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[politics] A cranky email on guns, and a gracious reply

Last week while driving back from a lunch date with [info]kenscholes, I heard Oregon state representative Dennis Richardson (R., 4th district) on OPB’s Think Out Loud. He was discussing gun laws in Oregon with host David Miller. Miller began asking Representative Richardson about 2013 HB 3006, a measure that invalidates federal firearm laws in State of Oregon. This bill is ridiculous on a number of levels, including being blatantly unconstitutional, and is very clearly intended to be red meat for Oregon’s rural conservative voters.

Richardson acted like he’d never heard of the bill, and seemed very taken aback by Miller’s questions. He sounded genuinely surprised at Miller’s description of the contents of the bill. The host finally stopped and asked Richardson if he was a sponsor of the bill. Richardson said he’d have to get back on that.

As it happens, Representative Richardson is manifestly a sponsor of HB 3006.

I found this profoundly irritating. From my perspective, this was a classic example of the persistent liberal-progressive question about most conservative political positions: Are they stupid or evil? Either Representative Richardson could not remember which bills he sponsored in the Oregon House, or he’s so intellectually dishonest that he would flat out lie about a bill that pertains to a current cause célèbre in American political life. Neither of those options seems consistent with being a competent, ethical representative.

So I wrote him a snotty email.

That night, I got back a very gracious reply. I don’t have permission to quote it here, so I will not, but suffice to say that Representative Richardson took the time to write me in some detail about how and why he had prepared for his interview with Think Out Loud, and that HB 3006 was not on the list of topics he’d been provided with in advance. He further observed he’d had no idea what HB 3006 was because the last time he’d seen the bill, it was in draft without a bill number.

Now, I can argue with a lot of Representative Richardson’s response. For example, how could he not realize that talking about gun control might well include an aggressively partisan and in-your-face bill he’d co-sponsored? But what I admire and respect about his response was that he ignored the graceless tone of my challenge to his on-the-air comments in favor of engaging on the substance of issue as he saw it.

Here’s an excerpt from my response to his response:

As for the topic at hand, yes, we’re probably not likely to agree. I understand and respect that gun ownership is a Constitutional right, but the Constitution has been wrong before. In its original form, the document enshrined both slavery and second-class citizenship for women through restriction of the franchise. Over the years of our republic, Americans have redefined what is right for us as a society through the framework of Constitutional amendments. For my own part, I don’t see how anyone of good conscience and moral awareness can support a right that costs 80 Americans their lives every single day, most of those deaths preventable or avoidable except for the widespread presence of firearms.

Think about this: 3,500 people died on 9-11. We have spent a trillion dollars and caused the deaths of 100,000s of people in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the years since then seeking to redress that wrong. Imagine what our society would be like today if instead we’d spent that trillion dollars at home on violence abatement?

Rather, Americans choose to accept 30,000 largely preventable deaths a year as part of the cost of a free society — a cost no other free society on Earth is willing to tolerate. I am extremely confident that history will eventually judge American gun culture very harshly indeed. For the sake of all those deaths every year, I would like to see us get on the right side of that history now, not a generation or two from now.

I doubt Representative Richardson and I will ever agree. Anyone who can sponsor a measure as extreme as HB 3006 is on the far side of lunacy from my perspective on sane social policy. But I appreciate his willingness to engage with me constructively. It’s given me pause for thought.

[politics|religion] Where should the rules come from?

Yesterday on Facebook, a conservative friend said, I suspect part of the issue is that most writers and artists of the last 150 years working in the fantastic field have been (more or less) refugees from religion, of one sort or another. To them, a more perfect (or at least more fun) world is a world where god and church… are just not present. God and church mean rules and we work in genres inhabited (more or less) by people who hate rules. On their persons. On their choices. On their thoughts and ideas.

(No link, because I don’t want to accidentally create a dog pile.)

As it turns out, I somewhat mistook the context of my friend’s remark, but I still wanted to repost what I said, because I think it may have some value. Below is a synthesis of several comments of my own:

I think you’re oversimplifying terribly. I don’t know a single liberal or atheist who doesn’t believe firmly in the social contract, and the social contract requires rules. Frankly, from our point of view, it’s conservatives who have been abandoning the rules in working so hard over these past decades to void much of the social contract.

As an atheist myself, and definitely a proud refugee from religion, I write about religion all the time in my fiction. See my entire Mainspring series, as well as my Green series, as well as a large percentage of my short stories, as well as Death of a Starship, whose protagonist is an Orthodox priest, and my yet-unpublished Sunspin, one of whose key characters is also a Christian priest. Portrayed with loving care and as much internal honesty and morality as I can manage, not with liberal snark.

