Friday, May 30, 2008

Nonparallel realities

Again, the "news value" in Scott McClellan's new book, "What Happened," isn't that the Bush administration alternately lied to and deceived the American public on the Iraq war, or botched the response to Katrina, or systematically (and successfully) set out to neutralize the mainstream media by co-opting them on the war effort. No, the news value is that mainstream television and print "journalists" like Tim Russert, Charles Gibson, David Gregory, the White House press pool, the talking heads on the network and cable news shows, the Washington-based "opinion" journals and think-tanks that traffic in dispensing and nurturing conventional wisdom are attempting to mount a "defense" of their culpability in working with the Bush administration rather than challenging the lame "assertions" that flowed forth from people like . . . uh, well, Scott McClellan that everything the president and his administration did was just fine. For those of us who have never had any interest in climbing the Washington social ladder by buying into the "Hey, we're just all in this together, governing and instructing the country" so that poor yokels like me can have the freedom to shop and take our kids to their activities on the weekend, watching the establishment media respond to McClellan would be comical if that results of the Bush administration's "culture of deception" had not cost thousands of Americans (and coalition forces and Iraqis) their lives.

Here is what ABC television personality Charles Gibson had to say about the establishment media's performance on the war:

"I think the questions were asked. I respectfully disagree with the gentle lady from the Columbia Broadcasting System . I think the questions were asked. . . . I can remember getting in trouble with administration officials for asking questions they didn't feel comfortable with.

It was just a drumbeat of support from the administration. And it is not our job to debate them; it's our job to ask the questions."

So there you go. A reporter's job is not to question the government's motives, information or public positions; it is to ask questions like, "Does President Bush ever let his greatness go to his head?" or "Who's playing shortstop at the White House correspondents vs. the Bush administration softball game this year?"

Plenty of chances were available to reporters long before the Bush administration began its accelerated push to invade Iraq in the summer of 2002. For the best summation of the establishment media's missed opportunities -- most of them willful -- on the Iraq war and so much else, see the Nukes & Spooks comment here, a blog written by three McClatchy reporters: Jonathan S. Landay (national security and intelligence), Warren P. Strobel (foreign affairs and the State Department), and Nancy Youssef (Pentagon). McClatchy, by the way, owns Knight-Ridder, the media corporation which owns several newspapers and broadcast media outlets. These are not basement-and-pajama bloggers, folks.

Perhaps one day the establishment media will realize that their day is up and over. The Internet has democratized access to news and opinion (and their distribution) in a way unimaginable ten years ago. As fewer and fewer people come to rely on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times (and the bland, predictable and generally worthless Op-Ed writers and commentators that comprise the opinion-making class), more and more people will discover a whole world out there that exists beyond the narrow confines of the media elite. This is a development that will benefit everyone. And the sooner and the better.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Minister of propaganda

How's this for news?

