Saturday, January 28, 2012

Who was Saul Alinksy?

Newt Gingrich has tried to make Saul Alinsky the leftist boogeyman to scare people, linking Obama to him as a dangerous socialist.  After winning the South Carolina primary, Gingrich said:  “The centerpiece of this campaign, I believe, is American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky.”

This of course was his 'dog whistle' to conservatives who already suspect Obama as being  un-American and anti-religious.   Newt is wrapping himself in  the mantle of "American exceptionalism," while trying to tarnish Obama as the radical devote of the [wink, wink Communist] Alinsky.

So who was Saul Alinsky?    First, there is no question that, before going to law school, Obama worked as a community organizer in a project on Chicago's poor south side.  The project had been inspired by Alinsky and his methods of "community organizing" to improve the living conditions of the urban poor living in slums.   In fact, Alinsky is considered the originator of the concept of "community organizers."

But any implication that Obama worked with Alinsky is absurd.   Alinsky died in 1971.  Barack Obama was 10 years old and just leaving his mother and step-sister behind in Indonesia to return to Hawaii to live with his grandparents and attend school there.

Newt and other resentful conservatives try to paint Alinsky as a Marxist and dangerous trouble-maker and enemy of our way of life.  In truth, he never joined any organization, much less the Communist Party, declaring on one occasion that "Dogma is the enemy of freedom."  His was a practical approach to achieving social justice for the underprivileged through skillful organizing of community groups into functioning projects and action movements.

Newt, who trots out his credentials as a history professor, is either ignorant or is cynically just playing the demagogue by waving the red flag of leftist radicalism.   The truth is that Alinsky's work grew out of traditional grassroots democracy and institutional religion, especially Catholic social service groups.  According to Michael Kazin, writing in the New Republic, Alinsky "frequently quoted Jefferson and Madison and had contempt for young leftists in the 1960s who disdained the American flag."

Two years before his death, Alinsky, a secular Jew, was awarded the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award by a Midwestern coalition of Catholic groups.  Others who have won the award include:  Martin Luther King, Jr., Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Mother Teresa -- the saintly community organizer of Calcutta.

What makes Newt's attempted smear of Obama even more ludicrous is that, according to Dan Savage, quoted by Andrew Sullivan in The Daily Beast:
Alinsky's advice -- "go home, organize, build power, [and] you be the delegates" -- is the strategy adopted by the American religious right and social conservatives of the 1980s."

They did just that and won majorities on local school boards and city councils -- and then began to get elected to state legislatures and Congress.  All accomplished through the "radical" methods of "community organizing."

The lesson:   Don't listen to Newt when he pretends to give you a history lesson.  Freddie Mac paid $1.6 million, supposedly for Newt's "advice as a historian."   It didn't seem to do them much good, either.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Texans fuming

Hey -- here's a blog that for a change does not mention ____ (you know, the one that Peggy Noonan described as "an angry little attack muffin").

This is about the dumb-ass one, not the smart-ass one.

Texans have already expressed their displeasure, via a poll, where 39% of Republicans said Rick Perry's campaign had had a negative effect on the image of Texas, while only 13% said it had been positive.

Now, injury has been added to insult.   It cost the taxpayers of Texas $ 798,031 for the governor's security detail to travel with him on the campaign trail from September through November.   And it will go higher as bills for December and January come in.   Because security for the governor is a taxpayer expense, the taxpayers, not the campaign, pays for it.

As a taxpayer, I know I would resent hell out of having to pay for our Gov. Nathan Deal to run around making a fool of himself and our state on national TV.


Newt explains it all away

More on Newt's slippery evasion of responsibility for who he is and what he has done.   He's been peddling this idea that, because he has confessed his "mistakes" to God, everybody should just overlook his past bad behavior.  He has put it behind him.  It's sad that not everyone else can, but unfortunately that's the price one has to pay when one offers himself as the savior of the nation.  And Newt and Callista have decided they're willing to make this sacrifice for the good of the country and what they believe in.
Now he's even trying to turn his philandering into an asset.  In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, he said this:

". . . I have not hidden from the facts of my life. . . . I have had to go to God for forgiveness and for reconciliation.

“And I think most people can identify, either with themselves or with loved ones, that life has moments that are very sad, you wish wouldn’t have occurred. And you look back on them and you seek forgiveness for not having done everything you could have.

