Friday, December 04, 2009

We'd Have A Lot Less Public Acrimony If The Dumbos Would Just Shut Their Pieholes!

Whew! This blogger has been slaving over a hot keyboard to provide additional posts each day to make up for the lacunae caused by the Turkey Day hiatus (Thursday, 11/26/09-Saturday, 11/28/09). Now, this blog — at this week's rate of two posts per day — is made whole. It's fitting now to post a comment on the level of hatred that characterizes Dumbo rhetoric these days. So, this blogger offers a solution for those Dumbos who disagree with the contents of this blog: SHUT UP! This exhortation includes the forwarding of viral e-mail containing racist/Birther/Tea Bagger nonsense. If this is a (fair & balanced) modest proposal, so be it.

[x TAP]
Changing The Tone
By Mark Schmitt

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Of all the aspirations set out by the newly inaugurated Obama administration one year ago, the promise to reduce the level of acrimony in American political life is the one that has most plainly gone unfulfilled.

And that's not surprising — it's always risky to make a promise that depends on someone else cooperating. To induce failure in Barack Obama's central promise, all conservatives needed to do was to stir up acrimony, which isn't very hard. While this is not a period like the late 1960s where the country seems hopelessly divided, the white-hot fury of the minority exceeds anything from the left during the Bush years. The right-wingers who claim to feel, as Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) puts it, that we are "losing our country" seem to be, if anything, overrepresented among mainstream elected Republicans, including perhaps dozens of members of Congress.

Many on the left are happy to see Obama's promise broken, because they think it should never have been made in the first place. They say anyone who witnessed the Clinton impeachment farce, the 2000 election recount, or the winner-take-all politics of the Bush years should understand that the tone of American politics won't change. There are enemies who won't be appeased by an open door and a soft voice. For those critics, the White House's willingness to name Fox News as a partisan operation was a welcome, overdue recognition of reality. In this political atmosphere, they argue, lasting social progress will not be possible unless Democrats are willing to adopt the ruthless parliamentary tactics of the Bush years, and perhaps go beyond them.

Indeed, there is an aggrieved minority in this country — maybe 15 percent to 18 percent of the population — that will not go away. Their grievances are couched in terms of the health-care bill, government spending, or gun rights, but it all boils down to race. It's not just that the president is not white. It's that for the first time since President Rutherford B. Hayes ended Reconstruction, the white South does not control the country. In every political configuration we've known, whether under Democratic or Republican presidents, white, mostly Southern conservatives held the balance of power. They were the unyielding, aging committee chairs of the 1950s and 1960s, the heart of Nixon's "Southern Strategy." They were the essential electoral votes for Democratic presidents like Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, and by the time of the Bush administration, they not only dominated the party but the House and the Senate.

Today, they have nothing. As the Republican Party contracted around its white Southern core, that core became powerless, irrelevant. And its constituents and representatives became furious. They really had "lost their country" -- that is, the structure of power as they had known it. Not all the tea partiers are Southern, of course — Bachmann is from Minnesota — but the white South has always had satellites throughout the country.

This displaced minority cannot be allowed to set the tone for American politics. While the promise of a more open, collaborative form of government may have been naive, it was a good goal. Many Obama voters, including the independents and disgruntled Republicans who made him the first Democrat since Lyndon B. Johnson to win a solid electoral majority, were persuaded by that promise. Changing the process of American politics is not only a worthy goal but a necessary prerequisite to continued progress. The mission of progressives (not just Obama) is to find ways to prevent the angry minority tone from spreading, to hold the contagion. Most citizens want to be heard and have grievances of their own. The angry minority should not speak for them.

This change can't begin on Capitol Hill. (Inviting Republicans for coffee only works with Senator Olympia Snowe [R-ME].) It has to start on the ground. There are glimmers of hope in new structures for deliberative democracy, alternatives to the angry town meetings of the summer of 2009.

