Tuesday, July 30, 2013

IRS Scandal Isn’t “Phony” (I)

Larry O'Brien            Karl Rove
“we have learned from the IRS scandal. . . that sports journalists are morally superior to political journalists. Whereas the former understand that cheating is an assault on the basic integrity of the sport, the latter all too often treat it as if it were just part of the game.”

--James Tarnato, Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal has clamped onto the IRS Scandal the same way the Washington Post pursued Watergate 41 years ago. It won’t let go. Here’s the Journal’s Peggy Noonan recently brushing aside liberal efforts to bury the scandal:
“Documents Show Liberals in I.R.S. Dragnet," read the New York Times headline. "Dem: 'Progressive' Groups Were Also Targeted by IRS," said U.S. News. The scandal has "evaporated into thin air," bayed the excitable Andrew Sullivan. [Yet a]ccording to a House Ways and Means Committee source, only seven of the 298 cases flagged by the IRS for extra scrutiny appeared to represent progressive causes. Not one of the seven was subject to harassment or abuse.
Of the seven, only two were even sent follow-up questionnaires after their applications for tax exempt status were received. Neither of those two was asked inappropriate or invasive questions. And all seven saw their applications approved. Conservative groups were treated differently, sent to a secondary review group after being flagged for scrutiny. They were subject to undue burdens and harassment—lengthy and invasive questions about donors and even prayer habits. There, in the secondary offices, some of them languished for years. "Some of them are still languishing,"
Noonan further noted that when the non-political IRS inspector general replied, “no, it was conservative groups that were targeted,” he ran into a liberal backlash.

The IRS attacks on conservative groups stemmed from President Obama’s distress, as we earlier stated, with the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United ruling in January 2010 allowing for unlimited private funding of election attacks. The “king” complains, the minions scurry to respond.

All the way down the IRS chain of command. The Journal’s Eliana Johnson has found the IRS acted within a month of the president’s expressed displeasure with Citizen’s United:
[John] Shafer, the manager of an IRS screening group in the Cincinnati office, told committee investigators that in February 2010 [emphasis added] one of his employees brought a tea-party application for nonprofit designation to his attention. Given the media coverage that the tea party was receiving, Shafer deemed the application a "high profile" matter and alerted his managers to its existence. Shortly thereafter, according to his testimony, lawyers in the IRS's Washington, D.C., office said, "We want to look at the case."
On the evidence of the Washington office's interest in that initial case, Shafer said IRS agents in Cincinnati then held the applications of tea-party groups until they were given "further direction" from D.C. The IRS interviews suggest that the agency's officials in Washington closely controlled the review of tea-party cases.
The Journal’s Kim Strassel reports that six months later, in August 2010, the IRS issued its first "Be On the Lookout" (“BOLO”) list, flagging applications that used key conservative words and issues. Strassel added, “the criteria would expand in the months to come.” Then September 22, 2010 in New York City, Obama warned that conservative groups "pose as non-for-profit, social welfare and trade groups," even though they are "guided by seasoned Republican political operatives."

Obama was talking about Karl Rove, one-time Bush top political operative known as “Bush’s brain.” Obama didn't want Rove, who helped create the Republican anonymous-donor fundraising group “Crossroads GPS,” damaging Obama’s re-election campaign. Obama’s concern paralleled that of Richard Nixon during Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign. Nixon feared Larry O’Brien, the Democratic Partly leader whose skills in 1968 almost overcame the tremendous odds against a very damaged Hubert Humphrey.  O’Brien nearly grabbed the election out of Nixon’s hands.  That memory lead Nixon to attempt bugging O’Brien’s Watergate offices in 1972.


Power corrupts.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ruth “Let us sip chardonnay!” Marcus Defends Nation’s Besotted Capital

