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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Age of the Politician is Over - Bring on the Pundits

I've been thinking about this: What if the career of a politician was dead?

I was on this track. I don't come from money, or a "noble" family--though I have the ancestry-just not the pedigree. But I was following the poor man's route to power. I worked for my Congressman, I went to a school for politics. If I'd continued down that road, I'd have gotten a gig as political staffer on the Hill. From there, the law degree, and then the campaign trail.

Why do people become politicians? Well two obvious reasons. You have an opinion, and you have an all consuming need for adulation/respect/support. Some people might say power--but I think that's missing the point. Public power confers adulation/respect/support ("ARS"). It serves no other purpose as far as I can tell. I differentiate "Public Power," from "Private Power" because many of the most powerful actors almost never have perceived political clout. But they're not the people we love to hate. They're the people we read biographies about twenty years after the fact.

As always, I'm taking forever to get to the point. What do Sarah Palin, Elliot Spitzer, Tim Russert and Howard Dean all have in common? They were all career politicians who are now pundits. Sarah weirdly, but presciently gave up the governorship of Alaska, Spitzer resigned after a marital scandal, Lou Dobbs went Teabagger and had to quit CNN, and Howard Dean lost the 2004 primary. Sarah just finished her first novel, and is on her to way to paying her legal bills with solid gold napkins. Spitzer writes a column at Slate (which I love by the way). Dobbs, has a conservative radioshow called "Mr. Independent," and might run for president, and Howard Dean, though still a career politician now periodically hosts the Rachel Maddow Show (all respect to the former governor, he did a terrible job).

All of this to say, Sarah Palin seems to be right. "Going Rogue," is the way to actually effect American politics. Oh, to be sure, all of the above figures are highly polarized, unserious contenders for office, but that doesn't mean they don't effect policy. In much the way that Rush, and O'Reilly have dictated conservative politics for the last twenty years, popular pundits have much more "Public Power" than any save the president himself. Think about it. Harry Reid can't say what he thinks--he has too much to lose, too much to risk. Every public statement he makes has to be extremely careful. But Howard Dean can call it like he sees it. Being dubbed a wacko after his "The Dean Scream" (see the wikipedia entry) though ending his presidential aspirations gave him the license to speak freely. Afterall, now thateveryone knows he's no longer "serious," what does he have to lose?

Which is why I say that we still need more liberal pundits on the airwaves. MSNBC, where's my contract?

The Bill Goes to Vote and Salon Religious Girl

So, I'll be honest. Studying for finals, and working hard--I haven't been too deep into the healthcare bill as it stands. My lefty freinds at FDL (I use the term "friends" loosely, since they don't know who I am) hate the new bill and want the Dems to sink it. The Times came out for it--but let's face it--the Times came out for the Iraq War.

Me? I don't know. Is it dumb to write a post about being on the fence? Maybe. But really, this post is about the Senate--actually working.

The sausage making that creates bills has been well written about. So I won't go there--let me just say this:

Dems--herein lies the lesson. You broke that filibuster, you got that bill through, and you'll get it passed. Good or ill, this is what you can do when you stand up to obstructionism. Well done. I sincerely hope this will be the turning point for the Democrats. The bill is full of nasty compromises, but the sheer symbolism of its possible passage is a big deal. Next stop net neutrality, habeas corpus and the rule of law, environmental reform, and my personal fave, the passage of Dodd's Financial Reform Bill.

One other comment on a totally different topic. Ada Calhoun at Salon wrote a piece about being religious in New York City. Basically, it goes like this: She's a smart, well read, girl living in Brooklyn and she's embarrassed to admit to her friends that she's a Christian. Her friends are angry liberals, and she fully admits to their reasons for their religious choice as being valid and real to them. Interestingly, the firestorm of angry posters, points out what she's complaining about--a lot of very angry atheists claiming that "too bad, so sad" that she feels persecuted when the vast majority of the country--and the city for that matter are religious and are doing the persecuting.

