Saturday, October 29, 2005

"Chicago Burned Down...Again"

Give the GOP partisans some credit. They've taken a lickin', but they've kept on tickin' these last couple of days. Consider Republican strategist Bill Paxon:
"These guys just keep getting up every day and moving forward," said Bill Paxon, another former House Republican. "Some days aren't easy. They've had a tough run here lately. But the secret of their success through all of these twists and turns in the road is to just keep moving forward." [emphasis added]

Leading TNR's Michael Crowley to remark:
Success?? Good grief, so what would failure look like? FEMA blows the Hoover Dam? Zsa Zsa Gabor on the Supreme Court? America occupied by Iraq?

I can see it now: "The fall of Charleston to Iraqi National Guard elements is, far from a setback, proof that Iraq has adapted American foreign policy models and sees the pre-emptive attack strategy as legitimate and effective." And the Hoover Dam, of course, was finished in the socialist Roosevelt administration. So we're all happy to see that go.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

UN Troubles

A UN resolution, threatening sanctions on Syria if it fails to cooperate in the Lebanese assassination investigation, is coming under veto threat by China and Russia, as well as strong opposition from Algeria. The reasons were the usual: blah, blah, National Sovereignty, blah blah blah too harsh (when on earth has a UN sanction been too harsh?). Algeria's objections were a slight variation on theme, however:
Algeria's ambassador to the United Nations, Abdallah Baali, said that "we have serious problems with several parts" of the resolution, noting that it goes well beyond supporting Mehlis's investigation. He cited one provision that he said could be interpreted as requiring Syria to commit to halting support for Palestinian and Iraqi militants. "We understand the need to ensure full cooperation of Syria," he said. "We don't believe that the time has come to even threaten sanctions."

Horrors upon horrors! Syria will have to stop directly aiding terrorists? Say it ain't so! I cry for the awful burdens the international community is placing on this poor pariah state.

While we're on the subject of attacking Israel being a debatable subject in the UN (and moreover, a debate Israel tends to lose), what does everyone think about this call by Israel to expel Iran from the UN? If you recall, a short while ago Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Israel "must be wiped out from the map of the world." While such rhetoric (depressingly) is not a shift from hardline Iranian elements, it is the first time that a high-level elected official as issued such a direct call for Israel's destruction. Israeli response was swift:
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said "that a country which called for the destruction of another cannot be a member of the U.N.," according to a statement released by his office.

The statement quoted Sharon as saying, "Such a country, in possession of nuclear weapons, is a danger not only to Israel and the Middle East but to Europe as well."

Earlier, Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres, a Nobel peace laureate, said, "Since 1945, the establishment of the United Nations, no head of state which is a member of the United Nations ever called for the destruction of another member of the United Nations, publicly and clearly, as the president of Iran did.

I think we have to treat Iran's statements as a serious threat. Iran is hotly pursuing nuclear weapons (which would give it the capability to quite literally "wipe Israel from the map"). We know it has no qualms about funding lower-level attacks on Israel (Iran is linked to as perhaps the most aggressive supporter of Palestinian Terrorist Groups). The $100,000,000 question is what would happen if they stepped it up and launched a first strike nuclear assault. How would the world respond? Obviously, if Israel had time it would launch its nukes right back--but I'm not sure how long it takes for a missile to travel from Tehran to Tel Aviv, and I don't know at what level of alert Israeli nukes are kept at. If Israel can't respond, would the world sanction a nuclear retaliation? I'm just not convinced they would. And if they wouldn't, the religious fanatics in charge view whatever response they'd inevitably incur as a reasonable price to pay?

Given this, I am inclined to support Israel's call for Iran's expulsion. The UN will never do it, of course, because this act comes at the cross-section of the two redlines the UN will never cross: a) supporting Israel and b) doing anything of substance. But if the US or (better still) the EU threw its support behind the call to expel Iran, maybe things would change. Maybe. Doubtfully.

