Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Senate and the Tide

It seems likely now that next Tuesday will see a Democratic tide, affecting state offices and the U.S. House of Representatives. It is also likely that the Democrats will pick up some seats in the Senate, but control of the Senate is another matter.

There are five contests now virtually tied. If incumbents or incumbent parties lose in all of them, the Republicans would lose Virginia, Missouri and Tennessee, but the Democrats would lose Maryland and New Jersey. There are all kinds of combinations of how this may actually break, with the least likely possibility being that the Republicans win them all.

Still, unless the anti-Republican tide is truly historic, the Senate will likely go to one party or the other by two votes, one vote or to the Republicans if it comes out 50-50 (because VP Cheney is the tie-breaking vote.)

So this magnifies the importance of a race that nobody is talking about much: Connecticut. Senator Joe Lieberman, elected as a Democrat, was defeated in the Democratic primary by Ned Lamont. Lieberman is running as an independent, and contrary to many predictions, he is solidly ahead in the polls.

Even in the blogosphere, early enthusiasm for Lamont (and it was the blogosphere that gave him momentum to close the gap and win the primary) has become dark grousing, as in this post at Firedoglake complaining that prominent Democrats (except for John Kerry and Wesley Clark) are not going to Connecticut to campaign for Lamont. The conventional wisdom also has been that as an independent at the bottom of the ballot, Lieberman could not mount a Get Out the Vote operation on election day to get his voters to the polls. Now it's been announced that he is "borrowing" the GOTV operation of Republican Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York City. That means money and bodies, and it's a big blow to the Lamont campaign.

In his campaign, Lieberman has been getting a lot of help and support from Republicans, including from the White House. He has not endorsed Democratic candidates for the House in Connecticut. The Senate Democrats are in a bind, apparently. It was rumored after the primary that there was heavy pressure on Lieberman to get out of the race, and talk of stripping him of his considerable Senate seniority and committee assignments. But clearly some of his Senate colleagues are worried about alienating him, since the polls say he is likely to win.

It is all shaping up then to mean that the flow of power in the U.S. Senate for the next two years will largely depend on one man--Joe Lieberman. In an evenly divided Senate, or even with a one vote majority, he is the unknown quantity. And given all the Republican help that may get him elected against his former party's nominee, it is not likely to be good news for Democrats.

So maybe this is a race that Democrats ought to be paying more attention to. They can't afford to lose more than two of those five Senate elections if they don't want to have to deal with Joe Lieberman, the man without a party, but maybe with a lot of grudges.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Cedars of Lebanon Posted by Picasa
The War on Terra

We're rightly focused on the human casualities of war--the needless deaths of individuals, the rending of families and of communities, most obvious at the moment in Iraq and Darfur. We mention then the economic costs, to the countries devastated by warfare, and to the generations of Americans who will pay for the billions of dollars burned every year, every month, every week. But those billions pay to burn more than bridges or even people. These wars are wars on the earth itself.

This was perhaps most evident last summer in Lebanon, when the New York Times
reported that: Spilled and burning oil, along with forest fires, toxic waste flows and growing garbage heaps have gone from nuisances to threats to people and wildlife, they say, marring a country traditionally known for its clean air and scenic greenery. Many of Lebanon’s once pristine beaches and much of its coastline have been coated with a thick sludge that threatens marine life.

That was July. A month or so later the dimensions of the catastrophe were still growing, as oil slicks threatened the major food supply of fish, and required a year of cleanup costing hundreds of millions of dollars. But even that is short-term. War places a double whammy on the earth, by destroying and polluting, and also destroying the ability of the human population to even try to fix it. And some things just can't be fixed. If ecosystems are damaged enough, or at a vulnerable point, the damage and destruction ripples out, ultimately getting worse.

Some ecosystems never come back. Forests are the prime example. Entire forests were cut down across Europe and the Middle East for fuel but also for warfare--for ships and fortifications and to deny enemies cover. Many of those forests never returned. In some places, other factors combined to turn once green areas into desert. Parts of Lebanon escaped the fate of other areas there. But maybe not this time. The cedars of Lebanon, already endangered, may soon become nothing more than an empty symbol.