"As I worked closely with President Bush, I would come to believe that sometimes he convinces himself to believe what suits his needs at the moment. It is not unlike a witness in court who does not want to implicate himself in wrongdoing, but is also concerned about perjuring himself. So he says, 'I do not recall.' The witness knows no one can get into his head and prove it is not true, so this seems like a much safer course than actually lying. Bush, similarly, has a way of falling back on the hazy memory defense to protect himself from potential political embarrassment. Bush rationalizes it as being acceptable because he is not stating unequivocally anything that could be proven false. If something later is uncovered to show what he knew, then he can deny lying in his own mind."
And this . . .
"Top White House officials who knew the truth (about leaking C.I.A. operative Valerie Plame's identity to the media) — including Rove, Libby, and possibly Vice President Cheney—allowed me, even encouraged me, to repeat a lie."
And, of course, these "bombshells" . . .
Condi Rice never challenged data, intelligence or any "analysis" provided to President Bush on national security matters, including the Iraq war. Rice always appeared more concerned with her status in the administration, which required her to play the role of loyal sycophant. No matter who was doing the talking, she simply nodded her head and went along.
Dick Cheney operated behind the scenes on every matter of importance to him, yet left no footprint tying him to any explicit wrongdoing or bad decisions, which, of course, he never, in his own judgment, ever made.
The Bush administration manipulated intelligence to "justify" the invasion of Iraq, and ignored any contrary evidence presented to high-level officials that contradicted its public position. In some cases, the administration simply lied to the public and a genuflecting news media.
President Bush is a "gut player" who lives in his own little "bubble" protected by his "enablers" in the administration and the establishment media. He was "plenty smart enough to be president," (Does anyone other than head-in-the-sand "loyalists" really believe this anymore?), but stubborn, unreflective and unable to admit a mistake. Bush and his closest aides, by whom he was easily swayed, wanted to invade Iraq almost as soon as the second al Qaeda-hijacked plane hit the World Trade Center. The administration "managed the crisis" so that the use of "force" would be the only "feasible option." The "crisis" refers, of course, to the 9.11 attacks by Saudis supported by al-Qaeda that led the administration to target Iraq, with whom, as the evidence then and since has established, it had no relationship.
And the most startling revelation of all . . .
The Bush administration relied on "political propaganda" to "sell" the war, and repeatedly sent its press secretaries out to lie and deceive the reporters who "cover" the White House, knowing that the establishment media usually does nothing more than rewrite the "talking points" provided to them by administration officials whose job it is to "defend" whatever they want the public to believe.
No less than three stories appear in this morning's (Friday, May 30th) Washington Post on former Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan's forthcoming "memoir" on his years lying and deceiving the public on behalf of George Bush, first as the governor of Texas and later as president of the United States. The book is called, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception. McClellan is making the rounds on television and radio defending his book from the "I can't believe Scott wrote such outrageous stuff" reaction he has received from his former colleagues in the Bush White House. Ari Fleischer, a former press secretary to President Bush who has never, in my recollection, uttered a candid word to the public about his or anyone else's role in managing the worst presidency in American history, sums up the disappointment of the Bushies this way: Scott McClellan's own words do not "sound like Scott McClellan." In other words, why couldn't have McClellan have done his "government service" and gone out and parlayed his Washington celebrity status into a lucrative career in the "private sector" giving speeches to corporate audiences and other receptive conservatives about his years in the administration deceiving the American public, like he did?

Sigh . . . is there anyone really left out there who finds McClellan's "revelations" news? I mean, it might be news to the establishment media who soaked up administration propaganda in the run-up to the Iraq war like warm biscuits on a plate of southern gravy. Anyone else? Show of hands? Dozens of books and articles have appeared in the last five years either documenting the administration's incompetence, deceitfulness, dishonesty and indifference to domestic crises (Katrina), Iraq, the unwinnable "War on Terror" (while it makes for an effective slogan, you cannot declare "war" on a tactic). Good God, even Bob Woodward, the most establishment establishment "reporter" out there, has concluded that the Bush administration wasn't "forthright" about pretty much everything connected to the Iraq war.

If Bob Woodward concludes you have a booger, on your nose, even after 639 other people have said in the clearest possible terms you have a booger on your nose, you have a booger on your nose.

McClellan's book is only news because he worked for Bush. There isn't a word published between the covers that will come as a shock to people who have no stake in how the Washington establishment operates. Press secretaries are not employed by presidents to tell the public the truth. They are employed to sell the administration's position to the public by cultivating the establishment media. Scott McClellan, like Dana Perino and Ari Fleischer, are ministers of propaganda. So why should be suprised that a former press secretary has concluded that his former bosses sent him out to dispense "political propaganda?" What will we learn next? That prostitutes get paid to have sex? That whore houses offer sexual services in addition to "erotic massage" and "companionship?" Is Scott McClellan that different from former Hollywood "Madam" Heidi Fleiss, who disclosed to the public that well-known actors, producers, directors and others in the entertainment paid thousands of dollars to prostitutes in her employ for sex? A turncoat Mafia informant who . . . gasp . . . admits he killed people or had people killed or thought about killing people or that the "culture of honor" in the Mob only extended as far as one's usefulness to the greater good? A ballplayer who admits that he and many, many others used illegal drugs to "enhance" their performance? That the 1977 Led Zeppelin tour of the United States featured more sex, drugs and rock 'n roll that one thought humanly possible.

