Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Palin’

Lies and Facts About the “Ground Zero Mosque”

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

There has always been a strain in American politics of paranoia and intolerance grounded in the suspicion of people who are different from what we know, who seem to have a set of values we are not familiar with: beginning with the Masons, then the Catholics, Jewish bankers, Communists, gays, and now Muslims. A prominent  scholar, Richard Hofstadter, writing in the 1960s, explained these suspicions were fed by very similar conspiracy theories involving hidden agents of foreign powers insinuating themselves into American society while attempting to destroy it. These conspiracy theorists made their cases in similar ways, relying on in-depth citations to obscure tracts proving half-truths and outright falsehoods as well as the “confessions” of former members of the conspiracy. Yet the facts presented by these people were seen as ridiculous by those with personal knowledge of the targeted group, even as they were seen as plausible by those who were ignorant on the matter. Politicians and writers who knew better often attempted to use these suspicious ginned up by these false claims to further their own political ends.

Regarding Catholics, for example, Jesuit priests were said to be “prowling” the countryside “in every possible disguise”  including as puppeteers to propagandize children. Nuns were said to take a vow of obedience to perform any sexual act a priest would demand. The pope was said to have the power to command any Catholic to do his will. All of this was seen as part of a vast plot to overthrow American democracy and replace it with a vassal state of the Vatican. Questions were raised regarding the funding of Catholic churches, hospitals, and schools. Anyone with a passing knowledge of Catholics or Catholicism could see how ridiculous this was: And yet, the Founding Fathers were casually anti-Catholic (or as they would call it anti-papist); and the best selling book of the pre-Civil War period next to Uncle Tom’s Cabin was an anti-Catholic memoir called Awful Disclosures by a woman who claimed to have escaped from a life of sexual slavery in a nunnery.

It was due to these rumors fueled by and fueling anti-Catholic bigotry that priests in Manhattan were subject to arrest and no Catholic Church was allowed to be built until St. Peter’s, just a block from the World Trade Center, was, in the 1780s as Mayor Bloomberg explained. President Millard Fillmore used anti-Catholicism as a political tool and later attempted to run for office as a member of the vehemently anti-Catholic Know Nothing Party. President U.S. Grant saw Catholic schools as unpatriotic and driven by “superstition, ambition and greed.” Anti-Catholicism was used against Alfred Smith’s opponents as he ran for president in 1928 and memorably against John F. Kennedy as the famous Protestant minister Norman Vincent Peale declared in an essay for Newsweek, “Faced with the election of a Catholic, our culture is at stake.”

It is hard not to see the parallels between this anti-Catholic bigotry and the claims of the most ardent opponents of the Ground Zero Mosque who regard the billion Muslims in the world as members of a cult which funds a conspiracy of sleeper cells waiting and working to destroy American democracy from within.

While the hardcore Islamophobes are the ones who have fanned the suspicions of many otherwise sensible Americans, they have only gained credibility as political and opinion leaders who should know better attempt to use these suspicious for their own end. They seek to play on the ignorance of the American public. About the Cordoba House, they have lied and told half-truths repeatedly, when they should have known better.

In light of this, I present a list of claims checked and evaluated about the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.”

Claim #1: A Lie: Ground Zero Mosque.
People Who Should Know Better: Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and almost every opponent who has commented on the matter.

The proposed Cordoba House is not located at Ground Zero. It is 2 blocks away located in a former Burlington Coat Factory which has been used as a prayer space by this imam for years. It has no view of Ground Zero. It is not “overlooking” the site. It is not “towering” over the site. A 13-story building in Lower Manhattan is typical. If you’re familiar with Lower Manhattan, you have some idea of how dense the neighborhood is and how distant each street feels from even the next street over given the narrow roads and cavernous buildings all around. To quibble for a moment though, the building proposed for Park 51 is not even a “mosque” but is modeled on the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, whose rabbi is close with Imam Rauf and his wife, and includes a swimming pool, an interfaith center, a gym, as well as a prayer room.

The branding of the community center in Downtown Manhattan that would include a prayer room as the “Ground Zero Mosque” started with right-wing, Islamophobe blogger Pamela Geller (See footnote) and did not enter the national conversation due to opposition among those in the area it was being being built. Rather it became front page news after Sarah Palin tweeted for “Peaceful Muslims” to “refudiate” the “Ground Zero Mosque.”

Claim  #2: A Lie: Opening date: September 11, 2011.
People Who Should Know Better: NY Post columnist Andrea PeyserPat Condell, along with many other blogs and commentators.

The Corboba House and its imam have both denied they ever planned on opening the mosque on September 11, 2011. In fact, that date would never have been feasible given that after all the necessary approvals were received, the project would take between 18 to 48 months to complete.

Update: A redditor, azdiscovery, sent me a link to an Associated Press story that may have served as the genesis of this claim in which Imam Rauf’s wife seems to have mentioned the possibility of a groundbreaking “later this year” (meaning September 11, 2010) on the tenth anniversary of September 11 (meaning September 11, 2011). Clearly some sort of an error regarding the date there. And the passage is not attributed as a quotation. But somehow, various opponents transformed this into an entirely false claim that the opening of the Cordoba House was scheduled for September 11, 2011 representing some sort of Islamic triumphalism.

Claim  #3: A Lie By Insinuation: Questions About Funding.
People Who Should Know Better: Republican candidate for NY Governor Rick Lazio; former NY Governor George Pataki; my own Congressman, Republican Pete King;
Glenn Beck.

