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Finding This Year’s Face of Republican Evil

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Harry Reid To Charles And David Koch: Come At Me, Bros (Huffington Post)

The political calculus for why the sitting president’s party tends to lose seats in midterm elections is fairly simple: Although the old adage saying “all politics is local” isn’t entirely true, it’s certainly true that although the approval rating of Congress as a whole is always dismal, individual members of Congress, especially in their home districts, almost always enjoy much higher approval ratings. If you’re not in the same party as the current president, and you’re campaigning against someone who is, you can undercut their popularity by pointing out they’re in the same party as the President. (Even presidents who have reasonably good popularity ratings still tend to be very divisive; it’s only when their popularity shoots through the roof, like Bush 43′s did in the aftermath of 09.11, that being in the president’s party stops being a liability.)

Despite conservative hullabaloo to the contrary, President Obama’s approval ratings right now aren’t substantially different from most other presidents entering their sixth year in office. That being said, Obama’s hardly popular outside of his base right now, and Democrats always have a harder time in midterm elections because their lower turnouts favour Republican turnout models. Add in the fact that Senate Democrats will be defending their gains from their watershed 2008 year, and all signs point to Democrats having a tremendously uphill climb just to avoid another 2010-style wipeout at the polls.

The last time a sixth-year Democratic president faced a midterm election, though, Democrats actually gained seats in both houses of Congress. 1998 was probably the low point for Bill Clinton’s presidency, as the Monica Lewinsky scandal had stained his legacy just like Clinton (insert ribald joke about that blue dress here). Although the American public was largely disgusted by Clinton’s actions, by November they had grown even more tired of how congressional Republicans were inflating the scandal so much. With one of the architects of the 1994 Republican Revolution, Senator Bob Dole, in retirement after his failed presidential campaign, that left the Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, as Democrats’ ideal target. Across the nation, Democrats were able to pin Republican congressional candidates as being in league with Gingrich and the others who were making too big of a deal over President Clinton’s indiscretions, and Democrats were able to gain seats in both houses of Congress. Gingrich relinquished his speakership shortly after the election.

There are two big lessons to take away from the 1998 midterms, one for each major party. For Republicans, the lesson is not to do something so stupid that it turns lots of Americans off of your party at a time when you’re in a good position to benefit from Democrats’ unpopularity. This is why Republicans’ recent announcement that they wouldn’t pass any major legislation for the remainder of the year, as galling as it may be to many of us, is a wise tactical move. When Republicans forced that long government shutdown this past fall, and played another game of chicken with the debt ceiling, public opinion of congressional Republicans as a whole cratered to just 9%. By point of comparison, American support of socialism usually polls around 10-12%. Following that debacle, though, Republicans (albeit not without some kvetching from their far-right) passed a bipartisan two-year budget and an extension of the debt ceiling that runs through the end of 2014, preventing another fustercluck like we had last autumn. They’re basically playing the political equivalent of American football’s “prevent defence” from now until November, giving Democrats some room to move while running down the clock, to preserve the lead they perceive they have right now. We’ll have to wait until November to see if it works or not, but right now it feels like it could very well be a winning strategy. (Given how indoctrinated Americans have been in the notion that “government can’t do anything right” these past thirty-three years, deliberate broad inaction by Congress may actually play well with swing voters. Mind you, “doing nothing” means that House Republicans are still passing “repeal Obamacare” bills ad nauseum.)

For Democrats, the lesson of 1998 is to find an unpopular Republican figurehead to use in order to scare swing voters just like Republicans are currently using President Obama, someone to disparage Republican candidates by implying they’re in cahoots with that figurehead. That’s probably the reason why Democratic groups, and some congressional Democrats like Harry Reid, have been focusing on the Koch brothers so much lately; the Koch brothers’ involvement in politics and right-wing astroturf groups since Obama became president has been widely documented, and they’re relatively easy to plaster with the “out-of-touch old white rich people who want to bankrupt working-class Americans to make more money for themselves and their rich friends” label, a tactic that worked very well when it was used against Mitt Romney in 2012.

Romney, however, couldn’t have done a better job of allowing himself to be stereotyped like that, making repeated missteps that only added to the negative image that Democrats were pinning on him. Whenever you see news stories about the Kochs, though, the brothers are always shown in still photos, because they very deliberately stay out of the media spotlight. While this tactic makes it easier to paint them as the “big money in the shadows,” the great big nasty conservative bogeymen trying to buy democracy out from under America, you can only sell that stereotype to people who follow politics closely enough to know who the Koch brothers are. That’s not really a broad section of the American public (especially a public that’s spending more and more time working just to keep a roof over their heads), and it makes me doubt the wisdom of Democrats trying to make the Kochs a big issue in this year’s midterms.