To oversimplify on my part, the fundamental disagreement you’re so casually alluding to isn’t over the question of rules vs. no rules, it’s over the source and meaning of the rules. I don’t think any single faith should be the source of societal rules. How would you as a conservative Christian feel about living in a society based on rules drawn from the Sharia, for example? That’s how I feel about living under Christian rules. Though in all fairness, the vast majority of the secular rules I favor and the Christian rules I presume you favor are in alignment.

In my personal case, I have a particular allergy to both Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism, but I also work pretty hard to talk about religion fairly in my writing. I’m an atheist, but I’m not a fool, and religion is one of the defining human experiences/institutions.

Likewise, on the political front, the assertion that the US is a Christian nation is obvious religious fantasy when contrasted with the blackletter content of the Constitution as well as the writings of the Founders taken as a whole in context (as opposed to cherry picking ‘gotcha’ quotes). Nonetheless, it is an act of intellectual idiocy to deny that we are overwhelmingly a Christian nation in a cultural and historical sense. To me, freedom of religion means freedom from religion. That in turn is the single most important protection any particular religion or denomination or sect or individual faith-holder has in pursuit of their own religious freedoms.

To sum up, those of us who reject religion in our own lives are not the libertine1 anarchists of conservative fantasies. We’re just people who think there are better ways than arbitrary faith in revelation to organize society. Better for everyone, including faith holders.


1. Well, okay, I personally am something of a libertine, but that’s not the point here.

[cancer|politics] The high cost of living, and conservative opposition to my doing so

I was reviewing my insurance carrier’s summary statement of benefits for Q4 of 2012 when I noted that my current course of chemotherapy costs them, after contract adjustments, about $25,000 per session, for a course of twelve treatments. That’s $300,000 right there. Not counting the costs of the port surgery last September, the liver resection coming up shortly, the related hospitalization, many sessions of medical imaging, and my ongoing pharmaceutical costs. All which collectively put this round of cancer well over $400,000 at the carrier’s cost. Closer to $600,000 in nominal cost.

Without the Affordable Care Act (a/k/a Obamacare) lifting the lifetime spending caps on health insurance, given the costs associated with my last three rounds of cancer, I would be running out of insurance somewhere in the middle of this session when I hit my carrier’s old $1,000,000 lifetime spending cap. That was the value of a human life before Obamacare.

If you’re a conservative who thinks Obamacare is some kind of socialist plot, at the moment that socialist plot is the only thing keeping me alive. In opposing Obamacare without an equally sensible and humane replacement of some kind, you’re telling me in so many words my life is worth less to you than your own political convictions or the profit margins of insurance companies. Given that most conservative opposition to Obamacare is based on blatant untruths that have achieved the status of cherished beliefs on the American Right, for example, Sarah Palin’s so-called “Death Panels”, you’re actually telling me my life is worth less to you than your own self-valorizing paranoid fantasies.

So until conservative America comes up with a better idea, it can fuck the fuck off. I wouldn’t wish the cancer hell I’m living on anyone, but people who oppose healthcare reform are wishing for me to be trapped in this hell until death.

[culture|politics] National blind spots

As long-time readers of this blog know, I’ve been pretty exercised about the United States’ national healthcare policies (specifically healthcare finance, not healthcare delivery) for a long time. This was true even before I became a cancer patient and got to experience much the madness first hand. I am similarly exercised about certain other issues, such as our firearms policies (viz recent blog entries) and education policies (specifically, that we have a political and social system that allows Creationists to take control of public education, leading to monumental wastes of time and effort and the horrific mis-education of children as characterized by the Dover decision).

But we also get a lot of things right in this country. To name a few, healthcare delivery (as opposed to healthcare finance), where when the United States is at our best, we are generally the world’s best. Aviation policy, where most of the world follows FAA standards. The research-industrial complex that has delivered everything from Teflon to the Internet for the whole world to use. Higher education, where again, at our best we are generally the world’s best. Our First Amendment protections for freedom of speech and freedom of worship, which provide us with at least the potential for maximum personal expression and individual freedom of thought.

So what I wonder is about our national blind spots. If our healthcare finance system so wonderful, how come nobody else in the industrialized West has anything like it? If our national social policy on firearms is so conducive to personal liberty and a free society, how come nobody else in the industrialized West has anything like it? Quite demonstrably, more often than not when the United States get something right, the rest of the world tends to either develop in parallel or follow along. Yet no one will touch our healthcare system or our firearms policies with a bargepole. And those countries tend to have much better healthcare outcomes than we do, and much lower rates of violent crime. As Americans, we seem incapable of perceiving that.

