Gingrich the Grey

In the last 20 years of Presidential elections, the younger of the two major party candidates has won the national popular vote every single time.  Of course, winning the national popular vote doesn’t necessarily translate into an electoral victory, as 2000’s Bush v. Gore reminds us.  But the numbers are interesting nonetheless.

1992: Bush (68) versus Clinton (46)

1996: Clinton (50) versus Dole (73)

2000: Bush (54) versus Gore (52)

2004: Bush (58) versus Kerry (60)

2008: McCain (72) versus Obama (47)

This November, Obama will be 51 years old as he seeks reelection for a second term.  His opponent will be older than him.  On election day, Rick Santorum will be 54; Mitt Romney will be 65;  Newt Gingrich will be 69; and Ron Paul will be 77.

This trend says something about how each party vets candidates and values certain qualities in leaders.  For example, you could argue that youth has a powerful association with change and the future, and age with the status quo and the past.  In each of the contests above the prevailing mood of the nation was either inclined toward those associative qualities or actively seeking them.  That’s a far cry from Reagan’s two victories, when the national mood sought a return to an imagined past and other qualities best found in an elder leader.

Right now, I see nothing to suggest we are less inclined as a national body to favor the qualities most associated with youth.  This–and the circus that is the slate of Republican candidates–bodes well for the Prez.

Rep. Jackie Speier on Abortion

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to remove federal funding from Planned Parenthood yesterday. California Representative Jackie Speier made an impromptu speech on the floor against it.

If you seek an example of patriarchy you need look no further than our government, where a bunch of men sit around passing laws trying to forcibly make medical decisions for women.

Why I Don’t Care (Much) About Hate Speech

Yesterday’s tragedy in Arizona is beginning to foster a national discussion on “hate speech” and “civility” in politics.  There is nothing inherently wrong in this.  I’d say its even welcome from the millions of Americans who feel politics has grown especially vitriolic in the past decade.

I do worry that too much will be given to such a discussion, as if the tragedy itself is the direct result of our political discourse.  It is an undeniable factor in what occurred, but focusing on “discourse” seems to hide as much as it clarifies for me.

WWII era poster, published by Seagram-Distillers Corp.

One of the disturbing trends in politics from the Right in the past generation has been a willingness to engage in what I call an inflammatory rhetoric of absolutism.  (Actually, “willingness” might be a soft word to use in this case because I think we have every reason to believe that it is a political tactic that is knowingly organized in its use.)  This language feeds off the idea of crisis, turning political debate into a “war.”  It frames the opposition as a threat to “your way of life,” not as a group of people with different ideas, analyses, or philosophies than you, but as “traitors” to the country.

This is where the absolutism comes into play.  In this way of thinking, there are only two ways to think: your way and the wrong way.  People who oppose you or don’t agree with you are “un-American”; they are “Socialists” and “Communists”; they are trying to “ruin our great country” and to “take away all that makes us great.”

All of the above terms (and more) are employed to end debate by excluding the authority of the opposing side to speak.  For example, somebody who advocates “un-American” ideas can not be rationally listened to.  So these characterizations become rhetorical tools to limit debate rather than foster it.  This is another form of its absolutism.

Of course, much of their language is imbued with the rhetoric of danger and violence, where people are encouraged to “take our country back” with allusions made to revolution, physical violence, death and blood, and the like.  These particular linguistic tactics convey the sense of urgency and crisis inherent in their absolutism.

Now this might seem like a defense of the current debate about rhetoric and language, but it’s not.

You see, while I don’t like to hear this language, and while I also think it contributes nothing positive to our political process, I don’t fear it or its use.  As a historian of the 20th century, I can’t tell you how many times the Right has policed activities of the Left on the basis of language.  Ideas and ideals like “civility” are as dangerous as ones of “radicalism” or “un-Americanism.”  The danger does not lie in these forms of debate and rhetoric but in the heavy-handed power that gets to label them and define them as outside the “appropriate” parameters of participation in our political system.