Don't Let Up

In the midst of the Miers recall and Plamegate developments, this Eric Reeves article on Darfur could get lost in the shuffle. Don't let it. I'll excerpt the important parts. Bottom line: the US is starting to give up on stopping the genocide in Darfur and is slowly opening relations with Khartoum.
[I]n the last six months the administration's stance towards the genocidal Sudanese government seems to have shifted towards one of appeasement--at a time when the situation in Darfur grows more dire by the day.

This change in attitude towards Khartoum first became apparent in April, when the CIA flew Major General Saleh Gosh to Washington, D.C., in order to provide intelligence on international terrorism. Gosh was Osama bin Laden's chief minder during his five years in Khartoum, from 1991 to 1996; he now heads the Sudanese government's ruthlessly efficient intelligence and security service, and has been referred by a U.N. Commission of Inquiry to the International Criminal Court to be investigated for crimes against humanity. The security service he directs is responsible for tens of thousands of extra-judicial executions, killings, and disappearances, as well as numerous instances of torture, illegal imprisonment, and other violations of international law. Most importantly, all evidence suggests that Gosh himself is one of the prime architects of Darfur's genocide.

Another sign of appeasement came in July, when the Washington firm C/R International, whose managing director is former State Department official Robert Cabelly, agreed on a contract with the Sudanese government. Because trade and economic sanctions put in place in 1997 by President Clinton remain in effect, the contract required an explicit waiver from the State Department, which it granted.
In short, the same vicious cabal in Khartoum that was explicitly declared by former Secretary of State Colin Powell to be responsible for genocide in Darfur has now been allowed to secure the services of a former State Department employee to provide it with p.r. counsel. For a fee of $530,000 per year, the firm's role will essentially be to put a happy face on a genocidal regime.

In its public face, the Bush administration is also slowly starting to pull back from its condemnations. Consider this statement by Michael Ranneberger, deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs:
Even now what you're seeing is not these systematic Janjaweed attacks against villages. You know, somebody said, "It's because all the villages were burned." Well, it's not. You fly over Darfur, almost all the--you see thousands of villages, fully populated, farming going on, and everything else. So it's because of the presence of these African Union forces.

This assessment is belied by virtually everybody on the ground--Reeves says the prevailing consensus is that between 80-90% of the tribal villages in Darfur have been destroyed. Even if I was inclined to trust the Bush administration on this matter (which I'm not), I simply cannot believe that 5,300 troops patrolling an area the size of France, without a mandate to respond to acts of violence, could have triggered the massive turnabout in Darfur's situation that Ranneberger says they are.

We are approaching a turning point. This is the time where America will show whether its outrage at genocide can be sustained, or whether it will again dissipate as other matters draw our attention. The Bush administration has shown time and again that it will work with the most brutal of dictatorships if given free reign to do so. Clearly, they are enticed by the prospect of enlisting Sudan in the war on terror--and Khartoum is obviously dangling intelligence aid as incentive for the US to drop pressure. The only thing stopping the Bushies from treating Sudan the same as Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, or any of the other states in which we've been acquiescent in support of massive human rights violations is that the American people had, at one point, united in the belief that Sudan was beyond the pale. If that sentiment proves to be unsustainable, then I predict America will slowly, quietly, but inevitably begin opening relations with Sudan and downplaying the mass murder in Darfur.

Don't let that happen.

Death to Homework

I have to say, I found this attack on homework by Brad Plumer to be quite persuasive. Not that it isn't self-serving, of course. But it is difficult to argue against this:
But let's do Waldman one better and say it flat out: homework is most likely evil. Yes, evil. Any educational system that relies on parents at home to help with the "learning process" will only end up perpetuating inequality, as long as some parents can help their kids and some cannot; as long as some parents can speak English and some cannot. And homework, for all its uselessness, is far more likely to put undue stress on family life than anything else. Of course, let's also be honest, the whole point of public school isn't to turn students into well-educated citizens but rather to produce good consumers and dutiful worker bees--people with short attention spans who follow authority, care deeply about status, and will attend with all due diligence to humiliatingly pointless tasks. Get used to working overtime, kid, you'll need it. In that regard, homework is indispensable.

