“Kentucky Democrat” Press Is Quoting in McConnell Case Is Not A Democrat

Well, maybe he’s a Democrat, but I probably would be a more legitimate spokesman for Kentucky Democrats. So would you.

Jacob Conway is his name, and he’s no “Democratic official.” He’s just some dude. Some dude who was first called “a longtime local Democratic operative” by the Louisville NPR affiliate. Then he was identified as a “Democratic official” by The Louisville Courier-Journal, a “Kentucky Democrat” by TPM, and an “official with the Jefferson County Democratic Party in Kentucky” by HuffPo. Based on his supposed official position with Kentucky Democrats, he was interviewed on Fox News. In classic Daily Caller fashion, they promoted him from the county party to “a member of the executive committee of the state Democratic Party in Jefferson County, Kentucky.”

Jacob Conway is not some important Democratic official in Kentucky. He’s a goof, and the media should be embarrassed for falling for his self-aggrandizing schtick.

Seeing a member of a county party executive committee identified as a “Democratic official” seemed stupid to me. Democratic party organizations in a large county–Jefferson county has a population over 700,000–can have fifty or sixty members, so it seemed implausible that he would be an official spokesman for the county party, much less the Kentucky Democratic party. I was curious, so I did what apparently no political reporter in America is capable of doing: I did a Google search on Jacob Conway.

In 2007 Conway wrote on his blog that he supported Trey Grayson, the Republican Secretary of State who lost the 2010 Republican primary for Senate to Rand Paul.

In 2000 he was a Young Republican and in 2010 he still referred to John McCain as his “personal hero,” but though by 2012 he claimed “some would consider me a leader in our state’s party,” until the GOP convention, he wrote, “I wasn’t 100-percent sure I would vote to re-elect President Obama.”

It’s no surprise he’s not listed as an official on the website of the Jefferson County Democratic Party. Or, actually, the Louisville Metro Democratic Party, since there’s no such thing as a “Jefferson County Democratic Party” in Kentucky.

All of this was easily discovered in a short Google search, along with blog posts like this, by Progress Kentucky nitwit Curtis Morrison, in which he interviews Jacob Conway, or this one, where Conway was the only commenter on one of Morrison’s posts.

Jacob Conway is not an elected official. There’s little evidence that he’s on the executive committee of his county Democratic party, and even if he is, that would in no way establish him as a credible source or someone with authority to speak for any official Democratic organization. It’s almost a certainty that no reporters or headline writers who described Conway as a Democratic official checked whether that was true or meaningful. The national political press just accepted that some dude who claimed to be a “Kentucky Democrat” or a “party official” actually spoke for the Democratic party.

Clearly political reporters haven’t learned a damned thing from the Manti T’eo story.

 

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But It Too Often IS About Self-Actualization

 

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Oh, if that were only true. I believe Weigel was referring to politicians and running for office, and of course too many politicians are motivated more by personal gain than public good. But the problem isn’t only with those whose name is on the ballot, it’s also a problem for those who turn in their ballots.

For politicians, according to a famous essay, “conduct can be oriented to an ‘ethic of ultimate ends’ or an ‘ethic of responsibility.’” In America, there are few situations where the “ethic of ultimate ends” is the defensible recourse of people entrusted with the exercise of power; we may have too much gridlock, and many governing bodies have minorities unable to exert any direct influence on the exercise of power, but public officials can usually accomplish something positive, and are obligated to make every effort to do so. Citizens not actively engaged in governing don’t have that same obligation in their daily life. But there is one situation where every citizen* has not only an opportunity to express power, but–usually–an obligation to exercise it responsibly: voting.

For most people, voting produces an emotional reaction; their vote makes them feel good, feel bad, feel frustrated, feel connected with others, feel independent of the crowd. But for too many people, feelings come first, and determine what they do with their ballot. Occasionally every option before a voter is odious, or maybe the implications of their vote is inconsequential. In these cases, whether to vote and, if voting, whether to limit one’s vote to only those with any plausible chance of winning, won’t have much effect on the world. But in most cases, what one does with their vote has the potential to effect not only the voter, but also their community and society.