The range of environmental construction caused by war and warmaking is just beginning to be counted and studied. But the war on Terra goes beyond war, of course. And we are doing now to the endless oceans what we have done to the endless forests that once covered the land of this planet. We may fight this war until we run out of ammunition, and water, and the variety of food that sustains us, until we are the last primates, the last mammals, on the planet. Then the war will be over, and both sides will have lost.

The earth as the battlefield which will heal itself, and poppies grow where young men stood, may have been true to some extent for some wars in the past. But our weapons are way too destructive now, as are the raw materials needed and the processes of creating them. Now we devastate heedlessly, we poison, we irradiate, and we walk away. War is not always an apt metaphor for our civilization but in this it is. Heedless consumption as well as heedless destruction, and the greed of a few (a factor in war as in the war on Terra) or of many, has opened up a continent-size hole in the ozone layer, and the Climate Crisis moves in our us, to hit us right between our denying eyes.

If civilization survives much longer, the consequences for the environment as well as the seventh generation to come will be a factor in every major decision, because that's simply a tautology. Unless we end the heedless war on Terra, that war will end us.

Frank & Ernest Posted by Picasa
Michael J. Fox on Making A Difference

Michael J. Fox appeared on the CBS News and said this about his Missouri ad:"The irony is that I was too medicated. I was dyskinesic," Fox told Couric. "Because the thing about … being symptomatic is that it's not comfortable. No one wants to be symptomatic; it's like being hit with a hammer."

"At this point now, if I didn't take medication I wouldn't be able to speak."

He said he appeared in the ad only to advance his cause, and that "disease is a non-partisan problem that requires a bipartisan solution."

"This is not about red states and blue states," added Fox, who has also lobbied Congress to lift President Bush's restrictions on funding for stem cell research. "This is not about Democrats and Republicans. This is about claiming our place as the scientific leader in scientific research and moving forward and helping our citizens. That’s all it is. It’s that simple."

Fox said that it is difficult for him to appear in ads and do interviews because of his illness and what it does to him, but he is glad he is given the opportunty. "Honestly, I mean, I really feel this: That you get in your life very few chances to make a difference. And I really feel privileged to do this that I get a chance to do this. But having said that, it's not pretty. It's not pretty when it gets bad..."


Hey fellow early boomers, check out Consensus Now at 60's Now.

Political note: Going into the weekend, polls indicate that the Senatorial races in Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia are all essentially tied.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

sunny October. BK photo. Posted by Picasa
Roved Again?

Even Democrats can hardly believe they're going to win, so it's not so surprising that some Republicans can't accept that they will lose... And what if they're right?

Karl Rove is functionally arrogant, but has usually kept from displaying that arrogance too forthrightly--and besides, he's had this oddly unfathomable winning streak. But his arrogance was on full and obvious display in a radio interview with NPR's Robert Seigel. Rove flatly stated that Republicans will retain control of both houses of Congress. When Seigel suggested that "many might consider you on the optimistic end of realism," as of course anybody reading or hearing the news for the last month or so would, Rove shot back, "Not that you would be exhibiting a bias or anything like that. You're just making a comment." A clear and clearly cheap shot at NPR--a Rove trademark, although he usually lets others deliver it--and a ploy at intimidating Seigel into not asking hard questions.

Rove several times insisted that despite the public polls--many of them, contrary to his assertion, polling specific contests--the polls he was seeing showed that Republicans will retain power. Or as Rove modestly put it, "You may end up with a different math, but you're entitled to your math. I'm entitled to THE math."

But perhaps Rove's most arrogant statement was that the public polls showing two-thirds or more of voters saying the Iraq war must end, or the majorities that believe Bush lied them into the war and has kept on lying about it, and all the other national issues that voters are angry at Republicans about--simply don't matter. They "do not impact the outcome."

Specifically he was talking about local issues or other overrriding issues being more important in individual races. But the idea that so many Americans can be so upset about so many important matters, about a war that kills hundreds, even thousands of people a month and is costing this country billions, but can't change the government bungling that war, lying all the way, is profoundly disturbing.

But as many suspect, perhaps Rove has different reasons for his predictions. Stories continue to appear about the likelihood of problems with voting--everything from electronic machines to a dearth of trained poll workers. A new report by, supported by the Pew Charitable Trust, cites ten states as having particular problems this time, including states with crucial races, like Maryland, Ohio, Colorado, and Pennsylvania. Suppression of voters who would most likely vote Democratic is a matter of record and even of law in several states, including Ohio and Florida.