Many opponents of the Cordoba House have prominently insisted they are just “asking questions” about who is funding the project. This tactic is often used by the conspiratorial-minded. 9/11 Truthers for example “often maintain they are simply ‘raising questions’.” Glenn Beck has made a career out of such questioning with this method being ably mocked by the satirical website that was created  ”to try and help examine the vicious rumour that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990,” but that asking the probing question: “Why won’t Glenn Beck deny these allegations?”

Other opponents have gone as far as to claim that Cordoba House has refused to reveal who was funding it while insinuating it was Hamas, Iran, Al Qaeda, etc. In fact, to date “the developers [have] raised so little money, there [is] nothing to investigate: the most recent government filings show the organization has about $18,000.” Park51 itself has stated: “We have not launched our fundraising campaign.” They further guaranteed, “We will hire security consultants to assist us in the process of reviewing potential financiers and philanthropists. We will refuse assistance from any persons or institutions who are flagged by our security consultants or any government agencies.” These “questions” raised by opponents are a cynical attempt to plant blatantly false information that will incite outrage in your average American. They call them questions while they are merely insinuations which they call questions because they have no evidence to back them up but want to plant the seeds of misinformation.

Claim  #4: A Lie: The Name Cordoba Was Chosen As Because It Is “A Symbol of Islamic Conquest.
People Who Should Know Better:
Newt Gingrich; though subsequently repeated by many blogs and commentators.

Beware those who claim to know the secret reasoning of their opponents. Newt Gingrich wrote, “It refers to Cordoba, Spain – the capital of Muslim conquerors who symbolized their victory over the Christian Spaniards by transforming a church there into the world’s third-largest mosque complex.” (Newt apparently got his history lesson wrong in terms of the mosque at Cordoba’s significance in Islamic history.)

But more important: Imam Rauf himself explained that the caliphate in Cordoba represented, for “its era, the most enlightened, pluralistic, and tolerant society on earth” in which all three Abrahamic religions coexisted. This was the traditional view of Cordoba, though some revisionist historians have disputed this interpretation – but this is clearly the camp in which Rauf allies himself.

Claim  #5: A Lie: Imam Rauf Is An Extremist and Terrorist Sympathizer.
People Who Should Know Better: Sarah Palin;
Newt Gingrich; Rick Lazio; as well as most other opponents of Cordoba House.

First, Imam Rauf is a Sufi Muslim. There are no known Sufi terrorists. There are three main branches to Islam: Shiites, Sunnis, and Sufis, divisions that are as deep and profound as the differences between Orthodox Christians, Protestants, and Catholics. The theological and historical distinctions are too much to cover here, but to paint in broad strokes: Bin Laden and Al Qaeda subscribe to the most extreme version of Sunnism, Wahabbism; Hamas is Sunni as well; most Iranians including Ahmadinejad are Shiite. If one claims Imam Rauf bears a portion of the collective responsibility for September 11, then one must likewise logically claim that evangelical Pastor Rick Warren bears a portion of the collective responsibility for the abuse of children by Catholic priests.

Second, Imam Rauf has explicitlyrepeatedlyand emphatically condemned terrorism as well as “Islamic triumphalism” and “Islamic militancy” and many other variations on this.

Third, both the Bush and Obama administrations have sent Imam Rauf abroad to promote the idea that America was not at war with Islam and indeed that America is the home to many Muslims.

Fourth, Imam Rauf has claimed that America is a better country to be a Muslim in than countries with many Muslims because he believes the American Constitution and system of governance protects the core values shared by the Abrahamic faiths.

Fifth, Imam Rauf has gone further in promoting interfaith dialogue. His Cordoba Initiative’s board of advisors includes a Jewish rabbi, a Hindu, and a former Catholic nunIn memorial to the most prominent Jewish victim of Al Qaeda, Wall Street Journal writer Daniel Pearl, Imam Rauf, according to former Israeli Defense Forces soldier Jeffrey Goldberg, placed his own life in danger to say:

We are here to assert the Islamic conviction of the moral equivalency of our Abrahamic faiths. If to be a Jew means to say with all one’s heart, mind and soul Shma` Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ahad; hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one, Mr. Pearl.

If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all of my heart, mind and soul, and to love for my fellow human being what I love for myself, then not only am I a Christian, but I have always been one Mr. Pearl.

And I am here to inform you, with the full authority of the Quranic texts and the practice of the Prophet Muhammad, that to say La ilaha illallah Muhammadun rasulullah is no different.

It expresses the same theological and ethical principles and values.

In expressing this, Imam Rauf was restating an old Sufi idea that is considered heresy by Bin Ladin and his followers: “The great Sufi saints like the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi held that all existence and all religions were one, all manifestations of the same divine reality.” One Islamic scholar explained the role Sufis play in Islam:

In the most radical parts of the Muslim world, Sufi leaders risk their lives for their tolerant beliefs, every bit as bravely as American troops on the ground in Baghdad and Kabul do.

While you may disagree with Imam Rauf’s positions on Israel, Palestinians, the effect of America’s policies, to claim he is an “extremist” or a terrorist sympathizer or anything of the like is slander.

Claim  #6: A Lie: The Cordoba House Opposes the Plan of a Fox News Host to Build a Gay Bar Next Door.
People Who Should Know Better:
Fox News host Greg Gutfeld; Allahpundit, though each merely presumed opposition.

Actually the group tweeted in response: “You’re free to open whatever you like.” This is what I like to call tolerance and I would guess that many other religious institutions would not be similarly tolerant under the circumstances.

Claim #7: True: Imam Rauf Said: “I wouldn’t say that the United States deserved what happened. But the United States’ policies were an accessory to the crime that happened…[I]n the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA.”

