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Sunday, September 23, 2018
Home Authors Posts by Andy Schmookler

Andy Schmookler


Gov. McAuliffe and My Motto (“See the evil. Call it out. Press the Battle”)

That's the motto of my campaign. That's what I believe is the winning strategy for Liberal America to defeat this destructive -- evil -- force that's taken over the political right.

And, I'm thinking that what Governor McAuliffe is doing is what that motto looks like, when it's played out in the budget battles of Virginia.

Glad to have McAuliffe's kind of pugnacity in the Governor's chair when the Republicans are making war for this disreputable purpose in this disgraceful way.

We need Democrats who are fighters-- and who understand where the opportunities are to defeat this destructive force that's made the Republican Party so ugly in our times.

I hope that he will fight by picking up the mirror and use this episode to expose the ugliness of what the Republicans have been doing on this expansion of Medicaid issue. Including the perhaps criminal deal for Puckett's seat.

See the evil-- and show it to the people of Virginia. These Republicans have behaved in an ugly fashion, from beginning to end. They are a microcosm of the persistently destructive force that's taken over the Republican Party.

Governor McAuliffe has the opportunity to expose this part of that ugly picture. It is his best way to fight the battle that's already at hand, as he has rightly chosen not to surrender. (This is like Obama and the debt ceiling crisis this last time, and we all remember how the Republicans got creamed on that one.)

Governor McAuliffe has stood his ground, and now we must encourage him to press the battle.

I'd say to him: Offense, not defense. Don't expend great energy on defending yourself against their charges. Brush those quickly aside as nonsense and hypocrisy and pour your energy into an attack on what it is that they have shown themselves to be.

That truth is their greatest vulnerability.

It is only by fraud that these "conservative" and "Christian" Republicans get the credibility they need to wreak their damage on our society.

See the evil. Call it out. Press the battle. Take their power from them.

Minority Rule: A Culturally Transmitted Political Skill?

Putting a couple of things together.

Thing One: We observe how in Republican World these days, a rabid minority is often dominating the majority. Most Republicans, polls show, are in favor of a variety of measures -- universal background checks, some immigration reform, raising the minimum wage, etc. -- that the Republicans continually block from being enacted.

We see how even the Establishment Republicans will speak and act like Teapublicans, because they are afraid of being primaried from the right. The problem, of course, is that it is the Tea Party people who disproportionately show up for primaries -- even more so for conventions -- and thus a minority can dominate the majority.

With the Republicans controlling the House of Representatives, and with the Republicans intimidated by their activist fringe, it turns out that this minority not only controls the Party, but exercises veto power over the whole American legislative process. A minority of one Party -- which is somewhat of a minority party to begin with -- thus dominates the rest of the nation.

Thing Two: I have been developing the idea that the spirit that's taken over the Republican Party represents the re-emergence of the spirit that took hold of the South in the decade leading up to the American Civil War. In several pieces, I've been outlining some of the interesting parallels that suggest that the patterns have been transmitted through the generations, maintaining rather intact the same basic destructive force, which has now -- once again, in our times -- gained the power to do great damage to the nation.

See for example these:

Lest We Forget What White Racism Looked Like When it was Unapologetic

People on the right take umbrage these days whenever anyone talks about racism. But of course, in these unfortunate times, they take umbrage at the mention of most aspects of reality.

So a propos of racism, I thought it might be useful to look at this little bit of history, from a bit more than a century ago, depicted by Doris Kearns Goodwin in her excellent book -- The Bully Pulpit -- about Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the progressive journalists who helped make that an era of political progress. Here's a quote from page 321:

"[S]outhern Republicans had never forgiven [President Theodore Roosevelt for the unprecedented dinner invitation extended the previous fall to the black educator Booker T. Washington.  At the time, the vehement reaction in the South had stunned and saddened Roosevelt. Newspaper editorials throughout the region decried the president's attempt to make a black man the social equal of a white man by sharing the same dinner table. 'Social equality with the Negro means decadence and damnation,' announced one southern official. 'The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they will learn their place,' declared South Carolina's [U.S. Senator] Ben Tillman."

(Whatever else Senator Tillman's statement meant, it certainly signals as clearly as could be that terror was the instrument of choice in the South to maintain the regime of racial tyranny and oppression.)

I've written before about "the persistence of culture." (That's the idea that the patterns embedded in a culture tend to continue -- to succeed in transmitting themselves -- over long periods of time.)

