McCain vs. Coulter

Ann Coulter has been the recent target of attacks from McCain–that is Meghan McCain, daughter of the 2008 Republican presidential candidate. She writes at The Daily Beast:

…certain individuals continue to perpetuate negative stereotypes about Republicans. Especially Republican women. Who do I feel is the biggest culprit? Ann Coulter. I straight up don’t understand this woman or her popularity. I find her offensive, radical, insulting, and confusing all at the same time. But no matter how much you or I disagree with her, the cult that follows Coulter cannot be denied. She is a New York Times best-selling author and one of the most notable female members of the Republican Party. She was one of the headliners at the recent CPAC conference (but when your competition is a teenager who has a dream about the Republican Party and Stephen Baldwin, it’s not really saying that much).

Coulter could be the poster woman for the most extreme side of the Republican Party. And in some ways I could be the poster woman for the opposite. I consider myself a progressive Republican, but here is what I don’t get about Coulter: Is she for real or not? Are some of her statements just gimmicks to gain publicity for her books or does she actually believe the things she says? Does she really believe all Jewish people should be “perfected” and become Christians? And what was she thinking when she said Hillary Clinton was more conservative than my father during the last election? If you truly have the GOP’s best interests at heart, how can you possibly justify telling an audience of millions that a Democrat would be a better leader than the Republican presidential candidate? (I asked Ann for comment on this column, including many of the above questions, but she did not answer my request.)

I am not suggesting that extreme conservatism wasn’t once popular, nor am I suggesting I should in any way be any kind of voice for the party. I have been a Republican for less than a year. Still, even after losing the election, I find myself more drawn to GOP ideals and wanting to fight for the party’s resurgence. And if figureheads like Ann Coulter are turning me off, then they are definitely turning off other members of my generation as well. She does appeal to the most extreme members of the Republican Party—but they are dying off, becoming less and less relevant to the party structure as a whole. I think most people my age are like me in that we all don’t believe in every single ideal of each party specifically. The GOP should be happy to have any young supporters whatsoever, even if they do digress some from traditional Republican thinking.

Destroying Society Even Before The Internet

John Hawkins blames the internet for the deterioration of our society:

So why has the Internet so uniquely contributed to the deterioration of our society?

Well, you have individuals from all over the world who can talk anonymously to people with whom they have no personal connection, and they can say absolutely anything without fear of being punched in the nose. Put another way, the Internet takes away all the factors that keep people from saying the rude things that they may be thinking, but wouldn’t blurt out if they were face to face with another human being. On a more sinister note, the Internet allows misfits, sexual deviants, and sociopaths to form communities outside the mainstream where they can reinforce each others’ values. Instead of being a weirdo or loner that society may be able to cajole back towards normalcy through negative social reinforcement, everyone from pedophiles and conspiracy theorists to hackers and “I did it for the lulz” trolls can meet up with hundreds of like-minded souls on the net who tell them what they’re doing isn’t abnormal; to the contrary, it’s great!

That sort of compartmentalization is one of the reasons politics has become so ferociously partisan. On the Internet, people have broken up into small, like-minded groups where they have minimal contact with people who disagree with them. As a result, there is little pressure to show respect for the opinions of people who see the world differently — since those people are, for the most part, not present. It means that facts that run contrary to their ideology will tend to be viewed with suspicion at best and will be totally ignored at worst, thereby creating groupthink on a titanic scale…

Here’s the thing about all these issues: many people act as if there is a clear delineation between “real life” and the “Internet,” but that’s simply not so. You don’t spend all day reading conspiracy websites and then forget about them when you go offline. You don’t read liberal blogs all day that refer to conservatives as Nazis and then wash that out of your brain at the end of the day. You’re not going to spend hours in online forums explaining why it’s fine to steal online music or hack into someone’s computer without having that affect the way you morally view other situations offline.

Now it’s the internet. In the past I’ve heard that comic books or television were responsible for the deterioration of society.

