31 August 2010

My problem with Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck's entire shtick is weepy demagoguery -- telling his viewers that Barack Obama "has a deep-seated hatred of white people," rhetorically asking why there are so many "Maoists" hanging around the White House, and comparing myriad Obama policies to Nazi Germany and/or the Soviet Union.

While I think Obama has been a terrible president, I can hardly call him a Stalinist -- at least not until he locks up and kills 30 million people -- which if you listen to Beck, might happen tomorrow.

It just doesn't take any skill or insight to impugn the motives and defame the character of a public figure. Beck has no substantive policies that he supports on his show -- in fact, you can say this about virtually every TV talking head. The difference between Beck and the rest of the bunch is that Beck isn't content to merely proselytize for an hour a day. He is trying to lead a revolution.

Beck and Sarah Palin have taken a page from each other's book -- they throw out tinny, cliched lines that while they may not expressly state what they're implying, play on their devotees' worst fears -- that Obama is a Muslim, that he wasn't born in America, that he wants the government to take over the entire economy, that he sympathizes with far-left revolutionaries, that he wants to turn us into a Soviet dictatorship. They strike chords that resonate with certain folks, invoking God, country and liberty, which makes them comfortable, admirable, familiar figures. Beck and Palin wrap themselves in the flag and talk about divine providence because they think that's what their viewers want to hear. (Of course, the liberties they cite don't ever include the Fourth, Fifth or Sixth Amendments, nor do they include the patently unconstitutional war powers the Bush administration claimed after 9/11. The reason? Because they know taking true civil libertarian positions would be unpopular with their fans.)

On the other hand, Beck is particularly absurd because Beck claimed that "This is the beginning of the end of darkness. We have been in darkness a long time." I have no idea what in the hell this means, or when this darkness started. To the contrary, I think America has walked out of darkness if nothing else -- in the last 50 years, we've outlawed both public and private segregation, increased upward mobility for women, drastically reduced tax rates under Reagan, and risen to the top of the global heap as the world's only superpower. How can anyone look at the last 40 years of American history and conclude that God has it in for America, as Beck implies?

And where has America's honor gone, Mr. Beck? When did it leave? Did America not fight the Cold War with honor and resolve? Did we not stand with honor against Saddam Hussein's advances in the Persian Gulf in 1991? Was a Democratic administration not honorable in declaring "the era of big government is over" and balancing the federal budget? And what precisely was dishonorable about George W. Bush? He may have been a bad president, but he was a fundamentally good man.

You see, Glenn Beck can't answer these questions -- because there are no good answers. He simply preys on the fears and insecurities of his viewers to shout about liberal fascism (never mind that's actually an oxymoron) and warn that armageddon is nigh.

Perhaps, Beck's inability to answer these questions is because, prior to becoming an icon, he was a complete mess -- an erratic junkie, deep into drugs, who knew nothing about politics and made a fool of himself on any number of radio stations. It wasn't until the mid-1990s that Beck got clean and began his foray into reading about politics. He tried college and couldn't hack it. He was a top-40 radio DJ until at least 1999. And by 2003, he fancied himself leading the next great revolution in American politics? Please. He's the classic emperor with no clothes.

In August 1998, as he began to moonlight as a political commentator on Clear Channel (while still maintaining his day job as a top-40 DJ), Beck had this to say about the man who would carry out the greatest atrocity in American history a little more than three years later:

A paper in Pakistan received a letter from the spokesperson from, uh ... Asma ... Asma Bin-Lay-deen? Is that his name? Bin Lay-deen? Bin Jelly Bean Green Bean? Mr. Clean? I love him. He's hot. He says he's ready for war with the U.S. Oh, yes. Thank you, Mr. Baked Bean. Loosen the turban! Mr. Clean, Dig-my-scene. Oh, yes! Look at the latrine ...

Insightful, no?

The other thing that drives me insane is that Beck is the ultimate conservative culture warrior. His first marriage ended in a drug-filled haze, and it wasn't until he was married a second time in 1999 that he found Mormonism. So, this talking head who allowed his first marriage to die in divorce, wants to drag "secular" liberals through the mud and scream about God, faith, country and honor?

