Saturday, September 01, 2007

Just A River In Egypt

--by Sara

It's been a hell of a summer for social conservatives. Their religious and political leadership has been caught with its pants down -- literally or figuratively -- at the rate of about one per week for the past couple months now. David Vitter. Bob Allen. Glenn Murphy. Larry Craig. (And that's just on the sex front: we're not even getting into the financial improprieties of Ted Stevens and his gang from Alaska.)

Glenn Greenwald's Thursday piece describes the predictably self-serving and tortured twisting and turning that's going on as the right-wing blogosphere tries to reconcile their cherished "moral values" with the requirement to support Republicans at all costs. After all, there comes a point where denial just doesn't work anymore -- and some of them, at least, apparently realize they're just about there.

But for quite a few conservative subgroups, that point is still way off in the distance -- and denial is just a river in Egypt. I'd like to talk a bit about how that's shaking out.

News Flash: Hypocrisy Is Morally Wrong
Those of us in the reality-based world have a very clear and logical response to hypocrisy. The comments thread in Dave's post below on Larry Craig showed this reaction in full bloom. We expect people to walk their talk. People whose actions don't square with their stated moral code cannot, and should not, be trusted. We understand that people of good will can have moments of weakness where they miss the intended mark (I'm talkin' to you, Bill Clinton); but when people have built their entire careers demonizing people in public for the exact same stuff they're doing themselves in private, we reserve the right to call them out as hypocrites.

Beyond that: We actually think hypocrisy is morally wrong. The right-wing bloggers seem to be having a real hard time with this idea; but out here on our side, we're quite clear about it. Hypocrisy bespeaks a lack of self-awareness and self-knowledge -- a loose relationship with objective truth that's unacceptably dangerous in anyone with power. A person who can lie to himself that blatantly can reasonably be expected to lie the electorate as well. A person who lets their ideology blind them to the honest truths of the human condition cannot make good policy for the rest of us to live by. A person who carves the rest of the world into "good" and "evil" based on criteria they refuse to apply to themselves is completely incapable of understanding, let alone enforcing, equal rights under law. Hypocrisy is the enemy of wisdom and compassion; and, no matter what your form of government, it leads to disastrous decision-making and epic folly. A continued history of overt hypocrisy with no evidence of subsequent growth should, all on its own, automatically disqualify anyone from public office.

This is what "moral clarity" looks like on the progressive side. But, as I said, out on the right, they're really struggling. This struggle is playing out in three different ways -- at least two of which are non-intuitive, and all of which have implications for what could happen next.

By their strategies shall you know them.

No Conscience, No Hypocrisy, No Problem
Longtime readers may remember that I once wrote a taxonomy of authoritarians that separated them into three groups. The smallest group, as Bob Altemeyer told us last year, is the high-social dominance (high-SDO) leaders -- the handful of amoral tyrant wannabes who think equality is for suckers and other people are there to be manipulated out of whatever they can be taken for. In his 2006 book, Conservatives Without Conscience, John Dean guessed that most of the people now being caught with their hands in the cookie jar would fall into this category.

These people aren't going to feel genuine remorse for their actions...mainly because they're constitutionally incapable of feeling remorse at all. While most of us -- left and right -- feel tremendous internal tension when our actions don't square with our personal beliefs, that's not a problem these guys have. Because that dissonance requires that one actually have personal beliefs in the first place. And they're simply not burdened by that issue.

Being untroubled by a conscience makes it easy for them to tell people whatever they want to hear. If what people want to hear is "God hates fags," they'll sell that line with the required conviction -- even when they're personally cruising public restrooms and paging pages in their off hours. There's no dissonance there to be felt. Their lives are governed by one consistent and unwavering interest: to manipulate others in order to get their needs met. Since that's the only real priority there is -- and all their actions serve that end -- there's no conflict in their minds at all.

I've written before that we need to get a whole lot better about identifying high-SDO types early, and keeping them away from the levers of power. Unfortunately, they're obsessively drawn to both political and religious leadership -- so the rest of us need get lightening fast at knowing 'em when we see 'em, and act swiftly and surely to end their careers before they get too far along. (Some pointers for how to do this are here.)

