Mudcat’s Advice And The Persistence of Anti-Elitism

Earlier today I mocked a statement from Karl Rove which suggests that Rove might have lost his touch. Steve Benen had a similar view–as did much of the liberal bloosphere as the fault in Rove’s comments were so obvious. Steve also had an earlier post which showed that bad advice does not only come from the right. He quoted Dave “Mudcat” Saunders from an article for The Weekly Standard:

When I contacted Mudcat, he was in a state of blood-spitting agitation at all the Poindexter reporters trafficking in stereotypes, depicting mountain people as racist mouth-breathers, while explaining Obama’s “Appalachian problem” as if they were anthropologists dropping in on the lip-plated savages of America’s last exotic tribe. […]

[A]s he once told a woman who stood up after a speech he gave to a Democratic audience to say he made compelling points, but they’d be more effective without the swearing, “Lady, there’s nothing I can do about it. Because if you’d seen what I’ve seen from elitist Democrats, you’d swear too.”

He’s speaking of the breed of mostly Northeastern elitist liberal that he encounters even on his own campaigns: condescending, green around the gills from consuming too much arugula, with overdeveloped thumbs from clacking nonstop on their Blackberries, all of whom jealously guard their titles such as “deputy campaign manager of the coffee pot.” He calls them “the Harvards” (a term pinched from LBJ), though in fairness he stipulates that “there’s a lot of jerks that went to other places too.”

I hoped that we had heard the last from Mudcat when Edwards left the race and would see the end of one group of Democrats attacking another as elitists when the Clinton campaign folded. That’s one right wing talking point which the Clinton backers certainly helped to keep alive. I see the tendency for some liberals to see having an education or being successful as something to be defensive about to be comparable to the tendency of some Democrats to be defensive about being called liberal. (Not surprisingly, both the nonsense on elitism and a backtrack on liberalism did come from the same camp.)

Steve responded well to Mudcat:

I see. So Mudcat thinks the problem with the Democratic establishment is that DC-types look at “Bubba” with an anthropologist’s eye. Mudcat looks at the Democratic establishment as over-educated, arugula-eating elitists obsessed with their Blackberries. He went on to argue that Dems should invest less energy in pursuing the “liberal pinko commie” vote.

Remind me, who’s engaging in cheap stereotypes? Who disdains some Americans’ culture? Who’s the anthropologist?

At The Plank, Isaac Chotnier commented:

One wonders whether Mudcat has ever encountered Republican campaign staffers, who also tend to have Blackberries, jealously guard their titles, and even (gasp!) complain about food on the campaign trail.

And this was before Rove’s attack on Obama based upon the assumption that people categorize others based upon the types of people they see standing around at country clubs drinking martinis.

Steve went on to quote further from Mudcat, including a claim that rural voters will only hear the first four words of an argument. Steve responded:

Really? This is Mudcat’s argument? Candidates should respect Bubba’s intelligence, but they should intentionally dumb down their rhetoric because he’ll only listen to the first four words of a five-word phrase?

As Isaac Chotiner noted, “Now just imagine for a moment that Howard Dean had said this. The clear implication is that ‘Bubba’ is, er, not smart enough to understand more than the first four words. Or that ‘Bubba’ does not have the capability to focus on more than four words. Either Saunders is being condescending, or he is revealing something about his beloved ‘Bubba Voter’ that proves the argument he believes elitist Democrats are making.”

After all nonsense on elitism, and now seeing Mudcat’s advice, I prefer to recall Jon Stewart’s take:

You know, I hear what you’re all saying, but doesn’t elite mean GOOD? Is that not something we’re looking for in a candidate anymore?.. I know ‘elite’ is a bad word in politics, and you wanna go bowling and throw back a few beers, but the job you’re applying for, if you get it and it goes well, they might carve your head into a mountain. If you don’t actually think you’re better than us, then what the FUCK do you think you’re doing [running for president]… In fact, not only do I want an elite president, but I want someone who is embarrassingly superior to me. I want somebody who speaks 16 languages…

Perhaps Mudcat and Rove should join together as the new James Carville/Mary Matalin team. In this case they can provide out of touch advice from the left and the right.

Dobson Accuses Obama of Distorting the Bible

Barack Obama has had some success in reaching out to compete for the evangelical vote. While he might receive the support from some religious voters who do not follow the political agenda of the religious right, the far right is certain to oppose him. James Dobson plans to attack Obama with accusations of “distorting” the bible. AP reports that this attack will air on Dobson’s  Focus on the Family radio program on Tuesday. Dobson criticizes Obama over a speech given in 2006 where he referred to his difference in approach to religion with Dobson:

“Even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools?” Obama said. “Would we go with James Dobson’s or Al Sharpton’s?” referring to the civil rights leader.

