The Right’s Dreams of American Apartheid

It’s tragic but not surprising that the election of the nation’s first black president would accelerate a racist, nationwide movement to disenfranchise people of color, the poor and the elderly. A new map of states with restrictive voting laws indicates the scope of the problem: racism is not restricted to the former Confederacy.

Many conservatives, including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, argue that 1965’s historic Voting Rights Act is obsolete and in need of repeal. The opposite is the case. The VRA, which currently applies to a limited number of states, counties and townships, should be expanded to include all 50 states.

Conservative arguments for repeal are based in part on the election of Barack Obama. The New York Times 2008 election-night headline, “Obama Elected President as Racial Barrier Falls,” says it all. Charles P. Pierce chides Americans about their “post-racial” wishful hallucinations with his repeated sarcasm, “It’s Not About Race because It’s Never About Race.” By 2011, though, even the NYT’s was forced back up a bit on the wish, running a piece by Toure′ pleading for an end to claims of a “post-racial America.”

We are not a nation devoid of racial discrimination nor are we a nation where race does not matter. Race and racism are still critical factors in determining what happens and who gets ahead in America.

Todd Donovan’s intriguing 2010 study, “Obama and the White Vote,” shows that racial context influences voting behavior. Obama did less well in states with large African American populations, confirming the “racial threat” theory that says racist attitudes among whites grow as the population of people of color increases. Donovan concluded:

Race was clearly a factor in the 2008 presidential election. Independent of innuendo about Obama that was associated with his race, there are reasons to expect that some white voters might still find it difficult to support an African American candidate for president.

The right-wing voter suppression movement is not new, but it has picked up steam. Every honest, thinking person knows that so-called “voter ID” laws are intended to suppress the votes of blacks, Latinos, the elderly, the infirm, and young college students – all constituencies that historically favor Democratic candidates.

Continue reading “The Right’s Dreams of American Apartheid”

Why I’m calling it *gulp* for Michele Bachmann

Yep. Monday night belonged to Michele Bachmann.

Let’s be clear: If history is any indication, the Republicans are not going to nominate “a maverick” for president. The party has its share of them at the state and Congressional levels, but I’m talking about a presidential nominee who’s a true outsider in the McGovern sense.

That was always Pat Buchanan’s problem. It was where Jack Kemp hit a glass political ceiling. Reagan was the maverick when he lost in 1976. So was McCain in 2000.

Bachmann faces the same challenge. But she stepped up, met it head-on, and exceeded expectations on Monday. Exceeding expectations are what debates are about. Her strong performance should light a fire under Gov. Rick Perry, who increasingly seems like he is considering a run himself.

The other big winner was Romney, who comes from the other wing of the GOP –  the one where the nominees traditionally live. The big loser, of course, was Pawlenty, who grabbed media attention on the Sunday talk shows with his buzzword “Obamaney Care” and flubbed miserably on Monday, when he had a chance to keep up the momentum on a true national stage.

Pawlenty wrote a book called Courage To Stand, but he didn’t have enough courage to stand by that claim, much less plant it firmly on Romney’s forehead when the two were face to face. It was more than a missed opportunity; it was an affirmative mistake that reinforced his milquetoast image.

Romney walked on stage Monday at St. Anselm College as the frontrunner, and Pawlenty’s fumble let him leave largely unscathed. Romney showed cool in a cool medium and came across presidential. His campaign experience was evident.

But this group is far to the political right of the 2008 GOP field, and that is Bachmann territory. Being ultraconservative helps in this early phase. Down the stretch Republicans are going to think increasingly about who can beat Obama. They are going to ask who can appeal to independents and conservative Democrats. That is Romney’s biggest asset, and he lucked out because the others chose to use this first debate to introduce themselves in a positive light rather than to attack him.