In other words, if our policies on healthcare and firearms are such a good idea, how come no similar societies are following our example?

History will judge us harshly for some things — leading the path in climate change denial, for example. Our obsessive militarization of world affairs, for another example. But history will be simply baffled by other aspects of American culture, such as our vicious healthcare policies and our national obsession with placing deadly weapons in the hands of every citizen who ever dreamt of having one.

Blind spots. Destructive blind spots.

[politics] There’s no objective reason for reality to have a liberal bias, that’s a conservative choice

There’s no objective reason for reality to have a liberal bias, but it most certainly does these days. When the GOP elected to pursue an anti-science, anti-education, anti-reality electoral strategy in their long term effort to generate more angry white guys, they explicitly and knowingly placed themselves outside of the reality-based community. That privileging of faith and ideology over objective evidence put conservatives on a permanent collision course with reality.

This wasn’t done by people who were idiots. It wasn’t done by people who didn’t know what they were doing. Atwater, Ailes, Rove, et alia, knew exactly what they were doing, and they did it anyway. Votes in each electoral cycle were always a much higher priority for Republicans than either the long-term success of the country as a whole, or even the long-term success of their own party. In effect, they solved a short term problem — dissolving the old FDR-LBJ Democratic coalition, and maintaining the energy of that newfound base for the GOP — by letting someone else deal with the consequences much later.

The basic error was in cultivating conservative Christianists who (among many other toxic errors of thinking) place their faith in Creationism above the absolutely overwhelming evidence for the Theory of Evolution. This immediately privileged personal belief over objective reality. In the years since the GOP first began stirring the Christianist pot, that privileging of personal belief over objective reality has extended to other matters of science such as climate change denialism, as well to matters of ideology, such as the supply side economics myth that tax cuts promote growth.

None of these positions are positions that anyone comes to from an objective evaluation of the evidence. There is absolutely no evidence-based position for evolution denial whatsoever, that’s just a matter of very theologically confused people mistaking private faith for external reality. The very slender potential evidence-based position for climate change denial collapses at even a cursory examination — the BEST project proved that decidedly, though it wasn’t exactly in objective contention before Dr. Muller decided to test the data in line with conservative assertions about flaws in climate science and came to realize they were flatly wrong. The tax cut benefits promised by supply side economics have never materialized in the thirty years since Arthur Laffer invented the theory as a gag on a bar napkin, but the GOP is currently busy suppressing the evidence against one of their most important pet theories. (Obviously they learned from the BEST project what happens when someone takes an objective, evidence-based look at a core conservative idea that can’t be defended on its own merits.) Talking about the Republican position on women’s reproductive health as so clearly evidenced in this past election would take up half a dozen more blog posts, but suffice to say that in this most recent election cycle the GOP boldly proved on the national stage over and over again that cherished conservative beliefs about reproduction, contraception and pregnancy wouldn’t pass muster in a reasonably well-run junior high school health class.

In other words, you have to have faith strong enough to ignore reality in order to hold any of these conservative positions. Which pretty much forces reality to have a liberal bias, as the natural world doesn’t care what your pastor or Rush Limbaugh or the GOP party platform says.

There is no objective reason for reality to have a liberal bias. It does so because conservatives have painted themselves into an intellectual and philosophical corner over and over and over again. Both the conservative movement and the nation as a whole would be far better served by them coming to their senses, so our national arguments can be constructive ones about how to deal with what’s happening in the world around us, rather than the endless, ridiculous culture wars the GOP has damaged our society with in an effort to generate more angry white men.

We can only hope, but I do not find much cause to do so.

[politics] More on the wretched character of Mitt Romney, as demonstrated by Money Boo Boo his own self

Since Mitt won’t stop talking about politics, I’m not done talking about Mitt.

In my post right after the election [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ], I observed:

Apparently last night somebody did an emergency character transplant into the profoundly mendacious and opportunistic Romney, because he didn’t go down the Bush road. I’d like to say good for him, but I flat don’t believe this was for any moral or patriotic sensibility. Not given Romney’s extremely well documented track record. Someone was cutting their losses.

[info]ericjamesstone had this response:

I believe I have more insight into Romney’s character than you do, and I think you’re wrong about his motivation. I think he conceded gracefully because that’s what a presidential candidate is supposed to do when beaten. Even Richard Nixon knew that.

