RIP: Democrat Specter

Arlen SpecterDo you remember the end of I Was a Teenage Werewolf, when Tony dies having reverted to human form again? It may be bad for science, but isn’t it great that his parents don’t have to bury a monster?

That’s how I feel about the death of Arlen Specter: at least he died a reasonable man—a Democrat!

Let me be clear: I am not making fun of Arlen Specter nor am I making light of his death. It is obviously a personal tragedy for him and his family. But I’m more concerned about his political life. And I think it is pretty great that Specter was mostly on the right side of history with his votes. His political career is certainly not perfect by my standards, but on the whole, it is something to be proud of. Arlen Specter lived a life worth living.

Specter will be remembered as the man who stood still. Earlier today, Robert Reich tweeted pretty much the same thing. (You can always tell when someone is brilliant: they agree with you publicly.)

Specter didn’t leave the Republican Party. It left him, lurching rightward—away from the principles and policies Specter had supported.

I didn’t hate Specter when he was a Republican. In fact, he was always someone I could point to and note that not all Republicans on the national stage were crazy and evil. Just the same, had he not so publicly repudiated the Republican Party, I doubt I would now be writing this little obituary. But I am glad to do so.

Rest in peace fellow Democrat.


Note that Specter really was a political maverick. Unlike John McCain.

Political Harassment in the Workplace

Chris HayesOn Up with Chris Hayes today, they discussed employer coercion. This is in reference to people like David Siegel who sent his employees a letter telling them that if Obama is reelected, he will have to fire many of them because his taxes will go up.[1] As the panel discussed why we don’t do something about this, Josh Barro came to the rescue. Now, as regular readers know, I don’t much like Barro, but at times he is very insightful. Today, he again showed his repellent side.

“What would you want to do about it?” Josh Barro asked.

This seemed to flummox the generally quick witted Chris Hayes.

No one on the panel could really counter Barro. This is sad, because Barro is offering one of the standard and most vile of conservative arguments: nothing can easily be done therefore nothing can be done. I associate this most strongly with South African apartheid. You might note that despite calls not to boycott the country—”The western companies are the only non-racist ones there!”—boycott we did, and apartheid was indeed destroyed.

I think we can deal with political coercion in the workplace the same way we dealt with sexual coercion. There is a very big difference between a coworker asking you out on a date and your boss doing so. Ditto for your coworker handing you a political pamphlet and your boss doing so. Let’s just call it political harassment, apply the sexual harassment laws to politics, and move on.

But this isn’t even what’s going on in cases like the David Siegel letter. There is no grey line here. This kind of thing should be illegal. But more than that, we really ought to live in a culture where all of David Siegel’s rich friends would ostracize him for such behavior. But given that this isn’t going to happen any time soon, we need laws. And the sexual harassment model is appropriate and easy.

[1] Note that this is nonsense. His claim is that Obama will raise his taxes, so he will have to fire people. This is the usual “job creator” myth. He would not employ these people if they were not making him money. The idea that he would fire some of them is ridiculous. If he did, his income would be reduced before taxes and after any extra taxes Obama might levy. There are two possible things going on here. Either Siegel is lying to his employees to get them to vote for Romney. Or he is so stupid that he actually thinks that his employees cost him money. I tend to think it is the latter. Conservatives have a shocking history of believing their own bullshit.

Update (26 October 2012 8:58 pm)

Gordon Lafer has a really good article on this subject over at The Hill. Again, however, no discussion of solutions.

Roseanne Barr 2012

Roseanne BarrIn O Brother, Where Art Thou? the trio decide to vote on who should be the leader. After both Pete and Ulysses vote for “yours truly,” Delmar says, “Okay. I’m with you fellas.”

Delmar, of course, is a lovable idiot. I am neither. But I am with Noam Chomsky. He has said it makes sense to vote for Obama if you live in a swing state. This goes along with my long held opinion that Obama really sucks and that it would a catastrophe if he were not reelected. But I don’t live in a swing state. And I told Obama I wouldn’t vote for him and I don’t want to be a liar. So I won’t be voting for Obama next month.

It had been my intention to vote for the Peace & Freedom Party candidate. But as I was helping my sister vote this week, I noticed that Roseanne Barr was that candidate. At first, I thought this was something of a joke. I still can’t think about her without remembering her reality show freak out over her child abuse. But I’ve since rethought my distaste for Barr as a candidate.