“So, I think in that sense, it may make me more normal than somebody who wanders around seeming perfect and maybe not understanding the human condition, and the challenges of life for normal people.”
Newt plays this part of the redeemed sinner beautifully, with just the right amount of humility and sorrow over his plight of having this burden.   But look at the bright side:   "it may make me more normal than [Romney] who wanders around seeming perfect and maybe not understanding the human condition, and the challenges of life for normal people."

But think about what he says:   He's not really responsible for his bad behavior.  "Life has moments that . .  . you wish had not occurred" -- that's not taking responsibility.   And "you seek forgiveness for not having done everything you could."   That sounds like an overworked surgeon in the ER regretting he couldn't have done more to save the horribly injured accident victim.  Newt isn't the surgeon;  he's the guy who caused the wreck.

And then, the final audacity:  Newt says his experience gives him a better understanding of life for "normal people."    So what Newt did is just part of "normal" life? 

But, even putting aside Newt's reprehensible behavior with his former wives, there are more than enough character flaws and unsuitabilities of temperament to render him unqualified for the office of president. 

His one leadership role as Speaker of the House ended when his own party voted overwhelmingly to oust him.  Similarly, his own campaign staff resigned en masse last summer.  He has no leadership qualities, only the ability to arouse resentment.  While that may appeal to a certain resentful base, as a nominee for president he would be a disaster.

So -- shall we hope the Republicans make the mistake of nominating Newt for president?   I don't know.   The prospect of some national tragedy or economic collapse happening during the next nine months -- sweeping Obama's opponent into the White House -- is just too scary to want to risk that possibility.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fidel responds

At Monday night's Florida GOP debate, Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum tried to outdo each other in pandering to the Cuban exiles living in South Florida. Romney and Gingrich vied in their speculations about what will happen when Fidel Castro dies.

Romney said his response would be first to "Thank Heavens" that Fidel had "returned to his maker."   Gingrich jumped in with:  "I don't think Fidel's going to meet his maker. I think he's going to go to the other place."

This was all larded with heaps and heaps of condemnation of Obama's "weakness" in easing restrictions and sanctions on this "communist" enclave just 90 miles from our shore.  They would tighten them instead.   Gingrich said he would authorize increased covert actions to bring down their government

Only Paul showed any sense in this exchange.   He said "We ought to be talking to the Cubans instead of trying to kill them. . . .  The Cold War is over."

So now the 85 year old Fidel Castro has responded:
"The selection of a Republican candidate for the presidency of this globalized and expansive empire is – and I mean this seriously – the greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance that has ever been."
Amen to that.


Confronting Newt's lie

In his vituperative response to the debate question about wife #2's claim he asked for an open marriage, Newt boomed out at moderator John King that he was "astounded that CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate."

Continuing his bombastic counterattack, Newt effectively buried the question under a barrage of denunciation, saying he could hardly imagine a more despicable thing for the elite media to do just before an important primary.    And by the way, the story is completely false, and he has witnesses who will say so, Newt claimed.  The partisan audience loved his response.  Newt was standing up to the mean old media, and they rewarded him with a standing ovation.  He handily won an upset victory in the South Carolina primary a few days later.

But the controversy over the question continued.   He talked about it at rallies and in another TV interview, claiming that "anyone who knew me" would testify that Marianne's charges weren't true.    Actually, the only thing that seems in question really is whether he used the term "open marriage" or whether he simply asked to have what amounts to an open marriage;  i.e., that his wife would agree for him to have Callista as his mistress.

Newt claimed that his campaign had offered witnesses when Marianne's interview was first shown on ABC, and ABC was not interested and didn't call them.    Now, under continuing pressure to name names, his campaign has admitted that it was only Newt's two daughters from his first marriage (Marianne was their step-mother) who were offered as witnesses.   They had already been interviewed and had written about their father's marriage problems.

I'm not surprised at this lie.  This tactic is Newt's trademark.   Create a tornado of indignation, toss out a barrage of counter-charges, paint himself as the victim of the powerful forces that he is challenging -- and the questions about his character get lost in the chaos.  Newt, the Crusader for Truth and Good Government Leads the Nation into the Future.

The job for Romney -- and perhaps later Obama -- is to help voters see this as the tactic that it is and to see the truth about the dangerous man who uses it so effectively.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Atlanta 4th most literate city

I read it somewhat incredulously last year, and today comes a report that for another year, Atlanta has been named the fourth "most literate city."

