A couple months back, our state passed a law allowing transgender children to choose which bathroom to use. It caused an uproar in all the quarters you’d expect it to, and since transgender rights are often thought of as the “next” culture war battle some lovely people (i.e. likely Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly) decided to try to put repeal of the law on the ballot and see what might happen. Only they botched the first part. The measure didn’t get enough valid signatures and isn’t going anywhere. Which, being honest, is a real relief since I don’t have a real sense of how this would have turned out, though the fact that not even half a million real people could be bothered to sign them might signal little interest in rolling it back.
But this is instructive. It’s hard to imagine problems actually arising from this law–a boy who has a transgender female identity will simply use a stall, after all, and the inverse situation with a urinal is difficult to imagine working simply as a matter of physics. Whatever imagined threat these folks see is just not there. But you put together kids and things they do with genitals and suddenly there’s the religious right, complaining about society’s obsession with sex and genitalia and such. Increasingly, conservative forces are barely even bothering to disguise that an ick factor is all that propels their agenda against LGBT people. Their logic, such as it is, is in pieces. Society hasn’t crumbled with state sanction of gay marriage, man has not yet married goat. So you get stuff like this:
We are losing our decency as a nation. Imagine your son being forced to shower with a gay man. That’s a horrifying prospect for every mom in the country. What in the world has this nation come to?
This is in the context of, believe it or not, a lobbyist wanting to keep gay people out of football. It’s sort of an amazing quote: qualified athletes have to be kept out of pro sports because that will lead to young boys having to shower with adult gay men? Exactly when is that ever going to happen? If it’s that much of a fear, why not just shower at home? Sounds a little worn out as an excuse, too, doesn’t it? What with the internet and all, it’s not like images of naked people aren’t out there and available. Again, if this bothers you, there’s a real simple solution: don’t use the public showers if you don’t want to draw the attention of a potential gay showerer (who probably doesn’t have any interest in you). One has to wonder why this fellow feels such an urgent need to preserve spaces for hetero men to strip down and bathe together…
Cory Booker, last August:
Hours before New Jersey voters headed to the polls to choose their candidates for the state’s 2013 U.S. Senate race, Newark (N.J.) Mayor Cory Booker dropped some intriguing names as examples of how to shake up Congress.
In an interview with NBC News posted late Monday, Booker was asked what his chances are to generate change, within a Senate where seniority often reigns supreme.
Booker described himself as someone who does not throw “Molotov cocktails.” In the process, he also mentioned two junior Republican senators who have turned heads at times during their tenures.
“Look at Rand Paul,” Booker told NBC News. “Ted Cruz.”
Cory Booker, half a year later…has been almost invisible in the Senate, only coming up in an utterly unshocking context as a big supporter of the Menendez-Kirk War With Iran Now Goddamnit! Not In Six Months Now Motherfucker! Act Iran Sanctions Bill, which failed to even come to the floor. I’m not taking a shot at him as this is pretty much how it goes: junior senators get the second-tier committees, have to work on building relationships to get things done, etc. Of course, if you don’t give a damn about building power in the institution and really only care about getting your name out there to your own media/activists, then you can quickly “shake things up” and become famous. But Ted Cruz (and, to a less destructive extent, John McCain) are by normal standards not very successful senators, and Booker seems to be doing about what he should be doing: learning the ropes, rather than aping those guys. This is a good thing, and it was stupid for him to make the statement in the first place.
I still miss Phil Hartman. He was a true comic genius and a unique talent that we still haven’t even remotely replaced. For example, take this scene (sorry, no embed, Yahoo! Screen seems to do all in its power to not make that easy, but do click through to experience this moment):
Yup, Hartman is about two inches away from Lovitz’s face, and he’s barely keeping it together as Hartman perfectly parodies Phil Donahue’s uncomfortably intimate interview style. Basically, Saturday Night Live still parodies pop culture as it did in 1987, but Hartman could add in the random bit of weirdness to take it to another level. The bit with the Danish is perfectly executed too. Trademark Hartman, who could drop those into any project, and either enhance a good movie (e.g. So I Married An Axe Murderer), or be the only redeeming attribute in a piece of garbage like Jingle All The Way.