If the Democrats of 1998 made that year’s election a referendum on Newt Gingrich, could this year’s Democrats do the same with the current Speaker of the House, John Boehner? I doubt it. Yes, Boehner is on television a fair amount, and he’s had moments that would be easy to skewer in campaign commercials, but he’s never been the figurehead that Gingrich was for his party. Gingrich had the prestige of ending Republicans’ forty-year minority status in the House, and he made his reputation before then by being one of the most media-savvy Republicans in Washington, leveraging the benefits of every medium he could get his message on — even that dusty corner of the cable universe called C-SPAN — to get the Republican message out there, becoming a clear and charismatic Republican leader in the process. Boehner, by comparison, has never been that popular even within his own party, and is often depicted as an obstacle to allowing Tea Party Republicans to run roughshod over the party. He’s admitted to having no ambitions beyond his current station, and I don’t think Democrats will have an easy job of making him emblematic of congressional Republicans as a whole, especially with so many charismatic Republicans in the news every week in the leadup to announcing their candidacies for the 2016 presidential election.

Similarly, trying to paint any other elected Republican as the face of the whole party will be undermined by the fact that none of them are in effective positions of leadership like Boehner. There’s certainly no shortage of nationally-known Republicans who would turn off moderate voters with some of the things they’ve said and done — Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Louie Goehmert all come readily to mind — but for voters in purple states, the actions of some congressperson from Texas or Kentucky isn’t really going to mean much to them. Similarly, for all the problems Chris Christie has been having, he’s not even in Washington, which makes it all but impossible to make him an issue in congressional campaigns.

Not that it’s my job to advise Democrats on how to run their campaigns — you couldn’t pay me enough money to do that — but to me, it seems that the Democrats’ best bogeyman for the 2014 election is right-wing media itself. Up until the Tea Party movement, there was at least a small disconnect between the lunatic politics of right-wing media and what elected Republicans actually tried to pass into law, but unless you extend the mainstream of right-wing media out to include the apocalyptic ravings of Glenn Beck and … whatever the hell it is that Infowars guy does, there’s really no difference right now between what Fox News says should happen and what congressional Republicans try to make American law. Not only would Democrats have a “face” of the Bad, Evil Republican to put in their campaign commercials, they’d have several: Sean Hannity and his verbal bullying, Bill O’Reilly and his red-faced ranting, Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a slut, and the cast of easily-lampoonable talking heads who rotate on all their shows. When elected Republicans and Republican congressional candidates have appeared on split-screens with these hosts,Democrats would be able to realize even more gains.

Democrats have enough of a problem dealing with the sustained unpopularity of Obamacare, but there are several other issues they could use where they have a majority of  voters on their side — they’ve already struck upon raising the minimum wage as one that plays well, even in red states — where not just elected Republicans, but Fox News personalities as well, are on video strongly opposing the majority view. This doesn’t even get into the ridiculousness of things like climate change denial and birtherism. In addition, because Fox News is a corporate entity, I think Democrats would get the same benefits they’d get from focusing on the Koch brothers as a “big corporate evil,” but with the additions of increased public recognition and a wealth of soundbites to play in campaign commercials.

The big potential drawback to this strategy is one I’ve written about before; there is a certain “boy who cried wolf” quality to the Fox News approach, where even the most die-hard opponents of Fox News get tired of hearing about whatever inaccuracy or misanthropy they’re perpetrating now. Asking people if they heard about what someone on Fox News just said, even among politically-active liberals, just gets you a bunch of eyes rolling back in heads and quick attempts to move on to other topics of conversation. If there is a broad national consensus along the lines of “Fox News is full of crap, but what are you gonna do,” then trying to make Fox News a right-wing bogeyman has the potential for backfiring.

I’m not sure that there is a better strategy, though. Until a clear frontrunner for the next Republican presidential candidate emerges — and it looks like that may not happen for a couple of years — there isn’t really an elected Republican who would get good play across the nation as a reason for voters to not vote for other Republicans. To whatever extent the Koch brothers are involved in conservative politics, when you say “Koch brothers” to most Americans, they probably think you’re talking about the guys who invented that soft drink. Turning the right-wing media behemoths into the Bigger Evil Than Obama might not work out, but if Democrats are already facing such steep odds in November, isn’t it worth taking a shot at it now, especially when they’ll have a Republican presidential candidate to campaign against in 2016?

Doing Bullies’ Work For Them

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AZ gov vetoes ‘religious freedom’ bill, Ohio lawmakers abandon kindred bill (examiner.com)
School will allow boy to bring My Little Pony backpack (USA Today)

We liberals, or at least the majority of us, often get unfairly maligned as being some kind of “thought police” trying to tell people what they should or shouldn’t think. I think I can speak for the vast majority of liberals, and hopefully people as a whole, when I say that what goes on in your head is no one’s business but your own. If you want to hate anyone for any reason — the colour of their skin, their religion, how they express their gender identity, their politics, the sports teams they like, whether or not they put catsup on their hot dogs — then you go on hating them. Personally, I don’t think that’s a very good way to go about life, but that’s just my opinion and you’re free to ignore it. I certainly ignore that kind of “advice” from other people on a regular basis.