The lesson here isn't that presidents and their press secretaries lie, or that the Bush administration has perfected the art of the lie, big and small, as simply the consequence of doing business "in this town." (Witness the reaction of corporate media stars such as Tim Russert, David Gregory, Brian Williams and others in the starry constellation of the Washington establishment that they were not in bed with the administration on the selling of the Iraq war). For me, it's that Americans should finally realize that what they see and hear in the mainstream media is nothing more than "political propaganda." The White House press conference is an archaic and useless charade, as is the "relationship" between the "reporters" who "cover" them. If you want to know what's going on, you have to take the first and most important step of by-passing the high school culture that dominates Washington; and second, and more important, you have to stay informed by steering clear of people whose job description requires them to . . . shudder . . . lie to you.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Zeebop is on My Space

Zeebop is now on My Space. Click here to see our site, which includes song samples and our schedule. Feel free to sign up as a friend, download music and do anything else that conforms with societal norms and the laws of our great nation.

Since we formed in May 2007, we have played over fifty shows, and continue to expand our venues around town. Thanks for your support. Please feel free to pass on any information from here or elsewhere.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Red State Update

Jackie and Dunlap opine on Hillary's Bobby Kennedy gaffe, and wonder whatever happened to

Huckabee, Biden, Edwards and the rest of the former presidential hopefuls.

New Tom Tomorrow

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Live Zeebop this week

You can catch Zeebop twice this week.

We play this Wednesday night, May 28th, at Pap and Peteys, located at 5th and H Sts., NE, just a few blocks away from the Union Station metro. We'll play from 8-11 p.m. No cover, no minimum. Great place, cool atmosphere, diverse and friendly crowd. Helping us out this week on bass while our regular bassist Justin Parrott is touring with his reggae band, Unity Reggae, will be Silver Spring-based bassist Adam Neely. Join us.

We'll be there every Wednesday in June -- the 4th, 11th, 18th and 25th.

Thanks to all of you who have come out to see us play. And continuing thanks to our friend, Duke Cross, for making us the Wednesday night house band at Paps and Petey's.

On Friday night, we'll switch gears to blues and funk at Maggianos, in Friendship Heights, D.C., across from Mazza Gallerie (or Booeymonger, depending on your budget). Joining us on bass will be Scott Aronson, who plays with Elikeh, a Silver Spring-based Afro-pop band, and the power pop band, Bicycle Thieves, which Scott leads along with guitarist-vocalist-songwriter Jon Kaplan.
We'll play four sets from 7-10.30 p.m.

On Sunday, June 1st, I'll be playing with Bemsha Swing, a local jazz group led by guitarist Pablo Grabiel, at Clare and Don's in Falls Church, Va. We play from 5-8 p.m. Weather permitting, we'll be outside.

Thanks, as always, for your support.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Memorial Day weekend

In memory of those who served and came back, and those who did not.

Until Tuesday, peace.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Hillary's final straw

This morning, while taking a short run, I thought about what I was going to write about later in the afternoon. And wouldn't you know it, just before I started to write something -- now, I don't even remember what I was going to write about -- I heard the news story on Hillary Clinton's latest "rationale" for remaining in a race she cannot possibly win.


Her husband, she pointed out, didn't wrap up the Democratic nomination in 1992 until June, when he won California (actually, it was March). But then, for some inexplicable reason, she mentioned that June 1968 was when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, and implied that you just never know what might happen.

Keith Olbermann, who never misses and has been especially sharp during the presidential campaign, has been one of the few MSM commentators to call it like it is on Hillary's gutter-level tactics. Tonight, he completely outdid himself.

Watch it here.

UPDATE: Let's be clear about something here: there is absolutely no defending Hillary's latest and, without a doubt, most offensive and thoughtless "gaffe" of the campaign. As usual, the Beltway bloviators are missing the point. What she meant is secondary to why she felt the need to say something so stupid and desperate. The Obama-Clinton race was over in February. Her justification for staying in the race has nothing to do with raising important issues passed over by the "establishment" candidate (McCarthy in 1968) or calling attention to a "forgotten" constituency (Kennedy in 1968). She has not picked up a Senate endorsement since February and has not moved an uncommitted superdelegate in months. Her campaign is now reduced to heeding on the fears and prejudices of poor and working-class white voters (a group to which she has openly appealed to vote based on race), hardly the "base" the Queen of Chapauqua imagined for herself in January 2007. Right now, narcissism has trumped any other consideration. How can anyone so tone-deaf, insensitive and incapable of a measured response to any criticism consider herself presidential?