It's the same thing with many other conservative icons -- Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich have seven marriages between them -- but they aren't trying to lead a cultural revolution.

Beck also cites his faith to his legions of followers as reason to anoint him the leader of their movement, but even that is tenuous. The hallmark of Christianity is Christ as true God and man, the lone savior of the human race and the sole path to heaven. Most Mormons don't believe that at all.

So Beck is using his membership in a cult that has perverted the very nature of Christianity to call himself "Christian" and attempt to identify himself as the average Joe. Mormons believe in a host of extra-biblical teachings, the preeminent ones being found in the Book of Mormon, which was written in the 1850s by church founder Joseph Smith. Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon is divine scripture and equal in authority to the Bible. Mormons also believe that the character and life of Jesus Christ is attainable by anyone who performs at a righteous level. This is as fundamentally un-Christian as it gets. The entire message of the gospel is human sinfulness, which shows us our need for a Savior and demonstrates God's gift of salvation through Christ alone. So for Beck to espouse his own Christianity as a member of the Mormon church is absurd. If he wants to do this, he needs to disassociate himself from the Mormon church. I'm not attempting to judge what Beck personally believes -- I'm simply citing the basic teachings of the modern Mormon church, of which Beck claims to be a member.

These are examples among many others -- too many to count -- that show Beck's utter hypocrisy and make the idea of Beck as a culture warrior and American revolutionary so preposterous. He is a snake-oil salesman laughing all the way to the bank.

28 August 2010

Why I still can't take Sarah Palin seriously

I wrote this post quite awhile ago, but came back to it this morning after reading this excellent profile on Joe Scarborough:

The fellows over at the Atlantic -- Andrew Sullivan and Josh Green, namely -- have batted around the likelihood of newly christened reality show star and former half-term Alaska governor Sarah Palin running for (and winning) the Republican nomination in 2012.

I still can't fathom why any conservative would consider voting for Palin over, say, Tim Pawlenty or John Thune. Pawlenty and Thune -- like the rest of the Republican field, save perhaps Ron Paul -- have similar if not identical policy positions to Palin in nearly every respect. They have the added resume bonus of not having quit in the middle of their respective first terms, and don't suffer from Palin's stratospheric disapproval ratings.

As noted by none other than George Will, Palin's supporters demonstrate a "monomanical" fervor about media bias, unwilling to accept that while it exists, doesn't tilt elections, and are "unhinged by their anger about the loathing of Sarah Palin by similarly deranged liberals. These conservatives, confusing pugnacity with a political philosophy, are hot to anoint Palin, an emblem of rural and small-town sensibilities, as the party's presumptive 2012 nominee."

Will wryly noted that this worldview portrays the American electorate as a bovine herd, susceptible to the cunningness of the evil media, whose advances only Palin's wily supporters can resist.

In October 2008, Peggy Noonan put it thusly:

"But we have seen Mrs. Palin on the national stage for seven weeks now, and there is little sign that she has the tools, the equipment, the knowledge or the philosophical grounding one hopes for, and expects, in a holder of high office. She is a person of great ambition, but the question remains: What is the purpose of the ambition? She wants to rise, but what for? ... In the past two weeks she has spent her time throwing out tinny lines to crowds she doesn't, really, understand. This is not a leader, this is a follower, and she follows what she imagiens is the base, which is in fact a vast and broken-hearted thing whose pain she cannot, actually, imagine. She could reinspire and reinspirit; she chooses to merely excite."

Certainly, if she ran in 2012, Palin would make a bit of noise. But the more apt comparison is not to Obama -- who although campaigning solely on the force of his personality (as Palin likely will), built an enormous, robust grassroots campaign throughout Iowa and other states that allowed him to steamroll up behind Hillary Clinton and eventually steal the nomination -- but rather to the self-adoring John Edwards, who languished a distant third behind his two rivals, making no case for himself outside of his laughably self-indulgent crusade against poverty, and refused to quit the race until he was promised a spot in the new administration (didn't happen) -- so he simply waited until the eventual winner was clear and then picked sides.

