Andrew Sullivan, the King of Bloggers, has written a Newsweek cover story which is featuring heavily in American political discussion on tv, in newspapers and on blogs right now. From over here, it’s sometimes difficult to realize that Sullivan is not just a blogger, albeit a big one, but also a pretty prominent “public intellectual” (as they say) in the US, who from time to time -- as a very early advocate of gay marriage, as proponent of the Iraq War, as supporter of Obama -- generates a lot of public debate.
In the Newsweek article, Sullivan argues, as one of the first people to elaborately do so, passionately for Obama’s re-election. He basically says that Obama’s political strategy is a “long game”, of which we have not seen the results yet, which will only play out in eight years. In doing so, he obviously and correctly dismisses the president’s conservative ”critics” (we may just call them lunatics), but also takes on criticism of Obama from “the left”. Personally, while I certainly agree with Sullivan that Obama has by and large been a good president -- in that he has saved the US and the West from plunging into a systemic crisis largely caused by Bush, through the stimulus, the bail-outs of Wall Street and the auto industry, having healthcare reform passed, getting out of Iraq, reaching out to the Muslim world, responding carefully to the Green Revolution and the Arab Spring, and taking on Qadhafi -- he has also failed miserably to keep up to his promises to restore the rule of law. Under Obama, indefinite detention has been enshrined into law, Guantánamo Bay has seen its tenth birthday, military commissions have been kept open, a Drone War killing hundreds of innocents has been started, extrajudicial assassination has become normal, and a war on whistleblowers and transparency-seekers has been waged. Torture has merely been halted by executive order and can easily be reversed by a Republican president.
This, I think, is unforgivable; it is a core reason not to support Obama’s re-election; and Sullivan passes it too easily by. I also think he fails to engage seriously with Obama’s critics that he relents too easily in the face of opposition, as was the case with healthcare and the debt ceiling crisis. Sullivan doesn’t mention anywhere the deep interpenetration of the Obama administration and Wall Street lobbyists. And, finally, I think it’s kind of slavish and rather uncritical to say: “It’s all part of the masterplan, just wait, it will all play out in eight years, just vote now, it’s Obama!” But that is a tendency you see more often in Obama supporters.
Anyway. The only reason I wanted to write this was because I thought it was funny to see Sullivan, whom you almost only know by writing, defend his article on television. And he’s doing it pretty well actually. Enjoy this weird-in-a-sympathetic-way person’s discussion with a Republican supporter:
- Edit: In the best response to Sullivan’s article so far, here’s Conor Friedersdorf, who writes it down better than I can. First he asks if Sullivan would have supported a Republican in 2008 who would have proposed the following:
(1) Codify indefinite detention into law; (2) draw up a secret kill list of people, including American citizens, to assassinate without due process; (3) proceed with warrantless spying on American citizens; (4) prosecute Bush-era whistleblowers for violating state secrets; (5) reinterpret the War Powers Resolution such that entering a war of choice without a Congressional declaration is permissible; (6) enter and prosecute such a war; (7) institutionalize naked scanners and intrusive full body pat-downs in major American airports; (8) oversee a planned expansion of TSA so that its agents are already beginning to patrol American highways, train stations, and bus depots; (9) wage an undeclared drone war on numerous Muslim countries that delegates to the CIA the final call about some strikes that put civilians in jeopardy; (10) invoke the state-secrets privilege to dismiss lawsuits brought by civil-liberties organizations on dubious technicalities rather than litigating them on the merits; (11) preside over federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries; (12) attempt to negotiate an extension of American troops in Iraq beyond 2011 (an effort that thankfully failed); (14) reauthorize the Patriot Act; (13) and select an economic team mostly made up of former and future financial executives from Wall Street firms that played major roles in the financial crisis.
Yet President Obama has done all of the aforementioned things.
No, Obama isn’t a radical Kenyan anti-colonialist. But he is a lawbreaker and an advocate of radical executive power. What precedent could be more radical than insisting that the executive is empowered to draw up a kill list of American citizens in secret, without telling anyone what names are on it, or the legal justification for it, or even that it exists? What if Newt Gingrich inherits that power?
He may yet.