Whether and how to exercise one’s vote has material effects on local property values and the quality and curriculum of schools, one people’s physical and economic security, on societal prosperity, on social equity and justice, and in US federal elections, how we exert and whether we impose our unmatched cultural, diplomatic, economic and military strength around the world. It’s a damn serious thing, what one does with their vote. But the US is probably the most radically individualistic society on earthy, and too often people treat voting as an individual act of self-actualization, rather than a small part of a larger collective act in which one expresses their choice–and this is key–among the options available in that moment of what they want for themselves, but also for their community, society and world.

There’s room in politics for some self-actualization. But we’d all be better off if US politics in America were less about self-actualization–about how you feel– and more about acting responsibly toward and in solidarity with one’s fellow citizens.

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Taxonomy of Favorable and Unfavorable Liberal/Progressive Assessments of the Obama Presidency

Beware anything simple, because it will probably be too simplistic. Having said that, let me propose a simple explanation of a broad subject.

It’s occurred to me that there’s a concise yet fairly comprehensive description of the differing priorities of ardent liberals and progressives who view Obama’s presidency  favorably and those who view Obama’s presidency unfavorably:

  • Liberals and progressives who view Obama favorably place more emphasis on the economic triage and long-term investment in the 2009 stimulus, on getting US troops out of Iraq, and on passing health care reform. The place less emphasis on due process/government transparency, on the decision to not pursue legal actions against those responsible for the 2008 fiscal crisis, and on not completely rescinding the Bush tax cuts. [Disclosure: I consider myself in this camp]
  • Liberals and progressives who view Obama unfavorably place greater emphasis on due process/government transparency, on the decision to not pursue legal actions against those responsible for the 2008 fiscal crisis, and on not completely rescinding the Bush tax cuts. They place less emphasis on the economic triage and long-term investment in the 2009 stimulus, on getting US troops out of Iraq, and on passing health care reform.

Of course some liberal critics of Obama are insincere, are still nursing grievances from the Democratic nominating campaign, or aren’t really Democrats as much as they are ideological lefties who do not really identify with the Democratic party. It’s also worth noting people like this are a much smaller portion of the Democratic voting coalition than one might think if you spend a lot of time reading liberal blogs, watching cable pundits and following people on Twitter.

And on the other side, there are those who will laud everything Obama does and see every compromise, every decision, and every choice on whether to take an action as unassailable, as immune to valid criticism. People who will not accept that there’s anything Obama might have done wrong, or could have done better, are also not a big part of the electorate.

But among liberals and progressives, is there a simple ideological schematic that better describes the opposing policy priorities of Obama’s liberal fans and his liberal critics?

***Addendum***

As alluded to in the post, I align with those who have the first set of priorities. But I don’t think this schematic depends on either substantive disagreement on the six policy areas in isolation; I agree with much of what the critics say about Obama’s performance in those three areas, they’re just not what I think is most important in judging the Obama presidency. And lest anyone miss what I think is clearly implied, because due process/transparency, financial industry malfeasance and taxes are not my priorities, it does not follow that I don’t care about those issues, nor does it mean people with other priorities don’t care about mine.

Finally, there are responsible and good faith arguments in favor of prioritizing the latter three issues in assessing the Obama presidency. For instance, one could argue that the two sets of priorities are separated not by the relative importance of the policy and it’s impact on the country, but on the necessity and the integrity of Obama’s policy choices. Iraq, the stimulus and health care reform could be considered “necessary,” in that one was required to prevent a depression and the other two were the two policy centerpieces of Obama’s campaign, and not pursuing them would have been a political disaster.

Due process/transparency, taxes and banking reform and justice are different. Whereas the first set of policy actions were consistent with what candidate Obama promised voters, the latter three have not lived up to the campaign promises (and in the case of due process/transparency are in many ways voluntary decisions to act opposite of what Obama promised). I think the material effects of the first three override the disappointments of the latter three, so I’m not persuaded by this argument. There are other arguments to make that I think would have merit, but still not persuade me. But I offer this up just to show that it’s possible for a liberal to fairly and reasonably have legitimate and defensible priorities that lead her to view Obama’s presidency unfavorably.