There is a vast gulf, however, between thought and action. You may not respect someone based on their skin colour or their beliefs, but you still have to treat that person with a modicum of respect. How far that treatment should go can be debated, but to say that people who argue for the expansion of protection against minorities are “thought police” is just patently untrue. Without at least some base level of “I might not like you, but I will afford you some level of respect,” we would quickly devolve into mass tribal warfare that would ruin the very foundations of human society. Say what you will about the Westboro Baptist Church — and now’s certainly a good time to do so — but even they, to the best of my research, have never actually tried to stone a gay person to death.

The right-wing media machine is infamous for using borderline-apocalyptic rhetoric (or flat-out apocalyptic in the case of loonies like Glenn Beck), to make their base believe that anyone not in agreement with them is out to destroy their very way of life. This kind of paranoia underlies the recent movement for these bills trying to legalize “religious liberty,” the notion that unless far-right Christians are allowed to treat liberals and gays and so on like second-class citizens — even to deny them access to basic services like police protection — that Christianity itself is under attack from the Obama Administration and secular progressives and so on. The fact that “Happy Holidays” has become one of the most controversial phrases in contemporary America goes to show just how pervasive, and ultimately successful, this rhetoric can be.

The recent spate of these bills, which (thankfully) seem to be dropping like flies once a light was shed on how they would essentially enable large swaths of Americans to turn homosexuals into de facto aub-humans, is not unprecedented, however. A couple of years ago, as Michigan Republicans were coming up with as many ways as possible to destroy their state as possible (Rick Snyder running for re-election as governor is a slap in the face to every Michigander with a scrap of intelligence, after all the crap he and his cronies in Lansing have pulled these past three years), one of the things they did was try to pass an anti-school bullying bill that carved out an exemption for religion-based bullying. That bill, like the recent “religious liberty” bills, was quietly shelved once it got covered in the press for what it was, but it provided a good snapshot of how so much of conservative America defines “liberty”: Them being able to treat everyone who doesn’t agree with them like garbage, while others don’t get the right to do the same to them because Christians are the most persecuted minority in the history of America.

(For my overseas readers who think that even the American conservative movement isn’t stupid enough to claim they’re the real victims of persecution in America: I’m not kidding.)

That segues into the story of nine-year-old Grayson Bruce, who was being bullied at his North Carolina elementary school because of his My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic backpack. (I won’t deny a special interest in this story because I’m a pegasister, but it would have landed on my radar anyway because of the principles involved.) Instead of confronting the bullies about their behaviour, however, the school barred Grayson from bringing the backpack to campus. Although this didn’t provoke the same kind of national response that recent “religious liberty” bills have gotten, there was still a huge campaign, mostly on social media (where bronies and pegasisters are solidly entrenched) that has, thankfully, caused the school to reverse its decision.

Still, the school’s initial actions are so repugnant that they demand closer scrutiny, especially because they are indicative of one of the problems of not just the conservative movement to squelch the rights of others, but of American society as a whole. In order to show just how shocking the school’s first response was, let me recast the basics of the conflict in a few different ways:

  • A boy who grew up here in Toledo, but whose parents move across the border to Michigan, wears his Ohio State t-shirt to school and gets bullied for it by other students who are University of Michigan fans. Instead of confronting the bullies, the school tells the boy that he’s no longer allowed to wear Ohio State clothes on campus.
  • Another boy, who identifies as gay, is bullied by students for wearing pink clothing and his lisp. Instead of confronting the bullies, the school orders the student to “stop looking and acting so gay.”
  • A young Muslim girl is bullied by her classmates for wearing a hijab to classes. Instead of confronting the bullies, the school tells the girl that she is no longer allowed to wear a hijab while she’s on campus.

The administrators at Grayson’s school basically tried to accomplish, with their power, what the bullies were trying to accomplish by force: Making Grayson conform to a constructed “norm” on how people should behave. This is something so clearly evident that I cannot believe that these administrators were not aware of this fact as they tried to force Grayson to leave his Rainbow Dash backpack at home. Maybe the administrators didn’t employ the same verbal threats and/or physical violence that Grayson’s bullies did, but they were trying to accomplish the same thing.

Next month will mark twenty-five years since the bullying I was enduring at school got so intense that I attempted suicide on campus. It will also mark ten years since my best friend committed suicide because even though she’d escaped her abusive husband, the damage he’d inflicted on her was still so intense that she thought ending her life was the only way out. Needless to say, issues of bullying and abuse are very close to my heart, and I have tried to do all I can to raise awareness of just how horrifying and devastating both bullying and abuse are. Particularly in the Internet Age, where the ability to bully others anonymously has caused the rise of cyberbullying and yet another cause of teenage suicide, the consequences of these actions — not just for the families of the victims but also society as a whole as bullies’ actions go unchallenged — are not talked about nearly as much as they should be.