If Palin runs, she will not win. Period. Certainly, she has supporters, many of them ready to demonize anyone who dares speak ill of her at any turn. But there are too many other serious adults who will likely run -- Pawlenty and Mitt Romney at the top of the list. If Mike Huckabee chooses to leave his cushy post at Fox News and jump into the race, he will siphon off Palin supporters. Palin will never be more popular than she is now, because she is so patently ignorant about public policy and bereft of ideas that she will get steamrolled when she has to face off against the other, much better qualified candidates in a debate. Palin's supporters will see empathy and wit in Mike Huckabee, policy wonkishness in Newt Gingrich, reasonableness in Tim Pawlenty and sincerity in John Thune.

Beyond even that, I think Republicans understand that she will get obliterated in the general election.

Republican voters are far too savvy to elect someone like Palin.

I hope.

25 August 2010

John McCain: The ultimate survivor

Last night, John McCain easily dispatched his primary challenge from the buffoonish JD Hayworth, 56-32, to virtually guarantee himself a fifth term in the U.S. Senate.

Although I haven't written much about it, I've been somewhat disappointed with McCain's primary campaign.

I wasn't disappointed so much by his tactics -- I thought Hayworth represented everything that is wrong with the Republican Party, and I'll admit that I watched gleefully as the McCain team hammered him over and over. This is politics, and if you step into the ring with the likes of John McCain, you'd better wear your brass knuckles. After all, Hayworth started it, using his radio program to slam McCain for everything for his support for "amnesty" to campaign finance reform. McCain then buried Hayworth in an avalanche of negative ads, from the funny (click here) to the outright bruising -- battering Hayworth for his ties to Jack Abramoff and his stint as a pitchman for a get-rich-quick scheme. It's delightful to see a man of Hayworth's poor character get run over.

I haven't even been disappointed with what liberal commentators see as McCain's refusal to work across the aisle since the Obama administration took office. McCain was reportedly one of about 10 Republican senators in discussions to build a bipartisan economic stimulus package roughly half the size of the package proposed by House Democrats and eventually signed into law. The Obama administration followed its own advice to never waste a crisis, swatted away the idea of a more fiscally responsible bill, scoffing at the notion of a truly bipartisan endeavor, and effectively slapped those Senate Republicans in the face.

On the other big-ticket issue of the Obama presidency, healthcare reform, it was clear that the Obama administration knew it had the votes, and showed no interest whatsoever in working with Republicans like McCain. There were areas of clear agreement between the parties -- pre-existing conditions, the anti-trust exemption, etc. -- and the president made a conscious choice to ignore the wishes of a majority of Americans and push ahead with a pointless, ineffectual bill that cost better than a trillion dollars and won't lower healthcare costs by a penny. Why should any Republican get behind that? I don't blame McCain one bit for refusing to work with the president. As Mike Pence pointed out, Obama doesn't seem to understand that "bipartisanship" means more than simply letting Republicans vote on Democratic ideas.

Rather, I've been more disappointed with McCain's changing tenor on issues like immigration and Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Every politician changes his stance from time to time, but McCain's was obviously calibrated to move to the right and kowtow to the Republican base. Frankly, Hayworth was such a farcical dunce that I don't think McCain needed to do this. McCain's conservative record -- never voting for a tax increase, crusades against pork-barrel spending and wasteful government contracts, a 100% pro-life rating from Right to Life -- speaks for itself. The immigration issue especially bothered me. I agree that the federal government needs to do a better job securing the border, but McCain's "build the danged fence" ad was laughable. Building a fence has never been a John McCain issue -- and in fact, McCain has even waved off the notion that a fence needs to be built at all.

I always thought John McCain was a bit more noble than this. Especially running against a clown like Hayworth, changing these positions really wasn't necessary.

I read an interesting theory on McCain somewhere -- the idea is that McCain, whose lifelong obsession has been honor, duty and country, will change his positions and make normally unbecoming personal attacks on those people who he believes to be so dishonorable, because the greater sin would be allowing Americans to be hoodwinked by such fools. These are not merely individuals who McCain runs against, but rather those individuals who in McCain's eyes are dishonorable people who cannot be entrusted with public office -- JD Hayworth and Barack Obama are in this category, and I believe George W. Bush was, too.

But regardless of what you think about John McCain -- and here, we still admire him and believe him to be among America's greatest leaders -- he truly is the ultimate political survivor, a quintessentially American story, and a national treasure.