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“You’re All Wrong: Obama’s Not Mullah Omar, He’s George McGovern!”

Yesterday John Podhoretz admonished his fellow conservatives to “get serious” about Barack Obama. “Obama is very possibly a world-historical political figure,” wrote Podhoretz. He’s not, he explained, a nice guy in over his head. And he’s not “the reverse-negative image of that delusion…a not-so-secret Marxist Kenyan with dictatorial ambitions and a nearly limitless appetite for power.”

Podhoretz is being a bit disingenuous in suggesting that “Obama’s a nice guy over his head” is a conservative delusion; almost nobody in conservative circles actually believes that, it’s just something they said during the recent marketing campaign in which they temporarily increased their market share from 45% to 47%. But a lot sure do believe the Marxist (and I’d add Muslim) Kenyan wannabe dictator.

How does Podhoretz think a serious person should see Obama? As “a conventional post-1960s left-liberal with limited interest in the private sector and the gut sense that government must and should do more, whatever ‘more’ might mean at any given moment.”

The notion that Obama is a dangerous extremist helps him, because it makes him seem reasonable and his critics foolish. It also helps those who peddle it, because it makes them notorious and helps them sell their wares. But it has done perhaps irreparable harm to the central conservative cause of the present moment—making the case that Obama’s social-democratic statism is setting the United States on a course for disaster and that his anti-exceptionalist foreign policy is setting the world on a course for nihilistic chaos. Those are serious arguments, befitting a serious antagonist. They may not sell gold coins as quickly and as well as excessive alarmism, but they have the inestimable advantage of being true.

Do you see the problem here? If not, look a little closer: yeah, there it is: Podhoretz is admonishing his fellow conservatives for believing their inaccurate caricature of Obama (and the nation that has twice elected him president), and imploring conservatives to instead embrace his inaccurate caricature of Obama, and of America. Or, rather, the post-Vietnam caricature of all liberals and Democrats, a caricature created in no small part by John Podhoretz’ parents.

Podhoretz is a legacy. He’s the editor of Commentary. Commentary’s longtime editor and now editor emeritus is John’s dad, Norman Podhoretz, who frequently published pieces by Midge Decter, John’s mom. After Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz is probably the most (in)famous and influential neconservative, at least among the polemicists. A leftist critic of liberalism in the early sixties, by the late sixties Podhoretz was a bellicose & often bigoted rightwing critic of liberalism. By 1968 he was railing against effete liberal intellectuals of the kind he’d once consorted with but whom he believed disdained him because of his hardscrabble background in working class Brooklyn. (Of course it’s surely a coincidence that this flip to cultural conservative came almost immediately after his 1967 memoir “Making It” was savaged by liberal intellectuals such as his one-time time friend Norman Mailer.) By the late 1970′s, Podhoretz and Decter were, according to Jacob Heilbrunn’s They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons, alleging that “cultural changes like the rise of feminism and increased tolerance for homosexuality would sap the vitality of the United States and lead it to perdition, a key reason that the neconservatives would later find common ground with Christian evangelicals.” In The Rise of the Counter-Establishment, Sidney Blumenthal less charitably described Decter as “a thunderer against the sins of the feminists, other miscreants from the 1960′s, and crypto-Stalinists.”

The neocons retained a nominal allegiance to the Democrats into the 1970′s, but they eagerly embraced Ronald Reagan and have been intellectual troops–or, one might say, polemical hacks–for the GOP ever since.