Obama has often included reference to religion in his speeches, but has made clear his belief in separation of church and state. Their differences are actually over matters far more significant than their interpretations of the bible, which would not be of significance in a political campaign if not for the problem that the religious right also desires to impose their view of the bible upon others.  Dobson objects to beliefs on religion and public policy similar to those Obama expressed during a debate last year:

But what I also think is that we are under obligation in public life to translate our religious values into moral terms that all people can share, including those who are not believers. And that is how our democracy’s functioning, will continue to function. That’s what the founding fathers intended.

While Dobson objects to Obama’s views on religion on public policy, he has also stated he will not vote for John McCain. After being spoiled by the Bush year, only a full blown theocrat is now acceptable to him.

Update: In writing the above I initially used a statement from Obama which illustrates the views which Dobson is attacking. I’ve have since dug up and quoted from his actual speech from 2006 which Dobson is referring to.

Obama and Libertarian Paternalism

Obama has been called a left-libertarian by some. While this is a little bit of a stretch, there is certainly a tremendous difference between him and the nanny-state views of Hillary Clinton and some other Democrats. George Will hopes that Obama is being influenced by the ” “libertarian paternalism” philosphy of two of his advisers from the University of Chicago, Robert Thaler and Cass Sunstein:

Beginning this autumn, Sunstein, while retaining a connection with Chicago, will teach primarily at Harvard, an act of downward mobility that illustrates a central tenet of “Nudge,” that even intelligent and analytical people often make foolish choices. Thaler and Sunstein correctly assume that people are busy, their lives are increasingly complicated and they have neither time nor inclination nor, often, the ability to think through even all important choices, from health care plans to retirement options. Therefore the framing of choices matters, particularly using the enormous power of the default option—the option that goes into effect if the chooser chooses not to make a choice.

For example, Obama advocates that where defined contribution savings plans such as 401(k)s are offered, there should be automatic—note well: not mandatory—enrollment by employers of new workers. Contributions to such plans are tax deductible, taxes are deferred on the accumulating money and often employers match part of the employees’ contributions. What is at stake is, essentially, free money. Yet when an employee must affirmatively opt in, participation falls far below 100 percent. Obama’s proposal would simply change the default option: Employees are in unless they choose to opt out, which they would be free to do.

Will later gives this definition of a nudge:

By a “nudge” Thaler and Sunstein mean a policy intervention into choice architecture that is easy and inexpensive to avoid and that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing an individual’s economic incentives. “Putting the fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not.”

He concludes with comments on the libertarian aspects of this view:

Thaler and Sunstein say the premise of libertarian policy is that people should be generally free to do what they please. Paternalistic policy “tries to influence choices in a way that will make choosers better off, as judged by themselves.” So “libertarian paternalism is a relatively weak, soft, and nonintrusive type of paternalism because choices are not blocked, fenced off, or significantly burdened.”

Thaler and Sunstein stress that if “incentives and nudges replace requirements and bans, government will be both smaller and more modest.” So nudges have the additional virtue of annoying those busybody, nanny-state liberals who, as the saying goes, do not care what people do as long as it is compulsory.

Country Club Metaphors

Sometimes the response from the left to a comment from Karl Rove is disgust. Sometimes (although far less often now than in the past) the response is begrudged respect for his skills. Today the response is well-deserved derision. Political Punch reports this latest attack on Obama from Rove:

ABC News’ Christianne Klein reports that at a breakfast with Republican insiders at the Capitol Hill Club this morning,  former White House senior aide Karl Rove referred to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, as “coolly arrogant.”

“Even if you never met him, you know this guy,” Rove said, per Christianne Klein. “He’s the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by.”

This hardly seems like the type of attack to help John McCain with his efforts to attract working class voters. When the first example to come to Karl Rove’s mind is a scene of someone holding a martini at the country club, Rove is showing how much different he and the members of his party are from the working class voters they wish to attract. Besides, George Bush seems to fit this profile much better, right down to the smirk.

Jake Tapper sees some problems with putting Obama in this role at the country club, and questions who Karl Rove would be:

Interesting that Mr. Rove would use a country club metaphor to describe the first major party African-American presidential candidate, whom I’m sure wouldn’t be admitted into many country clubs that members of the Capitol Hill Club frequent.

But the picture Rove paints is interesting. Who, pray tell, is Rove at this country club?

The guy telling funny stories near the band?

The charming president of the club’s philanthropic arm?

The brainy guy with all the sports scores?

Or the guy who vandalizes your car and blames it on the kitchen staff?

I’d call him the guy who vandalizes the country–along with the smirking guy who is making the snide remarks.

Ralph Nader Continues To Help Republicans

Ralph Nader, the man who helped give us George Bush in 2000, continues his efforts to help Republicans. He is now attacking Barack Obama, not John McCain:

Ralph Nader’s campaign sent an e-mail to supporters Friday that paints Obama as too close to big business and special interests. “Ralph Nader stands for shifting the power from the big corporations back to the people. Period. Full stop. End of story,” writes the Nader campaign. “Contrast that with Senator Obama.”