I certainly did enough stupid things in my early years that I’m not about to advocate for locking young bullies up and throwing away the key. Similarly, it becomes harder and harder to blame the parents of bullies for not monitoring their children when society demands these parents work longer and longer hours just to make ends meet. What we are dealing with here is a fundamental failure of American society to deal with the root causes behind bullying, and it’s hard to imagine that these issues will ever be confronted by the modern conservative movement when the primary lubricant of its gears, its most reliable way of raising piles upon piles of money, is to continue to drive this “us versus them” mentality, the paranoia that everyone who isn’t like them is out to destroy them, so you need to destroy them first. Confronting school bullying would be sacrilege to them, because it would eliminate one of their primary means of indoctrinating young people to the rationale behind so much of their philosophy. Their idea of “confronting” bullying is to overcriminalize youthful mistakes, the infamous “school-to-prison pipeline” that lets them make money thanks to the rise in prison privatization.

If conservatives have no incentive to tackle bullying and its tragic consequences, then it is a moral imperative for the rest of us to work even harder to stop bullying in all its forms, verbal and psychological and physical, no matter whether it’s over the colour of someone’s skin or what television shows they like. The first step we need to take is to assert that fundamental difference between respecting someone — a private decision that people should be free to make on their own — and treating someone with respect. If Grayson’s bullies had succeeded, through the school administrators’ actions, in getting Grayson to stop carrying his Rainbow Dash backpack, then why should they expect to be less successful if they saw me in my Vinyl Scratch t-shirt and beat me up? The schoolyard bullies of today will grow up to be the adult bullies of tomorrow unless we confront bullying at its source. For the sake of all those who have lost friends and family members, and those who were lucky enough to survive but were scarred by their mistreatment, we can’t allow bullying, or the twisted ideologies that attempt to create justifications for bullying, to continue any longer.

Beyond “You Can’t Eat Dignity”

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How Paul Ryan’s tale of a little boy and a brown-bag lunch fell apart (Los Angeles Times)

One of the things that really struck me, when reading Al Franken’s landmark Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations for the first time, was Franken documenting the extent to which the stories Ronald Reagan and other conservatives used to sell the public on their ideas were either twisted beyond recognition or just plain untrue. Franken even has a whole chapter on Reagan’s apocryphal anecdotes, chronicling not just their influence and their disconnection to objective fact, but also the shamelessness with which conservatives continued to use the stories even in the face of firsthand evidence contradicting them. I thought that I’d been taught in my earlier years that only thing worse than lying was continuing to perpetuate a lie even after it’s been found out, but it appeared that the conservative movement of my lifetime clearly had no such scruples.

You would think that in an age of Internet fact-checking, where major political speeches are often instantaneously checked for veracity by professionals and amateurs alike, more care would be taken to not deliberately stray from facts that can be broadcast on Twitter and Facebook as soon as you say something that flies in the face of them. If anything, though, it seems like we’re getting worse in this regard, as everything from the expansion of the right-wing media bubble to the increasing corporatization of news has counteracted and overwhelmed the flow of fact-checking by making it so much easier for an increasingly impatient populace to lose themselves in the farce that so often passes for “news” in America these days. (It doesn’t help that fact-checking itself is a problematic activity, as witnessed by all the trouble PolitiFact keeps finding itself in.)

The fact that someone like Paul Ryan would repeat an anecdote from someone who incorrectly inferred a political “lesson” about a young kid’s struggles to eat isn’t that shocking. It’s practically de rigueur for Republican politicians these days to repeat some bogus “fact” from a right-wing blog as justification for the policies they’re pushing, since it lets them say something outrageous that rallies the Tea Partiers (who have made an art form out of dismissing reality), then be able to say “I just said that’s what the ‘news story’ said, I didn’t say it was true” when confronted with the facts by reporters. Right-wing media never airs the half-hearted takebacks, so their base will still believe the false claims even after they’ve been thoroughly debunked. (How many conservatives still think we found stockpiles of active WMDs in Iraq?) Ryan has been justly denounced for peddling such a sham of a story, and it’s led to a neat “You can’t eat dignity” meme, but I think focusing on that story, and the soundbites that can be drawn from it, does a disservice to the people who stand to suffer the most if Ryan and his ilk manage to seize more power in America.