A high SDO's first instinct is to defend anyone with power...right up until the moment that his own interests might be furthered by betraying his erstwhile friends. Right now, you can hear their voices loudly and clearly in the right-wing conversation: they're the ones trying hardest to minimize these scandals. "It's not so bad," they say. "After all, Clinton was a pervert, too" -- an attempt at moral equivalency that reveals their complete incompetence at moral calculus. Since most high-SDOs have personal lives that don't brook too much examination, they're also very eager to change the subject. "Um...uh...oh, look! Mexicans! Terrorists! Iran!"

Our Leader Said It. I Believe it. That Settles It.
The second group is the hard-core right-wing authoritarian followers (RWA followers, for short), also identified through Altemeyer's work and described in Dean's book. Because their first impulse is to follow their high-SDO leaders implicitly, they can be expected to discount the truth of the allegations and savagely blame the victims -- all while wrapping themselves in the mantle of their own victimhood.

For these people, it's all about denial. The allegations were bogus. Craig's taped confession was faked. They also get to work their cherished stabbed-in-the-back meme: the Democrats set these guys up -- you know they're always out to get us. The subtext, now as always, is: our leaders can do no wrong. And besides, however fucked up they are, they're still moral paragons compared to those scheming libruls. The logic of high-RWA followers is essentially tribal, and more than a bit paranoid. Anybody who believes like us gets a pass. Anybody who doesn't is out to get us.

Those of us on the progressive side who think that this wave of scandal is finally going to bitch-slap these people back to reality are doomed to be very disappointed. Just give it up now, because it's not gonna happen. The only kind of assault these people register is direct, personal, deep betrayal that creates an obvious, tangible loss for them. Politicians and preachers can (and routinely do) rape their daughters and swindle their mothers' fortunes away; but even that's not quite close enough to home for most of them. Until there's a betrayal that creates a quantifiable personal hit to their own well-being, they'll almost always find ways to wave it all off.

Even more frustrating: among the Christianist RWAs, these kinds of troubles generally tend to raise a leader's stock, not tank it. Fundamentalist Christians know in their bones that all humans are essentially depraved. They can't possibly cast stones at these guys; because there, but for the grace of God, go any of us. Their entire religion rests on stories of humiliation, loss, and redemption by faith. Such testimonies are the staple of every fundamentalist worship service, and they never fail to move people to tears.

Thus, a political or religious leader who succumbs to temptation is typically made more credible, not less, by these events. He's now made a personal sojourn into the deepest abyss -- places few Christians have ever gone -- and met the Devil face-to-face. After a suitable period of rehabilitation (it only took Ted Haggard three short weeks) he'll be able to share his powerful new testimony with others -- for a hefty speaking fee, of course -- for the rest of his life. It's perverse, but true: the worse the depravity you can describe, the better and more marketable the tale.

Voters, of course, are less forgiving. Politicians like Craig and Vitter probably won't get elected again; and Allen and Murphy have probably worked their last campaigns. But they all stand to make out quite handsomely as a direct result of their troubles: the wonderful world of wingnut welfare and the fundamentalist talk circuit will soon provide enough money and ego candy to salve whatever disgrace they may feel now. (Access to that generous and accepting audience is one reason so many disgraced public figures "find Jesus" in the aftermath of scandal. It's the only market that will still pay up to buy their story.)

For both of the above groups, these scandals will create exactly zero long-term consequences. The high-SDO leaders will either return to the bosom of the faithful, or find other groups to exploit. The high-RWA followers will forgive and forget, as they always do. We could have another scandal every week until the 2008 election (and, the way things are going, we very well might) -- but it won't change a thing for any of these people.

Just Tell Us The Truth. Please.
But authoritarians comprise something less than one-third of all Americans; and the above two groups are only about half of that. Which means that there's a third group -- maybe 12-15% of the country -- that's looking at this moral meltdown, and may actually be taking the right lessons to heart.

In the posts linked to above, I've called these "soft-core authoritarians." They're usually people who didn't start life on the far-right; but somehow over the past 30 years ended up there. Hippies scared them, but they liked Reagan. They think the Democrats will tax them, and give their money away to people who don't work. They listened to Rush and Billo, because they were all that was on the radio and TV. Their friends at the bar, the community center, or the seniors home were all conservative. Very often, they hit a bad patch in life, and found the support they needed at a fundamentalist church. One way or another, they got pulled into the orbit of authoritarian religion and politics, and have stayed there ever since.

But, even though they're roused by the powerful emotional rhetoric and imagery of the far right, they also retain enough of a functioning conscience to know hypocrisy when they see it. And those people are taking serious notice of this growing mountain of malfeasance and scandal, as this discussion on Daily Kos makes evident.

It's not going down well. Across the country, there are decent, modest social conservatives who don't like folks who say one thing and do another; and have nothing but contempt for people who refuse to take responsibility for their own actions. (If you ask them, they'll tell you it's why they became Republicans in the first place.) Against the backdrop of Iraq and Katrina and the parade of lying Bush Administration officials, and against the failure of the promises they've been hearing from the GOP for 30 years, they're finally looking at the whole lying mess and wondering: "Who are these guys? And why should we continue to believe anything they say?"

Greenwald's post includes some of these voices, too: prominent right-wing bloggers whose remaining attachment to reason was finally strong enough that they could no longer ignore their faction's flaming hypocrisy problem. When the radical right's own spokespeople start fessing up in the face of mounting evidence, it's a good sign that this endless wave of scandal is making at least a small dent in the wall of IOKIYAR denial.

These are the people the progressive movement needs to be talking to -- and this moral meltdown is a tremendous opening that's making more than a few of them more open to hearing our side of the story. But we also need to bear in mind that there are limits to how far this can take us. We may be horrified now at the sheer volume of the hypocrisy. But we're probably going to be even more horrified later as we realize, in the weeks and months to come, that there are vast numbers of people who are still, in the face of everything, perfectly capable of denying that any of this matters at all.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A question

-- by Dave

I've got a question for Glenn Beck and Dagen McDowell, who have been broadcasting the big news -- which oh by the way just happens to be false -- that Fidel Castro "endorsed" Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Namely: Even if this report were true, what exactly more would it tell us about Clinton and Obama than we would learn about George W. Bush from the fact that David Duke endorsed him (in both 2000 and 2004)?

BTW, Duke is a big Ron Paul guy this year.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Larry Craig's wide Idaho stance

[Larry Craig thinks about new uses for a prosthetic hand. From the old Senate Veterans Affairs Committee site.]

-- by Dave

There have been a lot of unwritten secrets in Idaho politics over the years. Larry Craig's was one of them.

Everybody who covered politics in Idaho over the years knew about them. About how Rep. George Hansen, in addition to being a publicity-hound and a Bircherite kook, was also corrupt. About Steve Symms' incessant philandering, first as a congressman and then as a senator. About the long-running affair between Rep. Helen Chenoweth and Sagebrush Rebellion guru Vern Ravenscroft.

These secrets all eventually came out, of course, though only in Hansen's case could you say the press had much of anything to do with it (and the reporters who dogged Hansen were significantly helped by the IRS and FBI, who produced Hansen's eventual convictions on tax-fraud and money-laundering charges). Symms only retired from the Senate in 1992 after it became self-evident that his long-suffering wife, Fran, was about to go nuclear with their divorce proceedings; and Chenoweth, who was similarly exposed by an enraged spouse (Ravenscroft's wife went public) actually won re-election after her glass house was shattered. (She only left Congress because she did in fact honor her original vow to limit her terms.)

No, for the most part we in the press just kept quiet about these secrets. I suspect knowledge of them colored our coverage, but nobody ever proposed digging into these politicians' personal lives. It was considered, frankly, irrelevant and ultimately unworthy of serious reportage. I doubt you could have found an editor at any Idaho paper who would have approved such an investigation.

We'd heard things about Larry Craig, too, as early as 1980, when he first ran for Congress -- just rumors, of course, but the kind that in retrospect were warning signs, involving supposed cruising behavior on the University of Idaho campus when he was at school there. Craig replaced Symms in Congress that year -- after Symms managed to unseat longtime Sen. Frank Church (by less than 1/10th of 1 percent of the vote) -- and after having endured years of the blustering phony Symms, the mild-mannered and affable Craig was actually a real relief.

