Thursday, March 22, 2018
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Andy Schmookler


Thou Art the Man: A Message to the Republican Base

This piece has been appearing this week in the newspapers of my very conservative congressional district (VA-06). It embodies the strategy I think we in Liberal America should be pursuing: See the evil. Call it out. Press the Battle.

A story from the Bible comes to mind: King David has taken for himself Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite. The prophet Nathan comes to him and tells a story of similar wrong-doing. Not recognizing himself in the story, King David becomes righteously outraged.  At this point, Nathan springs the trap and declares: "Thou art the man!"

David accepts his own behavior, because it serves his own interests. When he sees it from the outside, he is so indignant that he says the sinner should die.

In the spirit of that biblical story, I would like to ask the conservatives reading this column what you would have thought, not long ago, if you had heard about political conduct like this:

1) An American president is elected after promising to solve a long-standing problem that costs thousands of American lives and a trillion dollars every year. His proposal is so moderate that its roots are actually in the other party. But that party does everything it can to prevent passage. Then it tries to overturn the law. When that fails, it tries sabotage.

All this - including voting more than 50 times to repeal a law, knowing it won't be repealed - is a spectacle unprecedented in American history.

2) This is part of a pattern in which this opposition party has made it a priority to prevent that president from accomplishing anything. It opposes even ideas that were once its own, even measures that are clearly supported by an overwhelming majority of the people.

Although the president proposes nothing outside the American mainstream - he is more moderate than a great many in his own party's base - the opposition paints him as an extremist.

No party in American history has ever before made the president's failure its top priority.

Seize the Opportunity: April Moore for Virginia State Senate

It appears (here and here) that there are a great many Republican incumbents in the Virginia General Assembly who will be allowed to coast to re-election because no Democrat has come forward to challenge them.

This would be a most regrettable missed opportunity.

In June, 2013, I published here a piece  with the title, "A Strategy for Democrats in Very Red Districts." In that article, I declared that, "the difficulty of winning these seats, paradoxically, presents an important opportunity for Democrats."

The opportunity is to educate the public. This is important because, even though in the short run, the political battle in America is over who will hold the offices where laws get made, in the long run, the battle is over shaping the public consciousness that determines to whom the people will give power.

Democrats in very red districts are, as it were, "behind enemy lines." Which gives Democratic candidates a chance to tell some important truths to people who might not otherwise hear such messages.

I am bringing all this up again because my wife, April Moore, has decided to run against state Senator Mark Obenshain in our very red district (the 26th). And because I believe that her campaign represents a strategic improvement over the idea as I originally presented it.

You will be hearing from April herself soon - her official announcement will be on St. Patrick's Day in Harrisonburg - but in the meanwhile, I'd like to explain her decision to run in the hope that others may yet step forward to seize the valuable platforms available in these races for both houses of the Virginia General Assembly.

Antonin Scalia, No Judge He

If there is any lingering doubt about whether Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is really a political hack in robes, and in no way a real judge, it looks likely such doubt will be dispelled in the coming months.

I say that because of what seems to be true about him and this case just argued before the Court to try once again to demolish Obamacare.

These two things are reported to be true:

1) Scalia is the author of a whole book on how statutes should be read. In it, he argues (according to several accounts I've read -- I haven't read the book itself) that a statute should be read in terms of the statute as a whole.

2) Apparently the signs are reasonably clear that Scalia is going to completely ignore the principles that he propounded in that book in order to strike against Obamacare. That means, he's ready to allow four ill-chosen words trump the clear intent of the other many hundreds of pages in the statute. Why let principles stand in the way of getting the political victory he desires for his side?

(Almost his whole record suggests that "his side" is the corporatist plutocracy that's already gone a long way toward seizing power from the people.)

Scalia, of course, has tortured the law before in order to serve the interests of the plutocracy.

He perverted the law in Bush v Gore. He did it in Citizens United and the McCutcheon case. And in a host of other cases: Scalia finds consistently in favor of the corporatist system, and against the power of government to be used to protect the less powerful.

With Obamacare, there are several reasons for a political hack of the right to want to destroy it.

Addressing the “Not a Dimes Worth of Difference” Crowd

Over on the website, I posted the piece I had here late last week-- about how the 2014 elections were disgraceful, and how part of the disgrace was the failure of the Democrats to make the central issue of the campaign the way the Republicans in the last Congress betrayed the nation.