The internet can contribute to hyperpartisanship, but more often it reflects what is already in society. Look back at the newspapers in the early days of the nation when they were primarily advocates of a particular party. James Joyner provides some examples from the past.

In the 1950’s we had McCarthyism without the internet. During the 1960’s we saw both the excesses of some extremists in the anti-war movement. More significantly we saw the institutionalization of this hyperpartisanship in the Republican Party under Nixon and Agnew. Politics improved a bit after Nixon resigned but promoting hyperpartisanship  returned as  a primary GOP strategy with Newt Gingrich and the Republican control of Congress in the 1990’s.

Before there was the internet there was talk radio and the beginnings of Fox News.  People were capable of being both rude and hyperpartisan before the internet.

Stealing music is also nothing new. When I was in school it was common for people to borrow record albums and make cassette copies, as well as recording songs off the radio. The internet just makes it far easier (and costlier for the music industry)  but does not mean that today’s kids are any more likely to lead a life of crime due to stealing music. While you can argue about the validity of their beliefs, people do separate such copying of music from other acts. People who steal music, right or wrong, do see this as different from stealing something physical in a store. There are delineations made, and the internet is not likely to create more criminals in the real world.

Hawkins is right that the anonymity of the internet contributes to the rudeness, but there was plenty of rudeness in society before the internet. Besides, the internet also allows ways to limit the effectiveness of such rudeness. Most blogs of any size have found it necessary to either eliminate or moderate comments. The internet makes it easy for people to easily send rude comments to a number of strangers, but it also makes it easy to quickly delete such comments leaving the acts of such people fairly meaningless. We can choose what we read on line. I don’t waste any more time with the extremists on the left who regularly refer to conservatives as Nazis than I would on extremists on the right who refer to liberals as socialists or worse.

Update: Checking John’s other site I note that the current top post at Right Wing News is number five in a series of interviews with Ann Coulter. Anyone who posts five  interviews with Ann Coulter has little business giving advice on either promoting civility or avoiding hyperpartisanship. Ann Coulter also provides an example of someone who can spread her venom both with or without the internet.

My Vote For William Kristol’s Replacement: Megan McArdle

The New York Times made the correct choice in dumping William Kristol. That’s not because he’s a conservative. I would hate to see them do the same to David Brooks, who can write excellent columns on the days when he doesn’t feel obligated to bash Democrats as opposed to dealing with ideas. William Kristol turned out to be a terrible writer whose entire columns consisted of writing which was too much like the portions of David Brooks’ work which I could do without and none of what makes Brooks worth reading.

It certainly makes sense for The New York Times to include conservative or libertarian thought on its op-ed page to provide for a diversity of viewpoints, especially with the current Democratic domination of government. A number of names are now being thrown around.

The worst suggestion was from Patrick Ruffini for Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh shares all of Kristol’s faults and adds still more. William Kristol at least had a chance to promote conservative beliefs before quickly demonstrating that his column was not worth reading. Limbaugh’s reputation, and past work, will guarantee that nothing he writes will be taken seriously.

Some conservatives like the idea of driving liberals nuts, thinking that they derive some benefit from people like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Sarah Palin who liberals (and all other thinking people) will not take seriously. Conservatives would be better off with a conservative columnist who does not immediately turn off a liberal readership, and who has a chance of influencing readers if they should make a strong argument.

Of the names floating around I like Megan McArdle, a blogger at The Atlantic,  the best. To a considerable degree this is because she leans libertarian as opposed to being a social conservative. New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal has said he admires the work of Megan McArdle, along with Byron York (and I certainly prefer Megan of the two).

While writers such as Kristol and Limbaugh (and Brooks on a bad day) primarily seek to demonize liberals, Megan can engage liberals in serious debate as she seeks to understand their views even when disagreeing. Her objection to liberal views can be seen as providing value in forcing liberals to answer tough questions and perhaps refine their views. An example can be seen in yesterday’s post on the stimulus plan.