Keith Olbermann has been great. All the other "commentators" in the MSM continue to play a senseless parlor game that makes fantasy baseball look like the real world. Olbermann isn't part of the Washington political-media complex, and has the guts to say what needs saying. I simply cannot understand how anyone can defend Hillary's behavior at this point. Any other candidate pulling the nonsense she has would have been run out of the campaign by the same people who, for God knows what reason, continue to enable her so they can speculate about her nonexistent chances of winning a nomination she has long lost.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Red State Update

Jackie and Dunlap react to the Oregon and Kentucky primaries and Hillary's complaint that sexism denied her the Democratic nomination.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Gay marriage is coming . . . and the sky will not fall

Reaction to the decision of the California Supreme Court last week to overturn a 2000 state referendum outlawing gay marriage has, predictably, fallen into three camps.

1. The "Chicken Little" conservatives, disproportionately comprised of religious wackos, who have decried the ruling as the worst kind of "judicial activism." This is polite conservative-speak that really masks their contempt for gay marriage behind a respectable legal whipping boy -- the time-honored conservative mantra that judges should not overturn the will of the people by "imposing" their "politically correct" views on a legislative majority that properly voiced its opinions through the political process. Now that gays can get married in California, according to standard wingnut wisdom, polygamists will demand the same "right" or claim discrimination. Even more treacherous is the argument that banning discrimination against same-sex couples will make it legally impossible to treat incest as a criminal act. Add to this nightmare scenario the "very real" possibility that fathers and daughters and sons and mothers and first-cousins, not to mention those three and four times removed, will be lining up at City Halls around the state demanding legal recognition of their "relationships."

2. Proponents of gay marriage who believe there is nothing really all that different about a legal ban on same-sex marriage and the old laws prohibiting "miscegenation" -- the old term for "interracial" marriage -- and welcome the California court's decision to overturn the 2000 ban, which, by the way, came before the state legislature had twice passed laws permitting gay marriage, only to have Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger veto both of them. So, as Dahlia Lithwick of Slate pointed out, California is the only state in the country to legalize and ban gay marriage at the same time. The Court's 4-3 decision overturns an amendment that thwarted two legislative efforts to legalize gay marriage, bills that Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed. Now, says Schwarzenegger, he will "respect the court's decision and as governor, I will uphold its ruling. Also, as I have said in the past, I will not support an amendment to the constitution that would overturn this state Supreme Court ruling." Rather than play "The Terminator," the governor has decided to play "Kindergarten Cop" and encourage the good people of California to respect their differences.

3. The Washington Post editorial page, which, true to form, says that it's probably a good thing that gays can get married, but the California court made a mistake by "interfering" with the progress that the state legislature had made on the matter. As the avatar of "sensible" liberalism, the Post never met a progressive innovation that it liked unless a member of the Republican establishment has signed on in support of it. Is dangling candy in front of a baby and then taking it away cruel or kind? Well, that depends on whether dangling the candy was the result of a "bi-partisan" consensus achieved after negotiation between respected congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle, or the product of a bi-partisan commission headed by Madeline Albright and Bob Dole, or deemed respectable by "respected journalists" such as Tim Russert, Chris Matthews or Wolf Blitzer. And . . . and . . . if David Brooks decrees gay marriage "acceptable" from his perch on the New York Times Op-Ed page, it's time to take that issue to the bank.

* * * * * * * * * *

Just what is so horrible about gay people getting married? Even worse, who cares what religious wackos or "traditionalists" or anyone else who opposes this basic human right for gays believes? Someone who opposes gay marriage has every right to oppose gay marriage, just like someone who opposes whites marrying "outside" their "race" has that same right. And while there are more Americans than we would like to acknowledge who are uncomfortable with members of "their" race or religion marrying a non-member, the day has long passed when you could expect some sort of legislative audience for a modern miscegenation law. All the arguments mounted in support of racially discriminatory marriage laws -- that they were "necessary" to maintain racial purity, prevent white people from dumbing down their intelligence (that's true) or simply reflected the culture and values of the communities that enacted them -- are now justifiably viewed as bogus in mainstream public opinion.