Ruth Marcus
Washingtonians live different than the rest of us, as this blog has documented. It’s an insular world happy to cocktail among themselves, because they’re the only ones who matter anyway. Think I exaggerate? Just listen to the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus:
I'll probably regret this, but here goes: I write today in defense of [Washington’s] coziness. My text is Mark Leibovich's This Town, his delicious indictment of inside-the-Beltway incestuousness in its various manifestations.
Washington's [metric] is power, a measure that coexists uneasily with democracy and its noble aspirations.
Comment: Marcus is claiming for her town both democracy and nobility.
the coziness that Leibovich condemns is not as nefarious or as corrupting as he would have you believe. Washington is a better place, populated by more people dedicated to public service and public policy. . .
Comment: Oh, not so “nefarious or as corrupting”? How reassuring. But “a better place”--elitist talk--“dedicated to public service and public policy”? These are phrases meant to reassure a nervous power- and money-based Washington elite. They certainly don’t reassure us; we know better.
Leibovich decries [coziness] between journalists and government officials, its iconic apogee [a] Georgetown party [hosted] by the [Washington Post’s] Ben Bradlee/Sally Quinn [power couple.] I've spent far more evenings serving chicken fingers in Bethesda than sipping chardonnay in Georgetown.
Comment: First, Marcus slips in the fact she lives in Bethesda, one of Washington’s wealthiest suburbs. Second, nobody actually spends more time at Georgetown parties than eating (and sipping chardonnay) at small dinners, restaurants, or at home, so “straw man” = weak argument.
developing relationships of trust and confidence with sources ends up benefiting readers, not harming them. Off-the-record conversations offer insights that ambush interviews deny. You get a sense of the complexities of governmental decision-making. You get a glimpse of an officeholder's intellect and mindset. You learn who to trust, and who to avoid.
Comment: “ambush interviews”? Marcus is slandering the work of true reporters such as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, workers who gave the Washington Post the high reputation off of which Marcus now trades. She praises “the complexities of government decision-making”--which to me sound like a fancy excuse for Washington’s getting nothing done. And Marcus adds that she and her friends, over sips of chardonnay, look for officeholders of high “intellect” and sound “mindset”--fellow liberals one can “trust,” as well as conservatives one should “avoid.”
We journalists could, in theory, live . . . quarantined from casual contact with the people we cover, insisting that our children go to separate, journalist-only schools.
Comment: Thank you, Marcus, for that tidbit. I wouldn’t otherwise have suspected how important it was for journalists and the official elite to send their children to the same (exclusive) schools. The town’s more incestuous than even I thought.
Obama famously banned lobbyists from his administration. . . but guess what? Obama could have benefited from more lobbyists -- that is to say, more expertise about how Washington works -- not fewer.
Comment: Double, triple groan! A crass defense of Washington’s revolving door, something folks outside the beltway uniformly detest. So amazing how brazen Marcus is in defending Washington corruption.
people. . . go into government because that is where they truly want to spend their time and talent; the private sector pays tuition bills.
Comment: Translation--one needs the revolving door, alternation between public office and K Street lobbying, to pay the extraordinary but obligatory Harvard or Dartmouth tuitions the elite’s children must have. This is bogus. Government salaries are high enough, especially with both spouses working, to pay any tuition, but Washington’s elite actually live much larger, filling out their Michelin 3-star restaurant cards, owning summer homes in Tuscany, and wintering in Aspen, St. Moritz, or St. Barts.
Leibovich complains that Washington, "far from being hopelessly divided, is in fact hopelessly interconnected." But . . . this town -- suffers less from a surfeit of coziness than from a yawning deficit thereof.
 Comment: Gee folks, they aren’t incestuous enough yet?!


Monday, July 22, 2013

No More Race-Baiting; America Needs Jobs

Democrats, a coalition led by the bosses of America’s elite institutions—the media, government, non-profits, arts and entertainment, finance, and much of big business—constantly searches for issues that, even as the economy flounders, will hold tight its foot soldiers; they from the ranks of self-conscious minorities, women who see politics through the prism of their sex, unsophisticated youth in search of revolution, and civil servants and their unions. It’s the leaders and the led, the nobility and the pawns. The coalition works only as long as Democratic leaders keep turning up issues that strike fear into their foot soldiers’ hearts.

Race is the most important single issue keeping minorities voting Democratic, while appealing to women-as-victims threatened by white male Republicans, and grabbing onto youthful idealism. But as we suggested earlier, on race, Democrats are much like their old Southern Democratic ancestors. In the old days, Southern Democrats used race to keep poor whites (“crackers,” “red necks,” “poor white trash”) voting for the old plantation white Democratic elite and against the poor’s own economic interests. Democrats’ current enemy is no longer “the Colored folks,” today it's the white male GOP.  Focus fear/hatred on that enemy, and Democrats can hang on while failing to deliver jobs, even as the old South failed to deliver economic growth.

For America to improve, the battleground has to shift away from worn-out Democratic appeals to racial fears.  It must move toward Republican-prompted hopes for jobs: jobs for minorities (see 50-year-old picture above), jobs for women and their men, and jobs for youth. Minorities, youth, and unmarried women no longer suffer because of race, they suffer by being in the wrong class--the dependent class, the class below the class of productive workers on the road to owning a home and to economic security--the middle class.

If you still don't think Obama is about race, not economic uplift, take a look at the results of this Georgetown study of how much attention our presidents have given poverty over the last 50 years:
Lyndon B. Johnson, architect of the 1960s "War on Poverty," was most apt, among the modern presidents, to mention the poor in some form or fashion: 84% of the time he made reference to any economic class. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter came next, with both mentioning the underclass approximately three-quarters of the time. Presidents Ford, Reagan, and George W. Bush all rated in the mid-to-high 60s, with Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton not far behind. George Herbert Walker Bush, the study found, was apt to speak about the poor fully half the time. Only then -- dead last in the Georgetown rankings -- comes Barack Obama, who mentions the nation's least well-off only 26% of the time.
Race or Jobs. Which issue will it be for you?  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

2012 Election: Minorities Mattered

"In diagnosing the problems they experienced in 2012, why are Republicans looking at race and ethnicity? Whose ideas is that? Is it their idea? And is that the most obvious path to fixing the problem?"