As I said at the time:

I am certain you do, actually, without argument. My insight into Romney’s character comes entirely from the conduct of his campaign. Which did not encourage me to think well of him in the slightest, given everything from his 47% remarks to the profoundly and knowingly mendacious Jeep-to-China ads. The person who said those things and approved those ads is not a person anyone could reasonably assume to be of solid character.

That campaign legacy is Romney’s public character, regardless of who he might be as a private person.

Again regardless of his private character, Romney’s statements since the election have done nothing except confirm my abysmal assessment of his public character. The gracefulness Eric attributed to Romney the day after the election has been completely absent from the combination of entitled peevishness and sheer ignorant malice emitting from Romney since. At this point, even conservatives ought to be awakening to how close we came to electing Mr. 47%, and the degree of his fundamental disdain for ordinary working Americans of all political persuasions.

“What the president’s campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government, and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote, and that strategy worked.”

“It’s a proven political strategy, which is give a bunch of money to a group and, guess what, they’ll vote for you. … Immigration we can solve, but the giving away free stuff is a hard thing to compete with.”

I won’t bother reiterating the analysis made over and over again by commentators on the left and right about the so-called “extraordinary financial gifts”. Romney’s clear assumption is that tax cuts for the wealthy and items like the carried interest deduction are not “extraordinary financial gifts”, but rather that they’re prudent fiscal policy, while doing things like working to provide universal healthcare to all citizens regardless of economic class or political affiliation represent a giveaway the government can ill afford. That’s a very typical conservative viewpoint, to believe that government benefits to their preferred interest groups are critical Federal programs, while government benefits to their disfavored interest groups are wasteful public spending. That’s why student loan interest rate abatement is “mooching” but farm price supports are not. Students tend to vote Democratic, farmers tend to vote Republican.

Except government doesn’t work that way. It’s not about punishing people you disagree with or who vote the wrong way. It’s about enabling both individuals and society as a whole to progress and prosper.

This ignorant disdain of the social contract and the role of government in the lives of its citizens is completely consistent with Romney’s 47% remarks, and very far off the moderate tone he pretended to adopt during the late stages of his campaign while desperately trolling for votes from the political center. I won’t even go into the “stupid-or-evil” dynamic inherent in his fact-free and untruthful reference to the Limbaugh-FOX talking point about “free contraceptives.” Either Romney knows he’s lying, as he has countless times before; or he doesn’t know he’s lying because he’s dangerously embedded in conservative epistemic closure — which would you prefer for president, profoundly dishonest, or proudly ignorant of reality?

Romney’s post-election remarks are not a continuation of graceful concession. These are not the words of a statesmanlike politician contemplating the reasons for his election loss. This isn’t even consistent with the good character we might expect from a junior varsity sports team that lost their playoffs.

This surliness is sheer, old fashioned frustrated entitlement. This is the stereotypical shallow lack of self-awareness of the extremely wealthy being played out on the national stage to the deepening embarrassment of Romney’s own party. This is Mitt Romney’s wretched character being imprinted as his shameful public legacy as surely as Sarah Palin and the Tea Party are John McCain’s shameful public legacy. Oddly, much of the GOP is coming to agree with me on this.

If Mitt had simply gone quiet after his surprising concession speech, I might have reluctantly come to agree with Eric’s assessment. But he chose to speak up, to rationalize and justify and condemn; and once again perform one of his endless pivots. At least his Republican primary opponents, who had the political qualities and intellectual depth of the Seven Dwarves without their personal charm, possessed the courage of their convictions. The only conviction Mitt Romney is demonstrating now is his conviction that he deserves more than the rest of America, simply for the magnificence of his existence.

But then, we knew that all along. That’s why he lost, remember?

[personal|politics] Why I am not a conservative

Conservatism “stands athwart history, yelling Stop, when no one is inclined to do so.” — William F. Buckley

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about why I’m not conservative in the political or cultural sense. I don’t mean why I’m not a Republican — given the toxic mess the modern GOP has evolved into, I hope that should be painfully self-evident to anyone not ideologically committed to the party line — but in a larger, more general sense.

Certainly there are a number of signature political and cultural issues that I feel strongly about. I’m not sure they’re inherently issues that ought to fall along a divide between conservatives and liberal-progressives. The anti-intellectualism of climate change denial and evolution denial are more artifacts of how the GOP has approached its electorate than anything that should arise naturally from divergent political views. There is literally no legitimate argument for evolution denial except religious vote pandering. The legitimate political argument over climate change ought to be over solutions and approaches, not endless nitpicking over evolving data sets and climate models and cynical hairsplitting.