The current crop of anti-gay bills in red states signals, to me at least, that the Republican Party has more or less accepted that the country is pretty much fine with the gays at this point and has figured out how to respond, in typical fashion. Obviously, there are various ways they could go about this. One would be to just give up, though the decreasing minority who opposes marriage equality seems highly reluctant to do so. Another would be to give up and declare victory, Vietnam style. One can even imagine a Scott Walker type saying something like, “Look, I got married to my wife in a church. I believe God was there and I know He approved. What do I care about what the state has to say about it? Marriage is a spiritual matter, the state’s recognition is just a bureaucratic detail. I’m a small-government Republican. I really couldn’t care less.” It seems to me at least somewhat possible that this logic could square the peg, but the problem again would be getting equality opponents to accept it, as they tend not to accept this nuance. In my personal experience they mostly complain a lot about how inevitably their church will be forced to perform gay weddings, though there seems to be virtually no interest (and no legal possibility) in doing so. They tend to see it all as one thing (The Institution Of Marriage), while secular liberals have little trouble in making the distinction between state and religion, with the latter being private and protected but the former a subject of contention. It’s possible they’ll suddenly find an interest in making the distinction when they have no choice, but who knows. Anyway, yet another strategy a couple of rungs down the ladder is to simply whine a lot about how your religious freedoms are being trampled upon because not everyone is doing what you tell them to, i.e. the Damon Linker strategy. But nobody really gives a damn about Linker and endless whining has some drawbacks as a strategy: as in, people just tune it out after a while.
The worst way to react to this, though, would be to pass the law that Arizona’s legislature has. The bill flat-out permits mistreatment of minorities for no justifiable reason, and what’s more, it once again shows the Republican Party to be one that cares only about the interests of business owners and has no capacity for empathy for anyone else at all. It feels like a gratuitous, spiteful swipe, which it no doubt is for a lot of these folks, but it’s almost bizarrely selfish and indefensible, terrible policy married to terrible politics, the product of an ossified and out of touch party network more interested in maintaining lucrative business connections than in doing what’s right. They might want to stop and take a breather, think if this is really the best way of advancing their interests, since opposing discrimination is something that virtually all Americans claim to support.
I don’t really think they’re insincere or crooks for the most part–Michael Bloomberg backs things like ending tenure, performance evaluations, charter schools, etc. because he thinks they will improve education. The problem is that this movement is by and for business executives and the inevitable ideology of that class is what animates it. We need charter schools because competition encourages innovation. We need to eliminate teachers’ job security so that they’ll be motivated to teach better. We need principals to be like mini-CEOs because, well, obviously. The teacher-centric focus of the movement is telling: you have a bunch of rich businessmen whose best ideas are the bureaucratic equivalent of a boss yelling at underlings, which is almost a parody of executive thinking (“I like to fire people!”) and likely why it hasn’t really percolated more widely among Democrats or the general electorate.
Really, the most worrisome thing on this front is that Illinois’s Democratic governor recently put a education reformer on his ticket for re-election, and given the current Supreme Court’s belief that rich people don’t have nearly enough political power, the temptation of Democrats to play footsie with these folks will become harder and harder to avoid. But generally speaking, ordinary people generally like teachers, like their kids’ teachers, and haven’t proven susceptible to arguments that these people are completely terrible and the root of all society’s problems, which of course they aren’t. I think it’s no coincidence that the highest-profile politicians who champion education reform–Bloomberg, Obama, Booker–are all deeply tied to the world of high finance and, among the two who are officially Democrats, are very careful to be quiet about it so as not to alienate their party’s base.
