Comparing Policies With Appearances

The obsessive compulsive itch to provide “balance” is an unhealthy psychosis within the fevered hive mind we call the media.

This is readily apparent (and annoying as hell) when it comes to comparing Republicans with Democrats.  Take a gander at Joe Murry’s effort in the Evening Bulletin:

Ever since the days of New Deal, and maybe even before, the Democratic Party has done its best to stereotype the GOP as the party of the rich.
Hoover was the man responsible for the greatest economic hardship in our nation, Reagan’s supply-side economics was for Wall Street and not Main Street, and when Bush 41 raised the capital gains tax and caused a recession, putting a monkey wrench in the “voodoo economics” he decried, he denied such a recession existed.
The charge against the GOP has long been laid out: Its candidates are out of touch, rich white men, who resemble more of Frasier and less of Norm. The fact that John Kerry failed to understand how to order a Philly cheesesteak – he ordered Swiss and not Cheese Wiz – and John Edwards receives $400 haircuts is to be ignored, for Democrats may still be rich, but they can still relate to, and feel, the pain of the people.

Is he really comparing the depression to a cheesesteak?  What the hell?  That’s the best he can come up with to suggest the Democrats might also be the party of the rich?  I’m sure given all the trade agreements, efforts on health care, education, labor, credit, corporations and taxes, there is one policy item that suggests the Democrats might not always be slugging for the common American.  (And if not, then there really isn’t any comparison to make, is there?)

Most politicians are (or become) wealthy.  This in itself is a problem.  But to compare the wealth of one parties members to the political actions of another is just bad reporting.  Its the kind of logic that would get you slapped if you snuck it into a term paper.  But its apparently right at home in the Evening Bulletin, and in every other news outlet where you can find “balanced reporting”.


Compassionless Conservatives

When taking the time to retro fit your political idealogical in a more attractive guise, care must be taken.  Wouldn’t want your future actions contradicting your message (or confirming an opponents!).  Apparently the so called political genius Rove and the team behind Bush’s run for office neglected to consider how their “Compassionate Conservative” tagline might play out over the years.  Austin Cline has taken a look, and the body under the tarp is not decomposing nicely:

Deeds are more important than words, so rather than pretend that conservatism can be made compassionate by a mere rhetorical flourish, we should instead ask how the Bush administration has acquitted itself over the past years. It’s hard to see anything remotely “compassionate” in a single policy, proposal, signing statement, or any other action taken by the Bush administration. Indeed, there are so many actions that seem to be the opposite of compassionate that it would be difficult to single any one out as truly emblematic of the Bush administration’s true character.

Austin takes a look at Bush’s response regarding health insurance for children (emphasis mine):

In explaining why he opposed any expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, George Bush made it clear that his position was purely ideological. It’s not the S-CHIP fails to work or fails to be efficient, but it’s a government program and that’s enough. In response to suggestions that children need access to adequate health care, Bush insisted that everyone has access to health care: “you just go to an emergency room.”

This is more than a “let them eat cake” moment for Bush.  It is a rhetorical stab right into the heart of conservatism.  As Austin points out:

Something had to be deeply wrong with conservatism if anyone imagined that the public needed to be told that it was possible to be conservative and compassionate at the same time, or that conservatism was being transformed into an ideology more compassionate than in the past.

If this is how compassionate “Compassionate Conservatism” is, what must so called “real” or “classical” conservatism be like?  In fact if you look at the current crop of Republican candidates for 2008, is there a single one who would take the compassionate road of ensuring children have health insurance?  Would any of them oppose any federal effort just on the basis of idealogical opposition to federal law?

Austin is absolutely right.  There is a huge opportunity here.

Let’s ensure that “conservative” is welded hard and fast to the government response to Katrina, to denying medical insurance to children, to wars based on lies, to denying gays equality under the law, to religious extremism, and so forth.

The phrase “bleeding heart” liberal has been thrown around for ages.  But it is a very instructive insult.  The opposite is the stone heart.  The ruthless corporatist who is so obsessed with small government and tax reform that they are willing to let people die and lives be ruined so long as the wheels of industry keep turning.  In conservative America, for all the harping on the individual, the individual does not matter.  The conservative position is that everyone has the potential to become or remain an individual who matters and has rights. It is this potential and the definition of who matters that they are so set on defending.  So much so that they have no compassion for those who for one reason or another fail to become someone who matters (and therefore someone who deserves even the most basic rights).

Conservatism represents a fundamentally broken approach to government.  One that ignores the heart.

Fight Back: Fox Isn’t a News Organization

Fox News is not a news organization. They mix in slices of current events into a hearty stew of entertainment and outright propaganda. They routinely offer false and misleading information to be consumed by their target market: us.