The danger is inherent in the ways power assigns “acceptability” and “unacceptability” to forms of discourse, in effect delineating who can and can not participate in the political system.

I don’t fear language. I do fear many of the ideas behind language.  I do fear many of the systems of belief which undergird our current political system and the positions of certain people in power.  But even ideas are not the problem.

Yesterday’s tragedy in Arizona wasn’t caused by language.  It was caused by the implementation of nihilistic ideas into our political system, comfortably and callously promoted by certain members of the Republican Party.  Language and ideas aren’t the real problem, except in how they let us understand the ways our system of power operates.  They become reflections of the problem in their use as rationalizing systems for power.

I don’t care if people go around saying they think Health Care for children is “the most un-American piece of legislation ever passed.”  It is hyperbole.  It is irrational and untrue.  If somebody actually believes it they are likely to be ill-informed.  But I don’t care if they say it or even believe it.

I do care when a mainstream political party who is in power makes a decision to deliberately use this hyperbole as a political tool to gain more power.  I do care when they implement their absolutism as the foundation of political debate in this country.

Too many people in the GOP have been willingly promoting this nihilistic political analysis in order to gain a greater position in the government.  I don’t doubt there are many ill-educated or dimwitted Congresspeople who actually believe Obama is trying to dismantle the country, but most of them do not.  Most who are engaging in and promoting these ways of thinking have been doing so while know all along that they lack credible foundation.

Most of the GOP opposes Obama’s health care plan because they want to defend the profits of tremendously powerful corporations and because they don’t want a Democrat in the White House.  As they nurture a context of crises and political radicalism they do so for the most traditional of reasons–to protect power.

And this is the real danger.  This empty and inflammatory political rhetoric is not the reflection of a real political analysis of our present but a tool in order to protect the status quo.  People are being mobilized into a political frenzy by people who are trying to limit their real political efficacy.

Congresswoman Gifford wasn’t shot because of rhetoric.  She was shot because people in power have made stupidity seem rational, just to protect the powers they serve.

Whether or not politicians believe in white supremacy, vigilantism, armed revolution, that “God hates fags,” or that Obama is a muslim is irrelevant in our present situation.  Whether or not they advocate for the killing of Democrats is also.  But each must ask themselves if they are comfortable attracting the support of people who do.  Each politician must account for their own political ways of thinking which resonate with the kinds of movements that are the real threat to our democracy.

We lose much more than we gain when we live in a society that wants to police rhetoric for inclusion and exclusion in our political realm.  That absolutism is bad on both sides of the spectrum.

As a democratic society, we have an obligation to openly debate policy, sometimes by confronting radical, revolutionary, fringe, or extreme views.  But this isn’t what we have been doing.  Instead, we’ve been using these views as a priori conclusions in order to stifle the free exchange of ideas.  We’ve been subverting the heart of the democratic process–the free and open exchange of ideas–by limiting that debate with a fascist tactic of absolutism.

One cannot openly advocate and institutionalize a philosophy of absolutism, crisis, and panic and not take responsibility for the results.  Those who have done so must now face the consequences.  If those entail a national litmus test for “civil” and “uncivil” ideas–an emboldened absolutism–then we have all lost.

Who is telling Latinos not to vote?

His name is Robert de Posada, and he is a Republican.  He is also the President of a group calling themselves “Latinos for Reform” who, judging from their new ad campaign, are either idiots or morally bankrupt.

The following ad was scheduled to begin running on Univision in Nevada, Florida, and other Latino-rich states.  Univision–who had run the radio version on some of its Nevada stations and who had already accepted an $80,000 ad buy in to begin running the ad on their television network–has now said they will not air the ad.  Telemundo has also agreed not to show it.

For those who don’t speak Spanish, the ad is telling Latinos not to vote in order to send a message to politicians–Democratic politicians who haven’t followed through with their promises to reform immigration.

The idiot de Posada claims he is sincere, and is all just an “effort to express Hispanic frustration with the Democrats failure to deliver on immigration reform.”  The President and other Democrats think  it is a ploy to elect more Republicans.