For example, the Congressional Management Foundation and several universities recently studied a series of online town-hall meetings on the flashpoint issue of immigration, involving members of Congress and their constituents. The research found that with participants recruited to represent the whole community, and light moderation, the discussion was civil and productive, and unlike the summer health-care town halls, participants came away enthusiastic, better informed, and more likely to vote.

Most such deliberative initiatives are still at the experimental stages, and they may well seem soft and civic, inadequate to the challenge posed by the unyielding partisans. But by building these processes up to scale, and giving people new ways to make their voice heard in government, we might be able to contain the venom and achieve Obama's promise by building structures for citizen participation that bypass the angriest faction. Ω

[Mark Schmitt is executive editor of The American Prospect. Schmitt has been a contributor to the Prospect since 2001 and a columnist for the magazine since 2005, as well as a frequent contributor to TAPPED. He was a senior fellow at the New America Foundation where he helped to develop a new initiative on The Next Social Contract, a cross-cutting effort to find the underlying principles and policies appropriate to the emerging economy. Before joining the New America Foundation in 2005, Schmitt was a program director at the Open Society Institute in New York for seven years. Previously, he served as policy director for Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ), as well as a senior adviser on Bradley’s 2000 presidential campaign. He is an expert on budget and tax policy, reform of the political process, and the history and role of ideas in politics. In addition to appearing in The American Prospect, Mark Schmitt’s writing has been published in The New York Times, The New Republic, Democracy, the Financial Times, and other publications, and he has contributed chapters to several books. His own blog, The Decembrist, was named one of the five best political blogs by Forbes magazine in 2003, and he has also been a regular contributor to TPM CafĂ©. Schmitt is a graduate of Yale University.]

Copyright © 2009 by The American Prospect, Inc.

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Copyright © 2009 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

A Rant, Followed By A Rave (Sort Of)

Today, this blog opens with a RANT! Yesterday's post about the nonsense known as the Prosperity Gospel and the impact of its preaching that encouraged gullible parishoners to enter into toxic mortgages, brought a Comment (using the Comments link at the bottom of the post) from someone who identified himself/herself as "Houston." Unfortunately, "Houston" disregarded the warning above the Comments box:

STOP!!! Read the following BEFORE posting a Comment!

Include your e-mail address with your comment or your comment will be deleted by default. Your e-mail address will be DELETED before the comment is posted to this blog. Comments to entries in this blog are moderated by the blogger. Violators of this rule can KMA (Kiss My A-Double-Crooked-Letter) as this blogger's late maternal grandmother would say. No e-mail address (to be verified AND then deleted by the blogger) within the comment, no posting. That is the (fair & balanced) rule for comments to this blog.

Full disclosure: the hazard symbol (☢) that precedes the warning about unidentified Comments was added today, after receipt of the unidentified comment from "Houston" in this blogger's In Box. Why, does the Comment come to this blogger's In Box (you ask)? Because this blogger MODERATES the Comments and Comments sans the valid e-mail address of the Commenter are treated as spam. So, "Houston's" Comment, which contained a link to a real estate site, probably was a form of phishing for customers who are in the market for a toxic mortgage. If this is a (fair & balanced) sigh of frustration, so be it.

Now, on to the business o'the day with a semi-RAVE: Today's NY Fishwrap offered a "thought-piece" by BoBo Boy (aka David Brooks, author of Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There) on the POTUS (44)'s Afghanistan speech. If this is a (fair & balanced) call to Omnes relinquite spes, o vos intrantes (Abandon hope all ye who enter here), so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
The Analytic Mode
By David Brooks

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Many Democrats are nostalgic for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign — for the passion, the clarity, the bliss-to-be-alive fervor. They argue that these things are missing in a cautious and emotionless White House.

But, of course, the Obama campaign, like all presidential campaigns, was built on a series of fictions. The first fiction was that government is a contest between truth and error. In reality, government is usually a contest between competing, unequal truths.

The second fiction was that to support a policy is to make it happen. In fact, in government power is exercised through other people. It is only by coaxing, prodding and compromise that presidents actually get anything done.