Likewise women’s health and reproductive health. If, like evolution denial, you take the religious vote pandering out of the equation, it’s not clear to me why any conservative worthy of the name would consider government intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship a worthy political goal. I grant that there is a principled stance in opposition to abortion, but there are far more rational approaches to dealing with that problem than the endlessly self-contradictory contortions of the American right on contraception, sex education and reproductive rights. Again, increased government intrusion into private life doesn’t strike me as a worthy political goal for anyone of a genuinely conservative bent.

Setting those issues aside, which shouldn’t really be conservative shibboleths anyway, it would be reasonable of me to favor a small government approach comprised of fiscal prudence and a careful fostering of opportunity through the classic (or at least stereotypical) American values of hard work and self-reliance. And in truth, I couldn’t argue much with that ideal. The devil, of course, is in the details. What constitutes “small” government? What kind of fiscal policy is “prudent”? How best do we foster opportunity?

If those were the arguments we were having in American electoral politics, I might be voting quite differently. Then again, I might not. What I am never, ever voting for is Bible-based hatred, knowingly distorted educational policies, discrimination again women and LGBTQ people and people of color, deliberate distortions of science and policy to protect entrenched business interests, the further restriction of class mobility and upward concentration of wealth, and the politics of fear and paranoia — all things that Brand Republican has worked very hard to proudly stand for during my entire voting life.

So, well, here’s me not being politically conservative as the conservative movement in America has defined itself in this era. I’m not interested in generating more angry white guys. That strategy is a political dead end and a social disaster that poisons the wells of this country for everyone regardless of their political affiliation or gender or ethnicity.

But culturally? I think the real issue is that William F. Buckley was flat wrong. History moves whether we wish it to or not. Times change regardless of our fears. The old days were never as good as we like to pretend, and today is never as bad as it seems. The Myth of the Golden Age is older than the golden age itself. Even Cicero said, “Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.”

Change is inevitable.

The proper response to the change of history isn’t to stand athwart it yelling “Stop!” The proper response is to grab the reins and direct progress as best we can. To change, to move forward, is both inevitable and desirable, at least as our civilization is constituted today. To pretend otherwise is to deny reality at its deepest level, and to deny oneself the opportunity to help guide that future.

I cannot be a cultural conservative, because I believe too firmly in tomorrow, and not enough in yesterday. The nature of change makes no other response rational. Conservatism is a fear response to change, a way of saying, “things cannot possibly be better than they were”. Me, I’m wired for hope that things can always get better.

As a culture, as a society, as a nation, we shouldn’t be arguing about whether tomorrow is coming. We should be arguing about where it is going.

[politics] The conspiracy theory of elections

Note: This is a fusion of recent observations I have made in various posts, with some editing to pull it together.

There’s something I’ve continued to wondered about since election night. Given the Romney
campaign’s apparent astonishment at their loss, and other signals such as Karl Rove’s near meltdown over FOX calling Ohio for Obama Tuesday night, I wonder if the GOP leadership thought they had the fix in with the voter ID restrictions, voting machine errors and early voting shenanigans in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. We have a lot of evidence of that being the intention, such as PA State Rep. Mike Turzai’s statement that voter ID laws were going to allow Romney to win the presidency.

My current hypothesis is that the GOP figured either on winning Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio outright through a combination of voter suppression and a certain amount of ballot rigging (especially with the electronic voting machines in PA miscounting Obama votes for Romney), or to lose by a close enough margin that the voting irregularities would given them sufficient smokescreen to launch a Bush v. Gore attack on the outcomes. The clear lesson Republicans learned back in 2000 was that if conservatives can cloud the popular vote sufficiently, a partisan Supreme Court will hand them the presidency regardless of legal merit or national interest. The Supreme Court’s own shame-faced disclaimer that their ruling in Bush v. Gore could not be considered as future precedent confirms this right on the plain face of the facts.

Under this hypothesis, the only way they could lose would be if Obama won by a large enough margin to make recounts and challenges moot. And given the GOP’s demonstrated willingness to read polling data with the same ideological blinders they use for virtually everything else, that would have been the genuine surprise.

Maybe I’m being a bit too paranoid, but this idea would explain a lot of what’s bothering many commentators around the Internet about the apparent utter lack of preparedness on the part of the Romney campaign for a loss. They had the fix in after all, with Rick Scott and John Husted and so forth. Nothing about that would be out of character for the way the GOP has operated in the Atwater-Ailes-Rove era since the rise of Reagan.