This ranking is done by Central Connecticut State University President Jack Miller, who bases it on the number of bookstores, library resources, newspaper circulation and Internet resources.   Atlanta ranks behind only Washington #1, DC, Seattle #2, and Minneapolis #3.

Imagine !!  We are more literate -- supposedly meaning we read more or at least have more resources for reading -- than Boston #5 (with all its universities) and San Francisco #9.  New York is not even in the top 10.

Miller's data suggest that "wealthier cites are no more likely to rank highly in literacy than poorer cities."   Cleveland is second lowest in family income but rates as #13th most literate because of its library system and magazine and newpaper subscriptions.  (I wonder if the National Inquirer and Pro Wrestling Illustrated count?)

On the other hand, Anchorage is #5 in median family income but only 61st in literacy.  Perhaps it wasn't just a mental freeze-up when Sarah Palin couldn't answer Katie Couric's question about what magazines and news magazines she reads:  "Oh, you know, all of them," she said;  but then couldn't name any.

Anyway . . .   Good for Atlanta.


People power vs. big money power

ActBlue is a fund-raising organization for liberal/progressive causes.   For example, it's raising money for Elizabeth Warren.   A fund-raising email from them today struck me as so defining of the way I think about the differences between the Dem and Repub parties that it's worth reprinting here.
"Money hidden away in the Cayman Islands? Swiss bank accounts? $5 million checks from casino moguls? 13.9% tax rates? The headlines from the GOP primaries just keep coming, and they paint a picture of a world that's very different from the one you and I know. Republicans practice a politics of deep pockets, where millionaire candidates make nice with billionaire donors, then tell America with a straight face that taxes on the ultra-rich are too high.

"At ActBlue, we're teaching Democrats a different way to do business.  In a few short months, Elizabeth Warren has received 82,000 donations through ActBlue, totaling $4 million. Hundreds of thousands of people donated to last year's Wisconsin recall campaigns, and a million more have signed up to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2012. It's people power, plain and simple.

"And it's growing."
Let's keep it growing and expanding -- not just ActBlue but the whole egalitarian and compassionate spirit of the Democratic Party.   Not that we don't also have a few wealthy fat cats and deep pockets of our own -- but all in all there's no doubt which is the party of the wealthy and which is the party of the people.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Newt and the politics of resentment

Howard Schweber, professor of American Studies, writes that  
the embrace of Newt by the evangelicals and the Tea Party seems improbable only because conventional wisdom has been looking at the wrong factors.

Newt would seem a colossal misfit for evangelicals and their moral values because his life has violated so many of those values.   We tend to forget how much they love a Bad Boy who repents and comes into the fold.  And Newt has played that card beautifully -- simply stating it, not overdoing it.

[Of course, those of us who remember a couple of years ago when he went on TV with one of the evangelical gurus and confessed and got his blessing.  It seemed cheap and tawdry, even while sounding pious.  But in recent memory, Newt feigns humility -- a great act.]

He would also seem not to be a good fit for the Tea Party and their anti-Washington sentiment, given that Mitt has been the quintessential player, often crossing into territory that is anathema to the Tea Party crowd (health care, environment, lobbying, Freddie Mac, plus his wealth gained by capitalizing on his former governmental positions).

What is being overlooked, however, according to Schweber, is that Newt is putting forth a politics of resentment.   Here in his words:
"So what is going on? Simple. Gingrich does not share the evangelical or the Tea Party voters' values -- he shares their resentments. He resents the media ("elites"), the rich (the leadership of his own party), the Democrats (educated people), people who live in big cities (liberals), and of course, Obama, just as they do.

"Gingrich and his supporters do not oppose Obama, they resent the fact of his existence. He will speak for his constituents by articulating their resentments in more strident, more combative, more articulate terms than they can themselves, which is why they find him brilliant. . . . but he does much more -- he tells them that their nastiest, darkest, angriest, most irrational self-indulgent justifications are 100%, absolutely right."
Beyond the resentment, there is a sense of paranoia that Gingrich captures:

"The worldview is Manichean: Obama's economic policies are not mistaken, he is deliberately trying to make Americans poorer. Obama's foreign policy is not misguided, he is deliberately trying to surrender America to foreign powers. And Obama is not merely not one of the people, he wants to destroy American culture. It is a perfect expression of what Richard Hofstadter called "the paranoid style" in American politics. . . .
"And that's why these voters don't care that Gingrich was a Washington insider, or has a record on family values that would give pause to one of the Borgia popes. It's why they don't really care that he contradicts himself, or says crazy things. They want crazy. They want to hear their anger and resentment made into a national platform. They are the victims of an evil conspiracy -- no one plays the victim better than Gingrich when cornered . . .