Do you suppose that response to a president's having invited a black man to dine in the White House in 1901 has anything to do with how some Americans have responded, since 2009, to the black man that's now actually the President of the United States?

On the Radio This Morning, Discussing the Two Huge Political Stories from Virginia this...

Namely, Eric Cantor's losing his seat to a challenger from the right, and Delegate Puckett conspiring with the Republicans in the Virginia legislature to give them control of the Senate, apparently in exchange for a goody he won't now be able to collect.

I worked to convey something important to the presumably conservative audience about the deep problem with the Republican Party if a guy with a 96% rating from the American Conservative Union gets challenged and beaten from the right.

I commend the show to your attention, at


They Say the Establishment GOP is Beating the Tea Party. So What?

One hears the pundits saying, in the wake of the primaries this past Tuesday, that the Establishment wing of the Republican Party is wresting back power from the Tea Party wing. Could be. But those of us who are tired of the Spirit of the Lie wielding so much power in our nation's politics have no dog in that intra-party fight.

The Republican Party of today is extraordinary in how vanishingly little role the truth plays in their communications and in determining their policy positions. I would wager that never in the history of major American parties has there been any that has been so pervasively dishonest.

Here's how I see the battle.

The Party is united in dealing in lies, but it is divided between those who deliberately fabricate the lies, to manipulate the political process for their advantage, and those who buy the lies.

The big liars -- con artists like Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, and Karl Rove -- have tended to be at the top of the Republican hierarchy. Most of the people they succeed in conning are in the base of the Party. But in time, some of the believers in the lies rose out of the base into positions of power.

Over time the crazy base the con artists created started to take on a life of its own. Like a Frankenstein monster, it began to threaten those who brought it forth. It began to elect people who actually believed the crazy picture of the world the manipulators were putting out.  

Future Generations Will Find It Hard to Understand, or Forgive, Climate Deniers

An op/ed of mine ran in the Richmond Times Dispatch this morning, and part of it involves my concern with how we're doing as a society in the face of the challenge of climate change. This elicited from a reader an email that read,
Pl. relax, the house in fact is NOT on fire.  In stead if getting your climate science from politicians like Al Gore, john Kerry and B. Obama, or the feeders at the gov. grant trough at AAAS, pl. talk to those real scientists that Obama has insultingly called "flat-earthers such as Freeman Dyson, considered the most brilliant scientist in the country, Nobelist physicists Ian Giaever, and Robert Laughlin plus Edward teller, Friedrich Sitz, and Robert Zastrow, not to mention the many, many prominent climate scientists incl. Singer, Christy, Curry, Spencer, Singer, Idso plus Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace and thousands of others.

Then pl. write another op-ed

I replied to him thus:

Another Glaring Example of Failing to “Call It Out”

In Monday's Washington Post, there's an excellent op/ed about a threat to the integrity of our nation's judicial system. That is, the piece is excellent but for one glaring omission.

Entitled "Keep politics out of the courthouse," it is written by retired Chief Justices of two of our states' Supreme Courts, Ruth McGregor of Arizona and Robert D. Orr of Indiana. McGregor and Orr give three examples of how altogether inappropriate kinds of political pressure have lately been brought to bear upon our "independent" judiciary.  

The first of these comes from Oklahoma, where "political efforts to bully and weaken Oklahoma's courts" played an important role in the botched execution of a death-row inmate:

[T]he governor announced that she would disregard the court's ruling. A legislator introduced a resolution to impeach the five justices who had voted for the stay, alleging "a willful neglect of duty and incompetence." The Supreme Court ultimately dissolved its stay and allowed Lockett's execution to proceed.

These two retired jurists rightly call this episode "profoundly disturbing."

Another example comes from Missouri where a "bill in the Missouri legislature would have permitted lawsuits against state officials, including judges, for enforcing federal gun laws." And finally there's Kansas, where, "In retaliation for court decisions, Kansas lawmakers removed the Supreme Court's authority to pick chief district court judges and weakened its authority over the judiciary's budget."

Leaderless America

Usually, the President of the United States is the leader of the nation. It is a hugely important position, a single person embodying the whole of one of our three branches of government. With hundreds of congresspeople and a hundred senators, the president is the one person whose voice gets heard.It is only the president who has the "bully pulpit." Particularly at times of national crisis, the president is the person to whom the nation turns for leadership.