Roughly 50% of heterosexual marriages end in divorce. Will gay marriage increase the number of heterosexual marriages that don't survive or increase their longevity? Is there any of finding out?

Of course, the real question is . . . does it matter? No.

The courts, whether the United States Supreme Court, a federal court, a state supreme court or a trial court somewhere in the middle of nowwhere, are, according to conservatives, always at fault when they decide cases establishing rights for groups previously unprotected or discriminated against. "Judicial activism" is simply another term for "liberal judicial activism," which is simply another term for judicial decisions that anger conservatives. Of the California Supreme Court's seven members, six were appointed by Republican governors. Seven of the nine justices who currently serve on the United States Supreme Court were appointed by Republican presidents. And as I have written before, not a single major decision since 1969 expanding the civil rights and liberties of gays, religious minorities, racial and ethnic minorities, women, political dissenters, pornographers and so on has included a majority of justices appointed by a Democratic president. How many people know, for example, that, of the seven justices who formed the majority in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton (1973), five were appointed by Republican presidents? Three of Richard Nixon's appointments to the Court -- Harry Blackmun, Warren Burger and Lewis Powell -- voted to strike down the Texas and Georgia laws at issue in those cases? Pick any decision after that one through the present day, and Republicans have always formed the majority of justices within any majority voting to uphold a civil rights or liberties claim.

Really, what the California judges did was . . . well, judge. Perhaps the judges took into account the state legislature's action on gay marriage. Perhaps it took into account public opinion. Perhaps it looked around the world and saw that the old, discriminatory prohibitions on gay marriage are falling by the wayside, even in such countries as Spain and Brazil. Perhaps they looked at number of different factors, including the meaning of equality in 2008 as opposed to 1998 as opposed to 1978 as opposed to 1928. Perhaps they took into account a variety of factors and decided this was the most appropriate outcome.

Political institutions are, by nature, activist. We created them to do things, and not all institutions are motivated by the same concerns. Legislatures may be motivated by principles of social justice or short-term (re-election) or long-term political considerations (higher office). Whatever combination of forces leads legislatures to enact (or not enact) laws may not always have a relationship to the more abstract goals of liberty and equality. The California decision doesn't make anyone do anything they don't want to do. All it said was that one gay person could marry another. It did not sanction gay polygamy or gay incest or gay pedophilia or anything else from the parade of horribles that homophobes trot out against gay marriage. And that seems like an eminently prudent, thoughtful and considered decision, the very essence of what judging is all about.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Red State Update

Jackie and Dunlap on Hillary's feminist problem and the California Supreme Court's gay marriage decision.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Live Zeebop this week

You can catch Zeebop this Wednesday night, May21st, at Pap and Peteys, located at 5th and H Sts., NE, just a few blocks away from the Union Station metro. We'll play from 8-11 p.m. No cover, no minimum. Great place, cool atmosphere, diverse and friendly crowd. Join us.

We'll be there next Wednesday, May 28th, as well, and after that every Wednesday until we've worn out our welcome.

Thanks to all of you who have come out to see us play. We appreciate the support. Thanks to our friend, Duke Cross, for making us the Wednesday night house band at Paps and Petey's.

Mark Caruso, always smooth and tasteful, is on guitar; Justin Parrott, our phenomenally talented young bassist who lays down a bottom so fat that even white folks wanna get up and dance, is on bass; and me, drums.

Upcoming dates in late May and June:

Pap and Petey's, Wednesdays, June 4th, 12th, 19th and 26th.

Maggiano's, Friendship Heights, D.C., Friday, May 30th. Blues and funk night, with special guest Scott Aronson of Elikeh joining us on bass that evening.