So homework a) perpetuates inequalities between "haves" and "have-nots," b) strains family life and c) is designed to train students into mindless worker-bots who won't think critically or challenge authority. Talk about a stinging rebuke! The critical theorist in me just glows while reading it.

But to be honest, what really caught my eye in the piece was Plumer's story about how he dealt with homework specifically.
: Everyone go out and play. Seriously. Also, let me call bullshit on Dr. Cooper and doubt very much that homework "help[s children] develop study habits and time management skills." Generalizing from a single experience here, when I was in elementary school, I remember very distinctly cutting corners on virtually all of my homework. Math problems would get scribbled frantically in pencil on paper during homeroom. (In fact, what little creativity I have owes entirely to those ingenious, sweaty-fingered minutes spent trying to make it appear as if I had thought very hard about, say, problem #23(a) but just couldn't get the answer.) The spelling workbook, I quickly discovered, didn't need to be filled out at all--—if you worried about grades you could always recoup your losses by getting the "bonus" spelling words on quizzes right. "Homework" always denoted something to do as little of as physically possible. Ever since, I've always had terrible study skills, and while I blame my own laziness, all that useless homework gets part of the blame.

I too have atrocious study skills, which I also attribute to laziness. But now, I also can blame my elementary school teachers for assigning me homework too! Indeed, I've played the very same games Plumer has--like Plumer at some level I see myself as an expert at wiggling out of the holes I've dug by avoiding work. And like Plumer, who considers this the root of what creativity he has, I too am tempted to say that this has had a net positive in my academic career--I became the writer I am, at least in part, because I could write my way out of tests that I barely study for, and I could spin my way out of questions I didn't know the answers to (this also explains the classes I tend to be good in versus bad in--the more subjective the class, the better I do. So top grades in Social Studies and English, serious problems in Math. Foreign Languages, where I can't even speak/write at all, have been predictably catastrophic).

So does this salvage homework? Perhaps--but saying homework is good because I've learned valuable skills in avoiding probably isn't something they recommend in Teacher's College.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


A caveat, not that it should be relevant. I'm a Maryland native who will be supporting the Democratic candidate (preferably O'Malley, but I like Duncan too) in the 2006 Senate race. I'm not a Steele fan, an Ehrlich fan, or a fan of the modern Republican party.

That being said, anyone who cares about racism and wants to register opposition to it should condemn this post by Steve Gilliard (H/Ts: Robert George and Andrew Sullivan). WARNING: Do not click on this link at work. For those of you who do not feel comfortable viewing it, it is a photo of Michael Steele, the Republican Lieutenant Governor of Maryland and 2006, Senate nominee, photoshopped so that he is in "blackface," with exaggerated lips and bushy white eyebrows. The caption is: "I's Simple Sambo and I's running for the Big House."

It is simply horrifying that such images could even be considered marginally acceptable by anybody in the 21st century, and I don't care how bad the target is (and Michael Steele, severe flaws as a politician aside, is not an embodiment of pure evil). And while "they do it too" should not be an excuse for our own racist acts, I have never seen a major Republican blogger do anything as nakedly racist as this post. At least they pretend to hide behind making a policy argument. This was raw prejudice on full display.

I confess that prior to college, I knew nothing of the image of a "sambo." I had never heard of it. I won't claim that Bethesda was a utopia of racial inclusiveness and integration, but this was one form of racism that mercifully had been beyond my consciousness. However, as far as I can gather, the "sambo" is one of the most reviled stereotypes in the African-American community. Charles Lawrence III specifically uses it as an example of a prevailing social stereotype which help ostracize him as a child in his seminal work, The Id, The Ego, and Equal Protection: Reckoning with Unconscious Racism, 39 Stan. L. Rev. 317 (1987). Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic explicate further on the harms of such images (again, specifically mentioning the "Sambo" as an example):
the history of racial depiction shows that our society has blithely consumed a shocking parade of Sambos, coons, sneaky Japanese, and indolent, napping Mexicans--images that were perceived at the time as amusing, cute or, worse yet, true. How can one talk back to messages, scripts, and stereotypes that are embedded in the minds of one's fellow citizens, and, indeed, the national psyche?