--Jay Cost Weekly Standard

There is a hullaballoo surrounding the immigration legislation debate, and it revolves around race and elections. We earlier discussed the white vote’s impact on the 2012 elections. Regarding whites v. minorities, conservative numbers guy Sean Trende recently wrote:
in November 2010, Democrats won only 38% of the white vote. . . it was probably the worst showing among whites, at least as presently defined, for any major party dating back to 1822. Two years later, in a more favorable environment, Democrats still managed only 40% of the white vote.
To win in 2012, the GOP could have tried to improve its share of this Hispanic vote by 21 points. But we have to understand that the same result [could have been] achieved if the Democratic share of the white vote [had declined a] further . . . 3 points. . . The Democrats are reaping the benefits of our increased diversity. But they’re paying it back with an increasingly poor showing among whites.
My experience in Hawaii, America’s most nonwhite state, along with what I know about California’s turn from a swing state to heavily Democratic from 1992 onward as whites declined proportionally into minority status, tells me race is highly significant in determining voting patterns. Republicans at their peril ignore this reality, as they seem to have done in 2012. The most important fact about Obama is that he is America’s first non-white president. And it’s why Obama did so overwhelmingly well among minority voters.

How well? According to a Census report, flawed because people self-reporting tend to overstate their participation in past elections, 66.2% of eligible blacks voted in the 2012 election, compared with 64.1% of eligible non-Hispanic whites. Those figures would indicate an estimated two million fewer white Americans voted in 2012 than in 2008, just as about 1.8 million more blacks went to the polls, and exit polls showed more than 90% of them voting to re-elect Obama.

Sarah Wheaton, the New York Times reporter who provided the above facts, quoted Michael Blake, who ran "Operation Vote," the Obama campaign’s effort to reach out to black and minority voters. Blake said, “In 2008, we changed the guard. In 2012, we guard the change.”

According to Wheaton, the overall turnout rate nationwide was 61.8% in 2012, down from 63.6% four years earlier. In 2012, 73.7% of voters were white, Blacks 13.4%, Hispanics 8.4%, Asians 2.9%. Women voted at a rate 4% higher than men. Among blacks, the gap was 9%.  The Census report, linked to the article, gave the Hispanic vote turnout at 48.0% (down from 49.9% in 2008), and the Asian vote turnout as 47.3% (down from 47.6%).

As long as politics remains racial, Republicans are in trouble. Their image as the white party is firmly set and based upon a racial divide that worked well for the GOP from 1968 through 2004. Life for every minority person in the U.S. is harder, in ways only minorities appreciate. In any national contest between white male Republicans and a minority or female Democrat, minorities will tend, I believe, to side with the Democrat.

Maybe a white only strategy can work in 2014 or even 2016. But Republicans would be smarter to pull Hispanic and Asian votes away from Democrats by nominating a minority candidate and supporting real immigration reform, while remaining true to their philosophy advocating smaller, more efficient government.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Crazy Good Stock Market; Crazy Bad Jobs Picture

U.S. stocks on Friday recorded a third week of gains, with the Dow industrials and the S&P 500 both hitting their highest closes ever. The Dow climbed to 15,464, and the S&P 500 rose to 1,680. Up for a seventh session in its longest winning stretch since July 2011, the Nasdaq hit 3,600. The Nasdaq is the highest it has been since it was sinking fast in late 2000 from its March 2000 all-time peak of 5,049, recorded during the truly crazy dot.com bubble.

The market first moved into outer space in May, reaching escape velocity by soaring above market theoretical limits of a Dow of 15,000, an S&P 500 of 1,600, and a NASDAQ of 3,500--a total of 20,100. These thresholds represent the limits beyond which our New FOX Index sails. Now with the Nasdaq blasting past its 3,500 atmospheric limit by 100 points, we for the first time on a sustained basis have all three components of the Index outside the atmosphere--by a total at present of +644 (see chart).