The third fiction was that we can begin the world anew. In fact, all problems and policies have already been worked by a thousand hands and the clay is mostly dry. Presidents are compelled to work with the material they have before them.

The fourth fiction was that leaders know the path ahead. In fact, they have general goals, but the way ahead is pathless and everything is shrouded by uncertainty.

All presidents have to adjust to these realities when they move to the White House. The only surprise with President Obama is how enthusiastically he has made the transition. He’s political, like any president, but he seems to vastly prefer the grays of governing to the simplicities of the campaign.

The election revolved around passionate rallies. The Obama White House revolves around a culture of debate. He leads long, analytic discussions, which bring competing arguments to the fore. He sometimes seems to preside over the arguments like a judge settling a lawsuit.

His policies are often a balance as he tries to accommodate different points of view. He doesn’t generally issue edicts. In matters foreign and domestic, he seems to spend a lot of time coaxing people along. His governing style, in short, is biased toward complexity.

This style has never been more evident than in his decision to expand the war in Afghanistan. America traditionally fights its wars in a spirit of moral fervor. Most war presidents cast themselves as heroes on a white charger, believing that no one heeds an uncertain trumpet.

Obama, on the other hand, cloaked himself in what you might call Niebuhrian modesty. His decision to expand the war is the most morally consequential one of his presidency so far, yet as the moral stakes rose, Obama’s emotional temperature cooled to just above freezing. He spoke Tuesday night in the manner of an unwilling volunteer, balancing the arguments within his administration by leading the country deeper in while pointing the way out.

Despite the ambivalence, he did act. This is not mishmash. With his two surges, Obama will more than double the number of American troops in Afghanistan. As Andrew Ferguson of The Weekly Standard pointed out, he is the first Democratic president in 40 years to deploy a significant number of troops into a war zone.

Those new troops are not themselves a strategy; they are enablers of an evolving strategy. Over the next year, there will be disasters, errors and surprises — as in all wars. But the generals will have more resources with which to cope and respond.

If the generals continue to find that stationing troops in the villages of Helmand Province leads to the revival of Afghan society, they will have the troops to do more of that. If they continue to find that order can be maintained only if social development accompanies military action, they will have more troops for that. We have no way of knowing now how those troops will end up being used. And we have no clue if it will be wise to withdraw them in July 2011.

The advantage of the Obama governing style is that his argument-based organization is a learning organization. Amid the torrent of memos and evidence and dispute, the Obama administration is able to adjust and respond more quickly than, say, the Bush administration ever did.

The disadvantage is the tendency to bureaucratize the war. Armed conflict is about morale, motivation, honor, fear and breaking the enemy’s will. The danger is that Obama’s analytic mode will neglect the intangibles that are the essence of the fight. It will fail to inspire and comfort. Soldiers and Marines don’t have the luxury of adopting President Obama’s calibrated stance since they are being asked to potentially sacrifice everything.

Barring a scientific breakthrough, we can’t merge Obama’s analysis with George Bush’s passion. But we should still be glad that he is governing the way he is. I loved covering the Obama campaign. But amid problems like Afghanistan and health care, it simply wouldn’t do to give gauzy speeches about the meaning of the word hope. It is in Obama’s nature to lead a government by symposium. Embrace the complexity. Learn to live with the dispassion. Ω

[David Brooks is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times and has become a prominent voice of politics in the United States. Brooks graduated from the University of Chicago in 1983 with a degree in history. He served as a reporter and later op-ed editor for The Wall Street Journal, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard from its inception, a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Atlantic Monthly, and a commentator on NPR and "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." Brooks has written a book of cultural commentary titled Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. Brooks also writes articles and makes television appearances as a commentator on various trends in pop culture, such as internet dating. He has been largely responsible for coining the terms "bobo," "red state," and "blue state." His newest book is entitled On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense.]

Copyright © 2009 The New York Times Company

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Copyright © 2009 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves