Joe Klein’s Strawmen And The Generation Gap

Earlier I had written on Joe Klein’s use of strawmen to attack liberal bloggers. Kevin Drum sees this as a generational issue. This is largely true. However, as someone from Klein’s generation I would say that his problem is that he is still fighting old battles and hasn’t realized that the dividing lines have changed. Liberals of today have little to do with 60’s radicals. Opposition to the war is now the mainstream position and doesn’t convey holding extremist positions on other issues. Socialism, which never took off all that much in the United States to begin with, is pretty much dead. The real threat of extremism comes from the right, which has dominated politics in this country for the last generation. Today to be a liberal often just means opposing the extremism of the right. This includes a large number of non-ideolgical, pragmatic people, a number of people who are mildly left of center, and a handful of extremists who might create a lot of noise in the comments sections of some blogs but otherwise don’t have any real significance.

Richardson and the Clinton Legacy

Not everyone sees Hillary as the best candidate to follow in Bill’s foot steps. Washington Whispers that one Republican suports Bill Richardson:

It could have been the environment, the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, or the brash frankness of an ex-politician. But former Rep. J. C. Watts, once the House GOP’s main communicator and a sometimes entry on Republican vice presidential lists, fessed up at the University of Arkansas last month that he likes Democratic New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson in the 2008 presidential race. “Personally, I’m a Bill Richardson fan,” he admits. “I think he has the Bill Clinton touch with people.”

Religious Illiteracy–Americans Follow Religions They Know Little About

Susan Jacoby, author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, reviews Religious Literacy for The Washington Post. Religious Literacy, by Stephen Prothero, chair of the religion department at Boston University, shows that while Americans may be religious, they know little about religion. Jacoby writes that, “Prothero sees America’s religious illiteracy as even more dangerous than general cultural illiteracy.”

As examples of religious illiteracy Jacoby notes, “Fewer than half of us can identify Genesis as the first book of the Bible, and only one third know that Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.” She wonders, “How can citizens know what creationism means, or make an informed decision about whether it belongs in classrooms, if fewer than half can identify Genesis?” She provides further examples:

Approximately 75 percent of adults, according to polls cited by Prothero, mistakenly believe the Bible teaches that “God helps those who help themselves.” More than 10 percent think that Noah’s wife was Joan of Arc. Only half can name even one of the four Gospels, and — a finding that will surprise many — evangelical Christians are only slightly more knowledgeable than their non-evangelical counterparts.

Not surprisingly, knowledge of other religions is even worse:

It is less surprising but more dangerous, given America’s role in the world, that the public knows even less about Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism than it does about Christianity and Judaism. As Prothero notes, President Bush repeatedly declared that “Islam is peace” in the months after 9/11, while the prophet Muhammad was called a “terrorist” by the Rev. Jerry Falwell. “Who was right?” Prothero asks. “Unfortunately, Americans had no way to judge.”

Despite little knowledge of religion, far too many Americans will allow go along with those who want to substitute their religious views for science education in the schools, and allow the religious views of some to dictate public policy on social issues.

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The Swift Boat Liars and the Lunatic Right

Rosa Brooks warns in The Los Angeles Times that The Lunatic Right Returns. She warns that the Swift Boat Liars are still being listened to by conservatives:

This afternoon, key Swift boaters George “Bud” Day, Mary Jane McManus and Carlton Sherwood are holding a little reunion, in the guise of a panel discussion at the American Conservative Union’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference. The panel topic? “The Left’s Repeated Campaign Against the American Soldier.”

We saw in the last post the most recent example of which party really cares about the American soldier, and which party just takes advantage of them. Brooks thinks that the American people have learned a lesson from Iraq and are not likely to fall for their lies in the future. She still finds the reemergence of the Swifties as depressing:

What’s depressing about the reemergence of the Swifties, though, is that it’s symbolic of the increasing takeover of the “conservative” movement by unprincipled, right-wing extremists.

The Swifties began as a fringe group. Their anti-Kerry attack ads were effective in 2004 (thanks in part to Kerry’s slowness in responding), but they were condemned universally as a new low in the history of bottom-feeding smear campaigns. John McCain criticized them as “dishonest and dishonorable,” and the Bush campaign sought to distance itself from the group’s tactics. Association with the Swifties forced the resignations of two Bush campaign aides, including Ben Ginsburg, the campaign’s top election law expert.

If it was only the Swift Boat liars there might be hope, but the pattern of extremist thought goes beyond this:

Of course, the Swifties’ presence on the agenda is hardly the only evidence that the lunatics have taken over the asylum at CPAC. Other giveaways include some unintentionally humorous agenda items: Oliver North — he of the Iran-Contra scandal — will be presenting the “Defender of the Constitution Award,” for instance, while right-wing attack blogger Michelle Malkin, whose work has been repeatedly criticized for its cavalier attitude toward facts, gets the “Accuracy in Media Award.”

All this is bad news for the conservative movement, which will only become more marginal if it continues to embrace its lunatic fringe. But it’s probably good for progressives, who stand to gain the most from conservatism’s self-destruction.