Clare and Don's, Falls Church, Va., Sunday, June 1st and Friday, June 20th . Zeebop joins with local jazz guitarist Pablo Grabiel for straight-ahead jazz from 7-10.30 p,m,

LaFerme, Chevy Chase, Md., Monday, June 9th, 16th, 23rd and 30th. Soft, straight-ahead jazz in a country French restaraunt from 6.30-9.30 p.m.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Full-blooded Americans

Some guy in West Virginia named Josh Fry, who I've never heard of, recently told some Washington Post Writers Group columnist named Kathleen Parker, who I've never heard of, that he plans to vote for John McCain come November because he wants "someone who is a full-blooded American as president." Some other forward-thinking West Virginian, noted Parker, commented that he "heard that Obama is a Muslim and his wife's an atheist." None of these people is "prejudiced," mind you. Just more "comfortable" with Americans who are "full-blooded" and have "roots" that go back through generations of sacrifice.


You would think that Parker, who I cannot recall ever appearing on the Post Op-Ed page, would be pointing out that comments such as Fry's are really indicative of the racism that still exists in deep pockets of the American electorate. Why else would the Post offer a voice to someone who normally appears elsewhere?

Uh . . . no.

In a column published just two days ago on the virtues of the "white working-class," and their progressive, open-minded ways, Parker actually agrees with these statements, and points out that the United States does not face a racial or gender divide, but a populace divided by patriotism.

Just what does this mean? Read the rest of this incredibly offensive column here. . . .

and then ask yourself, "Why does she have a column on the Post Op-Ed page this morning attacking Obama and Edwards as girly gays, or gay guys, or slick boys without a clue who talk pretty, while complimenting Hillary Clinton as someone who "exud[es] brawn?"

At the end of every academic year, I tell my graduating seniors that one the most frustrating parts of the adjustment from school to work is the number of people who manage to get to places where other people should be on the merits, but just aren't. Washington, especially, rewards groupthink and an unspoken gravitation to an unspecified opinion mean that only takes seriously those views which reflect the "sensible" center. No one can seriously claim to watch the Washington babble-fest TV shows and the endless cycle of 24 news and believe they're actually learning something. These programs are designed to entertain and promote a gaffe or some other statement that generally bears no relationship to the health, safety and welfare of Americans or any other right-thinking people around the world. Acceptance into this circle of mediocre trust is based on a willingness to set aside any semblance of independent or contrarian thought, and rely only on the opinions of established politicians, journalists, think-tankers, academics, critics and others who agree to play by these rules. This is why the Post Op-Ed editor could publish a columnist like Kathleen Parker and not know how offensive she really is to so many people. But, since she didn't offend or condescend to the white, working-class, the new guiding light of American politics, why shouldn't she have a say in the official newspaper (and racing form) of the nation's capital?

A full-blooded American standing up for other full-blooded Americans. What a relief!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

California legalizes same-sex marriage

The California Supreme Court, 4-3, today declared the state's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional under the state's constitution. For the record, six of the Court's seven justices have been appointed by Republican governors.

Wow!

No doubt the presidential contenders will be asked for their response to the court's ruling. Keep an eye out for how they respond.

ADDED: For a civilized exchange on the California Supreme Court's decision, click here for analysis and interpretation by Doug Kmiec (who helped prepare the marriage=man+woman argument) and Marty Lederman (a Georgetown University law professor who worked in Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice from 1994-2002). Readers of Balkinzation will be familiar with their commentary.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

White codes from the underground

Almost one week has passed since Hillary Clinton made this comment to reporters after last week's primaries in North Carolina and Indiana:

"Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again."

Neither the New York Times or the Washington Post, which, in unsigned editorials, issued a reprimand to Barack Obama about his remarks on "bitter" small-town Americans clinging to their "guns" and "religion," has felt the need to editorialize about Hillary's not-so-subtle "gaffe" on the racial polarization that has increasingly characterized the Democratic primary process. In Iowa, the first state to vote in the primary process, Obama won the plurality of white voters, and also won a greater percentage of female voters than any other candidate. And, yes, he also won almost 3 in 4 African-American voters. In Virginia, D.C. and Maryland, Obama won a majority of white men. He has won a majority of white voters in several more states, including Connecticut, Montana, Alaska and Colorado. For some reason, white voters who live in those states don't seem to count towards Obama's appeal across traditional racial lines. Only when the election turns to those states with a pronounced level of racism in their political culture -- and Pennsylvania, Indiana and, now, West Virginia, certainly fit that bill -- is Obama's inability to attract this month's most important constituency, the "white, working-class voter" a front-page story. We see editorial after editorial, column after column, and one talking head after another posing as a "political expert" of some sort wondering what Obama's "problem" is with this fetishized and largely imaginary demographic. Why can't he be like Bobby Kennedy and connect with rural white voters in Appalachia?