The rollcall of such problems, plus the Rovian district-by-district analysis, prompted election maven Chris Bowers to ask: "How Much Do Democrats Have to Win By to Actually Win?" He quotes at length a study by three political scientists who conclude: If current trends in the congressional generic ballot polling persist (which they have in past election campaigns), the Democrats are near certain to win control of the House. But this assumes a continued Democratic lead of 8 or more points among likely voters in the generic ballot. If the lead dips below this level, the Republicans can rekindle their hope of holding the House.

So in terms of the generic D or R national polls, Dems have to win by 8 points. Bowers concurs with that figure. It may well be that even in individual contests, the Democratic candidate will have to get 8% more votes than the Republican just to come away with a one point victory.

All of which is even more motivation for voters to get out there and vote for Democrats.

UPDATE: Figures just out today show that Democrats have increased their generic national lead to 11 points for the House in one poll, and 18 points overall in another.

Frank n Ernest Posted by Picasa

In addition to their usual terrorist tactics, Republicans are spraying their scattergun attacks of coded messages and sleaze to see what works. So far the scorecard isn't good.

First came the national effort to scare voters with the image of Nancy Pelosi of SAN FRANCISCO as Speaker of the House. San Francisco is a code word for liberal/libertine sin. It supplants Las Vegas as sinner city because, well, a lot of Republicans go to Las Vegas and own big pieces of it, even though prostitution is one of its major industries. San Francisco is the city of gay sinners. Despite, you know, Republican Mark Foley of Florida.

How's that working? Well, every time the charge is made on TV, up comes a picture of Nancy Pelosi. She doesn't look so scary. The message says she'll be the next Speaker of the House. She will be the first woman to be Speaker of the House, third in line to the Presidency. Women are a large and important part of the electorate, and the poll show that most are highly motivated to vote against Republicans this year because they are upset about the war, and about a Republican Congressman who was a sexual predator of teenagers, and the House leadership who covered up for him, and a Republican White House that insisted he run for re-election. Who do they think might represent their feelings and priorities? Like a woman Speaker of the House perhaps? Advantage: Democrats.

Then this week came the ad in Tennesee in which a nearly naked white woman says she met Rep. Harold Ford, the black Democrat running for the Senate, at a Playboy party, and flirtaciously says, "Call me." The ad was roundly criticized as race-baiting and just plain racist, and so it didn't last very long. That alone probably got Ford some more contributions, but perhaps his own response is what turned this to an advantage. He denounced the ad itself, but said that he had indeed attended a party sponsored by Playboy at the 2005 Super Bowl. Ford is a 36 year old bachelor. Here's his statement: "I was there. I like football and I like girls. I don't have no apologies for that."

There are undoubtedly old time racists in Tennesee who respond to the ad's fever nightmare of black men preying on white women. But these days there are a lot of attractive non-white women everywhere, including on TV and in the movies. White men are less likely to let prejudice interfere with sex, at least on a fantasy level. And when a guy says "I like football and I like girls," he just won a ton of votes. In a very close contest, advantage: the Democrat.

But the latest and biggest controversy is over a campaign commercial by actor and victim of Parkinson's Disease Michael J. Fox made on behalf of the Democratic candidate for Senate in Missouri, another close contest that could decide who wins the Senate. Fox spoke in support of candidate Claire McCaskill because she backs stem cell research, which could hold the key to a cure for Parkinson's and other diseases. On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly accused Fox of exaggerating his symptoms for effect.

On MSNBC Wednesday, seasoned political observer Lawrence O'Donnell said that the Michael Fox ad was the most effective political ad he had ever seen, and the Limbaugh accusation gave it even more prominence, in Missouri and all over the country. (Fox has made similar ads for other proponents of stem cell research, including at least one Republican.)

Some commentators believe that Limbaugh succeeded in energizing the Republican base that considers stem cell research as a kind of abortion. But others see it as a major mistake, an attack on a popular and well-liked actor who suffers from Parkinson's, whose career was shortcircuited because of it, and who like other Parkison's sufferers, has visible effects of the disease that might not have to be suffered if stem cell research were successful. An attack that is over the line, even for Republican swiftboaters.