The first huge problem with Ryan’s story is that it perpetuates another big weapon Republicans like to use in their arguments: Taking a complex issue and falsely reducing the possible positions on the issue to two. (This is called a false dilemma in rhetorical terms, and Republicans love this kind of oversimplification. Remember “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists,” anyone?) In this case, the false dilemma Ryan is perpetuating is the notion that America must somehow choose between providing a basic safety net for its citizens on the one hand, and giving hard-working Americans the incentive to work by letting them enjoy the fruits of their labour on the other. These are two things that are not mutually exclusive to one another. It is entirely possible to create a strong social safety net for Americans without creating real disincentives for Americans to work hard. Important social safety programmes like SNAP and WIC and unemployment benefits are already horribly underfunded, and the money these programmes need to function properly, even if you were to directly tax the richest Americans for them, would not be cumbersome at all. This doesn’t even get into issues like ending the ludicrous tax breaks for oil companies that are already wildly profitable without them.

Ryan latched onto the image of the brown-bag lunch the young boy wanted to be able to bring to school, as he should have, because it’s a wise rhetorical move. It’s always a good idea to create some kind of image in your listeners’ heads, preferably of something tangible and well-known to them, because those tend to have more impact, and last longer in listeners’ heads, than words or phrases that deal with abstractions. Ryan wanted the brown-bag lunch to signify something simple and basic that we could understand any young kid wanting, but I think the image also works against him in a key regard: Too many young Americans these days don’t have a parent who has the time to even make a brown-bag lunch for their children. Modern parenting issues aside — and there are certainly a lot to discuss — too many households have parents who are being forced to work ludicrous hours because of the demands placed on them by work, where conservative economic and fiscal policies of the past three decades (even during Democratic presidents) have meant that wages for all but the richest Americans have either stagnated or dropped in terms of what they can buy. For too many of these kids, a brown-bag lunch is an impossibility simply because of the havoc that conservatives have wrought on working-class and middle-class Americans since the Reagan Revolution.

Another big rhetorical tactic Republicans like to play is to try to turn the availability of something in a social welfare programme into a requirement being forced on everyone regardless of whether they want it or not. In the case of school lunches, just because a school offers free lunch to students does not mean that any student is forced to eat it. I can respect someone refusing assistance on something, public or private, because they want to achieve their goals on their own, but just because one person doesn’t want that assistance doesn’t mean that it should automatically be denied to everyone, particularly when there is a need for it. The youth poverty rate in this country is over 20%, and that is a fact that should shame every American when they go to bed at night. There are far too many children who need SNAP and WIC and school-provided meals simply to avoid crippling hunger and be able to function, and we can debate what their parents may or may not be doing wrong at another time, but to infer that these children should go hungry because it’s better for them to learn “dignity” is borderline inhumane.

India is often discussed when the issue of poverty comes up; despite its rising middle class, the number of people in abject poverty there dwarfs the American population as a whole. Still, even in India they are now working to assert a basic “right to food” for all its 800 million people. If a nation of that size, with all its problems, can guarantee that none of its citizens will go hungry, then it is more clear than ever that the fact that so many Americans of all ages do not get sufficient food is not a sad-but-inevitable facet of modern life; those people go hungry because people in power, particularly Republicans, choose for them to go hungry in order to give more tax breaks to the corporations and the ultra-rich, who are not letting their wealth “trickle down” to help the least fortunate of us.

When Paul Ryan and his ilk talk of “dignity” and “the value of hard work,” it’s a smokescreen to cover their demonstrated agenda of keeping a large part of the American population in perpetual penury in order to feed their own anecdotes about “welfare queens” and “the knockout game” and all that nonsense, and to keep a steady supply of expendable human beings they can bounce around from McJobs to prison depending on which of their corporate donors needs the bigger back-scratching. It’s well past time for the rest of us to call them out on this, and to keep calling them out until their precious right-wing media bubble explodes.

Have a Coke and a STFU

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Coca Cola’s ‘America the Beautiful’ Super Bowl commercial angers conservative pundits (New York Daily News)
MSNBC Goes To Free Speech Jail For Pointing Out Racist People Are Racist (Wonkette)

Racism is not an inherent trait of conservative philosophy. If anything, the conservatives I know would argue that any kind of discrimination — no matter what its basis, and whether by law or by deed — goes against the principles of free markets, because it has the tendency to remove both consumers and producers from the market, reducing the benefit that everyone in that market may gain from having those people as full participants. This is why “all conservatives are racist,” like “all liberals hate America” and other blanket statements, shouldn’t really be made by anyone.

However, there is a difference between a philosophy and how it’s put into action, and while it’s certainly true that not all conservatives are racist, it is true that there are facets of modern-day American conservatism that are problematic when it comes to race relations. I won’t exhaust the laundry list of difficulties going back decades, but it is true that, in addition to the overt racism of some conservative Republicans (remember Don Yelton, anyone?), racist thought does pervade some prominent strains of modern Republican/conservative debate, from the enduring “welfare queen” imagery of the Reagan years to the persistence of the “birther” fanatics.