Anyone running for President as a third party candidate is only doing it as a kind of protest. The basic idea is that you get time to push marginal policies into public attention. It is a way of broadening the Overton Window a bit. One of Barr’s issues is gay marriage. This strikes me as pathetic, because this is already part of Democratic Party platform. But her other big issue is cannabis legalization. I would rather she talk about decriminalization of all drugs, but cannabis will do.

And then Roseanne Barr did something that really made me love her. She tweeted “Romney is pro-rape.” What she is referring to is Mitt Romney’s belief that the government should not pay for abortions for rape victims:

Romney no longer believes that his health care program should pay for the abortions of our raped/forcibly impregnated troops. Denying our raped and impregnated female troops the right to paid abortion is pro rape, pro rape culture, and anti american.

So I don’t have any problem voting for her in November. It helps that her vice presidential running mate is Cindy Sheehan.

And because my sister has such a smart and knowledgeable brother, she too will vote for Roseanne Barr.

Children of Christian Nationalists

Kingdom ComingI just read Kingdom Coming by Michelle Goldberg. It is about Christian Nationalism. I’ve been interested in subject for a long time. In particular, Chris Rodda‘s work has made me very aware of this evil movement. And there is much to fear of such a movement in a country where 80% of the people believe God was directly involved in the creation of the world and 40% are biblical literalists who believe that the universe was created just as it says in the Bible.

This is a very disturbing statistic. I tend to pooh pooh aristotelian logic, because it just isn’t that useful. I forget, however, that I believe this only because I have thoroughly internalized such basic concepts. Apparently, this isn’t the case with most people. There are contradictions in the two books of Genesis. In Genesis I, God made the animals before man; in Genesis II, God made man before the animals. In Genesis I, God made man and woman at the same time. In Genesis II, God made man before woman. So when people claim that the universe was created exactly as is claimed in the Bible, what are they talking about?

I understand that apologists out there try to smooth away all the conflicts. This is done throughout the Bible, not just in the Genesis books. But these efforts are never convincing except to those who are determined to be convinced. The answers to the contradiction are all over the place. Some claim that Genesis I is a chronological account of creation whereas Genesis II is just a look back at the process on day 6. (How this answers the question, I do not know.) Some get into the grammar—kind of like Bill Clinton’s “what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” This is hilarious when the authors only consider English translations. Another clever solution is to look to Jesus to settle the question because the Bible is perfect, just some parts are more perfect than others.

My take on all of this is that none of these religious people give a flying fuck about the Bible. In my experience, most of them haven’t read it. They believe it is the true world of God because that’s what good people believe. And this is the world of the Christian Nationalists. Like almost all other Christians, they are ignorant of the book they supposedly believe is most important; all of their knowledge comes from demagogic leaders

I was particularly moved by one line in Kingdom Coming:

Focus on the Family urges parents to consider seeking help for boys as young as five if they show a “tendency to cry easily, be less athletic, and dislike the roughhousing that other boys enjoy.”

I will allow to being “gay” in the newer slang versions of the word, but when I comes to finding men sexually attractive, I just don’t have it in me. And yet, the list of “danger signs” that Focus on the Family is putting out describes me rather well as a child and now. What’s more, the converse is often the case: men who find other men attractive are often stoic, athletic, and lovers of man-on-man wrestling.

In C Street, Jeff Sharlet discusses the highest rungs of these Christian literalists. They favor an image of Jesus Christ that most Christians would find odd. He is not the Prince of Peace, but rather an angry Jewish body builder with a sword. Such thinking reminds me of nothing so much as the Nazi ideal of the young man as soccer hooligan.[1]

Clearly, the Christian Nationalists do not want thoughtful young people. They might actually read the Bible. They might rebel against the large amount of nonsense in it. Or they might hook into the spiritual truth that can be found there. Regardless, a group of thoughtful young people is the last thing wanted by the demagogues who energize the Christian Nationalist movement.

[1] I don’t think we should allow Godwin’s Law to stop us from making these statements. For one thing, Christian nationalists are an authoritarian group. For another, as far as I can tell, the whole of the right wing in this country would think the Nazis just fine, except for that part about killing the Jews. The Nazis were bad for a whole lot more reasons than that. I think by focusing so much on their most heinous crimes, we are losing sight of their many other terrible aspects.