This is one of the dirtiest and most demeaning political tricks I have seen in a long time.

Here is the English version.

Illegal immigrants “are all over my house”

Colin Powell appeared on “Meet the Press” (9/19/10) and spoke about a Republican party he described as “waiting to emerge once again,” a party of moderates who are more balanced in their approach to several issues, including immigration.

Here is the section of his interview where he responds to the opportunistic xenophobia that is currently the preferred stance on immigration within the GOP:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Meet The Press, posted with vodpod.

In his varied defense of reforming this position, he presents an assortment of analytical assumptions, some aspects of which I find more than a little problematic or incomplete. For example, he bases part of his defense of “illegal immigration” on what we might label a utilitarian approach, arguing (in essence) that “we” need “them” to do the work that “we” need done. Powell also presents another fairly opportunistic analysis when he speaks directly to the concerns of an aging “baby boomer” population. He suggests that immigrants are the “lifeblood” of this nation, but he describes that lifeblood as an economic transfusion—the maintaining of a workforce (and implied tax base) to support an aging and retiring population of natives.

Such ways of interpreting the immigration issue are a form of progress on purely policy-oriented terms, since they can lead to a more “moderate” and more realistic immigration system, one that spends less time on criminalizing migrants than on finding pathways for their legal stability. However, they also further a mode of analysis which deprives immigrants of their right to be seen as something more than inanimate workers.

Immigrants have the right—the human right—to be seen and treated as people with desires, concerns, and needs. When we view them in these “disembodied” ways (that is, disconnecting their human selves from the values we derive from their physical selves) we create a context like we have today—where immigration policies promote inhumane forms of detention and removal and, in many cases, outright death.

Viewing immigrants as humans means acting in responsible ways. We all have a responsibility—and I would argue, this is both a moral and a legal responsibility—to recognize and safeguard everyone’s ability to fulfill their basic human needs.

I recognize this is a distinct way of understanding the “immigration issue.” It says the issue is bigger than whether or not it “benefits us” to allow them into “our” nation. It says the issue is, fundamentally, about viewing this nation as part of a larger whole, with an accompanying responsibility to act in deliberate humanistic ways.

Powell flirts with the kinds of understandings I support when he expresses the need for us to spend more effort educating “our minorities” and immigrants. Leaving along the paternalistic tone his choice of words suggests—and not at all discounting the ways his education argument can be interpreted as opportunistic—I view education as a fundamental human right. Education facilitates one’s ability to fulfill their basic human needs. It is intimately connected to a set of opportunities–to achieve meaningful social inclusion, to defend and maintain cultural rights, and to assure true participatory political power.

All this said, I welcome Powell’s stance and hope it gains more traction in our political debate. His vocal support of the Dream Act at this critical hour is the right thing to do. The same can be said for the ways he is promoting a more moderate way of approaching immigration reform. None of this is “perfect,” and it often falls short of true humanism, but who cares?

When we have people dying as a result of our policies there is a moral urgency to creating a policy context that is more just, even if that falls short of perfect.

Racial hypocrisy in the Sotomayor hearings

Thus far, there are no surprises in the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings.  Unfortunately, that is the problem.

Two things are abundantly clear: many people remain ignorant on the historical legacy of race and racism in the United States; and many people continue to cling to the privilege of white supremacy by absolving themselves of personal, racial ideologies and ways of knowing while exercising the same.

Republicans don’t seem to have much when it comes to actual legal decisions she has made. In sum, she’s hardly a flaming liberal in the record of the court and, on top of that, she practices what is considered to be a fair and impartial method by legal standards.

So what do they do?

They try to make her out to be a racist and an “activist” judge because she once suggested people working in the law might think differently because of their ethnic background and life experience.

To deny that is not only ahistorical, it is also perfectly produced by history.  It is a denial rooted in white supremacy.

What else is it when a bunch of white men attack a Latina judge for being racist when they never questioned once the bold suggestion that a white man was the most qualified in all the nation the previous TWO times an open seat on the court was filled?