But it wasn’t only being dissed by the liberal intelligentsia that led Podhoretz and Decter to go to war with the radical left, the counterculture, and liberalism–terms which over time they practically used as synonyms. Israel and anti-communism loomed much larger in their politics after the 1967 war, and they thought liberals had gone soft on both. But the gateway from abrasive leftism to their reactionary cultural whoring warring was race. Podhoretz’ issues with race were visible at least since 1963, when he published his essay “My Negro Problem–and Ours”:

 With his February 1963 Commentary essay “My Negro Problem—and Ours,” Podhoretz created a furor. The article concludes with a plea for racial intermarriage, but it is mostly remembered for being a blunt recollection of Podhoretz’s childhood terror of the black children and teenagers who, at times, beat him to a pulp. “In my world it was the whites, the Italians and Jews who feared the Negroes, not the other way around,” he writes. “The Negroes were tougher than we were, more ruthless, and on the whole they were better athletes.”

Podhoretz, Kristol, Tom Wolfe and other effete coastal intellectuals of their ilk helped create and employ the nasty stereotype of effete coastal intellectuals who indulged and empowered everything that went wrong in America in the 1950′s: the undisciplined kids who occupied universities; the radicals who cavorted with Jane Fonda, Ho Chi Minh and the Black Panthers; the eggheads who indoctrinated  teachers in new math, phonics and cultural relativism; the bra burners who were destroying the family and raising boys to be sissies; the experts who built freeways on top of neighborhoods and bussed kids to the other side of town; the hippies who took drugs & were experimental sexual libertines; the savages who took drugs & rutted like animals; the muggers who turned liberals in to conservatives; the multi-lateralists, internationalists and defeatists afraid to assert our national interest around the world, and thus make us unsafe at home; the savages who set fire to cities and ruined the old neighborhoods; and the queens, both the queer kind as well as the lazy kind who popped out babies and wouldn’t work because they could sit around collecting welfare from the taxes paid by the silent majority. Fully emancipating blacks turned the South from a Democratic bastion to the Republican heartland. It was these stereotypes–used by Richard Nixon, perfected by Lee Atwater, and still somewhat useful to Karl Rove–that Republicans used to win elections in the urban and suburban north and in the Sunbelt west for three decades.

By 1980 or so, Podhoretz, Decter, Kristol and the rest of their cadre abandoned Jimmy Carter and the Democratic party and threw in 100% with Ronald Reagan. And that’s where they’ve remained, and where they’ve found employment for their kids. And it’s Jimmy Carter, and Walter Mondale, and Teddy Kennedy and the urban planners and affirmative action hires and Vietnam war protesters and attorneys springing criminals from prison and the Black Panthers and Malcolm X and all the “other miscreants from the 1960′s” they’ve continued to fight. And they believe several of their stereotypes, about single mother parenting, elite education, affirmative action, community organizing and machine politics, that they believe mutated and created the embodiment of so much that they see wrong with America: Barack Obama and his liberal, Democratic enablers and supporters.

Since his parents gave birth not only to him, but in large part to these social and cultural slurs that served as the GOP’s campaign themes, it’s no surprise that John Podhoretz falls back on them to explain Barack Obama. According to John Podhoretz, “Barack Obama and his liberal followers have been doing very serious work over the past four years, and the same cannot be said, alas, of far too many people who oppose them.” He might have instead written, paraphrasing his father, that “Barack Obama and his liberals are tougher than we are, more ruthless, and on the whole they are better campaigners and politicos than we are.”

Podhoretz the Lesser, invoking Sun Tzu, says “you need to know your political antagonist if you are to prevail against him—and you need to know yourself.” I haven’t read Sun Tzu, but I suspect he also says it’s at least kind of important to know the terrain on which you’ll wage battle. We knew Podhoretz inherited his father’s job; now we see the patrimony also included the intellectual weaponry and battle plans of his father’s wars.  But those battle plans were devised for a time when the electorate was over 90% white, almost entirely native-born, Christian, almost entirely straight or closeted, if not speaking English than speaking Italian or Polish, working heavily in manufacturing, and just undergoing the changes of desegregation, and more importantly, of feminism. The ideas that drove liberals and Democrats, the weapons they deployed, and the electorate they engaged were dramatically different than today. But the GOP has not adapted to the new adversary and new environment, and until they make fundamental changes–such as distancing themselves from rightwing fundamentalists–they’re at risk of being overrun.