How this plays out in the private sphere of cable news and newspaper columns is its own hornet’s nest, but for Republicans working in public office, this poses a very difficult problem, because Democrats’ focus on social justice means that racists do tend to vote Republican. (Certainly not all of them, to be sure.) Anyone who’s spent more than half an hour looking at YouTube comments knows that racism is still very much alive in America, and if you’re more interested in remaining in power than you are in doing good for the people you’re supposed to serve — something too many American politicians of all stripes are guilty of doing these days — then you certainly don’t want to alienate any block of voters that’s predisposed to vote for you.

Even in the reddest of red states, overt racism is going to turn off too many moderates to be a winning strategy, but there are those Republicans who try to have it both ways. Far too many Republicans have used the birther movement as a way of placating the racist elements in their voting base, because it plays directly into the whole “President Obama isn’t a real American” rhetoric that underlies not just ad hominem against Obama, but all African-Americans and everyone else whose skin “isn’t white enough.” In the most recent presidential campaign, Mitt Romney, while stating repeatedly that he believed Obama was born in the United States, made a point of repeatedly using the word “foreign” to describe other facets of Obama. I find it hard to believe that this was not a deliberate strategy by the Romney camp to throw some sugarcubes the birthers’ way, to give them a sly wink while still denying their claims outright, and turning “foreign” into a buzzword. It’s the same thing conservatives are doing with the word “Benghazi” now, and it’s something relatively easy to do with anyone if you’re just loud and obnoxious about it, like, say, Gilbert Gottfried:

To his credit, even as the right-wing media machine and congressional Republicans seized on the 09.11 attacks to inculcate Islamophobia in the American public, Bush 43 went out of his way to state that the kind of fundamentalist Islam that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were trying to spread was not representative of actual Islam. Unfortunately, Bush has proven to be the exception over the past twelve and a half years, as far too many conservatives have tried to turn Muslims into the 21st century “Ruskie,” a convenient bogeyman to make Americans fearful of any philosophy or person they can call “un-American,” then prey on that fear to get into office and make everyone miserable by passing restrictive, inhuman and un-Christian laws, all under the guise of “Christianity.” Any news story having to do with Islam that gets shot through the newswires is practically guaranteed to lead to several skewed “news reports” and hours of hate speech dressed up as punditry on Fox News, to say nothing of right-wing radio and the conservative punditocracy. Particularly now that the fringe right-wing thought that used to be confined to talk radio has now become Republican orthodoxy in the Tea Party era, we see that this focus isn’t going to abate any time soon.

I had the Super Bowl on my television yesterday — those Duracell commercials with Derrick Coleman kind of sucked me in — but I had my eyes on my computer screen most of the time the game was on, trying to take care of some other tasks. When I heard that Coke commercial, a grin came to my face, as I knew right away that the far-right  was going to throw apoplectic fits over it. Sure enough, #boycottcoke was already spreading as a hashtag on Twitter before the game was over, and right-wing pundits had their rage-filled columns ready for today’s morning shows. I could have set my watch by it, if I still owned a watch.

On its own, the story is amusing, but in the context of last week’s right-wing firestorm over an ill-phrased MSNBC tweet, the double standard of how left-wing and right-wing speech is treated in this country is somewhat infuriating. Melissa Harris-Perry gives a tearful apology for an inappropriate joke about Mitt Romney’s family, but Ann Coulter doubles down when she’s criticized for call Obama the r-word. Republicans infer that tens of millions of Americans who can’t find jobs in this fractured job market are “lazy” and want to live the high life off the government dole, but the moment any one of their feelings are hurt by a liberal’s inference, they’re threatening boycotts and demanding huge apologies. Imagine if Democrats had the spine to be just as outraged over each of the 17,000 people predicted to die because state Republicans are refusing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. You wouldn’t be able to hear anything any conservative said until the Medicaid expansions were passed in all fifty states.

While it is factually wrong to state or infer that all conservatives are racists, I do believe it is true that the current conservative movement in America, if it is not racist, is at least far too permissive of covert racism when it works to benefit them. This doesn’t mean that every person in that movement is a racist, but it does mean that those who are not racists need to do more to challenge the subtle racism that underlies so much modern American conservative dogma, because there are no ends which justify the means of spreading hatred and intolerance.

As for that Coke commercial, as hard as it is for me to be cheerful when Republicans keep inflicting disaster after disaster upon this country — more and more people losing unemployment benefits, the upcoming cuts to SNAP/food stamps, and the Keystone XL Pipeline being just a few of the more recent examples — I’ve come to realize that nothing infuriates Republicans more than being happy, because so much of what they do both socially and economically seems designed to make everyone who disagrees with them as miserable as possible. With that in mind, I’m going to have a Coke and a smile tonight, to piss them off all the more. After that, though, it’s back to work trying to stop the damage before it spreads any further.