This is actually true. It is widely known that US funds given to the Pakistani secret service (ISI) during the Cold War were used to fund Muslim militants of various sects in their jihad against Soviet occupation. It was here that Osama Bin Laden got his start (as the September 11 Commission Report further explained.) This is what Imam Rauf’s wife has explained he was referring to.

Even when read in their broadest sense — as claiming that American policies helped cause September 11 — it also happens to be a widely held view. Glenn Beck said almost the same thing earlier this year which he is now condemning Imam Rauf for. So have numerous US intelligence and national security officialsThe September 11 Commission Report as well supported this widely accepted view (large pdf, pg. 379):

[Islamic Terrorism is] fed by grievances stressed by Bin Ladin and widely felt throughout the Muslim world – against the U.S. military presence in the Middle East, policies perceived as anti-Arab and anti-Muslim, and support of Israel.

Whether one agrees or not, using such an opinion as proof that Imam Rauf is a terrorist sympathizer is ridiculous.

Claim  #8: True: There Are No Churches or Synagogues in Saudi Arabia.

This is actually true. Though why Newt Gingrich thinks it is wise for Americans to adopt Saudi views on freedom of religion is beyond me.

Claim  #9: A Lie: There Are No Other Mosques Near the Areas Attacked on September 11! There Is No Shinto Shrine Near Pearl Harbor! Lower Manhattan is Sacred Ground!
People Who Should Know Better:
Charles Krauthammer; Rush Limbaugh. Implicitly, Newt Gingrich; Minnesota Governor and 2012 presidential aspirant, Republican Tim Pawlenty.

The Pentagon, attacked on September 11, in fact has a room where Muslims hold services and has celebrated Ramadan and other Muslim holidays. There are also 2 overcrowded mosques (one founded in 1970 before the World Trade Center was finished, and the other in 1985) only a short distance from the proposed location of the Cordoba House in downtown Manhattan. There is in fact also a Shinto shrine near Pearl Harbor. (I’ve read there are 2, but not been able to locate the second one.)

Those who claim that Lower Manhattan is sacred ground have not raised any issues with the strip clubs (2 within 4 blocks of Ground Zero), the porn stores, the many, many bars, or the overflowing stands of September 11 merchandise all over the neighborhood.

Claim #10: A Lie: The “Ground Zero Mosque” Is Part of a War of Civilizations of Muslims Against America.
People Who Should Know Better: Newt Gingrich;
Andrew C. McCarthy.

There are only 2 groups of people who use this “War of Civilizations” rhetoric: far right-wingers such as Newt Gingrich and supporters of Al Qaeda. The Wall Street Journal reports that counter terrorist analysts have stated that the rhetoric of some opponents to the Cordoba House has served as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.

Claim #11: A Lie: Imam Rauf Has Personal Connections to Terrorist-Sympathizers.
People Who Should Know Better: Stephen Schwartz; widely hinted at by those spreading Claim #5.

After weeks of attempting to find such connections, the right wing Weekly Standard ran a breathless article describing what they found: Imam Rauf’s wife’s uncle used to be a leader of a mosque whose website now links to an organization that some have claimed is linked to a political party in Pakistan which allegedly has links to terrorism. Fox News also connected Imam Rauf to Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who Rudy Giuliani famously refused to accept a donation from after September 11. Fox News neglected to mention that Prince Al-Waleed happens to also own 7% of Fox’s corporation, thus linking them even more closely to this purported extremist.

N. B. Jon Stewart’s Daily Show has been an excellent source of actual fact-checking combined with humor throughout this controversy with clips about Fox News’s connections to Prince Al-Waleed, Newt Gingrich’s various claims, the guilt-by-association techniques used to tar Imam Rauf, and the idea of collective religious guilt.

Footnote: Christopher Hitchens has decried the use of the term Islamophobe because he feels it denigrates both those who point to the many injustices within majority Muslim countries justified by Islam, most especially the treatment of women. While I agree with Hitchens that the term is overused, it is appropriate in this instance.

Edit: Numbering corrected.

[Image by Joshua Treviño licensed under Creative Commons and adapted with permission of the author.]

Must-Reads of the Week: Diabolical Republicans, Strategic Patience, Weiner, China, New York City, -20 Questions, & Glenn Beck’s Obsession With Woodrow Wilson

Friday, April 16th, 2010

1. Diabolical Republicans. Noam Scheiber in The New Republic explains how the “diabolical” plan the Republicans have adopted to achieve their fiscal ends (discussed on this blog here) may backfire:

Ever since George W. Bush massively cut taxes back in 2001, squandering much of the $5.6 trillion, ten-year surplus he inherited from Bill Clinton, liberals have assumed that the fiscal game was rigged. Conservatives had been explicit about their starve-the-beast strategy—the practice of creating large deficits through tax cuts in order to force future spending cuts…

“Depriving the government of revenue, it turns out, wasn’t enough to push politicians into dismantling the welfare state,” Krugman wrote. “So now the de facto strategy is to oppose any responsible action until we are in the midst of a fiscal catastrophe.”

…I suspect…that Republicans believe precipitating a fiscal crisis will force Democrats to roll back entitlement spending (i.e., Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security), which would be both politically unpopular and the realization of the right’s dearest policy fantasy. It’s an altogether brilliant, if diabolical, plan. Except for one minor flaw: There’s a good chance it could vaporize the GOP.

2. Strategic Patience in the Face of Long-Term Problems. David S. Broder, eminence of the press establishment, apostle of bipartisanship at all costs, proponent of convention, seems to have finally come around to Obama with this trenchant observation:

We are beginning to learn that the Obama presidency will be an era of substantial but deferred accomplishments — perhaps always to be accompanied by a sense of continuing crisis. His vaunted “cool” allows him to wait without impatience and to endure without visible despair. It asks the same of his constituents.