But the rumors began to take on a different shape just two years later. As Joel Connelly recalled this morning:
Craig has triggered rumors about himself. In the House, during the early 1980s, he called a news conference to deny any role in a scandal in which two colleagues were censored for having sex with House pages.

The news conference baffled many; no one had accused Craig of anything.

Actually, what I recall about that press conference was that many of us understood the context: Craig was keeping those rumors about a gay lifestyle, which were already circulating regarding the House page scandal, knocked down. We just didn't write about it.

Over the years, the rumors kept coming. When Craig finally got married in 1987, the rumors flew that it was a "cover" marriage. But the gist of most of the rumors simply suggested that Craig was a closeted gay, and most reporters and editors figured (rightly) that this at least was his own business.

What they ignored at the time were similarly persistent rumors about possible illegal and unethical behavior: Craig cruising men's restrooms, or being involved with young House employees. Perhaps more importantly, they simultaneously let Craig posture endlessly about "family values" and the damnable "gay agenda." He supported a 2006 amendment to the Idaho Constitution banning gay marriage. He voted against a federal hate-crimes bill because it included sexual orientation as one of the categories of bias. Memorably, he also got on his moral high horse and condemned Bill Clinton during the Monica brouhaha as "a nasty, bad, naughty boy".

Well, Republicans rewrote the press rules during the Monica madness: digging into a politician's private life became not only fair game, but a certain path to fame and fortune. The Beltway media mavens like to tell us that Drudge Rules Our World -- but the Drudge Rules, and they have so often since Monica, have turned around and bitten conservatives on the ass once again.

Because Craig's cruising habits were creating too many rumors to ignore. Finally, as mcjoan recently noted, the Idaho Statesman's Dan Popkey set out to find out if there was any substance to them, and engaged in a months-long investigation of the matter. After producing it this spring, though, its publication was held up for various legal considerations, not least of which was that Craig himself apparently threatened the Statesman with a suit -- note Craig's claim today that Popkey had harassed his family, and that it was this harassment that led him to plead guilty in the restroom case in hopes of avoiding publicity. (That worked out real well, didn't it?)

Well, after the arrest Popkey's report finally ran, and it's worth reading just to see the track record that Craig has amassed in leading this covert second life. That record itself is enough to render laughable Craig's claim that his main mistake was in pleading guilty, that his behavior in the men's room was innocent and misunderstood. And really, he's not gay. Got that? (As one wag I know put it: "Well, maybe not, but the men he had sex with were.")

Craig, of course, is history now. You know that when Hugh Hewitt and Jonah Goldberg throw you under the bus, you're road kill fershure. Talk about a wide stance -- Craig looks like Wile E. Coyote after the roadrunner gives him the once-over with the steamroller.

At this point, it's all about picking up the remaining pieces. Randy Stapilus whose continuing coverage of the Craig scandal has been top-notch (as always) offers some clues as to who's going to emerge from the pigpile with Craig's drawers. And mcjoan reports that Rep. Bill Sali -- yes, the same Bill Sali who intimated that Muslims don't belong in Congress -- is in the front row and ready to jump in.

But the lingering question, hovering in the air well after the pigpile picks up and moves on, has to do with the press's role in the unfolding drama. The right, of course, is whining that a Democrat would never earn this kind of coverage for his sexual foibles (evidently they've succumbed to a mind ray that has erased all memory of the Monica/Paula Jones matter). The flip side, though, may be more salient: Did the press enable Craig through the years by remaining silent about the mounting rumors, leaving those stones tastefully unturned? Or was that the right call all along?

It's not really any fun watching a man like Larry Craig self-immolate. It's really kind of sad. Drudge may rule our world, but that doesn't make it a better place.

Neither, however, does an ethos that indulges hypocrites who shove a moral code upon the rest of us they themselves are unwilling to live up to. Larry Craig deserved to have been exposed for the hypocrite he is a long time ago. The fact that he wasn't doesn't speak well for the watchdogs of the press, whose masked gentility has, in this case at least, been exposed as a simple anachronism ripe for manipulation by the cynical.

Somewhere in between lies the job of being a journalist.

