Monday, March 3, 2008

Does Hillary Survive the Alamo?

If the liberties of America are ever completely ruined ... it will in all probability be the consequence of a mistaken notion of prudence, which leads men to acquiesce in measures of the most destructive tendency for the sake of present ease. -- Samuel Adams

The worst prediction I made this primary season was that Obama's big win in New Hampshire would lock things up. That's the problem with writing on Mondays: a Tuesday surprise might be right around the corner. Well, this Tuesday we have the Ohio and Texas primaries, which Hillary Clinton has called a "firewall" after ten straight Obama victories. Bill has said that she has to win both. If she's going to catch up in the delegate count, she needs to win big. At the moment the polls predict two close races, with Obama favored in Texas and Clinton in Ohio. Will that finally clinch the nomination for Obama?
Is Sexism Stronger Than Racism?
Pundits have already started performing autopsies on the Clinton campaign. Some blame her message: The Clinton campaign has a lot of positions, but it has no theme. Others point to the hostility of the media and its contrasting worship for Obama, as parodied on Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show. There's certainly something to this, but I should also point out that a vicious cycle of bad coverage is always part of a front-runner's fall. Failure leads to stories about dissension within the campaign, falling poll numbers, staff shake-ups, and poor fund-raising -- which leads to more failure. Giuliani went down that way, and McCain endured a similar stretch of bad news last summer, even though the press is famous for liking him.

The numbers say this: Obama has consistently increased his support among whites, while Clinton has consistently lost support among men. But why? Is sexism is a stronger prejudice than racism? Speaking as a white male, set up by birth and culture to have both prejudices, I've got my doubts. Let me try to explain how I see prejudice working inside myself, and why Obama is avoiding it better than Clinton.

Like most people these days, I don't have an absolute I-won't-vote-for-an-X kind of prejudice. But think about how negative campaigning works in general. The point of a negative campaign is to plant the thought: "That candidate isn't like me, doesn't get me, and isn't even talking to me." It can be subtle. Bill Clinton's famous, "I feel your pain" reminded you that Bush Sr. was a patrician, and it put the idea in your head that Bush couldn't get you because he had never suffered.

Any difference can be exploited -- McCain is too old to understand you, Edwards is too pretty -- but race and gender are big, obvious differences. So it's important for a candidate to speak across those gaps, reminding voters: "I get you. I'm talking to you."

Obama -- if my racial prejudices are anything to judge by -- has been brilliant at presenting himself to whites. His campaign never trips the land mines that racism has put in my mind. Watching Obama, I never have to stamp out thoughts like, "Oh, that's why he says stuff like that. He's black. He's not talking to me." Instead, Obama gives me constant subtle reminders that blacks and whites don't have to be that far apart. Oprah helps -- imagine if he'd done that campaign swing with Al Sharpton instead. Obama's voice and cadence make me think of Martin Luther King, not a gangster rapper. Stuff like that shouldn't matter, but it does -- especially in a contest with so few policy differences. The result is that when Obama says "Yes we can" I feel included in that we.

Clinton, by contrast, seems to have no idea how she sounds to men, so she trips the sexist land mines in my head all the time. When she waved Obama's anti-Clinton pamphlet in the air and scolded, "Shame on you, Barack Obama," I'll bet every man in America cringed. She sounded like Obama's mother waving the Playboy magazine she'd found under his mattress.

Another land mine of sexism is captured by those t-shirts that ask: "If a man speaks and no woman hears, is he still wrong?" It's the feeling that a woman is disagreeing just to be disagreeable, and that nothing you could possibly say will be right.

For me, Clinton tripped that mine during Tuesday's debate in Ohio. The evening was already at a low point: Tim Russert had just asked Obama to answer for Louis Farrakhan's endorsement, which Obama has neither sought nor used. Obama did a fairly creditable job of handling a low-blow series of questions -- once again without tripping any of my racial land mines. He denounced Farrakhan's anti-Semitism, recalled how important Jews were to the civil rights movement, expressed his support for Israel, and promised to keep working to repair the black/Jewish relationship. And he deftly cut Russert off before he could read a list of Farrakhan's most offensive statements.

Then Hillary started to speak. For a moment I thought she was going to do the right thing. (Josh Marshall's live-blogging of the debate records a similar hope at 10:13.) She might have aimed her scolding voice at a person who had it coming: Russert. She might have pointed out that right-wingers say outrageous things every day, and Republican candidates are never expected to denounce them. Ann Coulter has said "Jews need to be perfected" and has claimed that the Jersey-Girl widows were happy that their husbands died on 9/11. And yet her candidate (Mitt Romney) did not have that thrown in his face during a debate. Pat Robertson has called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, has suggested that our own State Department should be nuked, and has urged his flock to "Pray that additional vacancies occur within the Supreme Court" -- pray that liberal judges die, in other words. And yet Robertson's endorsement was described by Fox News as "a coup for the Giuliani campaign." But Democrats are expected not just to disagree with their supporters who go over the line, but to insult them as well. (See the piece about McCain and John Hagee below.)