If forced to move on to other names under consideration and to move to more conventional conservative as opposed to libertarian thought, Peggy Noonan would be a fine choice. While I might often disagree with her, I would never say she is a terrible writer as I did about Kristol. Having a prominent conservative columnist exposing Sarah Palin’s deficiencies is also of value. The biggest problem is that this would just be a lateral move for Noonan from one major New York paper to another. It would not provide another conservative columnist worth reading a national audience.

Among other names being floated which are far better than Rush Limbaugh are David Frum and Ross Douthat (also of The Atlantic).If we are going to consider bloggers from The Atlantic, how about going with a conservative who actually drives many conservatives nuts–Andrew Sullivan?

Neither Goldwater nor Reagan Would Recognize The Modern GOP

I’ve often pointed out that, while some conservatives claim the conservative movement began with Barry Goldwater, modern conservatism has become a philosophy quite different from Goldwater’s beliefs. Goldwater was so distressed by the direction that conservatism was going, especially with the increasing influence of the religious right, that in his later years he even referred to himself as a liberal. I have no doubt that if he was still alive Goldwater would have actively backed Barack Obama over John McCain, especially after the addition of Sarah Palin to the ticket, as did two of his granddaughters. With the GOP becoming a southern regional party dominated recently by George Bush and now by politicians from the religious right such as Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, the party has also moved away from the views of Ronald Reagan.

Ronald Reagan’s name is repeated ad nauseum at most Republican gatherings primarily because the GOP does not have any old leaders to brag about. Nixon was a crook. Bush was an incompetent who undermined our national security and trampled on the Constitution. Previous Republican presidents such as Dwight Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abe Lincoln would all be Democrats today, and the conservatives would also drive out Gerald Ford.

Many modern Republicans cling to Ronald Reagan’s name and pretend his views were comparable to their own. Many of those who actually worked with Ronald Reagan know better and have recognized that the modern Republican Party has moved far to the right of Reagan. This includes former Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein, speech writers Jeffrey Hart and Peggy Noonan, and Colin Powell (see here and here).

Another Reaganite, Mickey Edwards,  describes how Ronald Reagan would not recognize what the Republican Party has become, criticizing the current Republican opposition to virtually all government action (other than for military action, which apparently does not count as big government):

A shocker: The Constitution, which we love for the limits it places on government power, not only constrains government, it empowers it. Limited government is not no government. And limited government is not “small” government. Simply building roads, maintaining a military, operating courts, delivering the mail and doing other things specifically mandated by the Constitution for America’s 300 million people make it impossible to keep government “small.” It is boundaries that protect freedom. Small governments can be oppressive, and large ones can diminish freedoms. It is the boundaries, not the numbers, that matter.

What would Reagan think of this? Wasn’t it he who warned that government is the problem? Well, permit me. I directed the joint House-Senate policy advisory committees for the Reagan presidential campaign. I was part of his congressional steering committee. I sat with him in his hotel room in Manchester, N.H., the night he won that state’s all-important primary. I knew him before he was governor of California and before I was a member of Congress. Let me introduce you to Ronald Reagan.

Reagan, who spent 16 years in government, actually said this:

“In the present crisis,” referring specifically to the high taxes and high levels of federal spending that had marked the Carter administration, “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” He then went on to say: “Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it’s not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work.” Government, he said, “must provide opportunity.” He was not rejecting government, he was calling — as Barack Obama did Tuesday — for better management of government, for wiser decisions.

A problem with political labels is that their definitions are not clear, and they change with time. At one time the major differences between left and right might have been over economics but, although many Republicans try to obfuscate this with their claims that Obama is a socialist, the left now supports a capitalist system at least as much as the right. Considering the amount of  collusion between big government and big business favored by Republicans, I often consider liberals to be the actual supporters of capitalism.

During the Bush years liberalism came to be defined more  upon opposing the policies of the Republicans than based upon past definitions. Currently the sets of views which primarily separate liberals from conservatives are 1) support for liberty by the left and opposition to the authoritarian views of the right and 2) having a reality-based viewpoint as opposed to the anti-intellectualism of the right. Edwards concludes his article criticizing both the anti-intellectualism of the Republican Party and its focus on seeking power rather than on promoting freedom:

The Republican Party that is in such disrepute today is not the party of Reagan. It is the party of Rush Limbaugh, of Ann Coulter, of Newt Gingrich, of George W. Bush, of Karl Rove. It is not a conservative party, it is a party built on the blind and narrow pursuit of power.