"They don't really care what Gingrich says he will do, or whether it makes sense, or even whether they would approve of his policies or benefit from them. They are filled with resentment  . . . .  [and] only Newt has captured the key emotive element that drives the Republican core this year: resentment. The hard right core of the Republican Party is filled with resentment, and they have found just the man to let us all know about it."

 I'm afraid that I have been wrong on several counts about Newt and the possibility of his winning this thing.   First, I under-estimated his new-found capacity to contain his more outrageous impulsiveness and his ability to sustain control of himself.  Second, I missed this point that Schweber is making -- that the conservative base will overlook all of Newt's baggage in favor of the strong, demagogic leadership he is offering for their deep resentments.

Assuming that the drawn-out primaries will so damage both Romney and Gingrich that neither seems a viable candidate against Obama, then the question is this:   Will the Republican establishment push for a brokered convention and try to bring in someone fresh, like Jeb Bush or Mitch Daniels or Chris Christie -- all of whom have been declining to run but might be drafted.   (Please don't let it be Guiliani, though.   I can't stand months of that grin.)


Monday, January 23, 2012

A few good Republicans

As if to remind us that there are still a few good, honorable Republicans left in this world, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie -- widely named as a possible VP nominee, second only to Marco Rubio in that speculation game -- has made two historic appointments to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Bruce Harris is an openly gay, African American mayor of Chatham, NJ with 20 years experience as a lawyer.   He would be the third African American and the first openly gay member of that court.

Phillip Kwon would be the first Asian American appointed to the N.J. Supreme Court.  He is currently first assistant attorney general of NJ and a former deputy division chief of the U. S. attorney's office.

In addition to these, last August Christie made another diversity appointment when he nominated Sohail Mohammed, a Muslim American, to the State Superior Court.   To critics who expressed fear that he would be influenced by Sharia law, Christie replied that he was "disgusted" by such comments from right wing critics.
"They are criticizing him because he is a Muslim American.   This Sharia Law business is crap.  It's just crazy, and I'm tired of dealing with the crazies. It's just unnecessary to be accusing this guy of things just because of his religious background."
This is the kind of man they should be putting forth as their presidential nominee.   He would be a formidable opponent, and we could have the kind of national debate about concepts of government that we need.   Not the crap these clowns have been dishing out.

I'm thinking more and more that behind all this hoopla about getting rid of Obama to save the nation is the Republicans' awareness of the stark reality that they are going to lose this election.   So the really good guys who are the hope of their party (Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, Christine Todd Whitman) are sitting it out and waiting for 2016.

This does not mean that I am getting soft and leaning toward the Republicans.   But it's a nice reminder that there used to be a few of them who were honorable men with reasonable and thoughtful positions, worthy opponents -- even though we didn't agree on many things.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cain/Colbert in 5th place in S. C. primary

Stephen Colbert is running this brilliant fake campaign for the Republican nomination.  Or actually he insists that he is not yet running but simply exploring a run.

Last Sunday, I wrote this about it:
Now, however, comes Stephen Colbert's fake presidential campaign and his "Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC" ad. This one is brilliant satire.

It begins with an American flag waving, then a video of Romney saying, "Corporations are people." Then a picture of sides of beef being butchered and a voice-over saying that, as head of Bain, Romney took over corporations, carved them up, and got rid of parts he didn't want. "So, if corporations are people, then Romney is a serial killer !!!"

It's brilliant !!! It's funny, it uses Mittens' own language, and draws the logical conclusion to lampoon his position on corporations, vulture capitalism, job loss, and the 1%-er image.
This week, Colbert and Herman Cain "campaigned" together, suggesting to people that they vote for Cain (who is still on the ballot) as a way of showing support for Colbert.   In a sense it's a protest vote, or a sort of None of the Above.

And tonight, the vote tallies show that Cain/Colbert got 5,937 votes or 1% of the total.  That is more than double what Rick Perry got.

Public Policy Polling included him in a poll this week of a hypothetical third party race with Obama, Romney, and Colbert.   Colbert was the choice of 13%, with 41% for Obama and 38% for Romney.   Colbert's "favorability" rating was 36% -- higher than any of the Republican candidates.

Let's hope he doesn't actually run though.  He pulls way more votes from Obama than he does from Romney.   But it does lighten up this soap opera.