Monday, March 12, 2007

FOD (Friends of Darth)

Here was something sort of creepy-funny: in his L.A. Times column over the weekend, Jonathan Chait passes on a quote about the GOP presidential sweepstakes.

"THIS IS NOT Luke Skywalker here," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), discussing his friend and Senate colleague John McCain's second run for the presidency. "This is a totally different campaign."

Graham was looking for a way to reassure his fellow conservatives that they no longer had anything to fear from McCain. His choice of metaphor is one of those windows into the fundamental cultural gap that separates hard-core conservatives from the rest of humanity. To most people, who think of Luke Skywalker as a hero battling an evil and immensely powerful empire, Graham's implication would be seen as an unmitigated insult. In the world of the GOP elite, though, it's a form of praise: No, no, don't worry, McCain's with the empire now.

Interesting that Jonathan Chait is writing this way about McCain now. Once upon a time (spring 2002) he wrote a New Republic feature about why it would be a great thing and even plausible for John McCain to jump parties and run for President as a Democrat. I actually found that piece persuasive and talked up a McCain-jumping-parties scenario right up through 2004. I got carried away with that "maverick" business, just like most of the national media is still carried away. The specific thing I wanted McCain to revolt against was the dirty Rovian campaign politics that hold sway in the GOP now, and which McCain got the full brunt of in the 2000 South Carolina presidential primary. It took a while for me to see that McCain was determined to pander wherever and to whomever it took to get the inside track in the GOP presidential race. There's nothing very maverick about that. And McCain is in the process of finding out that the far right of his party is only interested in rooting out and punishing mavericks.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about. The startling implication that Republicans are people who root against Luke Skywalker and in favor of the Empire, actually dovetails with something I've been thinking about on the home front--something I encountered at church, actually. I'm in an adult Sunday school class where we are currently studying some of the parables of Jesus; yesterday it was the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18). The week before it was the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). Anyway, I am learning that many people in my class identify primarily with the figure of propriety in these stories: with the Pharisee, for instance. Or with the older brother of the Prodigal, who has always been a dutiful son, and who has to grin and bear it when the father welcomes the Prodigal home.

These people baffle me. Not on a spiritual but on a visceral psychological level, I just can't imagine identifying with the goody-two-shoes instead of the anti-hero. How can you not love the Prodigal Son--profligate, rebellious, scoundrelly--who has screwed up as big as life, ruined himself and shamed his family, and is in flight from the day of reckoning. Until he hits bottom, as the 12-step people would say, and the story pivots. The father might be the most appealing figure of all, granted, but that aside, how can you like the Stable Boring Son more than the Prodigal Son? Or prefer the smug hypocritical Pharisee over the Tax Collector, the chiseler and flim-flam man who, in the darkest hour of night, knows himself for exactly what he is? Have these people been sheltered from pop culture ever since the 1960s? Some of them are my age (40-ish, so somewhere on the cusp between Baby Boomers and Gen Xers), but it's as if they are part of the WW2 Generation. I'm not going to quit this church, but I might try out a different Sunday school class.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Eating Their Own

There's a growing controversy this week over a rash of firings of U.S. attorneys around the country. The common thread seems to be that these prosecutors were fired for building cases against GOP politicians, or in a couple of instances, not pursuing cases against Democratic politicians.

The substantive thing that disturbs me the most is that these actions were not illegal--like the late great Molly Ivins used to say, the worst scandal isn't the illegal behavior, it's the behavior that passes for legal. The Executive Branch was given this new power, to fire U.S. Attorneys at will without Senate approval, by a clause in the Patriot Act, or as I like to call it, The Chronic Festering Disease That Keeps On Giving. As Michael Moore famously pointed out, Congress passed this huge sweeping omnibus anti-terror law in such a rush that many reps didn't know what was in the thing. We're saddled with this fucker, and there are new toxic irruptions here and there on a regular basis, and the most depressing idea is I don't know if any future president, even a Democratic one, will have the brass statesmanlike balls to revoke or reform the Patriot Act. When does a president voluntarily reduce the scope of his or her powers?

But in a darkly amusing twist, it's been pointed out to me today, the Republicans would have gotten away with this if they had just been able to resist the urge to fuck over other Republicans. These U.S. attorneys were political appointees, Republicans themselves, and though they surely didn't like being relieved of their jobs for showing an excess of integrity, all of them took their medicine and said tactful things on their way out the door, of the "want to spend more time with my family" variety. But the Bush Administration fixers had to gild the lily.

Kevin Drum:

And the fired official themselves, who are all Republican loyalists in the first place, would have packed their bags and gotten other jobs. They know how politics works.

