Friday, December 20, 2002

Lott Lost. Wow, I've got to hand it to the White House political machine, they played this one beautifully. Almost perfectly, in fact. Trent Lott wanted a free pass for making flagrantly racist comments in public (and he's gotten several free passes in the past for the same offense, so you can't blame him for expecting another one). He wasn't getting one from the press, thanks to the meddling of Al Gore, so he wanted to get one from the White House. Reportedly, he told the White House that if he was forced to resign from the leadership, he would resign from the Senate. This would result in Mississippi's Democratic governor appointing a Democrat (and most likely a black Democrat, just to milk it a bit, and make a first step toward addressing the egregious racial imbalance in the Senate) in Lott's place. That would have made the Republican Senate majority very slim, at 50-49-1, which would have triggered the old power-sharing agreement erected after the 2000 election, and it would have put the pressure on Lincoln Chafee to bolt, giving the Democrats a 49-49-2 majority (with the two independents, Chafee and Jeffords, caucusing with the Dems). Lott thought he had the White House over a barrel. If Bush let him fall, Lott could take Bush's Republican Senate away from him, which would further embolden a newly rejuvenated Democratic Party. But Karl Rove didn't flinch.

Bush made some insipid and wishy-washy statements condemning what Lott said, and then kept mum. It soon became clear that White House was going string Lott up and let him twist in the wind, but they were very careful not to appear to be doing that at all. We were told again and again that the White House was neutral. That's bullshit. Or rather, that neutrality is precisely what killed Lott. Bush could have saved Lott with a sentence uttered into a telephone at any time. It would have been politically risky for him to do so, but he could have. I'm glad he didn't, personally. So, now Lott leaves the Senate, right? Apparently not.

And thus the huge political win for Karl Rove. It's not perfect, though. Everybody knows the White House abandoned Lott, and you're not supposed to abandon your own party's Senate leader. Other politicians from your own party get nervous when you do that. It sends a clear signal that every last Republican politician in the country will be happily burned on the pyre of White House political strategy, if it comes to that. This could end up costing Bush a little, but not nearly as much as a Democratic Senate would. Personally, I still think Bush might have been better off saving Lott a week ago. He probably could have put the whole story to bed. Sure, Democrats like Daschle, Clinton, and Gore would use the race-issue against the Republicans, and liberal commentators like Josh Marshall and Joe Conason would have a field day, but who cares? The press, and therefore the public, don't care about any of the other awful things Bush has done, why would they care about this one?

Still, the White House arguably took the high road in letting Lott publicly burn, and they managed to win the political battle as well. I'm impressed.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Context is Everything. Ok, so Senator Lott said some stupid things at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party. Well, come on!! How many times have you been to the 100th birthday party of anybody, much less a sitting senator who once ran for president. If you were toasting him, you might put your foot in your mouth too. Let's just drop the whole thing.

For a clear example of why the whole previous paragraph is unmitigated bullshit (it's also more or less in line with Bob Novak's comments on the issue), read the latest from Bob Herbert. [I wouldn't have found this without Eschaton. I didn't read the Times this morning because I had a Civil Procedure final.] Herbert mentions some serious peculiarites with a couple of Republicans when it comes to race. Now, I'm sure Herbert doesn't mean to imply that the entire Republican party, or all Republicans, are racists. That would be unforgiveable. Bush, for instance, for all his faults, has never shown me the slightest hint of racism. I could name at length prominent Republican politicians and pundits who have never shown signs of racism. But it is a little telling just how many have.

And we're not talking about when they were young men in the pre-integration days. We're talking recent stuff. And repeated stuff. I'm prepared to accept Senator Lott's apology. I think this time, now that the media has finally given him the attention he deserves, Senator Lott will truly shape up if he's given the chance. Who won't be speaking at any pro-Confederate meetings any time soon, that's for sure. But the Lott issue is so much bigger than Lott himself, or Lott's stupid, offensive, pro-segregationist remarks. As Clinton pointed out yesterday, it's about the Republican Party as a whole. The Republican Party tolerated racists when the Dixiecrats moved in decades ago. They still tolerate racists today. And that is a problem, today, for the Republican Party.

