Eileen Brennan

Eileen BrennanOn this day in 1695, the Baroque composer Pietro Locatelli was born. Here is his Trio Sonata for Flute, Violin and Double Basso Continuo in G Major:

Biologist Abraham Trembley was born in 1710. Canadian painter Paul Kane was born in 1810. Villain of 19th century business George Hearst was born in 1820.

Discoverer of the positron Carl David Anderson was born 1905. Actor Kitty Carlisle was born in 1910. Mural artist Bengt Lindstrom was born in 1925. And actor Merritt Butrick was born in 1959.

Cartoonist Mort Walker is 90 today. He created the comic strip Beetle Bailey. As my friend Will says, “It’s more influential than Bazooka Joe!” Actor Valerie Perrine is 70. The terrible head of the ECB Mario Draghi is 66. Film director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is 60. Charlie Sheen is 48 and crazy as ever. Independent filmmaker Noah Baumbach is 44.

The day, however, belongs to one of my long time crushes, actor Eileen Brennan who was born born in 1932. I especially liked her in Murder By Death and The Cheap Detective. But she was great in a lot of movies, like The Sting. She only died about a month ago.

Happy birthday Eileen Brennan!

Conservatives Can’t Admit Reagan Was Racist Because They Are

Ronald ReaganHarold Pollack has a great article over at Ten Miles Square, The Butler and Ronald Reagan’s Race Problem. The film is loosely based upon the life of Eugene Allen, who retired as White House butler. Some of the film depicts Ronald Reagan when he was in the White House, and he is presented sympathetically. This is to be expected; everyone agrees that Reagan was a personable fellow. But four conservative writers wrote an OpEd in last week’s Washington Post, What The Butler Gets Wrong About Ronald Reagan and Race.

Pollack points out that Reagan gets a much better presentation than he deserves. But even he presents Reagan in a more positive light than I think he deserves. He claims that Reagan’s political philosophy just happened to appeal to racists. Reagan believed in certain libertarian ideals and those allowed bigots to be bigots. I don’t see this. If you really aren’t racist, then you would shy away from positions that appeal primarily to racists. At the very least, you would make a very big show of being against racism. I didn’t hear that from Reagan just as I don’t now hear it from Rand Paul. He will always add statements like, “I personally believe that racism is a bad business strategy.” That’s pretty weak tea and it works effectively like a dog whistle to racists. What they hear is, “I have to say that, but I’m with you!”

The OpEd brings up one typical bit of dog whistle politics, that pretty much everyone knows: the first stop in his 1980 campaign was at a fair near Philadelphia, Mississippi where the three civil rights workers were murdered by the KKK in 1964. The topic of the speech? States’ rights! The best apologia that the writers can offer is this, “But the former California governor, a strong believer in federalism, had been talking about states’ rights since the early days of his political career.” That’s right! And Reagan had been using racist politics since the early days of his political career. It is not just, as Pollack notes, that the comments were insensitive. No man of Reagan’s political brilliance could make such a boneheaded mistake. He knew exactly what he was doing.

Think back on the 1980 campaign. What allowed Reagan to win? The “Reagan Democrats.” These were white northern Democrats who voted against their economic interest because they were angry about blacks and all the advantages they were getting like poverty, lead poison, and short life expectancies. This was when the word “liberal” became vilified. That was when it became “tax and spend liberal.” And everyone knew who was being taxed and who was being spent on, even if what everyone knew wasn’t true then and is even less true now.

So was Reagan a racist? Let’s just look at his attitude toward African Americans. Reagan would never have been personally rude to a black person or otherwise treated them badly. I’m sure that he actually did have black friends. But his mind overflowed with stereotypes. And he was more than willing to demagogue those stereotypes for political gain. We are all members of our society and we can’t help but be tainted by racist thinking. You can fight that or not. But using it in such a calculated manner makes you a special kind of villain and Reagan was one of those villains.

Pollack ends his article by rightly noting:

Historians and biographers, of all people, should realize that today’s Republican Party can’t diminish or run away from that legacy. It needs to create something more inclusive and better than the party Goldwater, Nixon, and Reagan built.

That gets to the very heart of the problem with conservatives—even intellectuals like those who wrote the article. They can’t admit that past conservative icons were racist because the movement is still racist. Think back on Romney’s 47% comments. It turned out that this group was actually mostly retired white people. But the subtext was that it was lazy dark skinned people. It was just the most recent iteration of the welfare queen in a Cadillac.

The Evil Reason for Attacking Syria

Obama NopeI am not a pacifist. But on a practical level, I might as well be. The truth is that pretty much no country ever goes war because of any just cause. As we’ve seen very clearly here in the United States, wars are sold as surely though less explicitly as toothpaste and laundry detergent. This morning, I caught the last bit of Andrea Mitchell Reports. It was not as bad as Sunday’s Weekend with Alex Witt segment with Alan Grayson. None the less, on MSNBC—remember: the liberal network—the onus is on those who don’t want to go to war. War advocates are just given softball questions while anti-war advocates are tapped on all sides as though the reporters are looking for cracks.