Two reasons:

1. Bobby Kennedy was a Kennedy.
2. Bobby Kennedy was white.

The problem is not Obama's. The problem rests with the racist attitudes that many poor and lower-income whites have with a black man running for president. Phrase the "problem" the way it should be phrased.

Hillary has not been asked to clarify her remarks, nor has anyone in the political-media complex demanded that give a major address on race to clarify what she said, something that Obama was asked to do after Jeremiah Wright's "You Tube" clips went public the first time and most certainly John McCain would have been asked to do had he said something so outwardly racially coded and offensive. After Jeremiah Wright came crawling out of the woodwork a second time, the Times and Post editorialized on the need for Obama to distance himself from Wright, as if Obama and Wright held conference calls every morning to plan the day's events or to conspire on ways to keep the white man down. The closest any mainstream media outlet has come to holding Hillary accountable for her comments came last night when Wolf Blitzer, "interviewing" her on CNN, asked her if she agreed with Rep. Charlie Rangel's opinion that her words were about the "dumbest" thing anybody could say. Hillary's response: "Probably so."

Not yes. Not no. Just "probably."

And, yes, predictably lower-income white voters in West Virginia went for Hillary, just as next week's voters in Kentucky meeting this definition will as well. Hillary's comments were not accidental or poorly chosen. They were deliberate and calculated. She has had ample opportunity to apologize for her comments or claim that she made them without thinking them through. She hasn't. Her comments were a clear signal to white voters distrustful of a black man running for office that they should vote for her because . . . well, she's white and so are they. An analysis more complicated than that could only come from someone who has never lived in or navigated the racial culture of the South, or states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. Article after article continues to appear in the mainstream press warning Obama to make things right with the "white working class" or else face the consequences in the fall. What, exactly, is Obama supposed to do? His economic platform is interchangeable, for the most part, with Hillary's. And like Hillary's, his ideas offer a reasonably clear alternative to John McCain's plan for America, which relies on the usual Republican recipe of tax cuts, corporate favors and reducing incentives to create American jobs that pay a living wage by encouraging businesses to export their jobs to cheap labor markets overseas. A Hillary voter determined to go for McCain isn't making that choice based on policy, but rather race.

If the Clintons' conduct in this presidential season were not so offensive, there would be something almost sympathy-inducing about Hillary's final lap in the "Spinal Tap" phase of her candidacy, where she is trotting out her latest personality transformation as a blue-collar white working girl in hopes of putting a few fans in all those empty seats. She is smart and determined, although not smarter or more determined than dozens of other politicians who have made long careers for themselves. She clearly sees her candidacy as a statement about the transformation of women in politics, and that the United States needs to follow the world's other major democracies and elect women to hold the nation's highest office. She has endured an incredible amount of public and private humiliation in her thirty-year partnership with Bill, and, to a certain extent, cannot be faulted for seeing her Senate seat and once-hopeful presidential bid as compensatory damages for what she's endured.

On the other hand, her "career," however one chooses to define it, is still, after all these years in the public eye, still a mystery. Hillary has never accomplished anything of significance in public life, which wouldn't be a big deal if she hadn't branded herself as a know-it-all policy wonk and experienced wizard of Washington politics. She has lied repeatedly throughout the primary campaign about her "accomplishments," and yet received relatively little scrutiny of criticism for the mainstream press for her whoppers and exaggerations. Since the disastrous turn in South Carolina, Bill and Hillary have tag-teamed a George and Georgette Wallace routine, speaking dismissively of over-educated soft elites who wouldn't know a hard day's work if jumped up and bit them on their carefully sculpted and exfoliated noses. And although the Times was offended enough last month by the racial appeals of the Clinton campaign to caution her against taking the "low road to victory," the mainstream press has mostly shrugged at Hillary's extraordinary offensive comments and behavior. Just imagine if Barack Obama had said that his gender made him the more "electable" candidate in November, and that Hillary had better make things right with hard-working men or else face the prospect of a blowout. The Clintons would have played those comments up non-stop, and the press would have obliged them, as it did with Obama's "guns" and "bitter" gaffe and the celestial visits from his pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