[Sullivan's] Newsweek essay fits the pattern I’ve lamented of Obama apologists who tell a narrative of his administration that ignores some of these issues and minimizes the importance of others, as if they’re a relatively unimportant matter to be set aside in a sentence or three before proceeding to the more important business of whether the president is being critiqued fairly by obtuse partisans.
Like President Bush, [Obama] is breaking the law, transgressing against civil liberties, and championing a radical view of executive power -- and he is invoking the War on Terror to get away with it. As much as it was in 2003 or 2007, it is vital in 2012 that there be a backlash against these post-9/11 excesses, that liberty-loving citizens push back so that these are anomalies that are reined in, rather than permanent features of a bipartisan consensus that can only end in a catastrophically abusive executive operating in an office stripped by successive presidents and their minions of both constitutional and prudential checks.
That is the best case against Obama I can think of. It is, indeed, vital that there is a backlash against his policies.
Ik moet bekennen dat ik mij tot nu toe enigszins afzijdig heb gehouden van de Provinciale Statenverkiezingen, en de debatten daar rondom. Zelfs een politieke nerd kan het soms teveel worden. Geheel toevallig zapte ik zojuist echter langs het finale verkiezingsdebat op Nederland 1, en bleef toch hangen. Hierin viel het mij het een en ander op. Allereerst de opmerkelijke combo van superoudgedienden en welbekende talking heads uit de Tweede Kamer. Maar daarnaast… daarnaast…
Waar de hell hebben ze Elco Brinkman vandaan gehaald? Hier op de blog hebben wij ons wel eens kritischuitgelaten over deze lijsttrekker (dat is ook Marc Chavannes van de NRC opgevallen). Dat ging dan over zijn epische cv, en het foliant aan commissariaten, bijbaantjes en nevenfuncties dat deze netwerkkoning met zich mee de Senaat in torst. Maar nog nooit had ik de man live horen spreken. En ik moet zeggen: ik ben flabbergasted.
Los nog van de dictie – Brinkman steekt oud-SGP-voorman Bas van der Vlies naar de kroon als het gaat om een uit de jaren vijftig weggetrokken, wat dorpse uitspraak – waar je nog wel enige sympathie voor kunt opbrengen omdat het zo nostalgisch is. Maar het woordgebruik. Elco Brinkman grossiert werkelijk in woorden die klaarblijkelijk het CDA-gevoel moeten overbrengen. Degelijk. Serieus. Betrouwbaar. Normáál. Ze worden door hem uitgesproken als ware daarmee het hele debat bezegeld, het pleit beslecht. ‘Laten we nou eens normaal doen’. ‘Degelijk beleid’. Mijn god. Dat iemand anno 2011 nog denkt weg te komen met dat soort nietszeggende non-sequiturs. Dat voert dan naar het tweede punt, namelijk: de onweersproken autoriteit die Elco Brinkman zelf denkt uit te stralen. Elco Brinkman, achter de schermen de invloedrijkste man van dit land, komt naar de Eerste Kamer om het kabinetsbeleid uit te voeren. En de oppositie? Die hebben hun brutale mond maar te houden.
Mijn verontschuldigingen voor het volstrekt oninhoudelijke karakter van deze bijdrage. Het moest mij alleen even van het hart dat een politicus die met een regentesk air, een aplomb staat te oreren zoals een Elco Brinkman dat doet, het wat mij betreft verdient dat zijn partij bij de volgende verkiezingen gedecimeerd wordt.
Blood libel (also blood accusation) refers to a false accusation or claim that religious minorities, almost always Jews, murder children to use their blood in certain aspects of their religious rituals and holidays. Historically, these claims have–alongside those of well poisoning and host desecration–been a major theme in European persecution of Jews.
The libels typically allege that Jews require human blood for the baking of matzos for Passover. The accusations often assert that the blood of Christian children is especially coveted, and historically blood libel claims have often been made to account for otherwise unexplained deaths of children. In some cases, the alleged victim of human sacrifice has become venerated as a martyr, a holy figure around whom a martyr cult might arise. A few of these have been even canonized as saints.
Sarah Palin, who had been silent for days, on Wednesday issued a forceful denunciation of her critics in a video statement that accused pundits and journalists of “blood libel” in their rush to blame heated political rhetoric for the shootings in Arizona.
“Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own,” Ms. Palin said in a video posted to her Facebook page. “Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.”
Ms. Palin’s use last year of a map with crosshairs hovering over a number of swing districts, including that of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, had increasingly become a symbol of that overheated rhetoric. In an interview with The Caucus on Monday, Tim Pawlenty, a potential 2012 rival and the former Republican governor of Minnesota, said he would not have produced such a map.
But in the video, Ms. Palin rejected criticism of the map, casting it as a broader indictment of the basic political rights of free speech exercised by people of all political persuasions.
She said acts like the shootings in Arizona “begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state.”
“Not with those who listen to talk radio,” she added. “Not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle. Not with law abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their first amendment rights at campaign rallies. Not with those who proudly voted in the last election.”
By using the term “blood libel” to describe the criticism about political rhetoric after the shootings, Ms. Palin was inventing a new definition for an emotionally laden phrase. Blood libel is typically used to describe the false accusation that Jews murder Christian children to use their blood in religious rituals, in particular the baking of matzos for passover. The term has been used for centuries as the pretext for anti-Semitism and violent pogroms against Jews.
In the seven-and-a-half minute video, filmed in front of a fireplace and an American flag, Ms. Palin looked directly at the camera as she condemned the shooting and talked about the “irresponsible statements” made since it happened.
Although all media on the right vehemently refuse to discuss the possibility, it seems the extent to which Tea Party and Palin militant and violence-drenched rhetoric about socialist tyrannical government and the right of people to turn to ‘Second Amendment remedies’ has been a contextual influence on Loughner pulling the trigger is still an open question.
At the same time, it is true that some medical research lately seems to point towards marihuana use possibly exacerbating schizophrenic disorders in patients. That is: if you are somebody with a disposition for or history of schizophrenia, it might be the case that marihuana use is bad for you. Although this blog has consistently been in favour of marihuana legalization, this is a topic that needs to be addressed. One thing that should be clear is that marihuana does not cause schizophrenia. That idea should immediately be done away with. But it seems that people who have a disposition for schizophrenia are more prone to smoke marihuana, which may then trigger the disease earlier and exacerbate it. On the other hand, other research indicates that smoking marihuana actually may have beneficial effects on schizophrenic patients. So in addition to being a chicken-egg question, medical results are pretty unclear. But it’s probably not a good idea to recommend these people to smoke a lot of pot; nor drink a lot of alcohol; nor recommend this to anyone.
But what’s the most unfortunate thing about this whole affair is that arguments about the context and causes of a political murder attempt now become fodder in the political culture wars themselves. According to ‘the right’, Loughner was a Communist Manifesto reading left-wing anarchist pothead; according to ‘the left’, he was a Tea Party inspired violent gun-toting paramilitary. Although it’s absurd to leave the political context out of this issue – since this was a plot to murder a political figure – and portray this as a lone gunman situation, maybe every position shouldn’t be driven to the extremes.
Because one fact is that left and right wing paranoid anti-authoritarianism are lying close together, and Loughner seems to be someone who doesn’t necessarily lean towards either one, but picked up pieces from both strands. And another fact is that in the hyperbole of both sides in the debate about what caused this, some truth may reside. Yes, smoking a lot of marihuana is bad for people with a disposition for psychotic disorders. Yes, swamping the airwaves with talk about ‘aiming’ and ‘reloading’, and painting political disagreement as Armageddon, and delegitimizing the democratic process is reckless and irresponsible, as it might drive people who have difficulty separating rhetoric from reality to crazy deeds.
So maybe at a minimum, that can be admitted. And maybe then everybody can behave civil again and engage each other in normal debate about the future course of the country.
Now that the dust from yesterday’s assault has more or less settled, it’s time for reflection. The NYT has a number of good analyses, although they suffer a bit from attempting to be even-handed in assigning the roots of the vitriol and polarization in American political debate to both sides of the spectrum.
The problem here doesn’t lie with the activists like most of those who populate the Tea Parties, ordinary citizens who are doing what citizens are supposed to do — engaging in a conversation about the direction of the country. Rather, the problem would seem to rest with the political leaders who pander to the margins of the margins, employing whatever words seem likely to win them contributions or TV time, with little regard for the consequences.