In short, this was a chance for Clinton to rise to the occasion, to be the leader of the Democratic Party, to defend all Democrats rather than attack the one who was in her way. (She could even have gotten a dig in: She voted against the Senate resolution denouncing MoveOn, while Obama didn't vote.) But no: She joined Russert and piled on. Obama had eaten a little crow, but he hadn't cleaned his plate yet. He hadn't, she pointed out, used the word reject. He needed to specifically say that he rejected Farrakhan's support.

Underneath his smile, Obama wore an expression any man could recognize and empathize with: Just tell me what I need to say. You want reject? Fine. I'll say reject. Clinton looked triumphant after that exchange, but she wasn't. She had just lost more male votes, and she didn't even know.

So if Obama wins, I don't think it proves any conclusion stronger than this: A deft handling of racism beats a clumsy handling of sexism.

John Hagee: McCain's Farrakhan
Speaking of endorsements by offensive religious leaders, John Hagee just endorsed John McCain.

Hagee is a leader among those Christians who support Israel so that they'll be on the right side during the Battle of Armageddon. (Listen to his NPR interview.) Later in their interpretation of the prophecies, the Jews either convert to Christianity or are annihilated -- so the claim that Hagee is "pro-Israel" needs an asterisk. Hagee has also referred to the Catholic church as "the whore of Babylon" from Revelations.

In the wake of the Obama/Farrakhan flap, the liberal blogs are trying to turn this into an issue for McCain, who (unlike Obama with Farrakhan) actively sought Hagee's endorsement and has made public appearances with him. So far McCain's response has been that he welcomes Hagee's support although he doesn't "agree with all Pastor Hagee's views." Like maybe the view (expressed at the 22:35 mark of the NPR interview) that New Orleans was destroyed by God's wrath for its tolerance of homosexuality? McCain didn't say.

Anyway, the McCain/Hagee relationship has drawn the wrath of another vengeful patriarch: the Catholic League's Bill Donohue. FireDogLake couldn't resist illustrating this story with a picture of Godzilla battling the three-headed King Ghidorah.

As of Sunday, the blog efforts were starting to bear fruit: Wolf Blitzer grilled McCain supporter Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson about Hagee, though still not to Josh Marshall's satisfaction.

Marching Toward Hell by Michael Scheuer
This new book makes me wish I were an editor. Michael Scheuer was the head of the CIA's Bin Laden unit from 1996-1999, and in general has one of the best understandings of Al Qaeda I have found. His previous book Imperial Hubris was one of the main sources for my Terrorist Strategy 101: A Quiz. He understands things that I wish more people understood.

But if you read this book on my recommendation, you'll be annoyed with me. Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq is undisciplined. It's like listening to a crusty old uncle rant his way through Christmas dinner: Scheuer hates multiculturalism; he thinks Ronald Reagan won the Cold War single-handedly; he can't mention the Europeans without getting apoplectic; he believes that American values rest on Christianity and that secular liberals oppose those values. There's more along those lines, but I've put it out of my mind. None of it has anything to do with what Scheuer really knows and understands, and you don't have to agree with any of it to get the book's main point. A good editor would have made sure it wasn't in the final draft. But there it is.

What is that main point? This: From the moment Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States in 1996 he has pursued the same strategy, and that strategy is working. Our leaders of both parties have told us a lot of nonsense about Al Qaeda, and as a result our policies are doomed to failure.

The stupidest thing we are told about bin Laden and his allies is that they hate us for our freedom and democratic values. Actually, rage at the satanic American culture was Ayatollah Khomeini's attempt to inspire jihad a generation ago, and it didn't fly. It turns out that the average Muslim just can't get that worked up about Americans drinking beer, voting, and letting their women run around in short skirts. They may disapprove of those things -- well, not the voting so much; they'd like to do that themselves -- but they're not willing to kill or be killed about it.

Bin Laden's real message is that America is at war with Islam and has been for decades. War against Islam is something that Muslims do get worked up about. That war, bin Laden claims, is why America has propped up corrupt secular dictators like Mubarak in Egypt and Musharraf in Pakistan, and corrupt traditional autocrats like the House of Saud or the Emir of Kuwait. That's why we support foreign occupations of Muslim lands, like Israel in Palestine, Russia in Chechnya, India in Kashmir, and China in its western Xinjiang province. Bin Laden doesn't denounce our democratic values, he uses them against us by blaming us and our puppet governments for the lack of freedom in the Muslim world.