From this, I’m not sure they have gotten the message just yet. Here’s the Congressional generic ballot as of now, which gives Democrats over a 4-point advantage with positive trendlines:
I really have no idea how the midterms will turn out–I do have some hunches*–but it’s critically important for people to remember that the Republican media machine is such a ceaseless, relentless organ of hype, founded or not. That is one of its main functions. Remember how the 2012 presidential field was going to be awesome, until it obviously wasn’t. Or how the Affordable Care Act was going to be a total albatross around President Obama’s neck, until it wasn’t, and it wasn’t, and then wasn’t again. One saw the exact same phenomenon with the 2016 field, which was supposed to be a juggernaut until Chris Christie’s typical modus operandi stopped being an open secret. And how many utterly mediocre pols have been hyped as great talents and presidential material by the likes of Bill Kristol, Chuck Krauthammer, Fred Barnes and the like? Remember when we all felt the inexorable pull of Pawlentymentum? Republicans hype their prospects to high heavens all the time. This is, by the way, very smart, since having hundreds of pundits saying the same thing tends to build resonance and influence the media and, by extension, conventional wisdom and perhaps even public perception. But let’s not forget that this telescopic reality shaping is exactly what is happening now, and as with the aforementioned events, it often falls apart when it comes into contact with reality.
(* Specifically, a net Democratic loss in the Senate but not enough to flip it, a handful of Republican governor losses, and a small number of net seats gained by House Democrats. Probably not all that dissimilar from 1986, Ronald Reagan’s sixth year midterm, though despite massive Koch money Republicans are not going to have a great Senate candidate in North Carolina and are unlikely to win any potential blue state seats, which means running the table on the remaining possibilities. Certainly doable, but I wouldn’t bet money on it. And then there’s Mitch McConnell’s issues and the very likely prospect of a catastrophe in Georgia. So, yeah, I’m not all that worried at this point.)
Very interesting Slate interview with a guy who wrote a book about why relative decline might not be so bad. A taste:
I do think the United States in the ‘50s, though it did a lot of bad things, did play a very generous role in setting up international institutions. But having said that, the last 20 years have demonstrated that the U.S. doesn’t always play the most useful role, though it’s been fairly hegemonic—take climate change.
And there’s something to the idea that the reason Europe was so peaceful in the 19th century was because of the balance of power. So I’m not sure the lessons from history are terribly clear. But going forward we’re actually going to have to mean all this partnership stuff rather than just mouthing it.
This got me thinking about why we continue to act as though the world can’t live without regular administration of freedom bombs. My basic understanding is that, after WWII, a whole generation of men decided that the goal was to find the next Hitler before he could become the next Hitler. So, former isolationists like Arthur Vandenberg joined with Harry Truman with the objective of strangling the next Hitler in the crib, so to speak. Understandable given that they’d just fought a war that killed more than every other war in history combined.
Fast-forward to 2014 and this is still one of the basic assumptions of foreign policy. Regimes must be toppled. Strongmen must be taken down if they’re a “threat” that particular day. Munich must always be invoked, regardless of how ridiculous it is (think Republicans invoking it to describe an Iran agreement where Iran was more arguably the appeaser). We’ve spent the better part of a decade fretting about Iran, of course, with former Pres. Ahmadinejad often compared to the short, mustachioed Austrian himself. Remember “Axis of Evil”? Hitler seems more relevant than ever, even though he’s actually less relevant than ever. It’s obviously very popular to hear arguments that we need to bomb Country X because Munich, obvs, but reducing Hitler’s rise to simple lack of willpower is reductive and silly. It owed just as much to institutional failure and economic mismanagement, and we have much better institutions now and know much more about how to manage economies. One could simply argue that a new Hitler is impossible at the present time given these new facts, and many of the purported new Hitlers are not really in a position to harm the West or have little obvious inclination to try. After all, our refraining from constant intervention for the first 170 years of the republic did not result in Hitlers continually rising up in Europe (or elsewhere).
The weird thing seems to me to be that this stuff has ramped up since Desert Storm, a huge but cursed success since it convinced a whole generation of liberal hawks and neoconservatives that the U.S. could do that kind of thing regularly with little fuss. I mean, Tony Blair was invoking the specter of Hitler to intervene in the Balkans, as if Milosevich was capable of conquering any European country. Sometimes you’d almost forget that WWII was fought over Hitler’s actual military conquests rather than the concentration camps (which were not generally known about in 1939). Probably the best way for anti-interventionists to move the ball forward would be to get the public to accept that Hitler didn’t just come out of nowhere, that his designs were known well before he took power, and that he would not be able to do it today. And, definitely, that relative decline is nothing to worry about in this context.
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