Back on the ground, the picture is far bleaker. Nicholas Eberstadt holds the Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute. Eberstadt finds American real per capita output still well below its six-years-ago level. On its current track, it will be another year or more before per capita output returns to pre-recession levels, to say nothing of showing any long-term growth.  For our actual economy, Eberstadt says, we are looking at a "lost decade":
the labor market. . . is basically a disaster, a crisis far worse than most commentators and policymakers seem to recognize, and with no clear prospects for appreciable improvement over the near-term horizon. Simply put, work in America has in large measure collapsed-and a recovery worthy of the name is nowhere in sight.
Eberstadt writes that if we look at the employment-to-population ratio,
there has been no "recovery" whatever . . . since the Great Recession. Quite the contrary: the employment ratio today appears to be stuck at the same awful level recorded in early 2010--the worst level for more than a generation.
if our national employment ratio today were as high as in early 2000, when this measure reached its zenith, about 15 million more Americans would be working today. And remember: over 10 million of today's men and women with jobs are working fewer hours than they want to--well over twice as many as in early 2000. When we look at the jobs problem this way, we see it is vastly bigger than the official unemployment rate implies.
Eberstadt zeros in on the core problem of our falling employment rate: men out of work (see chart). The male employment ratio reached its peak in the early 1950s; since then, it has taken an almost relentless descent. While the ratio is now at its lowest point, the decline of men at work has unfolded over decades. In the past 60 years, the employment ratio for adult men has collapsed by 20%. So had America's male employment ratios remained at their Eisenhower-era levels, well over 20 million more men would be working today. In 1953, just 14% of adult men were out of the labor force. Today 30% of men are neither working nor seeking work--nearly one in three.

This means, Eberstadt tells us, a large share of working-age Americans are checking out of paid labor altogether. For in today’s America, no work at all is neither unthinkable nor unaffordable, even for adults in the prime of life.

As the stock market booms, Eberstadt warns that:
America's leadership [isn’t paying] serious attention to the collapse of work in modern America. This is an egregious oversight. Our long-term social, political, and economic health all depend upon redressing this critical flaw.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

2012 Election: The White Vote

Journalism celebrates the "five Ws" but a secret of our profession is that many of us disdain the fifth W—"why"—as if accurate analysis is somehow woolly and inferior to accurate transcription of simple facts like "who," "what," "when" and "where."

 --Holman Jenkins, Wall Street Journal

Why? Why did Barack Obama win reelection in an economy with unemployment at the time stuck at 7.9%? Three days after the election, I offered the simple explanation--lousy candidate. Romney, the rich white guy, lacked the common touch (Jack Kemp’s "People don't care what you know until they know you care"), and was crippled because Romneycare left him unable to attack Obamacare. Much later, we realized that Romney couldn’t even capitalize on the 9.11 Benghazi debacle. His bungled hasty response both to what happened in Benghazi and a few hours earlier in Cairo left him incapable of going on the attack.

Ugh. Romney. But as election day faded, the size of Obama’s victory grew until it reached 5 million votes, a 3.9% margin. The election wasn’t even close. The president won decisively with unemployment still at 7.9%.

Why, indeed? Recently, we seized on Obama’s superior use of advanced technology, and that is part of the victory picture. Technology is an outgrowth of the tremendous advantage incumbent presidents enjoy over their opponents--they have years to build a massive reelection machine. But books are written about presidential election victories; winners usually offer more than one or two reasons.

Obama’s coalition linking youth, unmarried women, and minorities to a liberal, government-connected national elite totals a potential 60% of voters, as we have said for years. So faced with this massive coalition on the attack, why did Romney’s support among whites actually decline instead of generating an equal, opposite response?

Karl Rove writes that Census Bureau estimates show that 100,042,000 whites voted in 2008 but only 98,041,000 did in 2012. Meanwhile, the nonwhite vote as a share of total voters has increased in every presidential election since 1996 by 2% (much of it Hispanic) while the share of the white vote has dropped by 2% each election. Rove says Republicans must improve not only their performance among Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian-Americans, they must also turn out more white voters.

Sean Trende, in “RealClearPolitics,” has examined the white vote in greater detail. He says that from mid-2008 to mid-2012, the number of whites of voting age increased by 3 million. Assuming “new” voters would vote at a 55% rate, the number of white votes cast should have increased by 1.6 million between 2008 and 2012. But unlike Rove’s estimated 2 million drop in white voters, Trende believes there were 5 million fewer white votes in 2012 than in 2008. When you add in the expected growth in white potential voters, the actual difference between what was and what could have been comes out to a whopping 6.5 million.

Trende says these voters
were largely downscale, Northern, rural whites. In other words, H. Ross Perot voters. . . That coalition was strongest with secular, blue-collar, often rural voters who were turned off by Bill Clinton’s perceived liberalism and George H.W. Bush’s elitism. They were largely concentrated in the North and Mountain West.
[Perot] was . . . fiercely populist . . . on economics. He was a deficit hawk, favoring tax hikes on the rich to help balance the budget. He was staunchly opposed to illegal immigration as well as to free trade. He advocated more spending on education, and even Medicare-for-all.
Given the overall demographic and political orientation of these voters, one can see why they would stay home rather than vote for an urban liberal like President Obama or a severely pro-business venture capitalist like Mitt Romney.
Trende believes that had these whites been forced to vote, they’d have broken 70-30 for Romney. That alone would have shrunk Obama’s margin to 1.8%, in sight of a GOP path to victory, and in line with national polls.