I can’t see this as really being good for progressives, as what this nation really needs is a strong two party system. That is difficult when one party has been taken over by extremists who are divorced from reality.

Yesterday we saw many conservative bloggers condemn Ann Coulter. That was a good start, but hardly enough to bring them back to the mainstream. As long as conservatives stick to promoting lies such as those spread by the Swifties, which were easily disproven and were clearly politically motivated, it will not be possible to think of them as people who have honest or meaningful thoughts to add to the national political discussion. People who pick their facts based upon political expediency, regardless of how absurd, simply cannot be trusted with any role in government or otherwise be taken seriously.

Update: Q and O accuses Brooks of Swift Boating the Swift Boaters. Besides the more serious problem that they repeat false claims against Kerry which have been debunked so many times and are no longer taken seriously by anyone with any degree of objectivity, I find the title rather ironic. Swift Boating refers to spreading politcally motivated lies. If, for the sake of discussion you ignore reality and you accept Q and O’s position that the Swifties were not lying you would not accept this definition of Swift Boating. In that case to accuse Brooks of Swift Boating, which is obviously done in a derogatory manner in their blog post, makes no sense. The only way it make sense is in the mind set of the lunatic right where, by definition, what they say is true and what liberals say is false, regardless of how much the evidence contradicts them. That, of course, gets back to the heart of the Swift Boat issue.

The Problem At Walter Reed to the Conservative Mind

We thought that the problem was that patients in a military hospital were being mistreated. Alas, us bleeding heart liberals got it wrong again. The problem is that it made Bush look bad, as Brit Hume explained:

It looks terrible, which is the problem. The problem is that it looks as if this administration, which has sent troops into harm’s way, is now neglecting them when they’re injured and need care and help.

There were victims here. If not for those Democrats taking control of Congress, Bush wouldn’t have had to request resignations from the Army Secretary and the chief of Walter Reed.  After all, “This is an administration which is known or had been known for sticking by people even when they were embattled.”

Which is more absurd–the claims that it is the Republicans who support the troops, or the claim that Fox is a fair and balanced news network?

Surveillance Increases in Great Britain

Using the “war on terror” to build an atmosphere of permanent warfare has dire consequences for civil liberties both here and abroad. I’ve previously written about spy cameras and other infringements upon civil liberties in Great Britain, wondering if they are using Orwell’s work as a blueprint for their war on terrorism. The Times of London reports on further plans for developing a surveillance society:

CHILDREN aged 11 to 16 are to have their fingerprints taken and stored on a secret database, internal Whitehall documents reveal.

The leaked Home Office plans show that the mass fingerprinting will start in 2010, with a batch of 295,000 youngsters who apply for passports.

The Home Office expects 545,000 children aged 11 and over to have their prints taken in 2011, with the figure settling at an annual 495,000 from 2014. Their fingerprints will be held on a database also used by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate to store the fingerprints of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers.

The plans are outlined in a series of “restricted” documents circulating among officials in the Identity and Passport Service. They form part of the programme for the introduction of new biometric passports and ID cards.

Opposition politicians and privacy campaigners warn that the plans show ministers are turning Britain into a “surveillance society”

There are also plans to increase the use of ID cards, and ultimately make them compulsory:

The documents show that ID cards will not be made compulsory for more than a decade, under present plans. “Compulsion will be triggered once 80% take-up is achieved in [the first quarter of] 2019,” they state. “It is assumed that, following compulsion, a 100% registration will be achieved two years later.”

The prime minister has hailed the ID cards scheme as the centrepiece of efforts to combat terrorism and illegal immigration, as well as identity theft and benefit fraud. But opponents dismiss it as a “Big Brother” scheme that is too expensive, poorly planned and unlikely to function efficiently.

Obama on the Middle East

Barack Obama spoke on middle east policy at the American-Israeli Political Action Committee Policy Forum. Here are portions of his comments on Iraq, Iran, and Israel:
On Iraq:

One of the heavy stones that currently rest at the United States feet is Iraq. Until we lift this burden from our foreign policy, we cannot rally the world to our values and vision.

As many of you know, I opposed this war from the beginning in part because I believed that giving this President the open-ended authority to invade Iraq would lead to the open-ended occupation we find ourselves in today.

Now our soldiers find themselves in the crossfire of someone elses civil war. More than 3,100 have given the last full measure of devotion to their country. This war has fueled terrorism and helped galvanize terrorist organizations. And it has made the world less safe.

That is why I advocate a phased redeployment of U.S. troops out of Iraq to begin no later than May first with the goal of removing all combat forces from Iraq by March 2008. In a civil war where no military solution exists, this redeployment remains our best leverage to pressure the Iraqi government to achieve the political settlement between its warring factions that can slow the bloodshed and promote stability.

My plan also allows for a limited number of U.S. troops to remain and prevent Iraq from becoming a haven for international terrorism and reduce the risk of all-out chaos. In addition, we will redeploy our troops to other locations in the region, reassuring our allies that we will stay engaged in the Middle East. And my plan includes a robust regional diplomatic strategy that includes talking to Syria and Iran something this Administration has finally embraced.