Preserving the Kakistocracy

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Libertarian Party of Ohio Suit Against SB 193 to Gain Allies (independentpoliticalreport.com)
Senate Bill 193 places undemocratic restrictions on third parties: Letter to the Editor (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Ottawa Hills is the name of the suburb for the ultra-rich here in the greater Toledo area. As their high tax base means that their schools are funded well, they had the natural “rival schools” for the private school I went to, and Ottawa Hills isn’t far from where I live, so it’s a part of town I’m somewhat familiar with. Most importantly, it’s directly adjacent to the main campus of The University of Toledo, so I drove through Ottawa Hills quite often when I was a student there.

Shortly after I started going to UT, someone spraypainted a message, using stencil templates, on one of the garage doors I passed on my way to and from campus. The message read “WELCOME TO OTTAWA HELL – WE STILL HAVE KAKISTOCRACY.” I was certain that the message would be painted over right away, but it stayed on that garage door for months. Shortly after it was removed, though, someone planted a sign in the lawn in front of that garage with the exact same message, and that sign is still up there to this day. I can only assume that the sign is not an act of vandalism, but a message from the property owners to the rest of the community.

I wasn’t familiar with the word “kakistocracy” at the time — I knew the “-ocracy” ending meant it had something to do with governance, but that was it — so, being a good English major and all, I looked it up. Kakistocracy is governance by those who are most unsuited to govern. It’s hardly a common word (WordPress is giving it the red squiggly treatment as I type this), but it’s certainly a useful one, especially in times like these. I have to wonder if, given enough usage, it’s one of those words that might enter the common vernacular.

I don’t know enough about Ottawa Hills to say whether or not they’re under a form of kakistocracy there, but they’ve certainly got enough kakistocracy in Washington right now, and as things continue to get worse for so many Americans, it’s becoming harder and harder not to step directly into the fray and try to better things myself, particularly given the fustercluck that the Republican party has become these past five years. Naturally, like in so many other states where they won control after the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans are doing everything in their power to make sure not only that they continue to hold power, but prevent others from even participating in the democratic process, not just as voters but also as candidates.

Ohio was one of those states that took a hard right turn in 2010. Even if that’s eased somewhat since then, Republicans still maintain a strangehold on state governance, and these past few years haven’t been pretty for most Ohioans. As Republicans in Columbus have rammed through a bunch of far-right social legislation — TRAP laws to close Ohio abortion clinics, letting people carry concealed guns into bars, and so on — we’ve gone from being ahead of the national recovery from the Great Recession to lagging behind. Now that the Republican Party of Ohio knows they’re in hot water, they’ve pulled out all the stops to try to keep control of the state despite their growing unpopularity, including the recently-passed State Bill 193 that basically squashes all the gains that third parties made in gaining ballot access over the past decade. If you can’t win the game by its current rules, then change the rules; it’s a tactic that’s as old as it is tiresome.

Another key thing that Ohio Republicans did after the 2010 midterms was to redistrict the state, most notably gerrymandering the congressional districts to force Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich into a primary in the last election, stretching Kaptur’s district out into Cleveland just enough to encapsulate Kucinich’s house. In order to do so, though, they had to trim the western edge of Kaptur’s district, including some portions of her native Toledo. As I’ve mentioned before, my house was in the part that got trimmed, so after living in Kaptur’s district all my life, I suddenly found myself in a mostly-rural district represented by a Republican by the name of Bob Latta.

Now, let’s be clear from the start that, by prevailing standards, I’m about as far from an ideal political candidate as you could get, notwithstanding the fact that I’m a member of the Green Party, which is still considered a joke by far too many Americans. I have no illusions about the prospects of success I’d have if I ran as a candidate for any office, much less for the House of Representatives in a district that was custom-engineered by Republicans to be safe for their candidates for the rest of the decade. Let me be clear about one other thing, though, something which may be just as important as everything I’ve just said, if not more so: I am absolutely certain that I could do a far better job in Congress than any Republican currently serving in that role in Washington, including Representative Latta.

Although I’m strongly opposed to conservative philosophy, I do believe that it comes from valid reasoning, and that it’s important for intelligent conservative voices to take part in both government and public dialogue. The Republican party has not been a haven for intelligent conservative voices in my lifetime, though, and it’s gotten worse as the party has maintained, if not strengthened, its ties with the far-right religious elements that helped them to victories in the 1980s. That social conservative element was always defined by a virulent strain of anti-intellectualism, a distrust of any knowledge that contradicts the received wisdom of their deities, whether you’re talking about their perverted version of Jesus Christ or Ronald Reagan or Dubya or who have you. The fact that the percentage of Republicans who believe in evolution dropped from 53% to 42% in the last four years is all-too-chilling proof that things are getting worse, not better, in this regard.