At some point, when a blowhard like Bill O’Reilly demonizes the left, it can feel like more of an abstract. But make no mistake that he is actively campaigning against us (Rick Perstein via Sara, Orcinus, emphasis mine):

Reflect, for a minute, on who America’s grandparents are being taught to hate: Americans who do what Americans are supposed to do, what our founders implored us to do: debate vigorously and in the open, the meaning of the public good. They used to call these people “citizens.” They’re “like the Nazi Party,” Bill O’Reilly says. They are you and me.

We don’t need to take this sitting down. We can take it right to their pocketbook:

I’ve just become a proud “FOX Attacker”. Now you can too. It’s not a boycott. It’s simply calling advertisers and informing them what FOX says. FOX can’t survive that. Have a blog? Then help spread the word.

“FOX can’t survive that.” Powerful words. In one sense this is a call to spocko Fox News. The idea being that advertisers will not want to be associated with an organization that peddles the kind of bull Fox serves up in a quivering news-lite form.

In another sense this is an aggressive step forward for progressives in the ongoing framing wars. Fox News and its controversial hosts are working overtime to paint liberals as traitors, and their media competition as liberal. Both points are demonstrably false.

In fact the accusations hurled at opponents often come back to bite them, and ironic teeth are the sharpest of all (Tom,This Modern World):

The well-known hate site BillO’ is being investigated by the Secret Service for threatening Hillary Clinton’s life. Well, actually it was just some commenter, but by Billo’s own standards, if the comment is on his site, that means he condones it. Why does Bill O’Reilly want Hillary Clinton to die?

By advancing and making clear how we all see Fox News, we are doing more than attacking their source of funding. We are launching a direct offensive on their most valuable resource of all: their legitimacy.

A News organization with zero credibility is out of business. There is no need for a boycott.

So join the coalition against Fox News. Become a Fox Attacker. Fox is doing everything they can to paint liberals as political monsters. We must fight back. Fortunately, to fight back, we don’t have to paint. We just have to point out.

Campaign ’08: Did I Miss the Penis Coverage?

CNN’s Political Ticker is sending mixed signals.  The post Alexander Mooney is titled Clinton Seeks Cleavage Cash.  This is unfortunately phrased, to say the least:

White House hopeful Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign sent a solicitation to supporters Friday with the attention-grabbing header in order to decry a recent Washington Post article devoted to the New York Democrat’s chest — and raise campaign cash in the process. “Frankly, focusing on women’s bodies instead of their ideas is insulting,” Ann Lewis, a senior adviser to Clinton, wrote in the e-mail.

Clinton is fighting back against a really shitty media double standard.  One Alex couldn’t help but exemplify.  Take a look at how he closes his post:

But Clinton isn’t the only presidential candidate whose appearance has undergone scrutiny. Edwards’s pricey haircuts, Obama’s frequently ‘open collar’, Arizona Sen. John McCain’s V-neck sweaters, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s expensive make-up jobs have all been the subject of past media attention.

Notice the conspicuous lack of sexually specific anatomy among the male examples.  No quotes like “There was groin bulge on display Wednesday afternoon on C-Span2.  It belonged to Sen. John McCain.”.  You really only see this pulled on women like Jessica from Feministing, in particular those with power and influence.  Apparently the halls of power have a sex check at the door.

What Alex’s post says, intentionally or not, is hey, Hillary is using her breasts to fundraise, and all the other candidates have their appearances critiqued, so she might as well lighten up.

The thing is, this is getting tiresome.  She’s a woman.  We get it.  Hearing a thousand variations in high and low key notes along the lines of “OMG a woman is running!” is as grating as every “My God, Obama is Black, and he might be President” article.

There are more than enough stark policy differences to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Obama Understands Diplomacy

Obama and Clinton have started a great argument on diplomacy. Unfortunately for Hillary, Barack is absolutely right. William Arkin at the Washington Post doesn’t get it. Let’s take a look (emphasis mine):

My conclusion from this affair comes in two parts. First, maybe Obama really is different (if also naive). And second, maybe he needs some new advisers.

Obama dismissed Sen. Hillary Clinton’s national security approach as “Bush-Cheney Lite” yesterday and said his priority as president would be to “unite” the country and seek change. His remarks came a day after Clinton smacked him down as “irresponsible and naïve” for his remarks during Monday’s CNN-YouTube debate.

In other words, Obama seems to have misstepped according to Arkin. The supposedly problematic position is actually both wise and necessary (emphasis mine):

Obama also held a conference call with reporters, characterizing Clinton as no different from the Bush administration for foreswearing dialogue. “If that’s not what she means, then she should say so,” he said. “Nobody expects that you would just sit down with them for coffee,” he said, speaking of the preparations he would make for meetings with the leaders of North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and other nations. But he stuck with his answer and said he would not impose preconditions.

This is a very important position to take. It understands the primacy and the value of dialog. It also understands the danger and the cost of the alternatives. Hence Obama’s very apt comparison of Hillary’s outright rejection of dialog as following in Bush and Cheneys bloody footsteps.

So why frame this as naive?