The U.S. military has performed valiantly and brilliantly in Iraq. Our troops have done all that we have asked them to do and more. But a consequence of the Administrations failed strategy in Iraq has been to strengthen Irans strategic position; reduce U.S. credibility and influence in the region; and place Israel and other nations friendly to the United States in greater peril. These are not the signs of a well-paved road. It is time for profound change.


Teresa Heinz Kerry on Women’s Health and the Environment


Despite losing in 2004, many good things came of the election, including the opportunity to meet, and spend time talking with, Teresa Heinz Kerry. Incidentally, while Elizabeth Edwards is currently exciting many in the blogosphere by her involvement, Teresa has also followed the blogs. When we were introduced during a campaign stop in Michigan shortly before the Iowa primary (picture above) she immediately recognized my name, and gave me a big hug for all the posts I had written supporting her husband.

The election is long over, but Teresa is still keeping busy. On April 20 Teresa Heinz and the Heinz Endowments are sponsoring a conference on Women’s Health and the Environment in Pittsburgh. Further information can be obtained by calling (412) 641-4059. The Heniz Family Philanthropies have also started a newsletter on Women’s Health & Environment News. This Moment on Earth: Today’s New Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future, a book on the environment by John Kerry and Teresa Heinz will be released on March 26. Following is the description of the book at Amazon:

An inspiring celebration of courageous American innovators who are transforming the way we protect and care for the world we live in.

The environment, and the movement that grew up to protect it, is under attack–concerted and purposeful. Yet the need for solutions to pressing environmental problems grows more urgent each day. Teresa Heinz Kerry and Senator John Kerry traveled across the country in a national campaign to see at first hand how these issues unite people across party and ideological lines. From the San Juan Basin to the Gulf of Mexico to the South Bronx, from mothers on Cape Cod to Colorado ranchers, they found a vibrant coalition of people and communities deploying ingenuity, technology, and sheer will power to save the world they know and love. Now, in this passionate and personal book, Senator John Kerry and Teresa Heinz Kerry shine the spotlight on an inspiring crosssection of these new environmental pioneers.

The book combines intensive research with keenly observed personal experiences to present a portrait of Americans devoted to the natural diversity and spectacular uniqueness of our country. It also includes an extensive guide on where and how readers can get involved.

About the Author
John Kerry has served four terms as Senator from Massachusetts. As ranking member and Chairman of the Fish and Marine subcommittee, he was able to write or rewrite laws affecting national fisheries, flood insurance, marine mammals, coral reefs, the Gulf of Mexico dead zone and to engage very directly in the battles over global climate change, alternative and renewable fuels and fuel efficiency standards.

Teresa Heinz Kerry is chairman of The Howard Heinz Endowment and the Heinz Family Philanthropies, and a winner of the Albert Schweitzer Gold Medal for Humanitarianism for her work protecting the environment, promoting health care and education and uplifting women and children throughout the world.

David Brooks Would Have a Beer with Bill Richardson

David Brooks believes Bill Richardson is “the candidate most likely to rise.” Appealing to David Brooks is hardly something for a Democratic candidate to brag about, but perhaps this indicates he has a chance of achieving bipartisan support. Brooks writes:

Then Bill Richardson walked onstage. He was dressed differently — in slacks and a sports jacket. He told jokes that didn’t seem repeated for the 5,000th time. He seemed recognizably human, unlike some of his overpolished peers. He gave the best presentation, by far.

Then a heretical question entered my head: What if Richardson does this well at forums for the next 10 months? Is it possible to imagine him as a leading candidate for the nomination?

When you think that way, it becomes absurdly easy to picture him rising toward the top. He is, after all, the most experienced person running for president. He served in Congress for 14 years. He was the energy secretary (energy’s kind of vital).

He’s a successful two-term governor who was re-elected with 69 percent of the vote in New Mexico, a red state. Moreover, he’s a governor with foreign policy experience. He was U.N. ambassador. He worked in the State Department. He’s made a second career of negotiating on special assignments with dictators like Saddam, Castro and Kim Jong Il. He negotiated a truce in Sudan.

Most of all, he’s not a senator. Since 1961, 40 senators have run for president and their record is 0-40. A senator may win this year, but you’d be foolish to assume it.

When it comes to policy positions, he’s perfectly positioned — not by accident — to carry liberals and independents. As governor, he’s covered the normal Democratic bases: he raised teacher pay, he expanded children’s health insurance, he began programs to stall global warming, he built a light rail line.

But he also cut New Mexico’s top income tax rate from 8.2 percent to 4.9 percent. He handed out tax credits to stimulate economic growth. (He’s the only Democrat completely invulnerable on the tax cut issue.) He supports free trade, with reservations. And he not only balanced the budget — he also ran a surplus.

Some say George Bush won because the average person would prefer to have a beer with him. While Brooks realizes that Richardson appears “inelligant” but also argues, “On the other hand, once a century or so the Democratic Party actually nominates somebody the average person would like to have a beer with. Bill Richardson is that kind of guy.”