As McCain enters what might be the twilight of his political career, we are thrilled that he's sticking around a little while longer.

24 August 2010

Leaving the ballot blank

The race to fill retiring Sen. Kit Bond's open Senate seat is one of the most critical races in the country. In what is shaping up to be a bloodbath, Democrats believe this is one of their few chances to actually gain a seat in the midterms.

I have no idea what I'm going to do.

On the one hand, I cannot stomach one-party rule. The most abysmal times in recent memory were from 1992-94, 2004-2006 and 2009-2010, when one party or the other controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. For some reason, legislative gridlock and ineptitude in governance seem to run even more rampant when one party takes full control. It's plainly obvious that the Obama administration and its allies in Congress have no interest in reducing the deficit, doing what it takes to create jobs in the private sector, rolling back civil liberties abuses or, at the most basic level, governing competently. So why vote for a Democrat? Robin Carnahan (the current Secretary of State) is an able public servant and a person of integrity, but I refuse to vote for another Democratic ally for the president.

On the other hand, Roy Blunt -- the Republican House whip during the Bush administration -- represents everything that is fundamentally wrong with the Republican Party. At the level of any other, Blunt enabled the Bush administration's incompetence, deficit spending, big-government mindset, civil liberties abuses and the bailout culture. For people like Roy Blunt, Washington isn't about changing things for the good or expanding individual liberty, but consolidating political power at the expense of all else. There was nothing inherently conservative about the Bush administration or the policies carried out by the administration's allies in the House. The Bush-era Republican leadership -- of which Roy Blunt was an enormous part -- did as much damage to conservatism as Watergate.

So I'm stuck. I won't vote for another Democrat, but Roy Blunt represents everything that has gone so terribly wrong with the Republican Party -- a big-government, deficit-spending establishmentarian who cares little about what it really means to be a conservative.

19 August 2010

Change we can believe in

I'm getting tired of writing about this.

I gave President-Elect Obama the benefit of the doubt in January 2009, as I felt that, given his campaign rhetoric and the centrist model for governance that Bill Clinton gifted to the Democratic Party, Obama could turn out to be a decent president. Among other things, I expected that he would be better on civil liberties, reduce the deficit (likely by raising taxes, but still -- that beats the Bush policies), change the tone in Washington, reach across the aisle on health care legislation, and take on the hard challenges like entitlement reform. Obama has done none of these things -- not only has he continued the Bush policies he campaigned so hard against, but he's, unbelievably, gone in the other direction. We've dealt with the health care misadventures and the civil liberties abuses ad nauseum here.

But perhaps the most heinous example of the president's "politics as usual" conduct is his absurd fear campaign regarding Social Security. In his weekly radio address last week, Obama claimed, almost unbelievably, that Republicans, if returned to power in 2011, wanted to dump "your" Social Security monies into accounts controlled at the whims of "Wall Street bankers." The implication, of course, is that Republicans have it in for old folks, and darn it, you'd better think twice before voting for them.

This is wrong on about twelve different levels.

First, privatlization isn't supported by anyone in the Republican Party outside of Paul Ryan. Not Mitch McConnell, not John Boehner, and I haven't heard a single 2012 presidential candidate endorse it. Second, even under Ryan's plan, 1) the option to move Social Security monies to private accounts is entirely optional, 2) that option would only be available to workers under the age of 55, 3) the government would insert a floor such that any losses dropping the value of the accounts below the normal government payout (around one percent annually) would be reimbursed, and 4) the government would retain a huge amount of regulatory authority and oversight as to the accounts. For any Democrat -- much less this president, who campaigned so hard on the back of these platitudes that he seems to be intently trying to destroy -- to suggest that Republicans want to steal seniors' money and give it to Wall Street bankers is just absurd. He knows exactly what he's doing, because he has the best in the business -- Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, David Plouffe, et al. -- advising his every move. In any White House, nothing is done by accident.

This conduct is shameful. Candidate Barack Obama would excoriate President Barack Obama, if given the chance.

By employing these scare tactics, Obama falls nicely in line with the folks at MoveOn.org, who hysterically oppose raising the retirement age, even though when Social Security was created in the 1930s, the average American male wasn't even expected to live to the retirement age. The president is content with kicking the can down the road and letting the next administration deal with the problem -- which, absurdly, he recently claimed is actually no problem at all.