The backdrop of the serious long-term issues facing America is precisely what made Obama’s election so important in the first place — as this blog repeatedly argued. David Rothkopf put the matter in a wide-angled perspective:

[T]he reason the health care reform bill is important is not because it was the first major such piece of social legislation in the U.S. in decades, but rather because it represents the first in what will become by necessity an on-going series of efforts to fix deep and serious defects in the American economy. In a decade or two, this legislation is like to be seen by Americans as the beginning of a lengthy, brutal and spasmodic process to cut deficits and restore America’s leadership prospects in the global economy.

3. Answering Sarah Palin. Anthony Weiner meanwhile has arisen as the Democrat’s answer to Sarah Palin and our sensationalized media moment. (Others might argue for Alan Grayson.)

4. Chinese Predictions. Gordon G. Chang, for World Affairs, explains his argument for why the Beijing consensus cannot last and its power will soon begin to wane.

5. New York’s Neighborhoods. Nate Silver, baseball statistician and political polling expert, turned his skills to rating New York’s neighborhoods. Really interesting for locals.

6. Negative 20 Questions. Jason Kottke describes a game that “resembles quantum physics.”

7. Glenn Beck’s Woodrow Wilson Obsession. David Frum puzzles on why Glenn Beck focuses so much on Woodrow Wilson as the beginning point of all things progressive and source of evils in the modern world. There are so many more logical choices, more progressive historical figures of greater note who are more closely aligned to contemporary progressivism. And then he answers his own question:

Here’s a president who took the United States into a very controversial war, ending in an unsatisfactory peace. In response to a domestic terrorist threat, culminating in a deadly attack in lower Manhattan, this president adopted draconian domestic security policies. Oh – and his administration concluded with an abrupt plunge into severe recession.

Any parallels come to mind?

What’s taking place on Glenn Beck’s show is a coy conservative self-conversation. Maybe it’s because I’m in China now, but it reminds me of the way Chinese intellectuals in the late 1970s would discuss the first Qin emperor, as a way of debating – and denouncing – Mao Zedong without explicitly mentioning a sensitive subject.

[Image by me.]

Must-Reads of the Week: Nukes, Inconsistencies, Graphing the Economic Crisis, Half-Hookers, Palin 2012, Mailer’s Wife, & Complex Business Models

Friday, April 9th, 2010

1. Nukes. Jon Stewart and Andrew Sullivan both make the same point: Obama’s nuclear policy is the fulfillment of Ronald Reagan’s vision:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
The Big Bang Treaty
www.thedailyshow.com

2. Inconsistencies. Matt Yglesias:

The main difference between left and right with regard to property rights is simply that the right is invested in a lot of rhetoric about markets and property rights and the left is invested in different historical and rhetorical tropes.

… Formally, the right is committed to ideas about free markets and the left is committed to ideas about economic equality. But in practice, political conflict much more commonly breaks down around “some stuff some businessmen want to do” vs “some stuff businessmen hate” rather than anything about markets or property rights per se…

Or if you look at the energy sector, you’ll see that businessmen want to push property rights for the stuff that’s in the ground (coal, oil, whatever) and a commons model for the stuff (particulates, CO2) that’s in the air. You can call that “inconsistent” if you like, but obviously it’s perfectly consistent with what coal and oil executives want! And those industries are the most loyal supporters of “right” politics around.

3. Graphing the Economic Crisis. Ezra Klein puts out some interesting graphs about the economic crisis and nascent recovery including this one:

Klein explains:

This graph is a political problem for the Obama administration (if not, in the short-term, an economic problem). But it is also necessary for all the other graphs. The bank rescue, which added temporarily to the deficit, stabilized the stock market and set the stage for its recovery. The stimulus, which also added to the deficit, helped moderate the job losses and and has contributed to recent gains. You could’ve made the lines on this graph better, but only by letting the lines on the other graphs get worse.

4. Half-hookers. Lisa Taddeo for New York magazine writes about the burgeoning half-hooker culture which exists in a bizarre alternate reality existing so close to our own where celebrities and finance guys get their women:

The general-admission crowds dance, and the table crowds dance a little more woodenly, a little more entitledly, with their finger pads on their tables. The promoters are dancing with the models and the waitresses are dancing with the bottles and everybody finds a place on the floor.

The floor people, they are just to fill the place up. The celebrities and the athletes and the tycoons are the ones for whom this world is zealously designed. A rung below in after-work pinstripes are the money guys, the Deutsche guys and the Goldman guys and the no-name hedge-fund guys—the “whales”—guys like that one over there in a Boss suit and John Lobb shoes, standing beside the table that cost him $3,000. Standing very close to it, like a Little Leaguer who wants to steal second but has never done it before. This gentleman’s not dancing, but he’s thinking about it.

There’s quite a lot to the article. A fascinating piece of reporting.

5. Palin 2012. Chris Bowers makes the argument for why Sarah will win if she runs.

6. Mailer’s Wife. Alex Witchell profiles Norris Church Mailer, Norman Mailer’s final wife, whose story moved me as I read of it:

John Buffalo Mailer [stepson of Norris:] “People are their best selves and worst selves intermittently,” he told me, “and the best marriages navigate that ride over the hurt, which I believe they did right to the end. They both had options, and at the end of the day the life they created together won out over infidelity, illness and hard times…”

7. Complex Business Models. Clay Shirsky:

One of the interesting questions about Tainter’s thesis is whether markets and democracy, the core mechanisms of the modern world, will let us avoid complexity-driven collapse, by keeping any one group of elites from seizing unbroken control. This is, as Tainter notes in his book, an open question. There is, however, one element of complex society into which neither markets nor democracy reach—bureaucracy.