I cannot recall a time -- and my close attention to American politics goes back to the middle of the Eisenhower years -- when America has been so lacking in leadership as now. When I say "lacking in leadership," I do not deny that President Obama is working hard to get the nation to move in the directions he's chosen.

But leadership is not just about the leader's intentions. It's also about getting people to follow, about the leader gaining the necessary standing with a followership. And, over the course of his years in the White House, President Obama has proceeded in a way that has undercut the standing that leadership requires.

This loss of standing can be explained in "structural" terms: President Obama has failed to define his leadership in terms of the only available "us" that's willing to follow him. It's a matter of boundaries: President Obama has failed to take into account a boundary that formed in the body politic-- a boundary that required him to redefine and regroup his followership because, across that boundary, his enemies have been waging relentless war against his leadership.

When Traitors Think They’re Patriots

It's now a few weeks since some "conservative" leaders, like Sean Hannity, walked out on the weird plank of making heroes of the Cliven Bundy crowd for confronting federal officials and then had it sawed off behind them when Bundy, swollen with his folk-hero status, shared with the country his racist views.

I've always hated racism -- I mean always, even before the age of five -- and I'm glad that in America today, as the affair of the LA Clippers' owner also showed, racism cannot be exposed to the public light without condemnation. I'm glad that these "conservatives" felt compelled to distance themselves from Bundy and his racism.

But for someone who knows anything about American political history, there's something really new, something disturbing, something weird about the idea that these right-wingers had to repudiate the racism, but were happy until then to declare as heroic what Bundy and his armed supporters had been doing and saying.

For a century, American patriots -- especially on the right -- regarded the intention to "overthrow the government of the United States" as the complete opposite of patriotism. No greater enemies existed, in conservative America, than those -- whether they be anarchists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, or communists after the Russian Revolution -- who sought by deed or even word to undermine the American system of government.

But here is Cliven Bundy -- who declares out loud that he doesn't even recognize the existence of the federal government created by the U.S. Constitution, and here are his gun-toting followers calling for county sheriffs around the region to forcibly disarm the agents of the federal government -- described as patriots by a Republican U.S. Senator from Nevada, and called heroes by major spokesmen, like Hannity, for so-called "conservative" America.

How does this happen? How do things turn into their opposites?

Also disturbing to me is that the American media did not seem more disturbed by this strange contrast between the reaction to the treason vs. the reaction to the racism.

Supreme Court Justices Show Bias in Free Speech Cases– But Especially the “Conservative”...

A new study, reported in the New York Times, reports that, in cases involving free speech issues, the various justices on the Supreme Court are more likely to protect the speech of people who share their ideological orientation (liberal/conservative) than the speech of people on the other side.

Not a great surprise. I've got a talk I've given at various times in the past seven years called "The Challenge of Fair-mindedness" (or "The Challenge of Justice") which is about how difficult it is for people to embrace fairness over self-interest.

But the bias of these Supreme Court Justices is far from symmetrical. Take a look at the chart contained in the in the Times' article:

It shows that while the liberal justices are a bit biased toward protecting liberal speech, the "conservative" justices are dramatically more concerned to protect the speech on their side.

The New York Times article does mention this asymmetry, but in a very mild way:

"While liberal justices are over all more supportive of free speech claims than conservative justices," the study found, "the votes of both liberal and conservative justices tend to reflect their preferences toward the ideological groupings of the speaker."

Is this way of reporting it -- putting the asymmetry into a subordinate clause to be trumped by stress placed on the "both sides do it" piety -- more of that damnable liberal wishy-washiness? That tepid statement   hardly does justice to what the chart shows: While the likes of Breyer, Ginsburg, Stephens, and Souter have been about 5-25% more likely to defend liberal than conservative speech, the records of Thomas, Scalia, Alioto, and Roberts reveal them to have been THREE TO FOUR TIMES as likely to protect conservative than liberal speech.

Which raises a question: to what extent is this greater conservative bias the result of their UNCONSCIOUSLY favoring their own side, rather than applying the Constitution blindly, and to what extent is it because THEY DON'T CARE about being fair?

Whatever the source of the striking asymmetry, this is no time to be minimizing the extraordinary developments on the political right. For the important question, given the total picture of our national crisis, is this: What is going on that accounts for the striking contrast between the almost-fair liberals, and the grotesquely unfair conservatives?

Hence the motto of my campaign to focus the national conversation on the heart of our current political pathology:

See the evil. Call it out. Press the battle.

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