Not too long ago, conservatives were thought of as the locus of creative thought. Conservative think tanks (full disclosure: I was one of the three founding trustees of the Heritage Foundation) were thought of as cutting-edge, offering conservative solutions to national problems. By the 2008 elections, the very idea of ideas had been rejected. One who listened to Barry Goldwater’s speeches in the mid-’60s, or to Reagan’s in the ’80s, might have been struck by their philosophical tone, their proposed (even if hotly contested) reformulation of the proper relationship between state and citizen. Last year’s presidential campaign, on the other hand, saw the emergence of a Republican Party that was anti-intellectual, nativist, populist (in populism’s worst sense) and prepared to send Joe the Plumber to Washington to manage the nation’s public affairs.

American conservatism has always had the problem of being misnamed. It is, at root, the political twin to classical European liberalism, a freedoms-based belief in limiting the power of government to intrude on the liberties of the people. It is the opposite of European conservatism (which Winston Churchill referred to as reverence for king and church); it is rather the heir to John Locke and James Madison, and a belief that the people should be the masters of their government, not the reverse (a concept largely turned on its head by the George W. Bush presidency).

Over the last several years, conservatives have turned themselves inside out: They have come to worship small government and have turned their backs on limited government. They have turned to a politics of exclusion, division and nastiness. Today, they wonder what went wrong, why Americans have turned on them, why they lose, or barely win, even in places such as Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina.

And, watching, I suspect Ronald Reagan is smacking himself on the forehead, rolling his eyes and wondering who in the world these clowns are who want so desperately to wrap themselves in his cloak.

The Republican Party has turned into primarily a southern regional party based upon authoritarianism and anti-intellectualism. It would no longer provide a home for either Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan.

Mike Huckabee: I Am Not Pro-Gay

Mike Huckabee has announced that he is not pro-gay, should anyone other than Ann Coulter have any doubts about that.

In other news, Superman has announced that he is not pro-Kryptonite and James T. Kirk has announced that he is not pro-Klingons.

The 25 Funniest Political Quotes of 2008

After two consecutive long holiday weekends, many of us can use a laugh before getting back to work full time on Monday. Daniel Kurtzman has compiled a list The 25 Funniest Political Quotes of 2008:

1. “I can see Russia from my house!” –Tina Fey, impersonating Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live (Watch video1)

2. On undecided voters: “I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention? To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of sh*t with bits of broken glass in it? To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.” —David Sedaris2

3. “This campaign needed the common touch of a working man. After all, it began so long ago with the heralded arrival of a man known to Oprah Winfrey as ‘The One.’ Being a friend and colleague of Barack, I just called him ‘That One.'” –John McCain, in his comedy routine3 at the Al Smith Dinner

4. “Even in this room full of proud Manhattan Democrats. I can’t shake that feeling that some people here are pulling for me … I’m delighted to see you here tonight, Hillary.” –John McCain, at the Al Smith Dinner

5. “Who is Barack Obama? Contrary to the rumors you have heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father Jor-El to save the Planet Earth. Many of you know that I got my name, Barack, from my father. What you may not know is Barack is actually Swahili for ‘That One.’ And I got my middle name from somebody who obviously didn’t think I’d ever run for president. If I had to name my greatest strength, I guess it would be my humility. Greatest weakness, it’s possible that I’m a little too awesome.” –Barack Obama, in his comedy routine4 at the Al Smith Dinner

6. “He looks like a guy who’s backed over his own mailbox … He looks like the guy at the supermarket who is confused by the automatic doors … He looks like the guy who picks up his TV remote when the phone rings … He looks like the guy at the movies whose wife has to repeat everything.” –David Letterman (Read more of Letterman’s jabs at Old Man McCain5)