Trende has also focused on an important subset of the white vote--white youth. In 2012, young white voters trended more heavily Republican than any other racial group, and were responsible for most of Romney’s improvement with whites vis-à-vis McCain. In 2008 white youth were 28 points more Democratic than older voters. Today they are 12 points more Democratic--a dramatic 16 point drop.

Why? For one group perhaps, a sick economy was 2012’s major issue.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Obama Approval Sinks

President Obama’s approval/disapproval index is back to where it was in 2010-11. In the “RealClearPolitics” average, Obama’s current net of -4.8% is lower then it has been since December 2011, 19 months ago. In the July 2010 to December 2011 period, Obama mostly had net negative approval ratings, as the economy struggled with no real signs of a turnaround. Unproductive battles with Congress kept legislative branch ratings in the basement--as they are now--but didn’t help Obama.

Obama’s ratings were up twice in the 2010-11 period (see chart), first when he showed national leadership in January 2011 after a mentally-unstable person nearly killed former congresswoman Gabby Giffords (D-AZ), and again in May 2011 after U.S. forces killed al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden. But both times, ratings fell back into negative territory.

As the Republican primary campaign involving Mitt Romney picked up steam in January 2012, a development that helped draw Democrats “home,” Obama’s ratings started upward, peaking after the election at +12.4% last December 21. There has been a steady decline since. Yet Obama is still well above his all-time low of - 10.2%, hit on August 29, 2011.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Mad Men still lives.

Ed Kilgore
Ed Kilgore, in the liberal Washington Monthly, offers evidence the left is currently ideologically bankrupt, holding onto power through sheer inertia. For liberals, the “bad old days” of segregation were really the “good old days” of leading the nation in a truly moral cause. Mad Men, by returning to the 1960s, invoked the “bad old days” to imply the fight for equality remains unfulfilled, a spirit Kilgore pushes in his article.

We previously reviewed the three 50-year historical periods since the Civil War's 1863 Gettysburg battle and the Emancipation Proclamation. The first 50 years culminated in the 1913 Gettysburg great encampment of Union and Confederate Civil War veterans blessed by Democrat Woodrow Wilson, our progressive-segregationist president. It was a time when white males North and South advanced or accepted Jim Crow “separate but equal” laws that kept blacks “in their place.”

In the post-Civil War's second half-century’s second half, 1938 to 1963, America went from 0 to 60 to bring blacks into the national mainstream: Eleanor Roosevelt hosted black opera singer Marian Anderson’s concert on the National Mall (1939), Jackie Robinson integrated baseball (1947), Truman integrated the armed forces (1948), the Supreme Court integrated education (1954), Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King integrated the Montgomery, Alabama bus system (1956), Congress passed its first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction (1957), and Eisenhower sent troops to integrate Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas (1957).

Civil rights progress roared through the 1960s, 100 years after the Civil War, with sit-ins integrating Southern lunch counters (1960), Freedom Riders enduring violence and Southern jails to integrate interstate bus travel (1961), James Meredith, backed by Federal troops, integrating the University of Mississippi (1962), and after police violence against children in Birmingham, Alabama drew national horror, 200,000 people marched on Washington to hear Martin Luther King proclaiming “I have a dream” (1963), leading to King becoming “TIME Man of the Year” and receiving the Nobel Peace Prize (1964), followed by King’s Selma, Alabama march (1965). The civil rights floodgates opened with passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

From 1965 onward, with blacks having achieved equality before the law, liberals began pushing a more-controversial “affirmative action” black preference agenda that generated significant white backlash. Meanwhile the nation politically and culturally was welcoming blacks into the mainstream. Edward Brooke, a Massachusetts Republican, became the first black U.S. Senator since Reconstruction (1966), Martin Luther King’s life and assassination (1968) elevated him to national stature alongside our greatest presidents, and under Republican Ronald Reagan, he received his own national holiday (1983), as one after another, blacks attained appointive and elective office formerly reserved for whites, culminating in Barack Obama’s election as president (2008).

And how American culture changed in the ‘60s! The Supremes became America's most successful vocal group ever with 12 number one singles (1964-69); the Supremes at that time rivaled the Beatles in worldwide popularity. “In the Heat of the Night” won the Oscar for best picture and director in the same year (1967) that “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” was nominated for best picture and won the best actress Oscar. Finally came Elvis Presley, the “good old boy” Southern icon, whose his hit song “In the Ghetto” (1969) demonstrated how fully blacks had won their place in the nation’s heart.

All this progress seems forgotten by Kilgore’s Washington Monthly article. Instead of facts, Kilgore falls back on loaded phrases. Such as

ancient history,” as in:
just 49 years ago Jim Crow was very much alive and as pervasive a feature of southern life for both races as fried food or hot weather or going to church on Sunday. Is 49 years ago ancient history? Well, I haven’t headed off to the nursing home just yet, and I can certainly remember Jim Crow quite vividly.
Comment: Of course “49 years ago” isn’t “ancient history,” but it’s proven to be way more than enough time to bring about the racial equality we currently enjoy.