But no. This administration is so dedicated to spin and deceit that they just couldn't leave it alone. They figured maybe they could avoid any criticism by claiming the firings were for performance-related reasons. That should shut everyone up! But of course it did just the opposite. The fired attorneys, who were originally willing to suck it up and accept their political fate, were unhappy over being called incompetent. Who wouldn't be? And so the whole thing unraveled. Now it's a case of U.S. Attorneys being fired because they were too zealous about prosecuting Republican corruption, and the Department of Justice is reduced to feebly arguing that it's just a coincidence that so many of the Pearl Harbor Eight were investigating corruption cases.

It's the Bush administration in a microcosm: a too-clever-by-half expansion of executive power, spin and deceit when it's discovered, followed by a storm of backtracking and protestations of innocence that no one believes. It wouldn't be so bad if this weren't also the Bush administration in a macrocosm. But it is.

Lance Mannion:

...Moschella appears to have expected that Cummins would continue to play the patsy. Or he thought, or at least hoped, that people would think Cummins was lying.

This is how the Bush Leaguers treat their "friends." Cummins was trying to help them out and Moschella was willing to either use him as a stooge or throw him under the bus....

For all these guys, the point of politics is power. You go into politics in order to be the guys in charge. And you want to be in charge so you can do whatever you want. Everything in the Bush Administration is politicized because everything is about the people running the show having the power to run the show.. That's what the man meant when he called them the Mayberry Machiavellis. They don't do anything for the public good.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Fitzmas -- Libby guilty on four counts

Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone. I guess this was published a couple of weeks ago; the Libby verdict just came in today.

In a way, the Beltway's tawdry interest in the "Inside Baseball" bullshit
emanating from the Libby trial perfectly mirrored the Democrats' half-serious
attempts to pass an anti-war resolution. For the portrait of both the Bush
administration and the press corps that is emerging from this trial is that of a
group of craven star-fuckers with their tongues so far up each others' asses
that they scarcely even realized that their high school gossiping was helping to
start a war. Like the Democrats with their legislative dawdling, they were doing
something other than their jobs at the moment of truth and were too stupid to
not be proud of it.
In the end, the jury may be too confused to figure out
whether it was Russert, or Miller, or Bob Novak, or Bob Woodward, or Dick
Armitage, or Karl Rove, or Santa Claus who outed Valerie Plame.
But the
public will conclude that they were all trading stories about Joe Wilson's wife,
and getting off on it, and not one of them thought to step back and realize the
gravity of what they were doing. At each turn both the reporters and the
administration went weak in the knees every time they had a secret to share --
the classic example being Armitage's when he spoke to Woodward about Plame. "His
wife is in the agency. . . . How about that shit?" he bragged.
This image of
overpaid Washington insiders giddy with the game of power politics, using the
lives of eighteen-year-olds as poker chips, is what has inspired so much hatred
and disgust for mainstream politics in the past half-dozen years or so. It was
no accident that the gallery of the Libby trial was filled with correspondents
from the blogging world filing daily reports -- Firedoglake, the Huffington Post
and BlogHer were represented, among others. They had to be there because . . .
well, because there had to be some real reporters there. At least the bloggers
know who they're representing. As the trial showed, no one can be all that sure
anymore about the Washington media, or the dingbat politicians they hang around

Friday, March 02, 2007

Trinity UCC

Via Atrios, I see Sean Hannity did a segment that tried to paint Barack Obama's church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, as "scary" and "like a cult." The supposedly "scary" part is that Trinity UCC promotes "The Black Value System", a mission statement that outlines a vision of black excellence, integrity, and social justice.

Read the BVS for yourself and see how militant or separatist you find it to be. The UCC denomination is the inheritor of Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards; it doesn't get much more musty-respectable in American Christianity. Trinity is a black congregation in a majority-white denomination, which is bound to create some added identity issues around "blackness," but also indicates a history of racial accommodation, not separation. Trinity's senior minister, Jeremiah Wright, is nationally known and respected. Trinity's a huge, booming, apparently exemplary church.

I realize none of the above is proof positive of TUCC's non-heresy or benignity, but read the values statement, as a fair-minded person with a smidgen of understanding of American history and culture. (Pretend if necessary!)

The Hannity report is pig-ignorant and unfair. It's also following the classic progression of a right-wing media smear: it starts on a fringe web site like World Net Daily, then a conservative talk show picks it up. Look for it to be mentioned next by Chris Wallace or Brit Hume, one of the "more reputable" Fox News talking heads. After that, I predict, will be the jump to ABC News.

It's hard to push back against this kind of slur, but I hope TUCC (and, maybe more importantly, some of its friends in Chicago) will respond soon.