I feel sorry for Ada, no one wants to feel ostracized. And I'd rather have Ada in my liberal leftatic corner, than hurling acid at babymommas at an abortion clinic, but I think an acknowledgement is necessary here. The angry posters have a point--New York ain't the bible belt. Ada might have to face up to some ostracisim, but her friends are her friends, and if they really care about her--they'll love her for who she is regardless of her religion. She's not going to get stoned, or turn into a pillar of salt. At most, she'll get made fun of, at most, some angry jackass at a party will yell at her. But that jackass is a jackass because he's a jackass, not because he's an atheist. And really, Mr. Jackass, probably just wants to have a rousing ideological debate--not to condemn her to a hell he doesn't believe in.

That said, it was a very nice, thoughtful piece on a piece of New York society. I enjoyed it. Well done lady.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Stupak Amendment

Bart Stupak (D-MI) has penned an Op-ed at the New York Times today attempting to clear up some of the issues raised by his amendment to the healthcare bill.

For those of you who do not know, the Stupak Ammendment basically forbids government spending from the healthcare bill to go paying for abortions. You should read what he has to say on the matter, but it's largely irrelevant to the two points I'm going to make.

I heard on NPR this morning, one democratic congresswoman (whose name I have forgotten) complaining bitterly about the amendment, citing that just because the bill doesn't forbid outside insurance policies from providing money for abortions, doesn't mean that private insurance companies can or will provide for them. Conservative claims to the contrary are obfuscations and lies. The whole point of the amendment is to reduce women's access to their freedom of choice. If private insurance companies were lining up for a windfall here--the amendment would have been DOA. It's disgusting to me that a Democrat from Michigan would be a sponsor for this amendment--but that's another story. claims that an abortion in New York can cost between $350 and $450, depending on the stage of the procedure. A hefty price tag.

My other complaint about the amendment is that I think it's racist and elitist. Of course, it will appeal to anyone whose opposed to abortions, no matter their race or income level, but that's the level that will be principally effected by the healthcare bill. It seems to me that if Republicans were really sincere about combatting "welfare queens" they wouldn't be providing a legit basis for more impoverished women to have more children. The amendment is racist because this will effect a disproportionate number of the lower class, many of whom are black or latino. The bill is obviously elitist because the rich, and the middle class, will be largely unaffected.

So maybe that's what Mr. Stupak is trying for--a sop to the Republican party. Here's a reason to vote for healthcare that won't really effect any of your constituents. If that's the case, it could be a brilliant move.

At anyrate--I still find that it outrageous that public policy is decided on such personal body issues. I mean, maybe I should start a Non-Circumcision PAC, so that we can finally end the war in Afghanistan. No wait. Looks like someone already has. Or wait another one. Seriously, don't these people have better things to do with their time?

Friday, December 4, 2009

It's Official: We're a nation of torturers

Glenn Gleenwald has a discouraging post on Salon I just saw, according to recent polling data, 54% of American's believe that torture is justifiable in some situations. That makes me feel so discouraged, so awful. It's hard to believe in anything I was taught about my country, about the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and about what "American values" are anymore. My gf would laugh at me for that--she's not an American. But it's one thing to look at the facts--at the awful things that my government has perpetrated*, and another thing to look look at polling data and realize--America really is a democratic nation. It's just that we're a nation that's almost half fascist.

That is an exageration. Maybe. Certainly not all people who believe torture is valid would support facism--but a central tenet of facism is ultranationalism. The idea that your nation is above the laws of all humankind. The prohibition on torture is universally undisputed. Only totalitarian regimes--and the United States--feel that there is a valid use for torture. If A then B. Another tenet of fascism is the use of a racial scapegoat. Muslims or Mexicans take your pick. If A then B. That we're an autocratic regime. Certainly the Bush administration acted without legal authority on many, many issues. Was it strictly authoritarian? No. But two and a half of three core tenets, makes a pretty good case.

I think that most people don't really think much about these things. I think that most people see torture used in movies, and don't really consider the consequences. The TV show "24" is a great example of this--the good guy only tortures to save American Lives. And oh, how it eats him up inside. So things aren't as bad as they could be. But, then again, the sheer thoughtlessness of such a position is staggering, and remains very frightening to me.

I mean, there's a fifty-fifty chance that the next person you meet might support torture. And if someone accused you of being a Terrorist. Than that person, probably wouldn't mind if you were tortured. I guess that's fine if you live on a farm, and you only meet new people every so often. But I see new people every day. That's close to 300 distinct people per day who might well be willing to torture me. And you.

*Most people either don't know, or choose not to know the facts. So they're largely irrelevant to my point.