Bureaucracies temporarily reverse the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In a bureaucracy, it’s easier to make a process more complex than to make it simpler, and easier to create a new burden than kill an old one.

Read the rest.

[Image by me.]

Which Party Is More Wingnutty?

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Michelle Cottle in The New Republic:

As the economy recovers, the level of public anger and panic will fall. That’s just the way things work. But even in fat economic times, there remain plenty of angry, scared, even paranoid people around, and these people need a place to come together and be heard. For a while now, the Republican Party has tended to be that place. [my emphasis]

Cottle makes the argument that Sarah Palin should become the leader of the Tea Party – and she makes more of it than I would guess could be made.

But the above point both struck me as true – and as something controversial that I couldn’t back up by citing to any sources or surveys.

Judging the truth or falsity of this statement would in the end have to come down to the precise meaning of “For a while now…” Certainly since Obama has become president this would be true – as it is always true that people who are “angry, scared, even paranoid” tend to gravitate towards the opponents of those in power. But my impression is that the “angry, scared, even paranoid” tended to be on the right even during the Bush years – though their leftist equivalents increased in number during that time.

I would guess that many of those to my right would see the opposite however. I think the argument can be made convincingly that the wingnuts of the right are wackier and more numerous than the wingnuts of the left. I don’t remember anywhere near the levels of support for such extreme statements as these about President Bush for example. But how can one measure which party attracts more wingnuts overall?

Any suggestions or comments would be appreciated.

Our Unhinged Debate on Health Care Reform (cont.)

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Ezra Klein:

I don’t want to exaggerate the importance of the death threats being made against congressmen who voted for health-care reform. Nuts are nuts. But there is a danger to the sort of rhetoric the GOP has used over the past few months. When Rep. Devin Nunes begs his colleagues to say “no to socialism, no to totalitarianism and no to this bill”; when Glenn Beck says the bill “is the end of America as you know it”; when Sarah Palin says the bill has “death panels” — that stuff matters.

I remember listening to the debate the night the House passed the Senate bill and the reconciliation fixes. There are a lot of critiques I could imagine folks on the right making of the legislation. “Regulations to define a minimum insurance benefit will impede innovation in low-deductible plans.” “Congress doesn’t have the will to stick to the cost savings, and until they prove able to do so, we can’t pass a new health-care entitlement.” “The health-care system is broken, and adding a new benefit doesn’t make sense outside the context of radical reform, as it will just create a new set of stakeholders who will resist the necessary changes.”

But totalitarianism? Death panels? The end of America as we know it? These critiques aren’t just wrong in their description of a cautious, compromised reform that uses private insurers and spends only 4 percent of what we spend on health care in an average year. They’re shocking in terms of what the speakers believe their colleagues and representatives are willing to do to the American people.

Read the whole thing. This type of post is what makes Ezra Klein a great blogger and a must-read.

How the Media Undermines Civility

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Civility in political discourse is a difficult thing to maintain – as people engage in politics often because they believe strongly in what they are advocating. One of the ways to maintain this is to politely refrain from accusing your opponents of dastardly deeds – and instead, be circumspect and try to make uncontroversial points of agreement that undermine your opponents. For example, when debating the recent Supreme Court decision on corporate political spending, you might plausibly say in the course of argument that, “Without free speech, we would live in tyranny,” or “Attacking the First Amendment is un-American.” While the thrust of your argument may be that your opponents are – given the rest of what you’re saying – undermining the First Amendment, you don’t claim that they are advocating tyranny or are un-American. You don’t call them names, in other words. You criticize their actions as you perceive them. It’s a fine line – but an important one.

However, the news is 24/7, right?

And every minute needs to be filled up with some new scandal, some new story-of-the-day. This is how uncontroversial statements become provocative headlines – specifically provocative headlines that tap into a narrative the public already knows. These provocative headlines then quickly become talking points for someone as they attempt to use the news to push their message. So, for example, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer publish an op-ed in USA Today which – rather uncontroversially – claims:

Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American.

Suddenly, the right wing begins complaining of the McCarthyite push for health care. (Pelosi called the Tea Party crowd “un-American”!!!!)

Now, again, John Brennan, Deputy National Security Advisor, writes in an op-ed for USA Today:

Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda. Terrorists are not 100-feet tall. Nor do they deserve the abject fear they seek to instill.

Relatively uncontroversial, you would think. But for those lacking the time to read this short piece, Jake Tapper summarizes it:

WH: Some Critics ‘Serving the Goals of al Qaeda’

Matt Drudge though saw the need to remove a few qualifiers in his big headline of the day:

WHITE HOUSE: OBAMA CRITICS HELPING AL QAEDA

The common thread here is this: in the midst of making an argument, an uncontroversial point is made. News reporters, eager to make their quota of new scandals for the day, remove all qualifiers from the sentence, take only a word or two, and recast the entire argument as pure demonization of the overall target of the piece.

This is one of the essential aspects of the Freak Show that is our Washington news.

——

Of course, some politicians seem to deliberately cross over these lines to make their points. Perhaps I’m biased here – and if so, tell me. But I think there’s a difference in how Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin often talk. At one point, for example, Cheney claimed that:

I think [the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad as a civilian is] likely to give encouragement — aid and comfort — to the enemy.

By rather directly describing the Obama administration’s actions as meeting the legal standard of treason, Cheney seems to be crossing a line. And of course, Sarah Palin famously “asked”:

Our opponent though, is someone who sees America it seems as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country?