Kilgore then uses the loaded phrase

wandering attention,” as in
The entire history of race relations in the South has been a story of racists taking the long view and outlasting the wandering attention span of those demanding change—who out of fatigue or competing priorities or their own prejudices “got over it” and left the South to its own devices.
Comment: Kilgore’s “wandering attention” is a grossly inaccurate reference to white Democrats’ deliberate embrace of Jim Crow Southern segregation in the Civil War’s aftermath, 1865-1938, an embrace that earned them a solid Southern base but mostly minority status nationally as white Republicans generally maintained control elsewhere (see V.O. Key’s Southern Politics in State and Nation).

Kilgore finally uses the loaded phrase

beyond a doubt,” as in
Can I prove beyond a doubt that such contemporary phenomena as the refusal to accept an almost completely federally financed expansion of Medicaid by all but one state of the former Confederacy is mainly about race? No, but anyone who claims it’s not at all about race is either willfully ignorant or has succumbed to the anti-racism-is-the-real-racism brain fever that is today’s version of “separate but equal.”
Comment: Race? Medicaid non-participating states include 8 from the South, plus Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Maine, and Pennsylvania--19 total. 5 Southern or border states are participating in some fashion. No, Kilgore, you can’t prove in any way that opposition is race-based; it’s about opposition to Federal mandates.

Kilgore, as you say, “get over it.”

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

“The Civil War” and “Mad Men” (Part II)

Matt Weiner describes his new show, Mad Men, as "science fiction" -- but in the past. [J]ust as science fiction often uses a future world to say things about the present you can't say directly, his show uses the overtly sexist and racist atmosphere of a 1960 New York advertising office to talk about issues that persist today but that we are too "polite" to talk about openly.

--“AlterNet,” 8.23.07

There you have it. Mad Men is a voice out of the 1960s telling us we are still racist. It’s a serious charge, seriously offered, and conservatives don’t like hearing it one bit. As the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger writes,
That times change and society can adapt to those changes for the better is an admired habit of the United States. But in the matter [of] racism—some segments of American liberalism won't let it go. In this liberal reading, there can be no forgiveness. Only the possibility of legal retribution. Forever. Yes, a civil war was fought. It ended in 1865. The Voting Rights Act passed in 1965. Because this is the United States, it is time to move on.
Still, there it is. Look at how reaction to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder split along partisan lines. The court held Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, meaning that 48 years later, 9 southern states no longer need advance federal approval before changing their election procedures. Jeff Jacoby, in the Boston Globe, says:
The defeat of Jim Crow is one of the great progressive triumphs of American history. But to hear the outraged critics, you’d think the court had just thrown the door open to a revival of poll taxes and literacy tests. . . an emotional John Lewis, who was on the front lines of the civil rights struggle in the 1960s and is now a congressman from Georgia, blast[ed] the court for plunging “a dagger” into black political emancipation. . . The gains made by freed slaves during Reconstruction “were erased in a few short years.” Lewis is sure it could happen again.
The return of Reconstruction? Really? What we do know is that part of America wants to prolong the Civil War well into the 21st century.

And Mad Men is making its contribution.  Listen to NPR’s Lisa Chow:
Mad Men depicts the 1960s advertising world of Madison Avenue in a way that is pretty close to reality: very white and very male.
And the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about Mad Men’s lead character that Donald Draper was “racist. Indeed, it would be inaccurate to the period to present him as not having racist views, yet achieving that level of success."

Racist and sexist. The civil rights revolution of the 1960s folded into the drive for women’s equality. To relive the terible-wonderful, heady days of America’s fight for black and female equal treatment, immerse yourself in Mad Men, a television series filled with stark examples of what we were up against then. As the Los Angeles Times said of the show:
the sexism, in particular, is almost suffocating, and not in the least fun to watch. But it's the force against which the most compelling female characters struggle, and the opposition that defines them. The interaction with everyday misogyny and condescension – the housewife whose shrink reports to her husband, the ad woman who's cut out of the after-hours wheeling and dealing – gives the characters purpose and shape.
Mad Men’s ‘60s were the last time America had truly great social causes, and truly monstrous villains. In those days, the left was pushing a moral cause, and it lived on the leading edge. Today, our problems overwhelmingly relate to economics.

Nostalgia for the 1960s is best explained by this stark fact: traditional liberalism has run out of gas. It's the status quo, big government, Democrats wanting to continue fighting the Civil War with a coalition of minorities, unmarried women, and youth hungering for a cause, their cause being a war on Republicans and “states rights.”