The message highlights what it says are changes in the Illinois senator’s positions on public spending limits, NAFTA and economic populism, and says that Obama has surrounded himself with “veterans of the military industrial complex status quo.” It does not mention his Republican counterpart, John McCain.

Ralph Nader’s political strategy has long appeared to be directed more at hurting Democrats such as Al Gore and John Kerry. For example, he has concentrated on swing states where he could tilt the election to the Republicans, as he did in Florida in 2000.

George Carlin Dies at 71


George Carlin has died at age 71. The most appropriate triube to Carlin would seem to be a recitation of the seven filthy words which could not be spoken on television–but which can be included in a blog. Carlin discusses these filthy words in the video above.

Update: The New York Times has a lengthy obituary this morning.

Bill Clinton Still Not Ready to Endorse Obama

We know that Clinton took the nomination battles personally. While Hillary Clinton managed to make a strong speech endorsing Obama after she lost, Bill does not appear ready to move beyond the primaries. At least he is willing to say he prefers the views of Obama over McCain on one issue. Reuters’s reports on Bill Clinton’s first public appearance since his wife conceded:

The former first lady endorsed Obama, urged her supporters to rally behind him and is scheduled to campaign with him later this week.

But her husband has not publicly endorsed the presumptive Democratic nominee to succeed President George W. Bush. Asked by journalists when he might do so, Clinton smiled and shook hands with spectators without acknowledging he heard the question.

In his speech, Clinton predicted Congress would pass a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions.

“Because I believe so strongly in this, I favor Senator Obama’s position, which is to go to 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gasses over Senator McCain’s position, which is to go to 70 percent,” he said. “But that’s light years ahead of where Republican’s have been.”

Tom Brokaw to Host Meet the Press Through the Election

With Tim Russert as moderator, Meet the Press was the dominant Sunday news show. Russert’s death opened the possibility of losing a share of the audience to others such as George George Stephanopoulos. Tom Brokaw will be taking over as moderator through the election. As long as Brokaw agreed, this was the by far the smartest move for NBC. Brokaw is the only one at NBC with the stature to maintain the position of Meet the Press during the period when the Sunday talk shows will be receiving the most attention.

This will also give the network more time to consider replacements. Once they do decide upon someone, they could be given increasing prominence as the number two person under Brokaw on the show, increasing the chances of keeping viewers with the new host after the election.

Irrationality in the Schools

Conservatives who deny our heritage of separation of church and state sometimes try to frame the issue as being one of providing the free choice of including religion in the schools. They claim that liberals and activitt judges are infringing upon their freedom. In case anyone wonders why the courts have gotten involved in insisting upon respect for separation of church and state in the schools, this story provides an excellent example.

A Mount Vernon teacher undermined science instruction in the public school district by discrediting evolution in his classroom and focusing on creationism and intelligent design, an investigation has found.

Eighth-graders who were taught by John Freshwater frequently had to be re-taught in high school what they were supposed to have learned in Freshwater’s class, according to outside investigators hired by the district.

For 11 years, other teachers in the school district and people in the community complained about Freshwater preaching his Christian beliefs in class and slamming scientific theories, a school administrator told investigators.

It took them eleven years to act upon this? It sounds like they only reason they are finally taking action is for something even more extreme than teaching creationism:

The report confirmed that Freshwater burned crosses onto students’ arms, using an electrostatic device, in December.

Freshwater told investigators the marks were X’s, not crosses. But all of the students interviewed in the investigation reported being branded with crosses. The investigation report includes a photo of one student’s arm with a long vertical line and a short horizontal line running through it.

The family of one student who was burned filed a federal lawsuit last week against Freshwater and the district, saying the student’s civil rights were violated.

If the views of one defender of Freshwater are indicative, it sounds like perhaps the burning of crosses is the only part of this which the local community really finds to be alarming:

Neither Freshwater nor his attorney, Roger Weaver, could be reached for comment last night. Freshwater’s friend Dave Daubenmire defended him.

“With the exception of the cross-burning episode. … I believe John Freshwater is teaching the values of the parents in the Mount Vernon school district,” he said.

Daubenmire is a former London High School football coach whose district was sued in 1999 by the American Civil Liberties Union because he led his players in prayer at games, practices and meetings.

Of course irrationality in the schools is not limited to the religious right. PZ Myers points out this story in which a Canadian school called in Children’s Aid with accusations that a student had been sexually abused. Their “evidence” for this abuse was based upon the claims of a psychic:

“The teacher looked and me and said: ‘We have to tell you something. The educational assistant who works with Victoria went to see a psychic last night, and the psychic asked the educational assistant at that particular time if she works with a little girl by the name of “V.” And she said ‘yes, I do.’ And she said, ‘well, you need to know that that child is being sexually abused by a man between the ages of 23 and 26.'”