Things were moving towards McCaskill before this, and this is likely to accelerate that movement. As voters in other states have shown, they hate to be nationally embarrassed. Advantage, once again: Dems.

UPDATE: A national study shows that after viewing the Michael J. Fox ad, support for Republicans against stem cell research (that's nearly all of them) drops by 10 %, and support for Dems moves up 10%.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

From "Animate Earth" by Stephan Harding. Posted by Picasa
That's Intense

As downright otherworldly as they might have seemed even six months ago, polls favoring Democrats and placing Iraq at the top of voter concerns have become familiar, with the only big news being that they are holding two weeks before the election. But the new ABC/Washington Post poll has some surprising nuggets.

This poll shows, as other do, a greater lead for Democrats than for any other election in more than 20 years, and more than a 50% preference for Democrats among Independents. But one of the biggest questions about eventual outcome is voter intensity. This poll found: "Fifty-eight percent of registered voters call the 2006 races more important to the country than past congressional elections in their lifetime. Democrats, in particular, say so — 69 percent of them versus 49 percent of Republicans. " And "Nearly twice as many registered voters say they'll cast their ballot as a way to show opposition to the president (31 percent) as to support him (17 percent)..."

As for issues, after Iraq at the top, this poll found that terrorism led health care by a few points; the latest Newsweek/ NBC poll showed health care actually leading terrorism by a few points. So they're close. The NBC poll also shows more than majority support for investigating congressional wrongdoing and corruption among contractors in Iraq as high priorities. And perhaps the most shocking of all, 51% actually favor Bush's impeachment, with 28% calling it a high priority. That's intense.


A Trinity from Trinity--poems, essays and a dictionary of the American landscape--at Books In Heat.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Posted by Picasa
It’s Virtue, Not Values That Shapes Politics

As politicians sharpen their message for the stretch run, but also as we think about creating political support around progressive issues in whatever circumstances result from these elections, and looking forward to 08, I’d like to suggest the beginning of a different way to approach those issues, and the electorate.

I suggest we look behind “issues” and particularly turn away from focusing on “values,” which we can only talk about as ambiguous abstractions. I suggest we look to what motivates people to vote on values issues, and on other issues as well.

I believe that people vote on the basis of what makes them feel virtuous. And the candidates that convince voters that voting for them is the expression of virtue will win. The “virtue” over “values” also explains why many people who voted Republican in recent elections are turning against the party this year. But it also could be a way to reorient and reposition progressive efforts in the future.

For years we’ve been obsessed with “values” issues and “values voters,” but we really haven’t gotten very far in understanding them. We’ve been baffled because people seemingly voted against their own economic interests, or were excessively swayed by personality and code words, etc.

At the same time we’ve had limited success in attaining shared clarity in re-framing and the obsessive search for the “elevator speech” that sums up the progressive vision in a few words.

Maybe we’ve been going about it the wrong way. Talking about values means using words like “freedom” that mean different things to different people, though everybody thinks the word means the same thing to everyone, as Lakoff suggests. Or it means arguing over concepts, which generally get more and more abstract, at least in language. Or we end up using our code words that others don’t understand in the same way.

“Values” are names for what we value—what we consider priorities. But why? When it comes down to the personal level, to a person acting—a person voting—isn’t it more useful to consider that what motivates people is what makes them feel virtuous?

It’s unlikely we’re going to convince people to exchange one set of values for another. We can work on changing how people feel about issues and actions by showing them how virtuous they will feel and will be by supporting them.

The right wing, and especially the religious right, has made a living on defining what’s virtuous. They’ve worked hard to simplify all the underlying feelings into one: voting for conservative Republicans is virtuous. Voting against them is not.

There are complex issues that this approach makes very simple—and of course oversimplifies. But let’s stay with this one idea for now: how did the Republican/Religious Right define voting for them as virtuous?

The Republicans have succeeded by using the potential of modern politics to oversimplify, and to infuse those oversimplifications with emotion.

“The new politics of democracy,” writes political scientist Alan Wolfe, “resembles a daytime television melodrama more than an academic seminar: attention is captured when conscience is tempted, courage displayed, determination rewarded, wills broken, egos checked, pride humbled, and virtue rewarded.”