Combine this with the current conservative hysteria over the evils that will rain down on the country like Old Testament retribution now that Obama has been re-elected, and you have a very ugly portrait if completely unsurprising of the conservative mind. As I’ve said before, liberal-progressives were afraid of a Romney presidency precisely because of what he said he would do. Conservatives are afraid of an Obama presidency precisely because of what they imagine he might do. It’s two completely different world views, reality and conservative mania, that don’t even align well enough that they could reasonably be said to compete.

To that end, I hate to report that there are no black helicopters over my house, no FEMA troops in the streets, the local golf courses are all still open, and all the area churches seem to be open and prospering.

[politics] The election results

Hey, Senator McConnell. Pssst. How’d that whole making Obama a one-term president thing work out as the GOP’s top priority? You could have made jobs the top priority, or the economy, or the deficit, or national defense. You could have stood for something that benefited the country. You could have done something for the country. Oh, well.

As for the election, color me amazed. I went to be early last night (thanks, chemo), right after Pennsylvania had been called for Obama, and so really didn’t know anything until I woke up this morning. The polling trends notwithstanding, I was not optimistic.

I have a few small observations.

First, thankfully Obama scored a large enough victory in the popular vote that we won’t be treated to four years of Republican pundits and politicians tying themselves in rhetorical knots explaining why Obama elected with a minority of the popular vote in 2012 is a terrible political evil, while Bush elected with a minority of the popular vote in 2000 was a political mandate and good for the country. Or perhaps being conservatives, and thus blissfully free of any requirement for intellectual consistency or factual accuracy, they would have simply ignored that question and gone on the assault anyway.

Second, the GOP forgot that generating angry white guys also generates angry brown people and angry women of every color. They also can’t read a census. White men, angry or otherwise, are not a majority of voters.

Third, I’m beyond boggled that Mitt conceded gracefully. The lesson Republicans learned from Bush v. Gore1 was that if conservatives can cloud the popular vote sufficiently, a partisan judiciary will hand them the presidency regardless of legal merit. The Supreme Court’s own shame-faced disclaimer that their ruling in Bush v. Gore could not be considered as future precedent2 confirms this right on the plain face of the facts. I have been assuming all along that the voter ID laws and early voting shenanigans in GOP-controlled states nationwide were efforts to provide enough smokescreen for a legal challenge, should Romney not emerge with a clear electoral victory.

Apparently last night somebody did an emergency character transplant into the profoundly mendacious and opportunistic Romney, because he didn’t go down the Bush road. I’d like to say good for him, but I flat don’t believe this was for any moral or patriotic sensibility. Not given Romney’s extremely well documented track record. Someone was cutting their losses.

Finally, as I said to Lisa Costello last night, leftists and liberal-progressives are afraid of a Romney presidency precisely because of what Romney himself said he would do as president. Conservatives are afraid of an Obama presidency precisely because of what they themselves imagine he will do. That difference right there pretty much sums up the difference in political worldviews.

Meanwhile, as a good liberal-progressive, I’m confident that Obama’s black helicopters will be at my house shortly to seize my guns, enforce Agenda 21, and make me gay marry my neighbor. That’s why we re-elected him, right?


1. If you don’t know who John Ellis is and the role he played, then you really don’t understand what happened in the 2000 election, nor are you fully aware of the breathtaking depth of the Bush campaign’s political scam.

2. See the Bush v. Gore article on Wikipedia. I can’t link directly to the relevant subsection, but search for the word ‘precedent’.

[politics] Election Day

First and foremost, if you haven’t already, go vote. Obviously I care passionately who gets elected, but your vote is yours, not mine. I’m not entitled to an opinion about how you vote, only about whether you vote. Even if you and I have diametrically opposed political views, I still think it’s critical that we both vote. Call me idealistic, but I never thought the way to winning elections was to discourage the people I disagree with from voting. Quite the opposite, in fact.

For Oregon voters, here’s some information on last minute voting.

Context for people who don’t live in Oregon or Washington: All our elections are 100% vote by mail. We don’t have Election Day polling places, though the county offices are open for ballot drop and for people who had trouble with their mail-in ballots. It’s a clean, simple system that seems to optimize turn-out with virtually no fraud at all. Sometimes there are problems with people who’ve recently moved and may have two addresses, but that amounts to a literal handful of votes statewide in any given election cycle. I don’t why all fifty states don’t adopt this system — virtually all the nonsense about voter ID laws and limiting early voting simply vanishes with this system. It also eliminates all the issues around polling places and staffing and having the right forms and so on. Clean, simple and fair.