Republicans based in the South, tied into religion (see previous post), ideally will fall to liberals who view religion as backward, passé. Labor-left Theo Anderson, who explicitly links Republicans, the South, racism, and religion, educates us on the rise of the progressive movement, pushing America forward. It began
at Harvard in the decades between the Civil War and the turn of the century, when the university’s president, Charles Eliot, initiated a series of reforms that transformed the paradigm of higher education in the United States. . . Harvard’s intellectual life [previously] revolved around the Bible. . . Eliot moved Harvard away from [Bible study] and toward the model of a modern research university. Expanding the boundaries of knowledge through research became the institution’s focus. Most universities followed the lead of Harvard . . .
This new mission for universities created a spectacular fragmentation of knowledge. By the early 20th century, the old-school generalist who taught everything from Latin to literature and history was a relic. The new university required scholars to specialize in defined fields. This rise of experts within the academy reflected the increasing importance of expertise in American society, as careers in the professions came to require specialized training.
There’s no going back. Progressives have given us institutions dominated by credentialed specialists. But taking away our culture’s religious underpinnings leaves society with an emptiness that Mad Men’s Weiner seems to feel personally, and carries into his show:
My insight into Madison Avenue and copywriting in particular is because I'm a television writer. I think the businesses are very parallel to each other. Creative people like to think of themselves as artists. And when there is money at stake it becomes for both, "What is the most entertaining?" I've always looked at advertising as a form of entertainment. And if it's entertaining, you think it will sell things, but that's not always true. The Taco Bell dog was so funny, but I don't know if it produced business.
Whenever we talk about other people's moral issues, it's very clear to us. But I think for ourselves there's a lot of wavering, a lot of relative morality. Anybody who has a clear picture of what's right and wrong uses it to judge other people. And a lot of times when we come to our personal situations we're pretty loose. Or we just feel guilty and horrible about what we do. Peggy gave that baby away because she had to, she had to, she had to. But how do you judge her? I don't know. That's what I'm interested in: Here's the objective standard of what's good and bad, and here's the way we behave.
Moral relativity is the logical outcome of progressives helping retire religion and replacing it with science. Prolonging the war against sexists and Southern bigots is a way to hold onto a defined moral center, but 150 years after the good guys won the Civil War, 50 years after “I have a dream” and The Feminine Mystique, it may be losing its punch.

Astronomer Carl Sagan, a self-described agnostic, wrote in Contact (1985), “For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”  Sagan also said,
Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.
The scientist searches for the spiritual. And so searches Mad Men. As “Gawker” wrote:
Don Draper, is built on a lie. Just like one of his campaigns, his whole identity is a sweet fabrication, a kind of candy floss spun out of opportunity, innuendo, and straight-up falsehood.
Weiner himself has a more complex view of Draper, seeing within his chief character a continuing struggle between the ideal and the real:
When [Megan] said she wanted to be an actress ... I thought it was this great dichotomy, because she really has an idealistic idea of being an artist, which is a real rejection of Don's advertising career. ... It's like she's going to reject the part of him that is him. . . Don and Megan are soul mates, and they're one person — and that one person is Don.   Megan rejects Don's way of life, and Don doesn't even know how painful it's going to be. . .
Another time, Weiner says,
Don Draper [is] Marilyn Monroe, [the] false self — . . . a persona that is so different from where you came from ... there can be a sense of shame, of “You don't know me. You will never know me. I'm a fraud.”
And earlier, Weiner revealed:
I [write] about Don Draper [because] it's about admitting the most negative qualities in yourself and how you overcome them. . . I was definitely struck with the idea of the confusion that sets in about feelings that you have from when you're single and ambiguous feelings about family and all these institutions that you're craving. . . I've always identified with Don and Peggy . . . multiple sides of my personality, and I'm thrilled there's an audience out there that's not threatened by investigating what's wrong with us. And that's why there's no judgment. A lot of entertainment is about making you feel that you're OK. That's what Don says in the Pilot. But life is more complicated than that.
Life in Mad Men is more complicated. It’s more complicated than thinking the “good guys,” the progressive cause, can hold itself together in a post-religious world by fighting against racism and sexism for another 50 years.

The Civil War is over. And so, soon, will be Mad Men.

Monday, July 01, 2013

“The Civil War” and “Mad Men” (Part I)