The key is virtue. Despite the hackneyed debates over “values,” voters zero in on more specific demonstration of virtue. Another political scientist, Andrew Hacker, believes the 2004 election turned on the beliefs of the middle of the middle class that their sense of virtue was reflected in Bush-Cheney. These voters felt the war on terror and in Iraq was virtuous—it displayed courage in defense of country and family. They look down on people without sexual self-control, while they themselves “show singular virtue by not doing such things that will lead them to resort to abortion.”

Liberal commentator Jeff Cohen is convinced that for many Americans, “liberal” means “libertine.” The right has defined “liberal” to mean “anything goes.” That’s why they’re now trying to get traction with wild accusations about pornography, or about phantom links to a group advocating an end to restrictions on sexual predation of children.

People feel virtuous when they do the right thing, and in many areas of life that comes down to self-control. The extreme right has managed to convince many voters that liberals are for no self-control. They are for sexual promiscuousness regardless of the consequences, and that’s why they support abortion.

Self-control means obeying the rules, and the rule is that men and women get married, have children and are financially and morally responsible for their families. It doesn’t matter if you want to sleep around, or you want to have sex with someone of your own gender, or you want to bum around instead of working. You do your duty, what you are supposed to do, and that makes you feel virtuous.

There are ways to counter these positions by emphasizing other virtues. Tolerance and community are still virtues in America. In practice, gay couples raising otherwise unwanted children and supporting their community institutions often neutralizes opposition and destroys stereotypes. This is just one example.

But virtue doesn’t apply only to values issues. It operates in economic issues as well. We are trained in this country to believe that working hard is virtuous, and that hard work is inevitably reflected in financial success. So even if they are barely making ends meet, they will feel more virtuous than those who aren’t. They are virtuously providing for their families. And they may feel that people who don’t succeed—who are poor, homeless, can’t pay their medical bills—must not be virtuous enough.

This can be overcome, with the right leadership, especially under circumstances that hit everyone economically, like high gas prices. There is already wide support for a raise in the minimum wage.

Of course, such politically powerful oversimplifications run roughshod over realities. But voters are not going to be convinced by facts without the context of why facts and arguments support their ideas of virtue.

The extreme right Republicans used these oversimplifications, these either/or formulas to create a politics of virtue carried to the extreme. This politics of virtue says we are the virtuous, we are the good people, and those others are not virtuous; they are the evil-doers. It is a short step to believing that because we are the virtuous, everything we do is virtuous, and because they—terrorists, liberals, etc.—are evil, everything they do, think and feel is evil, and always will be.

Republicans have gotten pretty far by fostering this image. I believe it helps to explain why so many Bush voters believed that Bush held positions on issues directly opposite to his actual positions, or facts that supported his positions. It wasn’t simply that these supporters were ignorant of the facts, but that they assumed that the virtuous candidate would hold virtuous positions.

But now we are seeing what happens when people who claim the monopoly on virtue are exposed doing unvirtuous things that no one can ignore forever, like Republicans using their power to steal and cheat and lie, and now to prey on young people, and then cover it up for their own benefit.

This also explains why they need to use fear—fear of terrorism mainly, but also fear of libertine liberals, of weakness and untrustworthiness. Fear pushes everything into either/or extremes: fight or flight, us or them, good or evil. And situations of danger and threat are when virtue is most important.

But at the moment the Mark Foley affair together with increasing anger over lies and failures in Iraq (honesty and competence are virtuous), are removing the halo from Republicans. They are no longer the paragons of virtue.

For some voters that will still not be enough. They will curse all politicians and officeholders as corrupt and incompetent. And even if all Republicans are not virtuous, they need to be convinced why Democrats are. But this provides an opening. Democrats who begin thinking about issues in terms of virtue may find ways to change the political dialogue and the political landscape.

If Democrats do win Congress, they will have an opportunity to begin re-focusing the national dialogue. How they attempt this may be crucial. It won’t be enough in the long run to have benefited from the Republicans losing their halo of virtue.

Democrats will need to convince people that supporting a plan to end the Iraq war and deal realistically with terrorism, plus election reform, universal health care and perhaps the key to everything—an international mobilization to address the Climate Crisis and create new jobs and a new economy at home with clean energy technologies—are all virtuous. They will help them support their families, support their communities, and display the virtuous behavior that is at the core of their religious or ethical and patriotic selves.