If you favor universal suffrage and high turn outs, this system should be a model. If you don’t favor universal suffrage and high turn outs, then we don’t have a lot to talk about because I don’t agree with your profoundly undemocratic and unpatriotic values.

Note, per a brief discussion in comments yesterday with [info]ericjamesstone, that I do not favor some sort of permanent single party liberal-progressive government. I have no equivalent vision of the GOP’s triumphalist Permanent Majority. We need a balance of viewpoints and opinions in government, simply because no one is right all the time, and solutions which are sensible under one set of circumstances can be destructive under other sets.

Whether that balance is best provided by a two-party system is another discussion entirely, but that’s the system the United States has today. The only path I see to meaningful multiparty democracy in this country would involve a complete shattering of the Republican coalition. While I think that given the current nature of the Republican party that would probably be very good for the country, I find it unlikely to actually happen. There’s way too much money tied up in GOP interests, and the media is too deeply invested in both conservative aims in general, and in their own conservative ownership and management.

My issue with the GOP and the conservative movement isn’t their existence, or even necessarily their nominal aims as parsed through the lens of pre-Reagan conservatism. My issue is with the scorched earth, spoke-in-the-wheels style of politics the GOP practices in lieu of actually governing when they are in office. My issue is with the eliminationist politics of resentment the GOP absolutely relies on for votes, poisoning society and culture as a whole. My issue is with handing government over to people dedicated to drowning it in a bathtub, to people who believe that government is incapable of competence or effectiveness, and therefore govern incompetently and ineffectively.

The modern Republican party doesn’t have a different vision of government than I do. They have a contract out on government. If they were interested in reform, or an alternate vision for the future, we’d have something to talk about. But despite the high minded rhetoric they throw around to make themselves feel good about decades of wholesale political and social vandalism, the GOP is a party that wants to destroy the village in order to save it. A village we all have to live in, regardless of whether we vote or who we vote for.

To put it in SF nerd terms, the GOP has become Frank Herbert’s BuSab. And that’s good for none of us. Not even the conservatives so busy setting fire to the village they live in.

So, yeah, I voted for Obama. Because I’d like there to be a functioning American government tomorrow, and next year, and next decade.

[politics|repost] Voting totals, the myth of the Golden Age, and the righteous independence of America’s beautiful minds

Something worth remembering, depending on how the election plays out tomorrow. In 2000 Bush lost the popular vote (0.5MM less than Gore) but won the Electoral College. This was just fine with the GOP back then.

I am absolutely certain the justly famed intellectual consistency of the conservative movement will prevail should Obama win tomorrow on the same terms. After, conservatives are about nothing if they’re not about principle.


This is a repost of something from several years ago, because it seems highly relevant to tomorrow’s election

So much of conservatism and libertarianism thought seems to rely on the myth of the Golden Age. This is the basis of William F. Buckley’s famous declaration to “stand athwart history, yelling Stop” — the idea that things were better than they are, and that change is dangerous. It’s a fundamentally emotional proposition, that strikes me as driven more by fear than any sense of opportunity or growth.

In this morning’s link salad I included a wonderfully idiotic bit of Golden Age myth making, courtesy of The Edge of the American West. Which reminds me of a woman I worked with years ago, back in the mid-1990s.

She was about 30 at the time, divorced, living with her boyfriend who worked shifts in emergency services. She was an art director at the ad agency where I ran IT and production. She lived in a conservative exurb of Austin, attended an Evangelical megachurch on Sundays, and came in every Monday grumbling about how liberals were ruining America, about the Clintons and their crimes, and whatever else her preacher had railed about the day before from the pulpit. Her constant theme was how much better things were in the 1950s when the streets were safe, everybody had jobs, and America was powerful and secure.

I finally got fed up with this and asked her how much she knew about the 1950s. Did she know anything about the African-American experience in those days? What about other non-whites? The unemployed? When I pointed out that in the 1950s she wouldn’t have had the job she did because it would have been given to a man who needed to feed his family, and that she wouldn’t have been allowed in the door of her church as a divorced woman living in sin with another man, she got upset with me and said that wasn’t what she meant.

She wanted the good parts of the myth of the Golden Age without having to acknowledge or accept the prices people paid for them. I’ll bet good money this woman today is a Sarah Palin fan and a Tea Party member, because that’s the depth of thinking I see from conservative America even now. Not all conservatives everywhere, but from those in political power and those with media voices.