Some say that figures like Glenn Beck and that Infowars guy should be seen as “the fringe of the fringe,” elements so extreme that they shouldn’t be seen as representative of American conservatism as a whole, but I’m not convinced of that at all. From Darrell Issa’s “hearings” about everything he can turn into another soundbite for Fox News to repeat every ten minutes, to the seeds of distrust being sewn into even the most empirically verifiable of facts, it seems like membership in the Republican Party these days comes complete with its own supply of tin foil hats. The conservative mass in this country — can it even be called a “movement” if it seems dead-set on staying where it is for all eternity? — has fallen into the worst kind of retrograde thinking (and one that can plague all ideologies, but seems especially prevalent among conservatives these days) there is: Instead of gathering evidence and then coming to conclusions based on that evidence, American conservatives come to conclusions first, then try to find evidence to back their conclusions, and when they can’t find that evidence they’ll either try to twist existing evidence until it’s no longer recognizable, or else they’ll invent “evidence” out of whole cloth. When confronted with evidence that disproves their claims, they just repeat their previous claims louder, and more frequently, until they become “facts” for their followers. (Remind you of a certain far-right cable news network?)

This kind of thinking was once the domain of the Rush Limbaughs and Wally Georges of the world, and while the Republican Party of those days might have parroted some of those same talking points from right-wing media, they at least had a modicum of practical, rational thought that allowed them to look like actual politicians in office, a realization that they weren’t in control of everything, and that trying to force all of their policies on everyone indiscriminately would cost them the moderates whose votes they needed if they were to remain in power after their next election. Starting with the Bush 43 presidency, though, and especially after President Obama’s first inauguration, the line between what radical right-wing media proposes, and what the Republican Party actually tries to pass into law, has blurred to the point where it’s often not even discernible. We see it in the constant obstructionism by congressional Republicans, we see it in the unprecedented social legislation being rammed through state legislatures by Republicans after the 2010 midterms, and we see it in the privileging of political stunts, like the never-ending stream of House votes to repeal Obamacare, over the conduct of the business these congresspeople were elected to do.

It’s one thing when a Republican elected official says or does something to get themselves in regular rotation on Fox News. The 2011 debt ceiling fight, though, showed that Republicans were willing to tank the country’s credit rating, and possibly cause a worldwide depression, just to extract concessions from a reeling Obama after the 2010 midterms. The fact that Republicans even entertained the thought of another such fight this past year — after their agenda was pretty soundly rebuked in the 2012 elections — should have been a sign of total lunacy, but the resulting government shutdown cost the United States economy $24 billion. That is nothing short of deliberate self-sabotage, and evidence that the Republican party will keep pursuing its agenda at any costs, no matter what consequences America suffers as a whole.

It is true that not all Republicans are adhering to this methodology directly, but these moderate Republicans undermine their “outsider” status by not supporting efforts to stop congressional logjams obstructing bipartisan legislation they claim to support, such as discharge petitions in the House. At the start of the most recent government shutdown, several House Republicans claimed they supported the stopgap Senate bill that was eventually passed once we were minutes away from breaking through the debt ceiling. However, they refused to go along with any measures that would have forced the bill onto the House floor, indicating that they cared more about not getting in trouble with their Republican/conservative overlords than they did  about the people they were elected to serve. To me, that makes them just as complicit in the shutdown and its consequences as the far-right nutjobs who dreamed the whole disaster up.

Someone has to say it: The Republican Party has lost its moral authority to be a participant in American governance. From a reluctance to negotiate with Democrats that borders on outright refusal, to the crazy legislation getting passed in states where they took control after the 2010 elections, to their continuing efforts to disenfranchise those groups most likely to vote against them, Republicans are not only acting against the best interests of Americans, but they’re acting in ways that demonstrate that they want to abolish democracy entirely, setting up effectual one-party rule.

It’s bad enough that most people are trapped into the false dilemma of thinking that they have to vote for either Democrats or Republicans, especially as the diversity of views in both parties has shrunk so much in the past few decades. It was worse when the Democratic Party launched a virtual jihad on the Green Party after the 2000 elections, accusing Ralph Nader of “spoiling” the election. If the Republican Party and the conservative money machine are going to go after third parties now, it could very well kneecap the possibility of any real progress being made in American government for decades, especially if Democrats keep refusing to push back against Republican obstinance and obstructionism. (Ohio Democrats’ slate of candidates for state office this year is about as stale as year-old bread, although I do give them credit for opposing SB 193, even if their opposition is hardly vociferous.)

I’m not even sure the Green Party of Ohio would have me as a candidate, but the point is that thanks to Ohio Republicans, I no longer have the opportunity to even pursue that possibility. There’s no way I could get on the ballot in Ohio for anything other than low-level, non-partisan local positions, and I’m not interested in those. Whatever good I might be able to do in those offices pales in comparison to the immediate, desperate need for someone to go to Washington and break up the duopoly that is allowing our country to keep slipping down the drain. If I don’t make an effort to be that person, who will? If those of us outside of the stifling two-party system aren’t even allowed to run for office, though, it’s all kind of a moot point for pretty much everyone else who wants to change government for the better. Make no mistake: This is deliberate on Republicans’ part. They’ll do anything to preserve their kakistocracy.