The following is cynical, I admit. But it’s not unfair.
This past weekend I attended an impressive campaign school by Democracy for America, a band of “progressive” shock troops for the Democratic Party. I like these people and am even giving them money.
Among the DFA’s many pragmatic teachings is the 27-9-3: a message that is (ideally) no more than 27 words long, delivered in nine seconds, and makes no more than three points. The idea is to impose discipline on one’s political speech, respecting the limited attention that most people feel they can afford to give to politics.
We were encouraged to write a 27-9-3 for our state party. And here is where my troubles began. After some thought I wrote: Continue reading →
Coverage of tonight’s Obama press conference, as with the health care reform issue in general, has been tediously focused on political tactics and horse trading. Media consumers are being schooled to feel that reform is a prospect to be feared, as it’s bound to be expensive and is likely to make things worse.
They allow that the U.S. health care system is flawed, but the scale and focus of that critique is almost solely on cost — especially costs to businesses — and the consequences for our “competitiveness.” Because this, you see, is how grown-ups talk about public affairs: in terms of profit, loss, growth prospects, and the global marketplace.
Mark Halperin’s post at the Time magazine blog The Page is a study in this kind of trivia and misdirection. It’s a list of “ways that Obama can make news at his Wednesday press conference” — because mature adults should know that the only thing that matters in politics is how an event feeds the news cycle and sets up the next event. Continue reading →
Ought to mention: For the second year in a row, I’ve received a membership card from the Alabama Republican Party. I didn’t ask for it.
Of course, I’m supposed to send in a donation in exchange for the wallet-sized card. I never have donated to the Republicans, yet here I am lodged on their mailing list.
It dramatizes for me just how dysfunctional the Alabama Democrats are. I’ve volunteered for Democratic candidates at the county and state levels, been involved with the party’s “progressive” faction, corresponded with the current party chairman, and logged time on the Obama campaign. I don’t consider myself a party member, and I also support Republican and third-party candidates. But it seems odd that I merit a spot on the Alabama Republicans’ mailing list, yet never hear a peep from the Democrats.
Even the Libertarians and Greens get in touch with me more often than the Democrats. (To be fair, I have a sort of official post with the Green Party.)
One relevant fact about the Alabama Democrats is that they have an insulated, hereditary leadership caste and a byzantine organizational structure that effectively thwarts challenges from below. I’ve seen friends who are party loyalists but who seethe with resentment of the Democratic hierarchy in Alabama, and at the county level.
Circumstantial evidence suggests that there’s too much continuity between the present leadership and the old guard, who remember when Alabama was still governed by a single party devoted to white supremacy above all. Instead of denouncing its legacy of white rule, Alabama Democrats practice the crudest kind of racial apportionment. (“Separate but equal,” anyone?) In Montgomery it’s often been said that Alabama has a three-party system: Republicans, white Democrats, and black Democrats.
For all these reasons, I guess it’s no surprise that Alabama Democrats make no discernible effort to reach out to Alabama citizens. Nor is it surprising that our current Republican governor, who earned a perfect score from the Christian Coalition back when he was in Congress, has turned out to be more progressive than any Democrat since Albert Brewer briefly became governor by a fluke.
It’s been 144 years since Dixie was defeated, but the Alabama Democratic Party has never stopped waging war on the future.
For Lincoln’s 200th birthday I stopped in at Civil War Memory and was distracted by Kevin L’s musings on the supposed transformation of the Republican Party — from the party of liberty and equality to the party of big business, wage slavery, and Indian wars. What happened?
The change was more apparent than real. Since reading William E. Gienapp’s Origins of the Republican Party, 1852-1856 a couple of years ago, I’ve cobbled together a working definition of the core principle within each of the two major parties. It doesn’t flatter either of them.
The Republicans are the party of large social structures as being more important than individuals, families, and other such unplanned arrangements of human resources. It’s the party of cartels, conglomerates, corporations, commissions — of massive, remote-controlled organizations, whether public or private. (The “small government” mantra only applies when the Republicans are out of power.)
The Democrats are the party of ethnic difference. Whether acting as the party of white supremacy or of affirmative action, the Democrats’ path to power consistently involves the exploitation of supposedly innate differences between human groups. Even appeals to unity tend to dissolve, in this party’s hands, into us-’n’-them formulations.
I wouldn’t mind being convinced that this is a simplistic and cynical parody of two noble political institutions. So go ahead, convince me.
I may never forgive Don Siegelman. His election as Alabama governor in 1998 raised hopes for our demoralized state’s future — hopes that were plainly and movingly expressed in an essay that I’ve saved for nine years. It’s called “Selma, Alabama at 4 A.M.,” and it’s by a guy named Will Bevis from Gadsden. (I’m glad to find them both online.)
In a word, Siegelman dashed all those hopes. I worked for a non-profit in Montgomery during his term in office, and I’ll spare you the experiences that generated my lasting antipathy toward Siegelman. It’s enough to say that Siegelman’s only virtue was his intelligence, and he used that to compound his vices. He was most comfortable keeping secrets and operating in back rooms, and he both mistrusted and feared the electorate — especially after the voters rejected his warmed-over lottery scheme, copied from Georgia’s Zell Miller.
I remain convinced that Siegelman regarded the governor’s office as a stepping stone to the U.S. Senate. Here, too, he was just copying Miller, and once that train went off the tracks, he lost interest in Alabama’s affairs. He understood how the state government is structurally flawed in ways that every other former Confederate state has repaired, and that Alabama desperately needs to repair. But because governing well was less important than his own career prospects, he just couldn’t give a damn. Even Guy Hunt, the country preacher who was elevated to the governorship by a political fluke back in 1987, had been able to stir himself to attempt more in the way of reform than Siegelman dared to. Don’s do-nothing ways compare with those of his immediate predecessor, the clownish Fob James. It was his Republican successor, Bob Riley, arguably our most conservative governor in modern times, who persuaded the legislature to pass an income tax reform bill backed by Alabama Arise — a bill that “liberal” Siegelman wouldn’t even read.
So I often dispute with my liberal friends over the conspiracy theory that Siegelman’s conviction for bribery and mail fraud was a set-up arranged by Karl Rove and his henchmen. (The Wikipedia article on Siegelman is devoted to little else.) Siegelman’s character is fully capable of this kind of misconduct, the evidence for a conspiracy is thin, and I believe the reaction in his favor is due far more to suspicion of anything coming from the Alberto Gonzales Justice Department than to the actual merits of Siegelman’s case.
Seems likely that it’s bad news for Siegelman that a Democrat will head the next presidency, as he won’t be able to credibly play a martyr to federal power for much longer. But I admit that my feelings are biased against the man and I’m pleased to see him jailed, whatever the reason. I believe he squandered his time in office, and betrayed the hopes of millions, in a vain attempt to make the governorship serve his personal ambitions.