I wonder – is it just my bias that makes me see the distinction between these two sets of statements? Or are they clearly of a different sort?

[Image by me and sysop licensed under Creative Commons.]

“To give you that reference, to call you a soldier gives you far too much stature.”

Monday, February 8th, 2010

On Saturday night, Sarah Palin addressed the Tea Party Convention in Tennessee. Her performance recalled her national debut as McCain’s vice presidential nominee – feisty-ness, outrageous accusations leveled with a winning smile, sharper digs at Obama’s character than her muddled criticisms of his policies. But there was a new political confidence – a confidence in her ability to position herself to best catch the prevailing political winds. One of her main lines of attack against Obama was to re-try the Rovian strategy of calling him weak on terrorism:

The events surrounding the Christmas Day plot reflect the kind of thinking that led to September 11th. That…the…threat then, as the USS Cole was attacked,our Embassies were attacked, it was treated like an international crime spree, not like an act of war. We’re seeing that mindset again settle into Washington. That scares me for my children and for your children. Treating this like a mere law enforcement matter places our country at grave risk. Because that’s not how radical Islamic extremists are looking at this. They know we’re at war. And to win that war, we need a Commander-in-Chief, not a professor of law standing at the lectern.

Sarah Palin though isn’t really attacking Barack Obama’s positions on national security directly. He has been rather cautious in moving in the direction she’s attacking him for moving. The person Sarah Palin should be attacking is Judge William Young, who oversaw the trial of shoe bomber Richard Reid. (Republicans across America have recently taken to condemning George W. Bush’s handling of Reid because it was so similar to how Barack Obama handled Abdulmutallab.)  Judge Young confronted Reid –  as well as the government’s prosecutors of Reid. In Court, he eloquently defended the very position Sarah Palin is attempting to paint as “soft” on terrorism: a respect for the Rule of Law, a view of these terrorists as scum unworthy of being honored as warriors. He looked into the face of this terrorist and diminished him and all of his comrades. Young’s remarks are well worth reading (or re-reading.) I’d seem them referenced before and seen quotations – but today I finally read the transcript. (H/t Andrew Sullivan.)

We are not afraid of any of your terrorist co-conspirators, Mr. Reid. We are Americans. We have been through the fire before. There is all too much war talk here. And I say that to everyone with the utmost respect.

Here in this court where we deal with individuals as individuals, and care for individuals as individuals, as human beings we reach out for justice.

You are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist. You are not a soldier in any war. You are a terrorist. To give you that reference, to call you a soldier gives you far too much stature. Whether it is the officers of government who do it or your attorney who does it, or that happens to be your view, you are a terrorist.

And we do not negotiate with terrorists. We do not treat with terrorists. We do not sign documents with terrorists.

We hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice.

So war talk is way out of line in this court. You’re a big fellow. But you’re not that big. You’re no warrior. I know warriors. You are a terrorist. A species of criminal guilty of multiple attempted murders.

In a very real sense Trooper Santiago had it right when first you were taken off that plane and into custody and you wondered where the press and where the TV crews were and you said you’re no big deal. You’re no big deal.

What your counsel, what your able counsel and what the equally able United States attorneys have grappled with and what I have as honestly as I know how tried to grapple with, is why you did something so horrific. What was it that led you here to this courtroom today? I have listened respectfully to what you have to say. And I ask you to search your heart and ask yourself what sort of unfathomable hate led you to do what you are guilty and admit you are guilty of doing.

And I have an answer for you. It may not satisfy you. But as I search this entire record it comes as close to understanding as I know.

It seems to me you hate the one thing that to us is most precious. You hate our freedom. Our individual freedom. Our individual freedom to live as we choose, to come and go as we choose, to believe or not believe as we individually choose.

Here, in this society, the very winds carry freedom. They carry it everywhere from sea to shining sea. It is because we prize individual freedom so much that you are here in this beautiful courtroom. So that everyone can see, truly see that justice is administered fairly, individually, and discretely.

It is for freedom’s seek that your lawyers are striving so vigorously on your behalf and have filed appeals, will go on in their, their representation of you before other judges. We care about it. Because we all know that the way we treat you, Mr. Reid, is the measure of our own liberties.

Make no mistake though. It is yet true that we will bear any burden; pay any price, to preserve our freedoms.

Look around this courtroom. Mark it well. The world is not going to long remember what you or I say here. Day after tomorrow it will be forgotten. But this, however, will long endure. Here, in this courtroom, and courtrooms all across America, the American people will gather to see that justice, individual justice, justice, not war, individual justice is in fact being done.

The very President of the United States through his officers will have to come into courtrooms and lay out evidence on which specific matters can be judged, and juries of citizens will gather to sit and judge that evidence democratically, to mold and shape and refine our sense of justice.

See that flag, Mr. Reid? That’s the flag of the United States of America. That flag will fly there long after this is all forgotten. That flag still stands for freedom. You know it always will. Custody, Mr. Officer. Stand him down.

Young’s obvious strategic confidence in America, in our strength and in the resiliency of our way of life, demonstrates how weak-kneed the preemptive surrender advocated by Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney is in comparison.

[Image by Kamal H. licensed under Creative Commons.]

Political Number Games

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

A more proper post coming later, but for the moment, I wanted to provide you with two graphs and one poll result.

First, from the always insightful Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com, who points out that all these polls touting the fact that Americans are almost evenly split on the health care legislation before Congress, 12% of those counted against the bill are those that want it to move farther to the left:

By “left,” Silver means those who think the bill doesn’t go far enough to reform health care – though I suppose those could be people on the right as well. Either way, breaking down the data like this gives a lot more insight than the headline numbers.