In Solidarity

-- by Sara

On the occasion of the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, they're flying their American flags upside down in New Orleans tomorrow -- lest anyone think for a minute they're not still in world-class distress.

And, just to add insult to injury: Bush is coming to town for a visit.

Will it be another top-down flyover? A chance to get out the guitar and share a few tunes on Trent Lott's porch? Or perhaps a riveting codpiece dance and a dramatic declaration of "Mission Accomplished"? With Little Boots, one just never knows....

Even Karl Rove would have realized that a presidential visit to commemorate the destruction of New Orleans would be in the very worst taste possible. Is this is the best idea Bush's remaining handlers could come up with?

If so, it's clear that everybody with even one functioning synapse has now officially left the building.

h/t El Gato Negro.

Fomenting civil war

-- by Dave

Like nearly everyone, I was intrigued by Ted Nugent's open advocacy of killing Democrats -- which seemed pretty clearly the upshot of his rant wishing the violent deaths of nearly every one of the Democratic candidates during a recent concert. It was, after all, not just a startling example of the viciousness that right-wing rhetoric now revels in (it's classic hate speech, really), but also yet another notable example of the march of eliminationist rhetoric.

Nugent is such a parody of himself, a gibbering lunatic, that it's hard to take him seriously -- and thus, obviously, it would be easy for the mainstream right to distance itself from him. Just issue a few of the standard expressions of horror, assure the rest of us you recoil at the thought of even being associated with sentiments like Nugent's, and then we can all move on, right?

Well, no. Hasn't happened.

And that, frankly, is a problem. Perhaps the sign of an even bigger problem.

For most of the right, the response to Nugent's remarks has mostly entailed crickets chirping. Michelle Malkin, who has a habit of choking up in outrage over supposedly "unhinged" liberal behavior, has been steadfastly avoiding any reference to Nugent at her site,, though a quick Google search will note that she has previously described him approviingly as a Republican rock star (ironically, in contrast to Obama).

Where it has been discussed, though, there's been nothing approaching repudiation. Rather predictably, there have been some sympathetic posts from the gun-nut faction ("this is video of one man speaking his mind").

Almost as predictably, the "centrist" Beltway types who have reported on it, like Daniel W. Reilly at The Politico, described it in, ah, "neutral" terms:
Though many of us here in The Crypt are fans of bad-boy rocker Ted Nugent, he didn’t win any political points by launching an obscenity-laced tirade during a recent concert against Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, both running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Since The Crypt is a family show, we won’t reprint the "Motor City Madman’s" choicest comments. But, suffice it to say, he didn’t pull any punches.

Well, no, he didn't. He not only called them "pieces of shit," he openly wished that the could kill the two leading Democratic presidential candidates with his machine gun (unless, I suppose, one wants to pretend that "choking" or "riding" on a gun doesn't suggest being filled with lead). There was nothing humorous about this rant; Nugent meant it. But to Reilly, the only thing that Nugent did was call "the Democratic presidential front-runner nasty names," something that might spark a "PR backlash."

Truly taking the cake, though, as Digby observes, was Sean Hannity, who defended Nugent in a remarkably churlish fashion -- by not only refusing to condemn his violence-mongering but by responding nastily to his accuser, Democratic strategist Bob Beckel:
BECKEL: Are you prepared now, Sean -- are you prepared to disavow this lowlife or not?

HANNITY: No, I like Ted Nugent. He's a friend of mine.

... BECKEL: The question is not even a close call. I think Nugent was far over the line and Obama was not.

HANNITY: I want to know. Barack Obama accused our troops of killing civilians and air-raiding villages. What is more offensive to you, which statement?

BECKEL: Because I know the context in which Obama said it. This Nugent is more offensive. This guy ought to be knocked off the air. He ought to never come on your show again, and if you have him on, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. He's a bum!

HANNITY: Not at all. We have you on.

See, in Hannityland -- which, like much of the rest of the right-wing universe, resembles nothing so much as Bizarro World -- wishing aloud that you could blow away the country's most prominent liberals in graphic fashion, and getting the crowd to cheer along, why, that's exactly the same as Barack Obama explaining his military strategy by including the perfectly accurate understanding that air raids produce civilian casualties. It's the same thing as the Dixie Chicks saying they were embarrassed by President Bush. It's no different than anonymous commenters of undetermined background on Michelle Malkin's blog sending her hateful messages.