Can anyone believe that this is the same guy who campaigned as a trans-partisan healer, who eschewed name-calling, who claimed he defied the old labels? When a campaign is run on personality and not policy, the business of governance can be quite frustrating, because voters didn't support your policies per se -- they supported you.

As the Democrats careen toward a staggering, historic defeat in November, Barack Obama has no one to blame but himself.

17 August 2010

The unserious GOP

Since the beginning of August, the Republican Party has focused on two issues: The overturning of California's Proposition 8, and the building of a mosque in lower Manhattan.

The GOP's singular focus at this time should be jobs, the deficit and spending. The country is crying out for leadership like that of Wisconsin's Paul Ryan, a fundamentally conservative fellow whose main defining feature is that, unlike most of rest of his party, he is deeply serious about America's fiscal future. (In Iowa recently, Newt Gingrich, when pressed, refused to name a single government program he'd cut.)

Less than three months from what could be the biggest electoral trouncing in 50 years, the GOP needs to stop with the culture wars and instead focus on the Obama administration's abject failure at, quite literally, everything. The administration has failed at re-energizing the economy, they've failed at job creation, they failed miserably at addressing the oil spill, and they managed to pass a trillion dollar health care bill that no one -- not even the administration's own economists -- has suggested will even come close to reducing costs. Barack Obama is an awful president. And yet, just months from the midterm elections, Republicans are sermonizing about "judicial activism" (again, it's not judicial activism, but we'll save that for another time) in the Ninth Circuit? They're accusing Obama of cozying up to radical Islamic extremists? This is especially ironic due to the Obama administration's policies overseas, which in a number of ways are more radically neoconservative than Bush's.

The GOP is at a crossroads. The Paul Ryan/Mitch Daniels/Ross Douthat wing of the party is abhorred by the incompetence of the Obama administration and thirsting for a truly conservative return to glory. The Sarah Palin/Newt Gingrich/Sean Hannity wing of the party, however -- and the wing that the current Republican leadership has very obviously aligned itself with -- pays only lip service to small government; hysterically demonizes the president with outrageous claims that he was born in another country or that he's a "secular socialist"; and instead of focusing on proper governance, wants to re-fight the culture wars of a bygone era.

This is stupid, for no other reason than one in ten voters is out of work, and does not want to hear this. They want to know how you'll reduce the deficit, how you'll attack entitlement reform, how you'll return competent governance to Washington, and most critically, how you'll get people back to work.

The culture warriors in the GOP ignore this at their peril.

12 August 2010

Lessons learned? Not quite

Two days before Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, Bob Woodward wrote an excellent opinion piece in the Washington Post, setting out ten lessons that he believed Obama could learn from the Bush presidency. I've had Woodward's column bookmarked for a year and a half, and pulled it up yesterday evening and ran through it. Why has the Obama presidency been an abject failure thus far? Look no further than some of the ten lessons Woodward said Obama should take away from Bush:

1. Presidents set the tone. Don't be passive or tolerate virulent divisions.

FAIL. Obama has been nothing if not passive. On the biggest-ticket issues of his presidency -- the size and scope of the stimulus package, Afghanistan, the health care bill, the oil spill response and on the now-thankfully-dead cap and trade issue -- Obama has reprised his Senate role as a back-bencher. He refuses to lead from the front -- one of the more admirable traits of Bush -- and hems and haws like a think-tanker. Chris Matthews observed that Obama often looks like the liberal Democratic senator from Illinois. Who is in charge here? I think this attitude (or perhaps it's a personality trait) has been as responsible for the nosedive in his approval ratings as any policy position he's taken.

5. Presidents need to foster a culture of skepticism and doubt.

There is no such thing here. Does anyone in this White House disagree about anything, outside of Afghanistan? This was an easy target, even before Robert Gibbs' absurd claim that liberals who equate Obama with Bush should be drug tested. If the Obama White House isn't able to see how it's reprising some of the exact policies that made Bush so unpopular, perhaps the president's advisers are the ones who should be looking for the nearest cup to pee in.

Just off the top of my head, I don't know ...

Outrageous deficits.