Well, this is not necessarily bad, nor it is necessarily wrong, but it is naïve. The president of Iran doesn’t even recognize Israel’s right to exist. Sitting down to chat with him would be like sitting down with Osama bin Laden to explain that it’s all a big misunderstanding, that America shares his ideals for a better life. Sorry, Obama, but those aren’t everyone’s ideals, and that’s not bin Laden’s beef.

That first sentence is so flatly dishonest in such a small space it should make your brain do a backflip. He’s just trying to soften the blow with “not necessarily bad, nor it is necessarily wrong”. Or is naive foreign policy “good and right” in Arkin’s estimation?

The benefit of dialog is it invites people to the table. It creates options instead of shutting doors. If you sit down to talk with a despot, this does not commit you to agree and acquiesce!  At the very least, it creates a diplomatic space in between a workable solution and a violent last resort.

One thing this world does not need more of is war.  And we do not need a Presidential candidate who automatically ticks off an alternative to war on some misguided principle or mistaken notion of good foreign policy.  Not all experience is useful or good, and Hillary Clinton is unwittingly making that readily apparent by playing the experience card as a counter to Obama’s position.

Keep options on the table.  Keep a cool and level head.  That will result in sound foreign policy, and is the mark of a true stateswoman/statesman.

Obama should be aggressive on this and fight the “naive” label before it starts to stick.  His position on diplomacy shows quite he is quite the opposite.

Dear Reuters: Criticizing Opponent != Negative Tone

How utterly clueless is Steve Holland?  Candidates firing back at each other over the age old “experience vs new direction” battle is to be expected in a Presidential race.  We saw it when Cheney and Edwards debated (which was actually a very enjoyable debate to watch, much more evenly matched than Kerry vs Bush).  We are seeing it now with Hillary vs Barack.

Just calling your opponent naive or linking your opponent’s stance to an unpopular administration hardly counts as “negative” campaigning.  It is smart campaigning.  Hillary is doing the best she can without changing her position.  She is spinning her unpopular, more hawkish stance as derivitive from experience Obama lacks.  Its really the only card she can play here.  Obama is rightly firing back by comparing her to the current administration.  That’s just good campaigning.

None of this stops Steve from breathlessly relating the “nastiness” of the “flap”:

Neither side was backing down from a dispute that erupted at a debate on Monday and turned nastier as the week went on, wrapping up with bitter exchanges between top Clinton strategist Howard Wolfson and his Obama counterpart, David Axelrod.

Clinton considers the first-term senator from Illinois naive for saying he would be willing to meet leaders of hostile nations like Iran and Cuba, while Obama thinks Clinton is sticking to the foreign policy status quo of the much-criticized Bush administration.

Note to Reuters.  This is not a “feud”.  It is a policy difference, and two candidates are using the implications and the context of that difference to paint their opponents as less qualified.

“If you’re looking for what’s wrong in Washington, why the system is broken, one perfect example is what’s been happening over the last four days. We’ve had two good people, Democratic candidates for president, who’ve spent their time attacking each other instead of attacking the problems facing our country,” Edwards, the party’s 2004 vice presidential candidate, told an Urban League annual conference in St. Louis.

Actually, Edwards is wrong here.  This is an important debate to be having.  Given a candidate who seems to finally understand you need to fight to control the discourse, you’d think he’d grasp that this battle of identity and purpose over foreign policy is an example of what Washington needs more of:  Democrats who take a stand.

Democratic strategist Chris Lehane said both sides got out of it what they wanted.

But he said he believed Clinton came out the winner. Obama’s attack on Clinton as “Bush-Cheney lite” undermined his message that his campaign represents politics of hope over negativity — “the exact elements that made him interesting in the first place,” said Lehane.

You can’t utterly avoid the negative and run a campaign of sunshine and candy apples.  Pointing out a vital policy difference, and then explaining why that sets you apart from your opponent is an inescapable and necessary part of a political campaign.

Kudos to both the Clinton and Obama camps for ignoring the concern trolls and sticking to their guns.

You’ll Talk, But You Won’t Act

A Reuters article on bottled water touches on issues of corporate control, water sources, and truth in advertising.  At the very end is a very interesting quote from a portfolio manager (emphasis mine):

Dave Kolpak, a portfolio manager at Victory Capital Management, said the environmental objections will have little impact on the bottom line for either Pepsi or Coke, though he admitted it could slow the market’s growth rate.

“Pepsi and Coke do not make a lot of profit” on bottled water, said Kolpak, adding that people may talk about the issue, but will likely continue buying some bottled water. Victory Capital owns about 3 million shares of PepsiCo among its $62 billion under management.

There is a confidence there that comes from knowing without a doubt exactly how we react to the concerns of the day.  The environmental impact of bottled water could be huge, and investors and executives can reasonably assume most of us will do nothing about it.  Corporate monopolization of a natural resource like water is a huge concern, but it is the cocky assumption of interested inaction that bothers me.

What about you?  Do you act?

Is individual action even effective, or must it be collective action?