In other words, this type of imagery is not neutral, comical, parody, satire, or otherwise "harmless." It plays on deep-seated racism in American society (by both the left and the right), it marginalizes African-Americans of all political persuasions, and it affirms that even the most shocking forms of racial stereotyping are still fair game even for supposed "allies" of African-Americans.

When a certain liberal blogger subjected Michelle Malkin to sexual slurs, I wrote/asked "We Are (Are We?) Better Than This. I now ask again, this time in some desperation: Can liberals draw a line in the sand and say, once and for all, "racism is intolerable, we will not engage in it at any point, at any time, targeting any one."? This shouldn't be a question, but a moral obligation. It's time we met ours.

UPDATE: What does it mean that Steve is black? Frankly, I don't think it matters--this is a vicious racial smear and ought be treated as such. I've heard the argument that alleged cases of black-on-black racism should be considered an intramural dispute and that white liberals like myself should stay out of it, and frankly I don't buy it. As I wrote in a previous post:
To me, this obscures the divisions in power relations that exist within the black community. Since the black left is far more powerful than the black right, [they can] leverage the influence they have over anti-racism discourse to suppress views they don't like....The terminology used by black leftists is not neutral debate, it is a deliberate attempt to link black conservatives to an ideology inherently opposed to black people. It's like a Jew calling another Jew a Nazi--irrespective of the validity of the criticism itself, the term is offensive because of the particular tropes and tenors it carries in the Jewish experience. Acting as if this was just folks debating ("free speech"?) blinds us to the realities of power and forces us to pretend that Blacks do all agree on the terms and conditions regarding opposition to racism--and moreover, we have to play that role by accepting the very controversy that is under dispute--that black leftists are "right" in how they frame the racism debate and the conservatives are "wrong."

...[M]y Jewish background places me deeply opposed to the "it's not our problem" school of thought. The history of genocide is replete with examples of tyrants who knew that if they just kept their actions an internal affair, they could escape international notice and condemnation of even the most brutal of crimes. Within this paradigm, Hitler's crime was not that he slaughtered millions of Jews, it's that he invaded Poland (which of course made it "everybody's problem"). Had he just concentrated on the Jews in his own border (like Turkey with Armenians, Rwanda, Cambodia, Sudan, etc.), he'd have been home free. I reject this logic.

Obviously there is value to letting groups solve their own problems, just as there is value in respecting national sovereignty. But this is predicated on the notion that all members of the group in question stand on roughly equal footing, and that the object under consideration is not whether or not to expel a disempowered sub-sect. Because I believe the position of black conservatives does not meet either condition, and because I believe that outsiders have obligations, when possible, to rectify even injustices that aren't within their own community, I register my disagreement...

This isn't to say that Gilliard's racial slur is the equivalent of Nazi genocide--it's obviously nowhere close to that. But on the flip side, protesting racial slurs isn't as extreme a remedy as a military intervention, so that washes out. The point is that as a member of a group which watched six million of its members be slaughtered as the world looked away, I'm not willing to adopt that same logic and let justice stop at my own ethnic borders. There are some lines we should not cross, but there are some lines we absolutely must cross in order to protect disempowered persons.

UPDATE 2X: Greetings, Kossacks! I reprint my email response (slightly edited) to Pyesetz for your edification:
Thanks for you response over at Kos. I believe this is the first time I've been linked to by any Kos blogger, and while I'd have preferred it to be more along the lines of an extollment of my awesome wit and breathtaking intelligence, I'm still appreciative that you took the time to address my post and offer your thoughts :-).