Meanwhile, serious journalist who I normally agree with find themselves conflicted on the Syria question. Ed Kilgore at Political Animal says he is trying to sort out his own views. To some extent, I understand that. If it is true that the Assad government is using chemical weapons, it’s terrible. But this gets to a point I made a couple months back, On Being an Asshole and Possibly Right. There are so many tragedies going on at any given time. I’m skeptical when authorities tell me I should worry about this tragedy. I don’t think I’m wrong to believe that they have other reasons for bring it up.

And look: the United States has hardly been pure when it comes to chemical weapons. We did, for example, help Iraq use chemical weapons against Iran. And what about our widespread use of cluster bombs? One thing is certain, if Assad were an ally, we wouldn’t be talking about this. It would hardly have made a bleep on the news and government officials would have assured us that it was accidental, a rebel plot, or never happened at all.

What really bugs me is that people as brilliant and insightful as Paul Waldman at The American Prospect falls for this stuff. He wrote, Syria Turns into a Political Story, about why everyone wants to talk about this as a political story rather than a tragic story of civil war. But he pushes the “no good options” canard. And he says something that is flat out wrong, “Assad killed 100,000 Syrians quite adequately with guns and bombs before everybody got really mad about the 1,400 he killed with poison gas.” I agree with the point that he’s making. But Assad did not kill 100,000 Syrians. I don’t question that Assad is a despot, but these deaths are due to a civil war. As I reported yesterday, roughly half of the deaths have been Assad’s own forces.

So I’m not a pacifist. But my gut instinct, when someone presents evidence in favor of another “bloody good war,” is to call bullshit. Can’t we all just admit that the only reason we are talking about this is that Obama blew it by defining a “red line”? Everything follows from that. All the people who want to attack Syria have their own reasons. But MSNBC is pushing this war for that one reason: Obama made a mistake and now we have to kill Syrians so he doesn’t look weak. That is as purely evil as anything we see in politics.

Kerry’s Dangerous Rhetoric

John KerryOur Secretary of State is one class act, ain’t he? During his conference call yesterday, he said that the United States faces a “Munich moment.” That’s a reference to the Munich Agreement between Neville Chamberlain and Hitler. I don’t even know what Kerry means by this. The situations are not at all the same. But when hawks start talking about the Munich Agreement, what they mean to convey is the idea that diplomacy doesn’t work. “We couldn’t trust Hitler therefore we can’t trust anyone!” Kerry’s rhetoric has been repugnant throughout this entire thing.

According to Politico, “In a 70-minute conference call on Monday afternoon, Kerry derided Syrian President Bashar Assad as a ‘two-bit dictator’ who will ‘continue to act with impunity’…” These are not the words of a country that is trying to fix anything. These are the words of a country that is hell bent on war. I remember the exact same rhetoric coming from the Bush administration in 2002. At that time, people wondered if we were really going to war. I was shocked because it was clear we were going to war. You don’t publicly shame foreign leaders if you want them to change their behavior.

Another of Kerry’s “arguments” was that Israel backed the need for an American attack. That’s rich! First, Israel is pretty much always in favor of bombing any place. Second, they don’t like the Assad government! By this reasoning, we ought to attack Iran. In addition to Israel, Kerry said other governments would support us—governments like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Maybe France and Turkey too. This is sounding a hell of a lot like Bush Jr’s Coalition of the Willing: except this time we don’t even have England with us.

I’m still trying to figure out if Kerry is a loose cannon or he’s just playing his part for the administration. His rhetoric is clearly out of balance. I could see being so upset if we were talking about saving people who are directly in harm’s way. But that isn’t it at all. As Representative Janice Hahn said, “This is really only about sending this message to Assad.” Assuming that Assad really did okay a chemical weapons attack (explicitly or implicitly), I think he’s gotten the message. I doubt he’s thinking, “Well, they didn’t do anything last time; I guess I can go hog wild!” On our side, this whole thing seems to be about saving face, with almost no consideration of its danger to get us more involved in a conflict that could eventually lead to war with Iran and even Russia.

Something else that bugs me about this is how much it depends upon classified documents. We aren’t able to see the documents; we just have to accept the administration that it’s credible. But those who have seen the documents are not so sanguine. Representative Rick Nolan said, “After a three-hour classified briefing and taking time to read all the classified documents, what I have heard and read has only served to convince me more than ever of the folly and danger of getting America involved in the Syrian civil war.”

The one thing that I know just as certainly as I knew it in 2002 is that this administration is determined to go to war. There is no amount of counter evidence that will convince it to change course. And look: I understand. This probably will be a limited engagement. We probably will just drop bombs for a week. But even if that’s the case, it does almost no good and lots of harm. Plus, there are all kinds of unintended consequences. For example, if I were a leader in Iran, I would think it a good idea to start back up the nuclear weapons program. Regardless, the bombing is likely to make an end to the Syrian civil war less likely.

So big badass America is going to “send a message” to weak little Syria? We don’t seem to give a damn about the Syrian people. They can just continue to die—now with our help! But this is a chance for Kerry and Obama to puff out their chests and pretend that both their dicks are hard. Liberalism in America!

Update (3 September 2013 10:32 am)

Jonathan Chait, who is generally for attacking Syria, pretty much agrees with me about the deterrence of doing nothing:

For the purpose of deterring chemical-weapon attacks, the intent to strike matters nearly as much as the strike itself.