As the Media Matters piece notes:
Notwithstanding his defense of Nugent, Hannity has decried "hate speech" in the past -- particularly comments directed at President Bush and other conservatives. For example, as Media Matters for America previously noted, on the March 13 edition of Hannity & Colmes, Hannity denounced Clinton's claims of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" as "hate speech." On the March 11 edition of Fox News' Hannity's America, Hannity devoted an entire segment to a "list of the worst examples of liberal hate speech," during which he attacked Clinton, National Public Radio's Nina Totenberg, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), comedian and Democratic Senate candidate Al Franken, actor Alec Baldwin, and others.

Indeed, as Tim Grieve at Salon observes, it was only last month that Hannity had Nugent on his show to talk about the awful nasty things that liberals say:
And how about you, Sean Hannity? Hannity had Nugent on his Fox show in July to discuss a blog post in which a writer said he had "dibs" on Rush Limbaugh if it ever became legal to shoot him, and that others would be "welcome to" Nugent if they wanted him. Hannity said he took such threats seriously, and he asked Nugent if people who make them ought to be arrested. Nugent's answer: Yes.

"You know, I'm an American. I love all Americans. And I would help any American pursue their dreams and their pursuit of happiness," Nugent told Hannity. "But you find that the left, there's a lunatic fringe on the left that literally are trying to force us to comply to their outline of life. And I find it just reprehensible that they would recommend violence, not to mention murder and shooting people and assassinating people. This is bizarre."

Of course, I've pointed out previously that this sort of behavior is part of Republicans' projection strategy: If they accuse liberals loudly enough of a certain kind of behavior, it becomes a permission for them to do so themselves -- though of course, liberals are at worst marginally guilty of this behavior, and the conservative immanation of it is exponentially more egregious.

But more than the hypocrisy and mendacity that conservatives are displaying, the most disturbing aspect of this is the toxic nature of Nugent's rant. Watching it, it's not hard to see that Nugent doesn't merely wish he could make Obama and Clinton and Barbara Boxer suck on his machine gun -- rather, they are mere figureheads for his animus, stand-ins for liberals generally. It seems he'd be like not merely to make Obama and Clinton eat lead but for entire crowds of their supporters to be sprayed with gunfire as well. And he isn't merely wishing this for himself -- he's urging his audience to join him.

For mainstream conservatives to openly condone this kind of talk is not just unforgivably irresponsibile, it's morally reprehensible. But it is, unfortunately, exactly where the conservative movement has been dragging us for the past 15 years -- ever since Pat Buchanan's declaration of a "culture war" back in 1992.

The culmination of this "war" -- which is nothing less than a civil war in reality -- is behavior on the ground like Ted Nugent's, manifested in the media by nasty defenses like Sean Hannity's. And among the conservative punditry, you can find it in such commentary like the recent offering by Mark Noonan at Blogs for Bush, discussing Norman Podhoretz's new text outlining the next Thirty Years' War with Islam. Noonan believes it has a counterpart that must be fought at home:
It is noted in the book that while it can be said that 62 million Americans said "yes" to the Bush Doctrine in 2004, 59 million gave it a resounding "no" - and with the results of 2006 in, it has become clear that the ideological struggle at home is central to whether or not America will find within itself the will to see the War Against Islamofascism to victory. And that is where my concept that World War IV in the global context may very well work out to Civil War II in the American context comes in: Mr. Podhoretz had given an excellent description of the forces opposed -- internal and external, armed and otherwise -- to our victory, but less notice was given to the forces which have yet allowed President Bush to sustain the campaign in Iraq -- and, indeed, intensify the effort -- in the face of a formidable opposition which can claim a strong political victory against the President in 2006. Those forces are that part of the American people -- as well as well-wishers and allies around the world, especially in the Moslem world -- which provides sons and daughters to volunteer for the military, and who fight a hard political battle here at home to back the war effort to victory.

Which side has the majority? That has yet to be seen -- and that will be fought out in American politics for the next two or three election cycles and will, by extension, determine if we win or lose the war.