Gettysburg, the greatest battle of the Civil War, took place from July 1-3, 1863--150 years ago. Gettysburg involved 160,000 men, and around 8,000 Union and Confederacy soldiers lost their lives, with tens of thousands wounded. The battle was the turning point of the war, as the Union ended Confederate General Robert E Lee's invasion of the north.
Gettysburg 50th Anniversary Encampment
In an earlier post entitled “Civil War: 150 Years On,” we marked the Civil War’s 1861 beginning by quoting documentarian Ken Burns (“The Civil War,” PBS, 1990):
This is the most important event in American history. . .Everything today has a connection to the Civil War: How we're configured, racial issues, social issues, political issues. We're debating the role of government now — the Civil War saw our first big federal government. [emphasis added]
In response, we noted:
Burns claims the Civil War high ground of a noble quest for equality under the leadership of a strong Federal government, and Burns mourns America’s unnecessary division, resting as it does on no-longer-legitimate white male supremacy. But Burns and fellow Democrats fail to appreciate that Federal government control over our economy and lives, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, is no longer the solution; it has instead become the problem.
The Civil War, to simplify, involved three parties: northern whites, southern whites, and blacks. The war after the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves (1863), and the Reconstruction period that followed the war, involved northern whites and blacks on one side against southern whites. But Reconstruction was a chaotic, deeply unsettling period, and out of the disputed 1876 presidential election came a realignment of forces--whites against blacks. As Walter Russell Mead wrote:
The Compromise of 1877 not only traded the election of [Republican] Rutherford Hayes for the end of military occupation in the South; it abandoned the North’s effort to ensure equality for freed slaves in the South.  The South gave up slavery and dreams of re-secession; the North abandoned [national] efforts to regulate civil rights[, allowing] the South to disarm Blacks (many Civil War veterans), deprive them of the vote, and install a system of racial segregation guarded both by law and mob violence.  The mass of southern Blacks were kept uneducated and tied to the land. . .
In the 1877 realignment, white Republicans came out on top nationally, white Democrats gained control of the south, and blacks lost.

By 1913, Democrats had regained national power under progressive but segregationist Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey, originally of Virginia. Wilson’s first year in the White House coincided with the Gettysburg battle’s 50th anniversary, a grand occasion that brought the Union and the Confederacy--northern and southern whites--together (see encampment picture). According to Wikipedia:
The 1913 Gettysburg . . . June 29–July 4 gathering of 53,407 veterans (8,750 Confederate) was the largest ever Civil War veteran reunion, and "never before in the world's history [had] so great a number of men so advanced in years been assembled under field conditions" (Chief Surgeon). All honorably discharged veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans were invited, and veterans from 46 of the 48 states attended. [T]he peaceful reunion was repeatedly marked by events of Union–Confederate camaraderie. President Woodrow Wilson’s July 4 reunion address summarized the spirit: "We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten—except that we shall not forget the splendid valor."
Forgotten during the 50th anniversary: the ex-slaves whose terrible plight triggered the war, along with their descendants.

It would be another 50 years--to the time of the Civil War’s 100th anniversary--before whites of both parties would finally join to provide blacks their full rights to equality under the law. In the 50 years since the civil rights revolution, since Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I have a dream” speech, race continues to play a role in national divisions, surprisingly even after the election of a black president. Once again, listen to Ken Burns:
Race is always there in America. It's always something we don't want to talk about. Do you think we'd have a secession movement -- a faddish movement -- if this president wasn't African-American [sic]? Do you think [we’d see] the vitriol that came out of some elements of the tea party?
Bill Pence, director of Hopkins Center Film and co-founder of the Telluride Film Festival, makes clear Ken Burns isn’t just some run-of-the-mill documentarian whose words about right wing racism can be glossed over. Two years ago, Pence introduced Burns as
arguably the most influential film director of our times — and that includes feature directors such as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Burns turned millions of people onto history with his films and also showed us a new way of looking at our collective past and ourselves. He has invigorated our sense of appreciation for and understanding of our country’s history.
When Burns talks, people listen, especially on the subject of racial history.

But Burns stops short of the all-out, “Republicans are racist” screech of progressive Theo Anderson, writing for the pro-labor In These Times. Anderson provides a rich portrayal of how the left wishes America to view the Civil War, 150 years later:
The South’s alternative vision of the good society was defeated in the Civil War, and our 20th-century history [is] progress toward greater tolerance and equality[:] regulations on corporations in the early 1900s; women’s suffrage in 1920; a social safety net in the New Deal; the Supreme Court’s rejection of Jim Crow laws in 1954; the civil rights and feminist movements of the 1960s; the gay rights victories since the 1970s. . .
What has recently come to the fore within the Republican Party, but has been building within it for decades as the religious right’s influence has grown, is a new Confederacy: a nation within a nation, certain of the degeneracy of the usurper “United States,” hostile toward its institutions of education and government, and possessing a keen sense of its own identity as a victimized, righteous remnant engaged in spiritual warfare. . . America’s divisions involve fundamental questions of trust and truth: What authorities do you believe? Whose definition of truth do you accept?
For the Confederacy that now dominates the GOP, truth is solid and fixed and divinely embedded in the structure of the universe. Humanity’s responsibility is to accept and believe the truth rather than test ideas against actual experience. The Confederacy’s obsession with “originalist” interpretations of the Constitution—a twin of biblical literalism—is the classic example: truth must be eternal, universal. . . The new Confederates . . . have their own fount of truth. FOX News is the obvious example, but decades before the rise of FOX. . .conservatives had been quietly building their own media and networks for “truth” telling.
Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” 150 years later, we are still divided.