The key thing Bachmann did was move out of Sarah Palin’s shadow. She showed news savvy by announcing she had filed her papers and was an official candidate. She showed political savvy by being the first one in the first debate to swiftly and firmly promise to eliminate the Obama health care program. It made the rest of the group, who scampered to restate their own similar positions, look like they were following her lead.

Bachmann carefully introduced herself in terms of her real work as a member of Congress, but her most impressive moment – the one where she showed real message savvy – was when she tied health reform in a negative way directly to the issue Obama is trying to seize: jobs. She cited a study that shows it’s a job killer. An 800,000-job killer. It was a political twofer and a signal she is ready to campaign at a sophisticated level.

Bachmann’s biggest job right now is to convince political insiders who know her as a bomb thrower that she is more than a “movement candidate.” If she is serious, she can’t be the GOP’s Dennis Kucinich. She clearly is the candidate that the Tea Party is most comfortable with and, like it or not, that means she has a real Republican constituency.

Perry (and Palin) are Bachmann’s strongest competition for those voters, but both are still playing coy. Perry doesn’t have the national exposure Palin has, so he can’t wait as long as Palin can to enter the race. If he is serious, Bachman’s strong showing was bad news for him.

Ron Paul has a constituency, but nobody believes he is going to get the nomination. Romney has a national base of supporters left over from four years ago. The rest of that group is hoping for the type of “catch fire” opportunity Pawlenty flubbed.

I worked on Ann Richards’ campaign in 1994, when many Texas Democrats didn’t take George W. Bush seriously until it was too late. I watched Al Gore and national Democrats make the same smug mistake six years later. I’d never vote for Bachmann, but in terms of making the most of a specific campaign moment, I’m not afraid to give her kudos for an impressive job on Monday night. Perry’s advisers should do the same.

Obama Returns to His Moral Vision: Democrats Read Carefully

Last week, on April 13, 2011, President Obama gave all Democrats and all progressives a remarkable gift.  Most of them barely noticed. They looked at the President’s speech as if it were only about budgetary details. But the speech went well beyond the budget. It went to the heart of progressive thought and the nature of American democracy, and it gave all progressives a model of how to think and talk about every issue.

It was a landmark speech. It should be watched and read carefully and repeatedly by every progressive who cares about our country —whether Democratic office-holder, staffer, writer, or campaign worker — and every progressive blogger, activist and concerned citizen. The speech is a work of art.

The policy topic happened to be the budget, but he called it “The Country We Believe In” for a reason. The real topic was how the progressive moral system defines the democratic ideals America was founded on, and how those ideals apply to specific issues.  Obama’s moral vision, which he applied to the budget, is more general: it applies to every issue. And it can be applied everywhere by everyone who shares that moral vision of American democracy.

Discussion in the media has centered on economics — on the President’s budget policy compared with the Republican budget put forth by Paul Ryan. But, as Robert Reich immediately pointed out, “Ten or twelve-year budgets are baloney. It’s hard enough to forecast budgets a year or two into the future.” The real economic issues are economic recovery and the distribution of wealth.  As I have observed, the Republican focus on the deficit is really a strategy for weakening government and turning the country conservative in every respect. The real issue is existential: what is America at heart and what is America to be.

Continue reading “Obama Returns to His Moral Vision: Democrats Read Carefully”

Read This And You Will Become Smart And Go To Heaven


Dictators often come wrapped in lofty literary pretensions, it seems. And you thought the novel was dead.

Suzanne Murkelson has a terrific piece in Foreign Policy about the literary lives of dictators. She was disciplined enough to avoid the term tortured prose. But I’m not.

Murkelson notes that it was the late Turkmen autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov who blurbed his own work:

A person that reads Ruhnama becomes smart … and after it, he will go to heaven…

What writer wouldn’t love such an Amazon review? The gift of intelligence in this life, the promise of eternal happiness in the afterlife? I wonder what you get if you reread it?