What else is it when a bunch of white men assume the uncontroverted final word on what racism is–the overt recognition that race exists–rather than the one grounded in historical experience and forged out of antiracist struggle?

White supremacy rarely acknowledged “whiteness” except when it was confronted with its “opposite.”  One of the features of “whiteness” is the very denial of its existence.  “White people” don’t have race, that’s what those colored folks have. “Whiteness” is naturalized, the norm, simply what is.  All other racial constructions are the aberration, the difference, the problem.

Like the system it produces, white supremacy centers “white” people as the source of what is important and valued.

And that’s exactly what is happening here.


The “Border Beat” (June 10, 2009)

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?  I’ve been meaning to call, but, well, you know, things got busy.  But I’m back.  You got the time?  Nice.  Well then, let’s get our nice clothes on, and our fancy shoes, because baby, THE BORDER BEAT IS BACK!!

• “State of Shame” (NY Times)
For those who thought agricultural workers faced deplorable conditions only in the West or South, this Times editorial teaches us about the ways the lack of legal protections for ag workers is exploited for, in this case, feeding ducks until they die.

• “How an immigration raid changed a town” (Christian Science Monitor)
The CSM provides this sad update on the town of Potsville, Iowa. About a year ago, Potsville found itself in the national headlines as ICE agents raided the town’s primary employer, their largest raid to date. Agriprocessors, once the largest kosher meat plant in the nation, is now bankrupt; the town has been abandoned by most of the immigrant workers rounded up on that day; and the future is very uncertain. You could say they got what they deserved, but you’d be wrong, trapped in your own limited visions of what is “right” and “wrong.” The question blowing in this breeze is, why?

• “Bill Proposes Immigration Rights for Gay Couples” (NY Times)
It’s called the Uniting American Families Act. It allows gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their long-term partners for a green card, the same way the law allows this for married, straight couples. It is fair, sane, and long-overdue. Now let’s hope it doesn’t get scuttled by reactionary homophobes who are calling it everything from an attack on “traditional” marriage to a continuing dismantling of our borders.

• “GOP risks losing Latino vote for decades” (SF Chronicle)
Ruben Navarrette is, perhaps, the most read Latino journalist in the U.S. His column is syndicated in papers across the nation. He is a paragon of neutrality and moderation, while consistently representing a “Hispanic voice.” I don’t often agree with him to the letter, but I can appreciate where he is coming from. Here, he opines on the tricky game Republicans are playing in trying to smear Sotomayor. The long-term consequence, says Navarrette, may be the loss of the Latino vote for the foreseeable future. You know what? He’s right.

• “US vows crackdown on illegal immigrant worker abuse” (Reuters)
While in Mexico City, John Morton–the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)–vowed to enforce the U.S. laws “responsibly, humanely and thoughtfully.” What does that mean? Well, one element, says Morton, is cracking down on employers who “abuse” illegal immigrants. “I intend to try to identify and prosecute those people much more vigorously than in the past,” he said. His elaboration of the nature of employers’ abusing practices (as distinct from their mere employment of them) is a welcome sign for those of us working for a more humane immigration policy.

• “Boy Scouts make big push to get Latinos to join” (Chicago Tribune)
[(Ding-dong!) What’s that? Somebody’s at the door? Finally! Looks like we have a social call!! (Ding-dong!) We just might have a date tonight! Yes! Somebody wants us. Hello? Who? Awww. It’s just the Boy Scouts.] Well, the Boy Scouts are trying to double the number of Latinos earning badges for canoeing. . . and all that other stuff, too. Seems they’re having some problems, though. Some are wondering if the problem is a lack of cultural familiarity, some fear and mistrust. As a former Boy Scout, let me suggest it is more a case of not wanting your child to look like he’s joined a youth paramilitary troop.

• “UFW Alums Battle Over Labor’s Future” (Beyond Chron)
There is an ugly fight happening out West in the labor movement. It is pitting some UFW legends against each other (again) and perhaps tearing apart some organizations that once had a tremendous amount of potential.