That being said, I disagree with your post, and I think you're misinterpreting what I'm advocating. Basically, you take issue with a supposed call on my part for "censorship" of Mr. Gilliard. Nowhere in my post did I do such a thing. I certainly condemn Mr. Gilliard's characterization of Mr. Steele, in the harshest of terms--and I don't back down from that. As a society, I do think racial slurs should be considered beyond the pale as a political tactic. This doesn't mean that I think we should ban them--rather, I think their should be a mutual consensus amongst all persons (progressives especially) that we will not use them and not tolerate them when the occur. The best response to an action like Gilliard's is harsh condemnation, and then, if he persists, ignoring him. The message should be zero-tolerance for racial slurs--not on the level of law, but on the level of our own associations. This is no more censorship then me condemning, say, Michelle Malkin for calling for mass internments. She has the RIGHT to say it, and we have a right (I'd say obligation) to bash her senseless (rhetorically, of course) for saying it. To characterize a condemnation of Malkin regarding her racism as "censorship" is to confuse a social protest with legal sanction. Only the latter can be labeled "censorship" if we are to preserve the principles of poltical debate. With regards to Mr. Gilliard, we choose to see him as a voice we consider and take seriously, or choose not to. In making that choice, one cannot ignore the particular tools he uses to make his advocacy. And I believe that the use of racial slurs should be prima facia proof that a given speaker should be expelled from our collective community of political allies--again, not as a matter of law, but of free association. Gilliard is free to say what he wants--but if THIS is what he says then we should be quick to disassociate ourselves from the message.

I also would like clarify my Jewish analogy, because it's being misinterpreted (this is my fault, it was poorly written). I'd agree that if a Jew ACTUALLY is a Nazi--in that he has joined the party and says "heil Hitler" etc etc, then yes, we can say he's a Nazi as a matter of fact. Similarly, if Steele actually had dressed up as a Sambo to make Republican donors laugh in their beer, then Mr. Gilliard would be perfectly justified in putting a picture of that act on his site and saying "see! He's playing a Sambo!" What I'm objecting to is criticizing a person who legitimately deserves criticism in a manner designed to play on particular base emotive reactions, without a direct and explicit link. So, if a Jew is a neoconservative, we may criticize him for being a neo-con, but not as a Nazi because the two are distinct and the conflation is a deliberate effort not just to demark political opposition but also to exile the person from the community writ large. I don't think that's permissible in normal political disputes. Similarly, I think that Steele can be critiqued from plenty of perfectly reasonable positions, but seeing as he isn't "actually" a Sambo, portraying him as such is an effort to illegitimately dehumanize him and tag him with one of the most appalling anti-black stereotypes in existence today. There's a difference between a factual label, and a damaging stereotype. Steele is not factually a Sambo, and as long as that is true it is immoral to label him as one.

I agree that we should be very cautious in "taboo-ing" certain issues from political discourse. But I think that racial slurs, like Nazi comparisons, meet this high standard except in the most clear-cut circumstances. For all of Lt. Gov. Steele's faults, this is not a "clear-cut" circumstance where an attack such as this is justified. We may (and do) disagree, vociferously, about his policies or judgment. But it is a basic hallmark of human decency that we refrain from this sort of brutal ad hominem attack.


I've said for awhile now that Democrats should run in 2006 on corruption. Not just "against DeLay" but as a party of clean government. And yes, I think that once they win, they should actually institute reforms--none of this GOP 1994 crap where they run on cleaning up congress and make it worse.

People keep telling me that they'll never win, that the American people don't care about corruption. Well, to them I say, scope this data (link: Daily DeLay):
How important will each of the following issues be to your vote for Congress this November? (sorted by extremely important)

Extremely important -- Extremely/Very important

Corruption in government 45 -- 81
Terrorism 45 -- 77
The situation in Iraq 44 -- 81
The economy 43 -- 84
Health care 42 -- 79
Gas prices 41 -- 70
Social Security 38 -- 75
Taxes 35 -- 73

Wow, look what's in first place! If it isn't corruption in government? Beating out Iraq AND Terrorism.

Uh-oh, spaghettios (does anyone else remember that?).

And as DeLay's troubles continue to grow, I don't see these numbers falling any time soon.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Poll Data

Some interesting information from the pollsters office today. Kos, as usually, does a great job putting all together.