Obama, FISA, and the Blogosphere

Obama’s support for the FISA compromise, which I commented on yesterday, remains a hot topic in the blogosphere. Glenn Greenwold has summarized the issues well. The retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies seems to be getting the most coverage, but I am more concerned with the surveilance powers it grants. The ACLU has listed the problems. Hopefully Obama’s experience in Constitutional law wil lead him to placing more controls on how surveilance is performed, and there is no doubt that he will respect civil liberties to a greater extent than John McCain or George Bush. It would be far better if  Congress were to do a better job of imposing checks on the Executive branch and include necessary restrictions in the legislation they pass.

The civil liberties aspects of this matter have been widely discussed, including in the links above. There remains some political aspects of interest, including the relationship between the liberal blogosphere and the Democratic Party. Damozel has posted a run down of blog comments from yesterday, and was kind enough to include a link to my post. While there are areas where I disagree with her which I will get to below, we both agree in our concern for the provisions beyond retroactive immunity, and in believing that political considerations in an election year are largely behind Obama’s support for the compromise. 

One theme seen in many comments in the blogosphere, including those quoted by Damozel, is the question of whether Obama will consistently pursue the agenda of the liberal blogosphere. While this might come as a shock to some bloggers, I’ve long felt that the answer to that one is “no.” Nor would I want him to on all issues, even if I wish he had on this one. I think Obama has made it clear that he does not support the liberal Democratic orthodoxy on all matters and that he plans to govern in a manner which moves beyond the recent left/right divide. That means that liberal bloggers might not always approve of what Obama does. I just wish it wasn’t on a civil liberties issue that he first showed such independence.

During the Bush years it was easy for the liberal blogosphere to be united (other than when divided over preferred candidates). While we might have a variety of opinions on other topics, there was unanimous opposition to pretty much everything Bush has done. Once the Democrats are setting the agenda, there will be far more disagreement on the left. While me might agree in opposing the Iraq war and the Patriot Act, we do not necessarily agree on all issues. In this regard I see Obama as being similar to many other individuals on the left. We agree on some issues but not on others. I have no doubt that in the future his policies will differ from the consensus of agreement on the left to the extent to which it exists. In other areas there will be differences of opinion and some of us will agree with Obama and some won’t. As I’ve written in the past, if Obama is elected I suspect that I will have a number of blog posts disagreeing with his actions. However I also believe things will be far better than if any of his opponents of either party had won.

This leads to my disagreement with Damozel and some other bloggers. She beleives that Edwards would have never gone along with this and that he is more “progressive” than Obama. The Sideshow asks, “Is it too late for all the superdelegates to throw their votes to Edwards and cause a floor fight?”

What makes anyone believe that Edwards would be the slightest bit better than Obama on civil liberties issues? You certainly cannot say this based upon his Senate years when he helped write the Patriot Act and certainly did not have a progressive record. You can’t say this based upon his years practicing law which provided no experience in civil liberties issues. While he is certainly far from perfect, I continue to believe that Barack Obama, with his experience in Constitutional law, is a far better choice.

The belief that Edwards is more progressive than Obama demonstrates the limitations of our political categories. Edwards did move to the left in supporting populist economics, but beyond this I saw no evidence of him really embracing liberal principles on civil liberties and social issues. There is a tremendous difference between the political platform one adopts in a given election year and the principles they have supported throughout their entire career. Once it was clear we were down to a choice of only three of the Democratic contenders I backed Obama considering him the only liberal of the three. I saw the choice as  being between one liberal candidate and two populist conservatives.

Many in the liberal blogosphere will disagree strongly with this, while others will agree in finding Obama the only acceptable choice of the upper tier Democratic candidates. Similarly we had strong divisions between supporters of Obama and Clinton in the final months of the primary campaign. This gets back to my earlier comments on the lack of a consensus on all matters in the liberal blogosphere. The differences between supporters of different candidates were not simply matters of disagreement over personalities. They often represented real differences in world view.

These differences were more obvious during a primary campaign and will most likely be limited in the upcoming months, even if some supporters of Edwards or Clinton periodically argue  that their candidate should have won the nomination. Assuming that Obama wins the general election, the liberal blogosphere will be in a situation where we have never been before. We will most likely have greater disagreements as to what should be done when the major political issues are no longer being for or against the policies of George Bush. We will at times support and at other times oppose what Obama is doing. While the blogosphere is pretty much united in disagreeing with Obama on the FISA compromise, even among those of us who backed him in the primaries, I suspect that it will be even more common for the blogosphere to be divided on different issues with some opposing and some agreeing with Obama. The divisions between different groups of conservatives have been apparent for years. The differences in opinion between liberal bloggers might be come far more apparent in the future.