Via Andrew Sullivan, an enterprising individual mapped out the “geography of the recession,” with the mounting job losses per county places on a map of the United States and animated over time.

Finally, in a rather misleading piece of analysis, Andrew Malcolm of the LA Times uses recent poll data to suggest that Sarah Palin has a shot in an electoral race against Obama. Rather than looking at head-to-head polling results, he looks at the favorability ratings of Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, and Dick Cheney. He points out that Obama’s are dropping and Palin’s and Cheney’s are rising. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that these last two individuals have no power and thus those favoring them are only supporting the vague promise of an individual. But – on the other hand – this does demonstrate that Palin and Cheney have become the voice of the Republican Party, and does bode well for my prediction that at least one of the two will be on the Republican ticket come 2012. Those suggesting we write them off and ignore them because they represent fringe views are engaging in wishful thinking.

A Unified Theory of Obama

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Last week, Politico’s John F. Harris wrote a story detailing 7 different stories “Obama doesn’t want told.” Its a misleading headline – as it is about anti-Obama memes that Republicans are trying to get the media to cover. Andrew Sullivan takes the set of Republican talking points offered as a news story, observing:

What strikes me about the attacks is how scattershot they are. The right wants to argue both that Obama is a mean-ass Chicago pol and a push-over… The inconsistencies are legion, because, I suspect, Obama’s enemies have yet to get a single, compelling narrative that rings true. They didn’t manage it in the campaign and they have not managed it since. He’s too big and interesting a figure to be caricatured that way. [my emphasis]

I think both Harris and Sullivan have missed something though – a single, compelling narrative that has been developing about Obama, and one that rings true to a significant subset of Americans. I call it the Unified Theory of Obama. It involves several, though not all, of these narratives listed by Harris. Charles Krauthammer wrote the best single synthesis of this theory in a cover piece for The Weekly Standard last month entitled “Decline is a Choice.” The piece was a brilliant example of “the Big Lie” which is plausible only after a leap of faith, but which because of its sheer audacity affects the entire political conversation. The core “insight” Krauthammer offered was that Obama’s liberalism is a deliberate attempt to undermine America’s power in the world both domestically and abroad. Postulating that the decline of American power is a choice, he suggests that Obama is deliberately choosing to make America decline in power.

You can see this narrative coming together if you listen to enough talk radio. See this interview with Rush Limbaughthis article by Charles Krauthammerthis speech, upon which the article was based; this interview with Krathammer; and this profile of Krauthammer in the National Review which oddly is behind a firewall unlike most of National Review‘s content.) You can see the narrative animating the statements of Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, of Charles Krauthammer, of Sean Hannity, and of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck (though these last two also have potential to go off script.)

The narrative goes like this:

This narrative is audacious. And it’s compelling. And it ties so many anti-Obama memes together. It goes well with the ominous music constantly playing on Sean Hannity’s television show. It goes well with the transformation of right wing politics and media into a form of entertainment in which news is presented as if it is the plot of a thriller.* This narrative explains why Obama is popular around the world. (“Europeans like to see the hegemon diminished, and Obama is the perfect man to do that.”) It provides an explanation (about the only plausible one) for why Republicans should be so adamant in their opposition to everything Obama proposes. It provides a storyline that can rally the base behind any alternative candidate. It taps into the inchoate sense that “something’s wrong.” It provides a scapegoat for the end of America’s unipolar moment. Those who feel they are “losing the America they knew” are also given a scapegoat. (“America was once their country. They sense they are losing it. And they are right.”) It plays off of the foundation of anti-Obama attacks from the 2008 campaign – that he was somehow foreign, un-American, radical. The various factual inaccuracies in this narrative are unimportant – because it is fundamentally so at odds with reality that it requires a leap of faith to believe in the first place.

All of these pieces are directed only to the faithful. They aren’t meant for the general public. They are meant to keep the faithful in line. And despite the fact that Krauthammer has articulated this Unified Theory of Obama to the faithful, his columns have not pushed this rather extreme take on the President. Instead, Krauthammer chips away at Obama with smaller pieces attacking this and that, while for the sake of each column conceding that Obama might not be an anti-American radical intent on destroying the nation, as he tries to get the public to see this bigger picture one piece at a time.

This, I believe, is the narrative that the next Republican nominee will carry into the 2012 election in some form. I believe it will founder specifically because most Americans will balk at someone characterizing the president as anti-American. But Krauthammer and his allies have several years to try to figure out how to sell this message – how to convince a majority of Americans to accept it, or barring that how to rally the base using it while keeping it away from the rest of us. And The Weekly Standard has already determined the logical proponent of this Unified Theory of Obama, the logical response to Obama’s “new liberalism – someone to carry Republicans to victory in 2012 by leading a “new populist” movement:

Someone who will give voice to the millions who don’t want government aggrandizing the powerful; who don’t want government risking dangerous fiscal imbalances; who do want public policies that create the conditions for a general prosperity. Someone, in other words, who can play the same role in contemporary politics that Jackson, Bryan, and Reagan did in the past.

She lives in Alaska.

Edit: Two other “unified theories of Obama” that are more sympathetic can be found in Jonathan Chait’s description of Obama using civility and respect as political weapons and in Andrew Sullivan’s description of Obama as a Road Runner constantly inducing his opponents to overstep a la Wile E. Coyote.

[Image not subject to copyright.]

*Not my own idea. It’s from a piece in The New Republic from this November which I can’t find online. Update: The piece by Jason Zengerle is now online.

Limbaugh claims Obama is a radical leftist because he supports programs Republicans proposed a generation ago.