Survey USA has the list of most and least popular senators. Daily Kos pulls out the highlights--bottom line, it doesn't look good for the GOP.
5. Conrad (D-ND) 73/23
19. Nelson (D-NE) 63-29
21. Byrd (D-WV) 65/32
32. Clinton (D-NY) 63-24
58. Chafee (R-RI) 56-37
69. Cantwell (D-WA) 52-37
72. Stabenow (D-MI) 50-39
72. Talent (R-MO) 51-40
75. Kyl (R-AZ) 48-38
82. Burns (R-MT) 52-43
84. Nelson (D-FL) 46-38
95. DeWine (R-OH) 45-43
100. Santorum (R-PA) 45-48

Vulnerable Democrats are doing good in this poll (Byrd's numbers are especially heartening)--and nothing makes me happier than seeing Santorum at rock bottom. DeWine also is in serious trouble--both the Democrats running against him (Paul Hackett and Sherrod Brown) would be strong candidates even in a year that wasn't shaping up to be a Democratic tidal wave.

Meanwhile, in my native Maryland, the numbers also are looking good for the Democrats in both the Senate and Governor's races:

Governor's Race

Ehrlich (R) 42
O'Malley (D) 48

Ehrlich (R) 44
Duncan (D) 45

Senate Race

Cardin (D) 47
Steele (R) 38

Mfume (D) 40
Steele (R) 42

I'm undecided between Cardin and Mfume for Senate, leaning toward Cardin. And while I do respect Doug Duncan highly and am sad that I think his political career is about to end, I have to endorse O'Malley--a rising star in the Democratic party if I've ever seen one. The fact that the GOP is looking at Maryland as one of its top pick-up opportunities is proof in of itself of how dire things are for them right now.

Finally, the DeLay scandal has taken its toll. DeLay's disapproval's have topped 50%, and 42% of his constituents (including 27% of Republicans and 50% of Independents) say that he shouldn't even wait for an election, but should resign from congress himself. These are simply atrocious numbers--DeLay has to be seen as one of the more vulnerable GOP incumbents in congress.

Oh The Places You'll Go!

According to Sitemeter, my last 100 visitors have included persons from the following locations:




-New Zealand




-Trinidad & Tobago

I feel so cosmopolitan...

Gay Rights for Gay (Western) Whites?

...With all due apologies to Darren Lenard Hutchinson.

Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings points us to (and excerpts extensively from) a stellar article in the Washington Post on the status of gay rights in Africa. If you think the climate is bad here, you should hear what's going on over there. This is not to say that gay rights is an issue we've "won" in America, only that what is a major problem that occasionally spills into violence in America appears to be a violent problem that occasionally lapses into merely a "major" one in Africa. I've already once before blogged on how race intersects with homosexuality in shifting the nexus of oppression--and since I read an excerpt from Chandra Mohanty's "Under Western Eyes" for class today, an analysis of how "third world" modifies homosexual also seems appropriate (note to the uninitiated: Mohanty's article is considered a classic critique of how western feminism constructs third world women to fit within certain prefigured norms, and why this is harmful).

What's most depressing is that you get the feeling that this is rooted in the tradition of Western colonialism--that homophobia at the level described in this article is not "native" to the continent. This isn't a "blame the West" game--just an acknowledgement of history. The article notes that at worst, the status of homosexuals was ambiguous in pre-colonial Africa--sometimes scapegoats for droughts and crop failures, but sometimes seen as mystical healers and shamans. The primary organs of modern homophobia in Africa today are the Church and politicians trying to distract the masses from pressing problems at home (hmmm...sound familiar?). Scapegoating may be universal, but surely the fact that homosexuals seem to be one of the few classes in the west exempt from protection from explicitly expressed animosity by public officials, surely African leaders have gotten the message that this is a human rights violation for which they'll pay no price. If they choose a different characteristic that Western nations value (like Mugabe's racism toward White people), then the West will protest ferociously--for most countries, this isn't worth the cost. In other words, the status of gay rights discourse in America incentivizes African leaders to scapegoat homosexuals because insofar as they have to scapegoat somebody, this is an "freebie" that won't bring trade sanctions or any other such bad things.