Muammar al-Qaddafi wrote a children’s story called “The Astronaut’s Suicide” about an American space explorer who ends it all after he returns to Earth and discovers he’s lost his job due to budget cuts. Goodnight, Moon. One hopes he at least read Niyazov.

Continue reading “Read This And You Will Become Smart And Go To Heaven”

Gone Fishin’

When ESPN did the empty-net story that Barack Obama planned to ban fishing, America reached a new level of ignorant media bloviating (pardon the redundancy).

Not even Matthew Continetti, author of the ridiculous book, The Persecution of Sarah Palin, can match the fish story pound for pound on the preposterous scale. Palin, like Wanda in A Fish Called Wanda, has double and triple-crossed her way to all the diamonds. As Dwight Eisenhower’s granddaughter Susan said to Continetti Friday on Bill Maher’s Realtime, Palin’s “persecuted all the way to the bank.”

Anyway, here’s how ESPN’s outdoor writer Robert Montgomery put the newest Obama’s-gonna-get-you-if-you-don’t-watch-out conspiracy theory:

The Obama administration has ended public input for a federal strategy that could prohibit U.S. citizens from fishing some of the nation’s oceans, coastal areas, Great Lakes, and even inland waters.

Sure ‘nough, a google search of “obama fishing ban” is already producing a quarter of a million hits. America should replace “e pluribus unum” with “hook, line and sinker.”

If I have it straight from the teacups, Obama’s going to take away our guns and our fishing poles, appoint death panels, turn America into an African Socialist Paradise, condemn all white people to second-class citizenry in a reverse apartheid, destroy Christianity in a secular humanist fit and, probably, cut in line at the movies.

Meanwhile, our ever-vigilant media keep legitimizing the nuttiness. By today’s media standards, Charles Manson was a respectable spiritual leader with a few bad-apple followers. Hey, they report, we deride.

Continue reading “Gone Fishin’”

A Socialist Primer: Rick Perry, Health Care & the Governor’s Race

Perry-RallyI’m wondering what it’s going to take for my former colleagues in the Texas press corps to call out Rick Perry for using the term “socialism” over-and-over to describe the insurance reform Congress passed last week.

Either Perry and reporters covering him don’t know what socialism is (and I doubt that), or Perry again is pushing  Tea Bag propaganda, and the press is too lazy or too intimidated to challenge it.

I’m used to Perry embarrassing Texas. So, I’m not surprised he’s parroting Dolph Briscoe’s old obsession with “creeping socialism.”  Thankfully, we’ve moved beyond the 1970s, though you wouldn’t know it from the Cold War rhetoric in a statement Perry released last Sunday and sound bites he repeated later in the week. Continue reading “A Socialist Primer: Rick Perry, Health Care & the Governor’s Race”

Open Letter: From Sam Houston to Barack Obama

Sam_Houston2.750Mr. President:

It’s my humble privilege as a citizen with my own place in American history to write to you as you’re about to make the most important decision of your presidency. I’m referring to more than a single issue here, Mr. President. I’m talking about the course you are going to chart for the next eight months.

You’re going to show us your idea of greatness, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to do something great. You’ll either decide to follow advisers fixed on minimizing traditional midterm election losses and prematurely launch your own 2012 campaign, or you will use the robust majorities your election rolled-up in the House and Senate and spend the capital you earned in 2008 to fulfill your promise of “change we can believe in.” But you can’t do both.

So, Mr. President, I’m writing to offer the spirit I followed throughout my own public life: “Do right, and risk the consequences.”

In case you don’t recall, I had a meteoric career that ended rather poorly – at least it seemed so at the time. I was governor of Tennessee and served in Congress before I moved to Texas. There, I led a revolutionary army that defeated one of the great generals of our time and won my adopted state its independence from Mexico.