All this, and we're probably seeing the dying days of affirmative action all at the same time. Poetic injustice, if ever there was such a thing. I'll have more to say about affirmative action later. For now, check some recent excellent work by Liberal Oasis. Capsule summary: blacks and latinos have higher unemployment, lower wages, and higher poverty than whites. Affirmative Action hasn't fixed the problem, but it has helped. What will we replace it with when the Scalia Five have had their say?

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Bush Makes Us Safer. Or does he? According to this article from Reuters, Bush is going ahead with his missile defense system, which should begin limited operational capacity as early as 2004. All this despite the fact that a test of the system just last week failed.

Time for a pop quiz: name the last time a ballistic missile was fired at U.S. territory? Bonus points: name four threats against this country which are more likely to occur, against which we should be doing more to defend ourselves than we currently are.

There are exactly two reasons for having a big Star Wars style missile defense system in the post-Cold War era. One is as a nice little Christmas present for the defense contractors. Giving those guys Christmas presents has been a regular part of U.S. foreign policy since World War II. The other is as a political ploy for Dubya, who has had a bad couple of weeks since election day. That is all. Defending the United States is a good excuse that you can sell to the people (or, at least, the one's who don't pay attention), but if that were really a motivation for this thing, don't you think they'd install a system that works?

So, why the big rush to install a system that has failed several times, including last week? Because it's better, from a White House perspective, to have a useless system in 2004 than it is to have a working system in 2006. Bush is leaning on this thing to keep him in office (the economy certainly won't), and he doesn't have time to wait for the science to catch up to the science-fiction. Remember, we've seen it again and again, this White House doesn't have time for policy... it's all politics. This is no difference.

This system has cost, in just the last two years alone, $15.6 Billion. Who thinks that money could be better spent elsewhere?

Monday, December 16, 2002

Gore is Gone. I must say: I'm shocked and saddened. I never entertained for a moment that Gore wouldn't run. But, much to everyone's surprise, that delusional, pathological liar Al Gore was serious all these months when he said he hadn't yet decided. The news really caught me by surprise. [Thanks, Tucker, for giving me a call to let me know.]

I'm also disappointed. Gore was my candidate. I believe in Gore more strongly today than I did in 2000 (though I was proud to vote for him then), and I think Gore's a much stronger candidate now than he was then. Consider: everything that Gore said would happen under a Bush presidency has happened. Environmental protections have been dropping like flies. The surplus was squandered before the Marc Rich story died down. Bush has governed from the right, after campaigning from the center. The White House is grand central station for welfare handouts, as long as you're either a giant corporation, a future inheritor of a multi-million dollar estate, or affiliated with the Christian Right (but on no account if you are poor or unemployed with a family to feed). This president has caved to his special interest cronies at every step. And now that Bush has had two years to establish a record, there is so much more for Gore to run against. Bush has sacrificed not only environmental interests but also vital national interests on the altar of Saudi oil. He has mismanaged an economy to the point where 800,000 people will lose their unemployment benefits three days after Christmas, with possibly hundreds of thousands more to follow by the time he gets around to signing an extension. He has fired his entire economic team, but hasn't altered the failed policies which cost them their jobs. He has turned a blind eye as his corporate power cronies employ scams he remembers from his own business career, taking money from pensioners and innocent small-time investors and "redistributing it" to wealthy CEOs, corporate fatcats, and Wall Street insider-elites.

Gore is the perfect candidate to make these criticisms (and we haven't even gotten into foreign policy yet!). Moreover, thus far, he's the only one who's even come close to making these points. Gore was not only the favored candidate on account of his name-recognition, he was the best candidate in terms of the issues he was addressing and the ideas he was putting in play.

I just hope Gore doesn't stop criticizing the White House. If he won't run himself, at least he can help his disorganized, rudderless party elect themselves a candidate who will shine a light on Bush's real record.