By declaring a Global War on Terror and defining Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, and Xinjiang as part of that war -- and enrolling new autocratic allies in places like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan -- we ratified Bin Laden's thesis. And every time we threaten, bomb, invade, or occupy another Muslim country, Muslims all over the world nod their heads and say, "Osama was right."

Bin Laden's strategy against America is to strip away our allies, stretch our military thin, and break our economy. It worked on the Soviet Union and it's looking pretty good against us too. Our debts and our war expenses go up every year, with no turning point in sight.

I'm more impressed by Scheuer's diagnosis than his prescriptions. But there is at least a logic and coherence to his strategy that our current strategy lacks. Long-term, Scheuer would invest heavily in energy independence so that we don't need to control the Middle Eastern oil, and then he would stop messing with the Middle East, Israel included. (He sees our alliance with Israel as resting on domestic politics, not on any vital national interest.) In the meantime we should not be afraid to use force to defend our safety, but against Al Qaeda that means raids, not occupations. Scheuer's wars would be short and vicious. We should have gone into Afghanistan with our own troops rather than local proxies, gotten Bin Laden and his confederates as quickly as possible, and then pulled out. Don't worry about collateral damage; don't worry about nation-building; don't worry about what the subsequent government does about democracy or women's rights. Just get it over with fast.

The scariest part of the book is his survey of the Muslim countries most of us aren't paying attention to. Watch Nigeria. There's a Christian/Muslim civil war there, and a lot of oil. That might be our next intervention.

Short Notes
The Marine I wrote about in Supporting My Troop is on his way back to Iraq. He might be there by now.

A few weeks ago I told you the amusing story of the Oval Office painting that Bush thinks is a Methodist circuit rider, but actually is a horse thief. Well, Jacob Weisberg, who did the research for his book The Bush Tragedy, tells the story even better in this video.

The Onion News Network reports that a "minor software glitch" has caused Diebold voting machines to reveal the winner of the November election too early. (It's McCain.) A disappointed citizen asks: "If you can't trust your shadowy overlords to keep a secret, what is the purpose, really, of voting in a public democracy?"

The makers of the OutFoxed DVD put together real clips from Fox News to make this fake ad for Fox News Porn.

The FCC scheduled a public hearing in Boston to listen to public concerns about net neutrality. One issue is that media giants like Comcast might block their Internet customers from downloading video that competes with Comcast's cable offerings. So what did Comcast do? It hired people to take all the seats 90 minutes early, blocking the public from complaining to the FCC. That's got to build your confidence in their good intentions.

We're #1! With 2.3 million people in prison, the United States leads the world in the number of people behind bars. U-S-A! U-S-A!

Josh Marshall had a good week on TPM-TV. He gave a clear explanation of McCain's problem with the campaign finance laws. His weekly assessment of the state of the election campaign was excellent: The first half brings you up to date on the Obama/Clinton race, and the second half explains how McCain plans to run against Obama. And the Weekend Extravaganza of all the week's most embarrassing clips is hilarious, particularly the last one: Republican Congressman Jack Kingston appears on MSNBC claiming that Obama isn't patriotic because he doesn't wear a flag pin. And then host Dan Abrams points out that Kingston isn't wearing a flag pin. Oops.

House Resolution 888 bears watching. It appears to be one of those harmless praise-mom-and-apple pie resolutions that Congress passes all the time: It proclaims the first week in May to be "American Religious History Week." What's wrong with that? Well, it also has a long series of "whereas" clauses that list historical "facts." Except that they aren't facts: They're myths that Christian supremacists spread to argue that the Founders intended America to be a Christian nation, without separation of church and state. Chris Rodda debunks many of them. If the resolution passes, Christian supremacists will take it to their local school boards and argue that these myths are "findings" of Congress.

Wonder why the Obama campaign resembles the Santos campaign from the final season of West Wing? There's a reason. And Reese Witherspoon makes a convincing young Hillary Clinton in this splicing-together of news clips and the movie Election. Jack Nicholson spliced together some of his old movie clips to make a Clinton commercial, which as far as I know appears only on the Internet. It's over the top, but it makes me wonder: What if there had been a humorous "Real Men Vote for Hillary" campaign months ago?

The Austin Lounge Lizards have a bouncy animated video promoting the fictitious drug Progenitorivox in The Drugs I Need. ("If death occurs, discontinue use of Progenitorivox immediately.")

Finally, Russ Feingold sums up the FISA debate very succinctly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Doug,

The URL slug that made it into the RSS feed for this post on your Open Source Jounalism is way wrong. :-)