Almost every civil liberties issue.

Attempting to shred the Fourth Amendment.

7. Presidents must tell the public the hard truth, even if that means delivering very bad news.

It would truly be "change" if the president tackled entitlement reform. Instead, he has largely ignored what is the most potentially disastrous issue and kicked the can down the road -- to be fair, just like his predecessors did -- for another administration to handle. Obama could have done anything he wanted in those first 12 months, when the Democrats held a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. He chose to pass an abysmally wasteful "stimulus" package that was largely targeted at building infrastructure instead of permanent job creation in the private sector, and then focused on health care legislation at the expense of a jobs bill or entitlement reform. Obama continues to ignore the one issue that very well might destroy America fiscally -- reform of Medicare and Social Security. The clock is ticking. Taking on this issue would have been truly transformative. Obama is held to a higher standard because of what he said while he campaigned for the presidency.

10. The president should embrace transparency. Some version of the behind-the-scenes story of what happened in his White House will always make it out to the public -- and everyone will be better off if that version is as accurate as possible.

I didn't think an administration could be any less transparent than the last one. This the area where I thought Obama had the easiest chance to improve upon Bush. Instead, they've headed in the other direction, almost brazenly so.

Obama has denied even more Freedom of Information Requests than Bush did -- many of the denials based on the state secrets privilege.

Speaking of state secrets, Obama's DOJ has not only continued pressing the state secrets privilege in federal court, but taken it to another level. See Glenn Greenwald's analysis here.

In June, just so those journalists covering the White House would feel even less comfortable asking the tough questions, the Bidens invited most of the press corps out for a day of BBQ and Super Soakers. John Stewart's hilarious excoriation of same can be found here. There's plenty more. That was just in three minutes of copying and pasting bookmarks that were already on my computer.

This is an administration on the fast-track to historical irrelevance. I have no doubt that, as the years pass and dust settles, Barack Obama will rank among the worst presidents of America's modern era. It is actually quite ironic that Obama has spent so much time blaming Bush for his troubles, because in many areas, he is repeating many of the same mistakes Woodward warned against just days before he took office.

The Obama administration has been a terrible combination of Bushian/Carteresque ineptitude and NIxonian self-love -- a White House that really has no idea what it's doing, but is so convinced of its own brilliance that it can't possibly change course.

09 August 2010

Conservatives vs. gay marriage

As briefly as possible:

I copy and paste this from an entry at Right Wing News:

If you read the essay, you'll see that Olson argues mostly on the basis of constitutional law, and he states his case eloquently. But constitutional, states-rights issues are beyond what I want to address here (and I've handled them ad nausea previously). My basic point all along is that on a national controversy this big, it's best to let the will of the voters prevail, for no court ruling will have the same kind of popular legititmacy as that found in a majority vote of the electorate.

And that is precisely the problem with the conservative position on gay marriage. When it comes to issues of constitutional import, and rights that have been clearly delineated as "fundamental" for more than a century, the vote of the populace doesn't trump constitutional considerations. You cannot have a debate about the legality of gay marriage that is disentangled from the Equal Protection issue or the Due Process Clause. This is the entire point of the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment. We have a Bill of Rights and an Equal Protection Clause to protect the rights of the minority from the federal government, from our state government, from the police, from the IRS, and yes, from discriminatory referenda by voters themselves.

Simply because a majority of citizens are against gay marriage doesn't mean that gay marriage should be outlawed. As Olson noted, a vast majority of Americans were against interracial marriage at the time of Loving v. Virginia in 1967. A majority of Americans were also in favor of the "separate but equal" policies that were invalidated by Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. These are not novel arguments, but they are arguments that conservatives seem to have great difficulty addressing.

As has been noted here before, I have yet to hear a single conservative take on Olson from a purely legal perspective -- in light of marriage being deemed a fundamental right since the 1880s, in light of Loving v. Virginia, and in light of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment -- and make a legally coherent argument against his position. The bottom line is that marriage is a fundamental right, and it is the government's burden to demonstrate that Proposition 8 is critical to advancing a compelling governmental objective that is at least partially secular. These are indisputable principles of constitutional law, and all conservatives want to do is call Olson a turncoat and shriek about judicial activism.

Much more on this later.