I still think about her sometimes, because how the heck do I, as a liberal-progressive, even get her to see where her own thinking goes awry? She’s like those Christians who demand literal subservience to Biblical truth, except for the inconvenient parts. There’s no logic or coherent philosophy, only wishful thinking wrapped in justification.

Some of it is education and worldliness. One reason academia and journalism are so stereotypically liberal is people in those disciplines generally have to look at the world critically and think about the facts on the ground; at least if they’re going about it properly. It’s difficult to maintain my friend’s level of denial and wishful thinking while engaging in intellectual honesty. Contemporary conservatism is a lot more about denial and wishful thinking than it is about intellectual honesty — look at the issues that drive votes: evolution denial; gun fantasies; fears of gays; climate change denial; magical thinking on taxes.

The myth of the Golden Age is as old as history. Children were always more respectful, the language always more well spoken, and times always better in the previous generation. But confusing the myth of the Golden Age with the reality of life is misplaced at best.

How to address that? Surely not through my rantings. But I’m not sure how to be more thoughtful in the right ways.

Added in November, 2012: The really weird thing about conservative longing for the past is it skips over their own recent political history quite conveniently. Anybody who cares in the slightest about fiscal policy, national security, defense, jobs or the economy cannot possibly want to return to the policies of the Bush administration, which manifestly failed on all those fronts by any objective measure. Yet this is precisely what Romney is running on — a return to and intensification of those same failed policies.


From a related post in 2007, I also produce this squib, which I believe has a lot of relevance to current conservative attitudes:

[info]safewrite mentioned in comments to one of my recent posts a bumpersticker which read “Imagine the world without liberals.” I think that’s a fabulous idea. You’d also have to imagine a world where women didn’t have the vote, couldn’t own property, couldn’t get divorced without their husband’s full agreement, where there were no protections from or recourse for domestic violence, where there were no weekends, 40-hour work weeks or paid vacation, no child labor laws, no workplace safety standards or workmen’s comp, no clean air and water requirements, and a whole lot of other evils of liberalism. ETA: All of which were strongly opposed by conservatives, many of them with outright violence in their day.

I think even the most dyed-in-the-wool Bush conservative would just as soon enjoy many of those benefits.

The conservative movement, especially the Tea Party, really are the People’s Front of Judea, aren’t they?


[politics] Post-truth campaigning in a world where no one cares

When Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the 2010 mid-term elections, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president“, he was saying in so many words that conservatism as a political movement depends on destructive non-cooperation. Not vision. Not purpose. Not legislation. Not advancing a governing agenda or meeting American ideals. Just destructive non-cooperation.

When Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said during this year’s Republican National Convention, “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term“, he was saying in so many words that conservatism as a political movement depends on anger and resentment. Not ideas. Not ideals. Not vision. Not philosophy. Not plans for the future. Anger and resentment.

When the Romney campaign ran an auto industry based ad in Ohio this week that flat out, knowingly lied about about job outsourcing, a GM spokesman said, “At this stage, we’re looking at Hubble telescope-length distances between campaign ads and reality. That’s the Republican Party lying for votes because they can’t win on ideas, on vision or on merits.

If we had a meaningfully liberal media in this country, these would be top stories. Every voter would be aware of them. Just as every voter would be aware of Romney’s astonishing stonewalling on tax returns, his reversals (sometimes in the same day) on every topic from abortion to disaster aid to foreign policy.

And no one cares.

Instead we have a political climate where conservatives brag about the benefits of lying, through “Etch-a-Sketch moments” — in other words, we will cheerfully and knowingly reverse our positions for the slightest political gain — and “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” — in other words, we will cheerfully and knowingly lie for the slightest political gain — while consistently refusing to discuss the reality behind their own campaign promises because “It would take me too long to go through all the math“, or ““in the light of day[…] just not until after the election“.

And no one cares.

We live in a country where the most recent experience of conservative government was the most enormous economic disaster since the Great Depression and the most destructive foreign policy disaster since the Vietnam War, where conservatives running today are lying about almost everything they stand for, and bragging about doing so, where conservative ideas have so little merit they can’t be discussed in detail prior to the election, and still the Republican Party is very close to winning this thing.

And no one cares.

It’s through the looking glass, living in the GOP’s post-truth world. Once again, given that millions of my fellow citizens seem to prefer outright, knowing chicanery to political reality, maybe we are getting the government we deserve. But I can’t help think we deserve a hell of a lot better than what the modern Republican Party is offering us — anger and resentment and lies and deception. They’re not even pretending any more. And it’s working for them.

And no one cares.

All of us, even the most severely conservative, deserve better than this.

If you care, vote.