By sticking with his parents’ view of America, John Podhoretz is actually telling conservatives to keep doing exactly what they’re doing wrong: viewing liberals and Democrats, as well as the electorate, as having remained unchanged since the 1960′s and 1970′s. Rather than invoke Sun Tzu, Podhoretz should be thinking about a different adage about war: generals always prepare to fight the last war. John Podhoretz wants conservatives to get serious about fighting the last culture war, that Republicans long ago lost, in an America that no longer exists.

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Forecast Calls for an Easy Solution

Columbia Journalism Review has a good piece on a very weak link in convincing the American public–the only public in a highly developed country still in need of convincing–that the earth’s climate is changing because of human activity: TV weathermen. It turns out that many of the people Americans trust to tell them the weather are climate change deniers. A recent survey of TV meteorologists showed that only one quarter believed in global climate change and that it is caused by humans, a quarter said they were “neutral” on the matter, and half rejected it. 29% even agreed with the claim that global climate change is a “scam.”

The piece goes on to discuss why this might be, and efforts being taken to change the views of TV meteorologists. This matter is controversial only in the US. It’s not an open question. So here’s an easy solution for any TV station that gives a crap about truth, and about the future of life on earth: do not employ any weather reporters who do not declare that they believe in man-made climate change.

That notion may strike some as offensive, as some kind of loyalty oath. One might invoke the right to free speech, or declare it’s wrong to tell journalists what to think. Such objections miss an important point: in journalism, there are already many beliefs that get you cast out of the profession. Would a sportswriter keep her job if she espoused the view that black athletes aren’t as smart as white athletes? A religion reporter wouldn’t get hired by a standard news organization if he declared Islam a gutter religion or said Mormons were members of a cult. Someone who pushed a truther theory about 9/11 or denied the Holocaust would get canned.

Declaring people who embrace and espouse widely discredited beliefs can go too far. It’s a matter of degree; some beliefs are minority views but not obviously ridiculous. But others are authoritatively refuted, and it’s the latter that are disqualifying. Or should be. If you want to be a meteorologist on TV, you should be forced to declare that you accept the scientific consensus that Earth is undergoing a human-caused climate change. Making a lot of money scaremongering about a two inch snowfall or telling people when it’s too hot to leave your pets in the car should be limited to people who don’t deny accepted scientific theories of reality.

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Precedents

Such certainty:

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With respect to Nate Cohn, I prefer to assess the race with a bit more emphasis on stuff like this:

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In political analysis it is important to not relevant precedents & apt comparisons. But it is also important to note the absence of relevant precedents or comparisons. Unless someone can come up with similar search results for “Name of Candidate” + magazine + cover, I prefer to operate under assumption that an Ashley Judd candidacy would have no precedents or sound comparisons. As a result, I intend to be humble in my predictions.

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Richard Florida on Elections: Missing the State Forests for the City Trees

Richard Florida is the great proselytizer of the creative class:

[The creative class is] a fast-growing, highly educated, and well-paid segment of the workforce on whose efforts corporate profits and economic growth increasingly depend. Members of the creative class do a wide variety of work in a wide variety of industries—from technology to entertainment, journalism to finance, high-end manufacturing to the arts. They do not consciously think of themselves as a class. Yet they share a common ethos that values creativity, individuality, difference, and merit.

I’ve previously written about Florida’s work and how his insights help us understand US politics and elections. His work has value, but I think he and his like-minded theorists tend to look at correlations and attribute too much to their favored factors, ignoring others. This post from yesterday is a good example. He looks at population density, the mix of industry, racial composition and other factors that may answer his question: “what is it exactly that makes big cities vote Democratic?” But there are several problems with his question, and how he attempts to answer it.  First, there isn’t an “exact” answer to such a question; most American cities have been voting Democratic since the late 1920′s, long before there was any significant “creative class,” and when there were few sizable cities west of St Louis or south of Washington DC. History can’t be distilled to an “exact” answer. Furthermore, he asks about cities, but the data he analyzes is metro areas; those aren’t the same thing. And there are many correlations and comparisons he doesn’t consider, including the obvious correlation that almost all of the biggest metro areas are in Democratic states.