Another thought I had after reading Mohanty was whether or not Western leftist ideologies also have aided African leaders in the suppression of homosexuals. Essentially, what struck me was how often the justification for the suppression of gays and lesbians was premised off it not being "African." The charge for local norms and customs taking precedence over universal human rights standards has been led, by and large, by the left. The rhetoric being used here (though not the effect) doesn't strike me as conservative--rather, what I'm hearing (and this has been heard from terrorist groups in the middle east too) is a co-opting of the leftist attack on culture imperialism and using it to proclaim that homosexuality is a Western value imposing itself on African(/Arabic) culture.

Leftists will argue that this isn't true because, as noted above, homophobia isn't actually rooted in African history at all but is primarily an import from the West. Okay, maybe. But this was still a foreseeable harm that needs to be addressed. By splitting off "African" norms from "our" norms, the left has shoved a wedge between what might be a necessary alliance between first world and third world gay activists. This doesn't mean that the first world should simply absorb the third world into its own framework--acknowledgement of difference is obligatory (for example, "tradition" is a strike against first world gays but perhaps an argument in favor for third world homosexuals). However, at some level I believe that severing human rights in the third world from human rights in the first world by extolling cultural differences and moral relativity is a convenient cover for activists who simply do not wish to address third world oppression. The division serves to allow us to turn the other way, and that shouldn't be acceptable (even if the goal is to focus on "our own" problems, doesn't that betray the sort of provincialism that liberals should try to avoid?).

Monday, October 24, 2005

Blogger Influence

As the Miers nomination continues to get negative reviews, this is the topic on the minds of both policymakers and (of course) bloggers themselves. How much influence do we have on the actual going-ons of the world?

Daniel Glover started the discussion by comparing bloggers to freshman representatives--they have "occasional seats at the policymaking table -- but they are definitely back seats." He warrants this by noting that, even in the wake of a furious reaction by the blogosphere right, President Bush has stood loyally by Harriet Miers.

First of all, I wonder what Glover would say if Bush ends up withdrawing Miers after all, or alternatively, if she loses a Senate vote. But Daniel Solove thinks that even the status quo showcases plenty of blogger influence on the Miers nomination:
The fact that Bush still stands behind Miers is not an indication of the blogosphere's failure. The blogospheric reaction certainly has the Administration reeling. The blogosphere has registered the dislike for the nomination in a much more potent and articulate way than a mere poll.

I also believe that bloggers have helped shape the debate on the issue. The blogosphere has led to many experts, who might just get a soundbite in the print and TV news, having a much larger influence in shaping the debate. The mainstream media has picked up on this and turned it into a lead story for the Miers nomination. The eyes of the media and those inside the Beltway are looking at the blogosphere to gauge the way the debate is progressing.

I think this is very true. Framing an issue is critically important in politics, and blogs have had a lot of success in this respect. Even if Bush ends up winning on Miers, he'll have to expend a lot more effort and capital than he would otherwise, and that's a very tangible impact in modern politics. I'd argue that its the relative newness of the genre which is responsible for our lack of influence--we still aren't quite sure which buttons to press to harness our power. The fact that bloggers have played acknowledged keystone roles in certain controversies (e.g., Trent Lott/Strom Thurmond, Rathergate) means that the potential is there--and any politician caught in the wake of a bona fide blogger storm can probably vouch for our strength.

Pundit Review isn't quite as "up" on the blogosphere as Solove (or myself) is, but still thinks they play some role. He focuses on grassroots organizing and fundraising as the blogosphere's main strengths today--but sees room for improvement:
I do think blogs have had a substantial impact on other areas such as grass roots activism, fundraising and on the media. We discussed this very issue with Danny on his recent visit on Pundit Review Radio.

Dealing with politicians who are hostage to spe$ial intere$t$ is another question. It will take time. How many reformer politicians have gone into DC and then just been enveloped by the inside beltway infrastructure? Hundreds? Thousands?