Consider the comments of Sharron Angle, the Tea Party favorite who unsuccessfully ran against Harry Reid for the Senate in Nevada last year. She talked about “domestic enemies” in the Congress and said, “I hope we’re not getting to Second Amendment remedies.” Then there’s Rick Barber, a Republican who lost his primary in a Congressional race in Alabama, but not before airing an ad in which someone dressed as George Washington listened to an attack on the Obama agenda and gravely proclaimed, “Gather your armies.”
Currently, it’s unclear whether the gunman, rejected military recruit Jared Lee Loughner (22), was motivated in any way by Tea Party propaganda about government takeover, ‘socialism’ and ‘tyranny’, or by the militant and violent rhetoric of someone like Sarah Palin, with her crosshair map and talk about ‘aiming’ and ‘reloading’.
Looking at Loughner’s ramblings on YouTube, he seems to be more of a ‘general’ paranoid conspiracy theory-believing, anti-government anarchist than either a left-wing or right-wing activist; although it is noticeable that ideas about ‘currency’ (the gold standard) and ‘mind control’ seem to be prominent in his incoherent babble. This may indicate some infatuation with Tea Party topics.
His favorite book list is actually rather good, I must say, featuring Orwell’s Animal Farm, Huxley’s Brave New World, Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Hesse’s Siddharta (as well as Marx’ The Communist Manifesto and Hitler’s Mein Kampf). While these are all masterpieces, they have in common that they deal with the topic of reality perception being controlled by higher powers, as well as the possibility of alternate realities. Loughner in his YouTube videos writes about ‘conscience dreams’, and his MySpace is called ‘fallen asleep’. His talk of grammar being controlled by the government calls to mind Foucault. The inclusion of The Communist Manifesto on this list has been cited by some as proof that Loughner could not be a Tea Party activist, but since the Manifesto deals with the topic of organized revolution more than it does with imposing a state-controlled economy, I find its appearance on the list not so strange.
It also seems that Loughner had came in contact with (campus) police a couple of times, so a picture more or less emerges of a troubled adolescent, who reads stuff that’s maybe a few levels too complex for him. But these are exactly the people that you shouldn’t expose to the sort of militant, violent political rhetoric that since Obama’s presidency has been employed by the Tea Party and the Republican right. Because let’s face it: the whole imagery of the Tea Party, and of those politicians who’ve embraced them, is about violent revolution, 18th-century style. They wave around with banners from the Revolutionary War, saying ‘Don’t tread on me’, they bring guns to town hall meetings (and vigorously defend their Second Amendment right to do so), and they talk about ‘tyranny’ and ‘socialism’, about ‘taking their country back’. Sarah Palin talks about electoral battles in terms of ‘aiming’ and ‘reloading’, and continuously revels in the use of guns. Above the crosshair map Palin wrote ‘We’ve diagnosed the problem… Help us prescribe the solution’ – a dimly veiled threat. All because of political disagreement with Democrats! All because of a healthcare law that aims to provide uninsured people with basic necessities.
The problem with the American hard right these days is that they paint political differences in terms of doomsday’s and Armageddons. They don’t debate their political opponents; they deny them the right to exist. For Tea Partiers a Democratic presidency is something that’s inherently illegitimate, and not the outcome of a democratic process. That is why they cast their political language in terms that hark back to the foundation of the American polity: the Revolutionary War. But by doing so, they damage what was the result of this struggle: a democratic republic in which political differences are solved through peaceful procedure. And, in addition, they vindicate twisted individuals like Jared Lee Loughner, who lives in his own reality, in which ‘conscience’ is but a dream, to take matters into their own hand, and start using guns.
That is why it is not at all far-fetched, or an attempt at politicization, to cross-connect Tea Party and Republican right political rhetoric, and yesterday’s gunman act. Even if it turns out that Loughner had nothing to do with the Tea Party or their discourse (which I doubt, particularly the latter), it must still be admitted that with the very rhetoric they use, they enable people who have trouble taking rhetoric for just text to start taking things literally, and start their own little one-man violent revolution.
- Edit: I’d also like to say that one of these days, someone is going to point at Loughner’s marihuana use, and find the cause for everything in that. This will then be used as another argument in hysteric anti-drug arguments. Of course this will completely ignore the bigger causes and context of Loughner’s act, but it will happen.