7. “After a quick meet-and-greet with King Abdullah, Obama was off to Israel, where he made a quick stop at the manger in Bethlehem where he was born.” –Jon Stewart, on Barack Obama’s Middle East trip

8. “This doesn’t smell right. This is not the way a tested hero behaves. Somebody’s putting something in his Metamucil.” –David Letterman, on John McCain suspending his campaign and canceling his appearance on the “Late Show”6

9. “McCain suspended his campaign, said the debate had to be canceled, he went to Washington, screwed up the deal, and then un-suspended his campaign and flew to the debate even though there wasn’t a deal. Usually when a 72-year-old man acts this way, this is when the kids start calling nursing homes.” –Bill Maher

10. On taking sides in the election: “If you, out of nowhere, are going to grab a woman out of the woods and make her your vice presidential candidate, what can I do? [Sarah Palin] is like Jodie Foster in the movie ‘Nell.’ They just found her, and she was speaking her own special language. Have you noticed how [Palin’s] rallies have begun to take on the characteristics of the last days of the Weimar Republic? In Florida, she asked ‘Who is Barack Obama?’ Hey, lady, we just met YOU five f**ing weeks ago.” –Jon Stewart

The War on Christmas, And Now Kwanzaa

The War on Christmas might only be one of many examples of right wing paranoia, but it turns out there really was a War on Kwanzaa. Ann Coulter not only attacks the holiday but, writing one of her typical hate-filled columns, claims credit for victory. She brags, “I believe my triumph over this synthetic holiday is nearly complete.”

The right wing tirades about the imaginary War on Christmas were quieter than usual this year but Alex Koppelman has reported on one item from The Washington Times.

Christmas has also won a victory, being declared an official holiday for the first time this year in Iraq. This sounds like a positive move but Alan Colmes also notes that things have not worked out very well for the Christian minority in Iraq.

Sarah Palin: Conservative of the Year

In several recent posts, most recently here, I have predicted that the Republican Party and the conservative movement are in a downward spiral due to their dominance by anti-intellectualism and the beliefs of the religious right. There is no more future in the twenty-first for a movement which supports creationism over evolution than there is for one which argues that the earth is flat.

Here’s one more small piece of evidence of the wrong direction the conservative movement is moving in from Human Events:

Sarah Palin wins HUMAN EVENTS’ prestigious “Conservative of the Year” Award for 2008 for her genius at annoying all the right people. The last woman to get liberals this hot under the collar would have been … let’s see now … oh, yeah: Me!

Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter. Lumping the two together certainly makes sense. Both are dead ends.

Dan Rather Showing Progress in Case Against CBS

Before being forced from CBS News, Dan Rather exposed how George Bush had avoided going to Vietnam and fulfilling his National Guard commitments. Even if the controversial, and possibly faked, memos are ignored, Rather still had a strong story based upon other evidence. In his suit against CBS, Rather is showing that instead of being a bastion of a supposedly liberal media, CBS was, as Editor and Publisher puts it, “acting mainly to get the GOP off its back.” The New York Times reports:

So far, Mr. Rather has spent more than $2 million of his own money on the suit. And according to documents filed recently in court, he may be getting something for his money.

Using tools unavailable to him as a reporter — including the power of subpoena and the threat of punishment against witnesses who lie under oath — he has unearthed evidence that would seem to support his assertion that CBS intended its investigation, at least in part, to quell Republican criticism of the network.

Among the materials that money has shaken free for Mr. Rather are internal CBS memorandums turned over to his lawyers, showing that network executives used Republican operatives to vet the names of potential members of a panel that had been billed as independent and charged with investigating the “60 Minutes” segment…

Some of the documents unearthed by his investigation include notes taken at the time by Linda Mason, a vice president of CBS News. According to her notes, one potential panel member, Warren Rudman, a former Republican senator from New Hampshire, was deemed a less-than-ideal candidate over fears by some that he would not “mollify the right.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Thornburgh, who served as attorney general for both Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, was named a panelist by CBS, but only after a CBS lobbyist “did some other testing,” in which she was told, according to Ms. Mason’s notes, “T comes back with high marks from G.O.P.”