The way for blogs to break through on Capitol Hill is to pick off a congressional candidate or two, then they will be able to move up a few rows in the bus. I think the Thune Senate candidacy in 2004 was the first where bloggers had a significant impact. We need to see more of that, whether it is coming from the left or the right. A couple of high profile defeats, brought about in large part by activist bloggers, will go a long way in getting the attention of the entrenched elites on Capitol Hill.

We are in the first inning of this blog/citizen journalist/new media phenomenon, so as Danny mentioned, there is room for improvement and hope for the future.

Surely, the organizational capacity of the blogosphere should not be underestimated (look at DKos if you needed proof). However, I think that the interactivity between politicians and activists that blogging engenders is a rising phenomena that needs to be examined. John Conyers is currently guest-blogging on BlackProf, and is writing some superb posts. Barack Obama's post on DKos regarding the Roberts nomination caused quite a stir in the blogosphere. Of course, some politicos start blogs to look trendy and then do nothing with them (Harry Reid, I'm looking at you). But even Reid's blog has comments open, and by more closely integrating politicians into the discursive stream, blogging has the potential to crack the bubble that separates politicos and their constituents. The golden opportunity, from my perspective, would be if politicians were expected to engage the blogosphere--this would be a major threat to the status quo where politicians can play the spin game and avoid any substantive debate.

And finally, I want to point to some comments by Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez (from a post by Todd Zywicki) that I think are quite relevant:
The confirmation process has been fundamentally changed by technological changes that allow the instantaneous and costless spread of information. In this age of the 24-hour news cycle of blogs, talk radio, and cable news, there is a seemingly constant vacuum to be filled with new information on the nominee. Much of this revolution is for the good, as it allows the public to develop a more informed view. But there are harmful effects as well. Unsubstantiated rumors, false allegations, and distorted facts can be spread with impunity by those who don't take the time to check the facts-as well as by those who affirmatively seek to mislead. And once such baseless claims and innuendo are made, the Internet ensures that they take on a life of their own and can never be fully rooted out.

In light of these changes, those who traffic in information owe all Americans a duty to act in good faith, to avoid circulating falsehoods, and to verify information before broadcasting it. The careers and reputations of good people depend on that....It is important that amidst all of the static surrounding a nominee, the Senate focus on the characteristics that are essential to good judging, seek out reliable information, and maintain the dignity of a process that is essential to our democracy.

Obviously, a Bush administration official talking about "distorted facts" and "unsubstantiated rumors" sets off my irony alert. But the point is still well-taken--we have an obligation to be impeccably honest, forthcoming, fair, and of course to admit mistakes when wrong. In the early days of the blog I posted a "code of ethics," and I think it is all the more relevant now:
1) I will not be a partisan hack, nor will I engage in hatchet jobs on my political opponents that are grounded weakly or not at all in facts.
2) I will focus predominantly on issues, not personal lives or other tangents. While instances such as Rathergate deserve some attention, they don't deserve ALL of our attention and certainly don't outweigh the pressing issues that face our country.
3) I will do my best to present issues with as much factual grounding as possible.
4) If evidence turns up that proves I'm wrong, or casts my point in substantial doubt, I will either address the criticism or admit error.
5) If a political opponent says something that I think is smart, wise, well-advised, or I otherwise agree with, I will point it out.
6) I will at all times conduct myself in a manner that seeks to further, not hinder, intellectual debate on the issues.
7) Recognizing that full compliance with the above is often a case of judgment, I will make a good faith effort to comply with this code.

I honestly think that the influence of bloggers will only continue to grow. It is now, in the early days of this institution, that the norms which will govern how blogging behave for decades to come will be established. Do we want to merely replicated the smearing and hackery of mainstream politics? Or, just as bad, mimic the bland "he said/she said" "journalism" of the Mainstream Media? Or do we want to be something different: an honest, serious, and intellectual discussion and advocacy of the issues that matter? Now's the time when we have to decide.