Conservatives are increasingly depicting those opposed to the Iraq war -- including, it must be noted, many hundreds of thousands of family members of the soldiers who are being sent over to sacrifice life and limb on the altar of George Bush's catastrophic incompetence -- as the "enemy," as traitors in a global struggle who must be defeated at home by political or any other necessary means. Those means include, evidently, being told by public figures that their leaders deserve to suck on a machine gun.

Nugent, perhaps unwittingly, has provided the conservative movement with its own "Go Cheney Yourself" moment -- the moment when it openly chooses to embrace the ugliest facet of the national discourse. It's the moment when all of its handwringing and finger-pointing about "civility" and the supposed ugliness of liberal rhetoric is exposed, finally, for the empty and cynical ploy that it is.

And when, inevitably, some right-wing nutcase decides to empty a gun in the direction of a liberal candidate because Ted Nugent thought it was a great idea and Sean Hannity did too ... well, expect them, somehow, to find a way to blame liberals for it. Because all that really matters to them is winning their war.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Darcy and the sheriff

-- by Dave

I'm going to admit to a big bias about Darcy Burner right up front. I had the great good fortune to spend a couple of months this past spring working weekly with Darcy on a startup business project, and I can tell you that however smart and personable she appears on the public stage, that only is the faintest impression of how smart and how personable she really is. Most of all, Darcy's values -- her deep conviction on issues, and her unerring ethical compass -- tell you everything you need to know about her as a politician.

As longtime readers know, I'm not much in the business of endorsing politicians. You can usually tell which way I'm voting by what I write about a given politico, but I'm wary of getting behind individual politicians because so often they disappoint. I have no such wariness with Darcy Burner.

Watch this clip and you can see why. It's from her 2006 debate with Rep. Dave Reichert, the Republican ex-sheriff who holds the 8th District seat currently, and narrowly defeated Burner that year. The question arises -- because pharmacists have made it a legal issue -- whether pharmacists should be required to fill prescriptions that run counter to their personal religious beliefs. It's a real minefield of an issue, and the response of the typical triangulating Democrat in such situations is to offer up some kind of middle ground and namby-pamby their way around the issue.

But Burner doesn't mess around. "No," she insists, and then lays out clearly exactly why pharmacists have no business making moral decisions regarding the health of a patient because that's a decision for her doctor to be making -- someone who knows her medical history; indeed, someone who may be prescribing birth control mediciations for reasons (often hormonal) unrelated to contraception.

It's clear, direct, easy to understand, and a perfectly ethical position to stake out -- nor easy to answer. It's also heartfelt; you can see she is speaking as a woman, like most women, with some experience in this issue. Which may be why Reichert responds as he does.

First we see Reichert, early in the video, interrupt Burner, declaring "Yes!" loudly when she says "No," forcing her to wait to finish her response. Then, after her erudite reply, he has to ask: "Jim, what was the question again?"

The moderator, James Veseley of the Seattle Times, rereads it: "Do you think it is OK for a pharmacist to refuse to fill birth-control prescriptions for religious or moral reasons?"

Reichert again answers only: "Yes."

And that's it.

The paternalistic arrogance of that reply -- a simple insistence without any accompanying logic or reason -- really put Reichert's approach to minority issues, including most importantly women's issues -- on stark display. Just give 'em the ol' authoritative "yes" from the sheriff, and don't bother with explaining yourself. It's the John Wayne style of governance.

I have made a point of showing this video to a number of friends. The educated men I know laugh knowingly; but the response from women has been more interesting -- more visceral, more angry. They all know men like the sheriff. He reminds them of bad old bosses or bad boyfriends or divorced husbands.

Which, of course, fits rather perfectly with Monday's visit on Reichert's behalf by President George W. Bush -- who also tends to remind people of soiled relationships gone by.

So I hope everyone on Monday at 3 p.m. PDT goes to Darcy's site to take part in the Virtual Town Hall on the Iraq war that she's sponsoring as a fund-raiser for her campaign. McJoan of Daily Kos, who has the complete rundown on the participants, will be moderating.

And while you're at it: Pitch in for Darcy at ActBlue.

UPDATE: Darcy topped $100,000.