To that piece, among the comments were a number that sang a song that I've become familiar with in my decade of dealing with that readership, which is a good deal further to the left than I and, it seems, less accepting of the shades-of-gray reality of America, and for that matter the reality of just about any other country.

The lyrics to that song they sang is that the Democrats and the Republicans are not different in any important way, and that the Democrats and Republicans are colluding to take the nation along its present path.

Today I answered them in this way:

There's a point I'd like to make, even though it is one that I've made here in conversation with the opednews readership probably a half dozen times over the last six years especially.

It is addressed to the "not a dime's worth of difference" and "their in cahoots" crowd.

How the Democrats Let America Down in the Shameful 2014 Elections

The Democrats' 2014 election debacle left no room for doubt: Something is seriously wrong with this Democratic Party. Consider this:

* In the 2013-4 Congress, Republicans violated fundamental norms of American democracy, deliberately choosing to keep government from addressing the nation's pressing problems, showing an utter lack of concern for serving the public good.

* After this travesty took place in plain sight for nearly two years, the American electorate rewarded the Republicans by handing them even more power.

*Democrats coasted into electoral disaster without even trying to focus attention on the Republicans' unprecedented abuse of the system our Founders gave us.

Sure, there's plenty of shame to go around- every major component of the American body politic is implicated here.

The Republicans' conduct has been awful, of course, but there's no point dwelling on what this party has become. It has been well over a decade since that Party abandoned the integrity and decency of Dwight Eisenhower, Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan.

The Republicans disabled our government right out in the open: making this past Congress the least productive in history; passing bills that they knew had zero chance of being enacted; focusing on provocative but useless gestures such as voting more than 50 times to repeal the health care law; refusing to bring to the House floor an immigration bill that had passed the Senate by more than 2 to 1; never proposing serious solutions of their own.

But apparently voters needed help to see how seriously the conduct of the Republicans had violated this nation's basic democratic values.  Where could they get that help?  

The Police Shootings: A New Chapter in an Old Story of Racial Oppression

Sowing Fear to Reap Submission

How are we to understand all these shootings, by police, of unarmed black men? And the manner in which the American justice system processes these shootings with the result that very few are indicted, hardly any are convicted, and virtually no one does any jail time? And how are we to understand the way that an impassioned major segment of people on the political right make heroes of the shooters in these cases -- like Darren Wilson (and a self-appointed vigilante like George Zimmerman)?

A very dark force in the American body politic -- an ancient and destructive component in the consciousness of the American collectivity -- is being expressed here. It is all about that component of American civilization, going back centuries, that insists on the power of whites to oppress blacks.

Central to that oppressive power arrangement is making black people -- making black men, specifically -- afraid. Intimidation is always and everywhere a favorite tool of the oppressor.

In the days of slavery, the white elite created a system of "slave patrols" to capture and punish runaway slaves, and to intimidate the rest of the slave population. In the century of the Jim Crow regime in the American South, a whole range of methods -- of which the lynching was only the most dramatic -- were employed to intimidate blacks (again, especially black men) into acquiescing in the oppression imposed upon them by the dominant white race.

It is, regrettably, in that context that the pathological pattern of police killings of unarmed black men is to be understood.

What do the recent mottoes "Hands up! Don't shoot" and "I can't breathe" express if not a shared sense in the black community that it is dangerous to be an American While Black? And while the police in America truly do -- in most ways -- "protect and defend" all of us, that is historically not the whole picture. There is also nothing new in American history about the police force also being an instrument for protecting and defending power relationships, some of which are unjust.

How My Ferguson Piece Evoked a Glimpse of the “Evil Force” That’s Risen on...

On Tuesday, just before my Thanksgiving travels began, I posted a piece here titled One Thing I Know about Ferguson. I posted version of the same thing on my Facebook page, and a Tea Party guy of my acquaintance reposted it under the caption, "Andy Schmookler attempts to further dumb down the left."

Here on Blue Virginia, in the comments thread, I made mention of the "discussion" that then ensued, involving a variety of this fellow's political allies, and I described some of what was manifest there as disturbing. That led to some conversation involving several of us as to whether there was anything much "new" going on in the American body politic or if it is now just more visible thanks to the Internet or what.

I am following up here because I tried to provide a link to that Facebook discussion, and simply forgot that Facebook pages are not available to everyone. Let me here, therefore, provide a glimpse into the darkness that (as I saw it) this piece on Ferguson brought into view.