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Charles Krauthammer, and other right wingers have begun to converge on a unified theory of Obama – a systematic critique of who he is, what he stands for, and what he is trying to do. Part of this theory – one of the core themes being developed – is that Obama is the most far left American leader ever. Rush Limbaugh expresses this as well as anyone – and I’ve spliced together two clips from his interview this past Sunday with Fox News. (Full interview here.)

Let’s take two of these quotes out for a moment:

We’ve never seen such radical leadership at such a high level of power…

I don’t know of any Republican who would try to take over one sixth of the U.S. economy. I don’t know one Republican who would put forth this…this…irresponsible cap and trade bill. I don’t know one Republican who would actually do that.

To understand why this is such a bizarre thing to say you need to look at some history.  It illustrates what I mean when I call the Republican Party and the right wing – and much of our public debate as it attempts to find the middle ground between the right and left – unhinged. Take a minute to look at the history of the policy proposals regarding the two examples Limbaugh cites – health care and cap and trade.

Health Care

The plans moving through Congress now have an historical precedent in most of their aspects in the two serious Republican attempts to reform health care after LBJ’s introduction of Medicare and Medicaid – Richard Nixon’s health care proposal in 1974 and the Dole-Chafee bill in 1993. Between the two bills, they contained a technocratic institution to reign in health care spending by looking at medical practices – similar to the IMAC that Sarah Palin called a death panel (Richard Nixon’s proposal); an individual mandate, an extension of Medicaid eligibility (the Dole-Chafee plan); an end to insurance industry abuses – for example, banning people with preexisting conditions, subsidies or vouchers for individuals who couldn’t afford health insurance to purchase it, and the creation of a standard minimum level of benefits for health insurance plans (both plans.)

Those who developed the base model that of health care reform now – used these models as the base onto which they grafted a health insurance exchange and a public option. They combined market forces with decentralized decision-making – the exchange on which private companies would offer health insurance – with a more top-down centralized approach – the public option which would compete with the private companies. Clearly, though the plan is distinctly liberal, it was developed by people who have a deep appreciation for some of the central conservative critiques of government planning and New Deal/Great Society-style liberalism. The plan is also clever politically – as a great majority of the American people, in their wisdom, see great value in having a choice between public option and a private one. Michael F. Cannon of the libertarian Cato Institute accidentally justified the rationale behind this popular sentiment:

Any payment system creates perverse incentives…which is why we need competition between different payment systems to temper the excesses of each.

Unlike the Dole-Chafee bill which sought to undermine the current system with the hope that something else would develop, the plans working through Congress now are more conservative as they seek to preserve the status quo while introducing an alternative model that people could opt into if it works.

You wonder how far to the right the Republican Party Rush imagines is if he claims he doesn’t know any Republican who would propose anything like this.

How about Mitt Romney, Bob Dole (who incidentally endorsed a version of the bill currently moving forward), Richard Nixon?

The one thing that makes this plan distinctly liberal is the public option. Yet, if anyone believes that after dropping it, the Republicans would support a health care bill, they haven’t been paying attention.

(For more on the similarities on health care, see this post from yesterday.)

Cap and Trade

On climate change, the story is even more dramatic.

Cap and trade started out as a hair-brained scheme to solve the problem of acid rain thought up by a Reagan administration lawyer, C. Boyden Gray. Environmentalists and liberals hated the idea. They saw it as a license to pollute, a “morally bankrupt” “license to kill,” or more reasonably as a “scheme for polluters to buy their way our of fixing the problem.” They preferred the more “command-and-control” approach of top-down regulation. Regulators resisted the idea – as it forced them to surrender “regulatory power to the marketplace.” Industry opposed it, claiming it “was going to shut the economy down.”

But George H. W. Bush thought that free market principles could realign the incentives to fix this problem – and he wanted to placate the Canadians who were bearing the brunt of the acid rain.

So he pushed through a cap and trade scheme to eliminate acid rain over these strong objections. It beat all expectations. Eventually environmentalists came around and industry continued to thrive. This Republican success on solving a major environmental issue without top-down regulation made cap and trade a popular, bipartisan idea. Eventually, Bill Clinton saw it as a way to tackle global warming. But as a significant minority of Republicans continued to question whether or not global warming was real and whether or not it was man-made (along with every other scientifically moot question that industries raised) any possible deal was postponed. Still, as late as 2008, the Senate had strong bipartisan support for a cap and trade program – with Joe Lieberman and John McCain taking the lead. Now McCain is a major opponent of the cap and trade legislation, complaining about the lack of support for nuclear reactors in the bill as a reason to oppose it. This when as late as a year ago, he reiterated his statements of the past eight years in saying that global warming demanded “urgent attention” – that we must “act quickly” to “dramatically reduce our carbon emissions” with a “cap-and-trade” program.

As I said regarding health care, if anyone thinks that McCain will come around to support this legislation that is so similar to what he supported as essential a year ago if the Democrats just tossed some more money into nuclear energy, then you haven’t been paying attention. McCain will likely start calling it a “power grab” and a “government takeover” of the world, echoing Cheney and Krauthammer by the time the bill is up for a vote.

Conclusion

In both cases, Republicans proposed ideas based on core conservative principles – on a respect for the free market, on avoiding rapid change, on avoiding top-down regulation. And now Democrats led by Barack Obama have taken up these proposals – amending them somewhat to take into account liberal ideas such as a distrust of large corporations and a concern for community goods – hoping to pass bipartisan legislation.

What they are met with instead is screams of “Socialism!” and “Government takeover!” and “Unprecedented!” “Attacks on liberty!” and “Why do you hate America?”