I was the first president of the Republic of Texas, and I forged the political consensus that led her into the Union rather than on a course of independent westward expansion. I was elected governor on the eve of the Civil War and served honorably until a band of reactionary legislators burst into my office in an ersatz coup and demanded I sign their noxious Oath of Loyalty to the Confederacy. Instead, I handed over the state seal and keys to the archives, and walked away from everything I worked for and risked my life to build.

Continue reading “Open Letter: From Sam Houston to Barack Obama”

Obama, Vaclav Havel, and the Dalai Lama

havelresizedFormer Czech President Vaclav Havel offered some criticism of President Obama’s snubbing of the Dalai Lama in a recent interview with Foreign Affairs magazine, and it raises important ethical and political questions. My own political  stance, which I’ve termed prairie humanism, is based on the conviction that democratic politics are nothing more than extensions of our personal, intimate lives with one another and that human life is so thoroughly inter-subjective that it is literally true that no one is free while another is in chains. Exploitation of others — say, through the denial of health care, education or a living wage — ultimately costs us all, especially those doing the exploiting.

What do Havel, Obama, and the Dalai Lama have to do with it?

Havel warns that the seemingly insignificant snub of the Dalai Lama (Obama postponed a meeting, perhaps to avoid annoying China), can have terrifying future consequences. He points to the small compromises of the 1938 Munich conference and subsequent fascist exploitation of those compromises as examples. Havel, the playwright who led the Czech dissident movement and ended totalitarian rule in 1989, is famous for his “live in truth” ethic. Compromises on human rights,  which always involve the sacrifice of truth even though they can seem pragmatically necessary at times, have consequences. Those consequences should be carefully weighed before the sacrifice of truth is accepted as the best alternative. Here’s what Havel says (on the jump):

Continue reading “Obama, Vaclav Havel, and the Dalai Lama”

Perry Plays the Socialism Scare Game

sovietamerica_thisis_smallLike a too-slick Marvel Comics villain,  the famously well-coiffed Rick Perry stands in his expensive tailored suit (Italian? English Socialist Tweed?), and leads his Midland Country Club audience in a kind of awkward, unpoetic “We Shall Overcome” moment. These Midlandistas just don’t look like there’s much left for them to overcome.

Obama, Perry says, is punishing Texas. Obama’s is “an administration hellbent on taking America toward a socialist country,” he adds. Chopping-chopping the air Nikita Kruschev-like with his (French cuffed!!) hand,  Perry calls for bigger and better tea parties.

Maybe this is just some kind of tragicomic nightmare planted in my infant brain by Atomic Spiders or precious-bodily-fluids-poisoning spies.  I must be dreaming of the sick and paranoid ’50s, when even Dwight Eisenhower was accused of coddling communists. Are 21st Century Texans really believing this insane shit? How stupid are they? Don’t answer that.

Continue reading “Perry Plays the Socialism Scare Game”

The American Family in the White House

obama family portraitThe White House today released the official Obama family portrait by Annie Leibovitz. In his new book of essays, Manhood for Amateurs, the writer Michael Chabon describes his reaction to seeing the Obama family in Grant Park on election night, after President Obama’s victory was announced. It is touching and powerful:

Like the rest of the world, even many of those who had (by their own accounts the next morning) voted, connived, pontificated, or railed against Barack Obama, I held my breath as I watched him first walk out to the podium that night with Michelle, Malia, and Sasha. The four of them, dressed in shades of red and black, seemed to catch and hold a different kind of light, the light of history, astonishing and clear. Time stopped, and I was conscious as I have been very times in my life — the morning of September 11, 2001, was, terribly, another — of seeing something that had never been seen. It was not only the beauty, or the blackness, or the youth of the new first family, or some combination of the three. It was the unmistakable air of mutual engagement the Obamas give off, the sense of being a fully operational — loving, struggling, seeking, adjusting, testing, playing, mythologizing, arguing, rationalizing, celebrating, compromising, affirming, denying — family. I felt that I had never seen a presidential family that was so clearly a working family in the sense of the everyday effort involved.