My view is that quite possibly we are looking at a profound and dangerous development in a segment of American consciousness. Not everyone saw it that way, but as I was unable to provide people with access to that material, the discussion was handicapped. I'll provide it now.

First, my piece was very careful to make a single point that did not take sides as to the facts of the shooting and as to whether a proper grand jury process would or would not have indicted Darren Wilson for the shooting of Mike Brown. My piece, rather, was a criticism of the Missouri officials -- the prosecutor, and the governor -- for how they handled the process.

Of those officials, I wrote:

One Thing I Know about Ferguson

I don't know enough about the facts of what happened that night in Ferguson to know with any certainty whether an indictment was called for or not. I've not explored the witness statements, and don't know who or what to believe about what happened between Darrell Wilson and Mike Brown.

But I do know that the authorities handled the legal process about it it quite wrongly.

Their priority should have been to conduct the process in such a way as to maximize the chance that everyone would have confidence in its integrity and fairness. They didn't even try.

That should have been their priority because taking care not to damage the larger society by exacerbating a major fault line is what has been most important all along.

Every effort should have been made to protect the society from further divisive wounding. The over-riding question for the county prosecutor, and for the Missouri governor, should have been: How can this be dealt with so that everyone feels assured that every good faith effort has been made to see that justice is done, whatever that may entail?

That would have meant bringing in a special prosecutor, of unquestioned integrity, in charge of the investigation and the grand jury process.

Even if the county prosecutor was indeed going to be fair, from the outset, he was not seen that way by the side most aggrieved. Leaving him in charge, pre-determined that, rightly or wrongly, a non-indictment would be seen as a failure of justice, and would unleash the pain and rage that we have seen.

Then this prosecutor -- with a personal history and set of allegiances that already seemed to stack the deck -- proceeded to conduct the grand jury process in a very unorthodox way, not seeking an indictment as prosecutors generally do, but leaving to the grand jury what prosecutors generally do. This alteration of the usual process clearly served the interest of the accused.

Letting Money Buy Power Corrupts Our Money System, Too

This piece appeared recently in the Richmond Times Dispatch.

In its opinion in Citizens United, the Republican-appointed Supreme Court majority pretended it wasn't true. But every sane person knows otherwise: allowing unlimited money to flow into our election process corrupts our democracy. "One person, one vote" gets replaced by "one dollar, one vote," which means that the increasing inequalities of wealth in America subvert the democratic idea of equality of political voice among all citizens.

But less obviously, allowing money to buy political power corrupts not only the political system, but the money system as well.

I used to call out the Koch Brothers, for their campaign to misinform the public about climate change, as being not only immoral but also a kind of crazy. What kind of insanity is it, I asked, for billionaires who already have more money than they and their children and their grandchildren could spend in a lifetime, to damage the future for generations to come, and for life on earth generally, just to get still more money for themselves?

I was thinking of money as something that entitles the owner to get economic goods. And for billionaires like the Koch Brothers, the limit to the goodies they might benefit from consuming or owning has long since been passed.

But in a political system like the one being fashioned by things like the Citizens United  decision, money isn't about acquiring economic goods in the pursuit of happiness. It is about buying the government in the pursuit of power.

The Democrats Should Come Out Swinging

The Democrats lost not because they were wrong but because they were weak.

They were weak in their fighting. And they were weak in presenting the values and the kind of America they stand for.

How else but by Democratic weakness can we explain how raising the minimum wage keeps winning by large majorities with support from people who then go vote for Republicans who have fought to block such a raise?

How else can we explain that voters unhappy with the failures of Congress to take care of the people's business will vote for politicians who made it their priority to see to it that Congress could not take care of that business?

The people have bought a raft of lies, and the Democrats have been too weak to make the liars pay a political price.

Now the bullies of the right are coming forward to bully the Democrats some more. This we saw yesterday when the Republican Speaker of the House spoke contemptuously of the President of the United States in a way we Americans are not supposed to talk about a president.

Speaker Boehner warned President Obama against "poisoning the well" (by taking an executive action the Republicans don't like). No one would drink from it anyway after what the Republicans have thrown into it these past six years.

Will President Obama let himself be bullied? Will the Democrats in general respond to their rejection by the voters by acting deferential to the victors?

God, I hope not. That's the last thing we need for the Democrats to do.  

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