Of the thirty largest metro areas in the United States–all but Las Vegas, at 1,969,675, have over two million residents–twenty-four are partially or entirely in states Obama won both times. Seventeen are in states that have gone Democratic in every election since 1992. And five–New York City, Boston, Minneapolis, Seattle and Portland–are in states that have been Democratic since 1988, when they went for Dukakis. But “metro area” is not the same as a city, and it isn’t a particularly useful measure of political geography. While Obama did lose the Houston and Dallas metro areas, he won the cities of Houston and Dallas. So in terms of cities themselves, almost every single one over 500,00 went for the Democrat. Partisanship of a metro area is most likely determined not by the votes in its core city, but by the votes in its suburbs.  If Florida is going to make statements about cities, he should analyze cities. If he’s going to analyze metro areas, he should make clear his claims aren’t about cities.

As for metro areas, according to Florida’s numbers, Obama won 150, Romney 214. But is that number meaningful? My Chicago neighborhood is less than 2 square miles and holds less than 1% of the population of the Chicago metro area. It’s one of the most racially, ethnically, religiously and linguistically diverse places in the world. And my little neighborhood has almost exactly the same number of people as are in the 168 square mile Carson City NV metro area.  Each of the 50 smallest metro areas has fewer than 120,000 people, and most are overwhelmingly white and homogeneous. The total population of those 50 metro areas–roughly 1.8 million–is about the same as the population of the 38th largest metro area, Columbus, OH, and less than one tenth the population of Greater NYC. Lumping Mankato, Minnesota and Pocatello, Idaho in with the Dallas and Boston metro areas doesn’t tell us anything that’s particularly useful about “cities.”

I love maps, so I spent some time looking at the map accompanying Florida’s post to see if there was something useful:

Richard Florida Map of 2012 by Metro AreasIn fact, there is something useful, just not what I think Florida had in mind. Look at the map, and imagine you decided to color in the rest of the map, using a red pen for the counties won by Romney, and a blue pen for the counties won by Obama. You’d barely use your blue pen; the blue areas would continue to look like islands, but the red puddles would become a sea of red: Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 5.02.03 PM But what about recent trends, you may ask? Well, trends are kind of important to look at if one is going to say economic change effects current voting. But Florida’s analysis is not a look through time, it’s a snapshot of the moment. We have no idea, if we look at only one point in time, what the trends are, if there are any. But if we look back at the last few elections, other than the the major shift from Democrats to Republicans in Appalachia and the Ozarks, the 2000 map looks pretty much the same (on this map, from the terrific web site run by David Liep,  red is for Democrats and blue is for Republicans): Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 3.28.23 PM

From election to election, the states contested for their electoral votes haven’t fluctuated much since 1996. Many big cities are in states that weren’t contested, while others–in particular those in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio–were bombed with ads and blanketed with canvassers and GOTV workers. One shouldn’t generalize too much about election results without considering that difference.

Rural America isn’t entirely white. The “black belt,” an arc from southeast Virginia through the Carolinas, Georgia and in to central Alabama is mostly rural and heavily African-American. It’s the same along the Mississippi River from Memphis and down through Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and in much of the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado there are significant populations of Hispanics, some whose families have been there for 400 years. And Native Americans are clustered on reservations across the west. But most of rural America is overwhelmingly white. And other than New England and some heavily Scandinavian and German areas of the Upper Midwest, rural America has been voting overwhelmingly Republican for decades. Looking at his data, Florida ends up in a familiar place,

America is divided between cities of knowledge and skill and the rest…This divide is as economic and geographic as it is partisan. America’s polarized politics is a product of its deeply-etched geography of class.

Maybe. But probably not. Big cities, even in conservative states, vote Democratic. Metro regions generally vote consistent with their state and section of the country. There isn’t a single geographic divide in America, and national section–South, Plains and Great Basin vs Northeast, Great Lakes and Pacific Coast–is probably a far stronger correlation to how a metro area votes than does it’s creative class economics and demographics. To see that, all you have to do is look at Florida’s map…and use your imagination to color in what’s missing.

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