Another memorandum turned over to Mr. Rather’s lawyers by CBS was a long typed list of conservative commentators apparently receiving some preliminary consideration as panel members, including Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Ann Coulter and Pat Buchanan. At the bottom of that list, someone had scribbled “Roger Ailes,” the founder of Fox News.

Sore Losers Continue Attacks on Obama

While many Clinton supporters are now backing Barack Obama, unfortunately there remain segments who were so deluded by the distortions of the Clinton campaign that they still believe their own fictitious talking points. Perhaps the worst example of a liberal blog which exudes hatred of Obama on a regular basis is the blog I left to form this blog–The Democratic Daily. They continue to distort Obama’s positions in order to portray him as someone who does not respect Democratic values, while they supported a candidate who is significantly to the right of Obama on these issues.

Yesterday they had an inaccurate post on Obama’s support for faith based institutions, repeating the claim which AP later corrected that Obama would let “religious charities that receive federal funding consider religion in employment decision. This was corrected later in the day which may or not be apparent to readers of that rambling post,  If they paid attention to Obama’s actual speech they would have found he said:

“Now, make no mistake, as someone who used to teach constitutional law, I believe deeply in the separation of church and state, but I don’t believe this partnership will endanger that idea – so long as we follow a few basic principles. First, if you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on the basis of their religion. Second, federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples, and mosques can only be used on secular programs. And we’ll also ensure that taxpayer dollars only go to those programs that actually work.”

The post further distorts Obama’s views on religion, ignoring the fact that he has taken the strongest stance of any of the candidates on defending separation of church and state.

The pathetic thing about Clinton supporters is that while the criticize Obama for moving towards the center during a political campaign, they fail to realize that Hillary Clinton has been moving towards the right for several years in preparation for running.  While they criticize Obama for supporting faith based initiatives (with appropariate protections to respect separation of church and state) they ignore the fact that Hillary Clinton has been a supporter of faith based initiatves for quite a while.  Even worse, Clinton has been heavily influenced by the religious right for years. This has had a negative influence on her policy positions, including her support for laws against flag burning and her vendetta against video games.

This same anti-Obama meme is seen again today with Stuart O’Neill quoting from Taylor Marsh to support his attacks. He might as well quote from Ann Coulter. Nothing which either has to say about Obama should be taken very seriously or considered to have any factual basis. O’Neill writes, ” I was busy writing about Hillary Clinton and didn’t study the details of Obama’s positions. As I’ve said here many times, I think the guy is an empty shirt.”

He didn’t, by his own admission, study the detail of his positions and yet he has the gall to clasify Obama as an empty shirt. It is hard to justify such an assessment of someone when you have not paid attention to what they have been saying.

His latest post is based upon Obama’s support for the FISA compromise. While I disagree with Obama on this, it is rather unfair, as well as dishonest, to deny his support for liberal values, especially when supporting someone far to the right of him on civil liberties issues. Besides, Clinton has come under plenty of criticism on her own for her weak opposition to the FISA bill. It is also Clinton, and not Obama who supported the war, even if the same blog has attempted to obfuscate the facts on this issue. It is also Clinton who has repeatedly resorted to pandering to fear of terrorism to attempt to scare voters into supporting her. It is this mind set which Clinton promotes which has created the entire problem with FISA.

Criticism of Obama, from the left or the right, is fair game. I’ve criticized a couple of his positions myself (on FISA and same-sex marriage) in the past week. However to criticize a specific policy is one thing. To continue to run the same type of campaign of distortion which we’ve seen from the Clintonistas even after their leader is out of the race is another thing entirely. If they would actually make the effort to study what Obama actually believes they would find that he has been the strongest supporter of liberal values and civil liberties to run for president this year. Besides, if they are concerned about Obama’s inevitable move towards the center, just imagine what would have happened if the candidate was Hillary Clinton, who started out far to the right of Obama on these issues. Finding faults in Obama does not mean that the alternatives were any better.