowing one household to stay when all others are driven out can have for whites, as they can claim not to be racist: "We're not against all African Americans after all -- look at Frank!" More accurately, whites can claim to be appropriately racist. The problem lies with those other African Americans -- "the damn niggers." Even Frank -- "and he was black" -- agrees. Thus instead of allowing their positive feelings about George Washington Maddox or Elizabeth Davis to prompt some questioning of their exclusionary policies, whites in Medford, Oregon, and Casey, Illinois, merely emphasized how exceptional these individuals were. In turn, this allowed whites to affirm once more how inferior other African Americans were, in their eyes.

Things, fortunately, have changed quite a bit since all this was true, though we continue to deal with the legacy of these times. Today, minorities who identify with anti-minority interests -- particularly the anti-multiculturalists of the paleoconservative right -- (and this certainly includes gay Republicans) no longer are doing so as a survival technique. Rather, it's a technique that creates all kinds of opportunities, both financial and otherwise.

Of course, it's a pretty limited club. But once you're in, it's possible to go quite a long ways as a white-nationalist minority. Just ask Ward and Michelle.

And when the Klan pats you on the back, you can pretend that they've somehow changed their very nature and become interested in equality. Why, David Duke couldn't have phrased it any better.

-- Dave

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sara's Sunday Rant: An American Abroad

Sara Robinson

One of our favorite Canadian blogs is We Move To Canada, the continuing saga of an American family's experience as they emigrate to the True North Strong and Free. (And a necessary first stop for those of you murmuring to yourselves, "That's it. This is crazy. I'm moving to Canada. No, I really mean it this time….")

Yesterday, WMTC's L-Girl weighed in on the upcoming U.S. elections with a sentiment I've heard from many Americans who've lived here for a while, and have let Uncle Sam drop off their Christmas card list:

For the first time since turning 18, I'm not voting in a US election. I'll probably never vote in one again.

I feel that, having chosen to leave the country, I have forfeited my right to have any say in how it is governed. Of course I know that I still have a legal right because I am still an American citizen, but I feel I have no moral or ethical right.

The second, related reason is that I view the entire US election system as utterly, totally broken and bankrupt. I don't want anything to do with such a corrupt and undemocratic system.

Some months ago another move-to-Canada blogger urged me to tell wmtc readers that the deadline to apply for absentee ballots was approaching. I did not, because I'm not comfortable asking people to do something I myself am not doing. And people who have managed to emigrate to Canada can figure out how to vote if they want to. They don't need my help.

In two more years, when we can apply for Canadian citizenship, we'll begin to decide whether or not to give up our US citizenship altogether. Everyone makes such a fuss over the US passport. While we were in the application process, another American also applying said to me (by email), "Why would you give up your US passport? Half the world would give anything to have one!!"

I have no doubt that if you're Somali or Afghan or whatever, a US passport would make your life much easier. But for my purposes, a Canadian passport will do just fine. I will be proud to carry one.

The only reason to hold onto US citizenship, and thus my US passport, would be for easy entry into the US. But we'll burn that bridge when we come to it - or not.

I realize that many Americans who moved to Canada for political reasons are voting in this election. I hope I don't need to say that I respect their decisions as their own. For my part, I feel I already voted - with my feet.

In the fall of 2004, I spent every weekend -- and quite a few weekdays -- working with BC Democrats Abroad, which was then chest-deep in an all-out effort to find and register the estimated 250,000 US expats thought to be living in the province. The registration process was often complicated to the point of daunting, especially for people who had been gone from the U.S. for several decades. But through months of hard work, the registration teams added tens of thousands of new voters -- almost all of them Democrat -- to voter rolls in every state in the Union.

During those weeks, I heard the above speech in every key and pitch. And this was the line that always bothered me most: "I feel that, having chosen to leave the country, I have forfeited my right to have any say in how it is governed."

Here's what I told them then (and would tell L-Girl now):

"Look. There are only about 200 million American voters who get to make this decision -- and over six billion people on this planet who will have to live with the results. This isn't about a moral or ethical "right" to say what goes on in America. It's about your responsibility to everyone who has to live with the choices made by the American government. You and I may have only tiny voices -- but wherever we live, we're still obligated to raise them on behalf of those billions of other people who don't get a say at all."

That's why I vote. And blog. And drag other ex-pats over the border to spend their Saturdays walking precincts and putting up yard signs in in Our Swing State Next Door. And it's why, as soon as I get this posted, I'll be making a few phone calls to voters in the U.S. this afternoon, asking them to help create the changes we want to see.

Legal and moral issues aside, there's also a cultural piece of this. The hard fact is that, no matter where I live, I could no more stop being American than I could stop being female. I was born American to American parents, spent 45 years there, gave birth to American children (one on the Fourth of July, even), went to American universities, lived and breathed American history and American politics. My story, and that of my family, is an American story. Repudiating that would be like repudiating my own mother.

America is knitted into my identity -- my blood and bones -- in a way Canada can't ever be, even if I'm blessed to spend another 45 years here. I can learn the words to O Canada, order tea instead of coffee, sew a maple leaf onto my backpack, and stuff a bit of the Canadian rising into my neutral California accent; but none of that will ever change the fact that I'll always be a first-generation landed immigrant, a stranger from Somewhere Else. Canadians are so fast to spot the unruly edge of a ruffled star-spangled slip peeking out under the hem of my warm, sleek, and tweedy new Canadian clothes that I've given up even making an effort to keep it all tucked in. I don’t doubt it'll be hanging out there for the rest of my days.

And, in fairness, this is probably true for my children as well. Anti-Americanism is the last acceptable prejudice in Canada, as every American mother and child I know can tell you first-hand. Our kids are reminded of this daily, enduring schoolyard and classroom taunts that would be firmly smacked down by teachers if they were directed toward their Persian, Indian, or Korean classmates. Sometimes, our kids let it roll off their backs. Sometimes, they feel the brunt of knowing that they, too, will never really belong here. But at least, over the years, they will still have memory and history on their side in a way that I never will.

Being American is a daily source of pride and pain, wonder and frustration, intense love and equally devastating disappointment. It is not something I could just hand over along with my voting rights and my passport. It is also, clearly, a dream I'm not yet ready to stop dreaming.

Which is not to say that some rude awakening might not yet lie ahead. But even if it comes, I'll have the small comfort of knowing I did everything I could to prevent it. I may have left -- but I never stopped fighting.

Some links:
If you're thinking about moving north yourself, We Move To Canada has some excellent links to immigration and cultural sites that will help you work through your options.

It's too late for overseas voters to register for the 2006 elections. But if you live abroad and don't want to get left out next time, go to the Overseas Vote Foundation website and get yourself signed on.

No matter where you live, you can make a difference this weekend. has identified Democratic voters in key districts who may need encouragement to get to the polls on Tuesday. If you've got some time to make a few calls, their easy-to-use site will get you up and calling in minutes.