So now Hillary plays out a campaign that can go nowhere. Continuing to run a campaign that about nothing more than herself cannot help Barack Obama in November. Hillary is not running to highlight policy differences with Obama, and certainly not running to distinguish herself from John McCain, about whom she has had kinder things to say about his potential presidency than her Democratic opponent. Stand in the parking lots of West Virginia strip malls pining for votes cannot be what she imagined doing a year ago when she announced to the world in the well-lit sunroom of her multi-million dollar Chappaqua, New York, home that she was running for president, and "in it to win it." All that is left now for Hillary to do is all she has ever known, which is to attack and attack and blame and blame her opponents. An indulgent press continues to run stories, in print and on the 24 hour news channels, about Hillary's chances of winning the Democratic nomination and even speculating on her vice-presidential choices, even though she has absolutely no chance of securing the nomination. Her entire campaign is now a hoax, based solely on some narcissistic need to remain at the center of attention. Sure enough, hours after her West Virginia win, some guy was on CNN with his laser trying to make a case of "what if's" for Hillary's candidacy to emerge victorious. Why does the mainstream media continue to insist that Hillary is a viable candidate for the Democratic nomination when she has already lost? Why indulge this charade? Why not simply call her candidacy the racially-coded exercise in the politics of resentment that it consciously chose to become? I'm not sure which is more astonishing, the retro-racial politics the Clintons chose to pursue at the expense of their self-respect or the mainstream media's willingness to enable them without a trace of their own deception.

New Tom Tomorrow

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Red State Update

Jackie and Dunlap on Hillary's racism, Obama's payoff and McCain's prospects.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Live Zeebop this week

You can catch Zeebop this Wednesday night, May14th, at Pap and Peteys, located at 5th and H Sts., NE, just a few blocks away from the Union Station metro. We'll play from 8-11 p.m. No cover, no minimum. Great place, cool atmosphere, diverse and friendly crowd. Join us.

We'll be there every Wednesday in May -- the 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th.

Thanks to all of you who have come out to see us play. We appreciate the support. Thanks to our friend, Duke Cross, for making us the Wednesday night house band at Paps and Petey's.

Mark Caruso, ever smooth and tasteful (but still nasty) on guitar; will be Justin Parrott, our phenomenally talented young bassist who lays down a bottom so fat that even white folks wanna get up and dance, is on bass; and me, drums.

On Friday, May 16th, I'll be appearing with Bemsha Swing, an acoustic jazz trio, at Clare and Dons Beach Shack in Falls Church. Music runs from 7-10.30 p.m. Weather permitting, music is on the outdoor deck.

Keeping it real, Clinton-style

Friday, May 09, 2008

Commencement 2008: You've graduated from college -- now what?

I wrote this post, "You've graduated from college. Now what?" last year just after our annual spring commencement. Enough readers liked it and many counted it among their favorite of my posts, and they included people who graduated from college anywhere from 2-30 years ago. I decided to post it again, with some slight modification.
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So here we are, preparing for the annual rites of spring commencement, with our nation's universities preparing to roll their last undergraduates off the assembly line and into the working world. The smart ones will put off any meaningful career choices for as long as they can, waiting until they run out of degrees and/or out of money before they are pulled, kicking and screaming, into the "real world." Perhaps they'll make some money this summer, working as bartenders, waiters, camp counselors, strippers, amusement park attendants, toll booth operators, Hooters girls, Chippendales, bat boys, heat gun specialists or minor league baseball mascots . . . jobs they don't have to defend as their "life's work" if they run into someone they know from days gone by and take comfort in knowing they can leave to return to school. Comforting, sort of . . . unless you're on the receiving end of the barber who isn't really a barber, but a poet; or the Spanish tutor who doesn't speak the language but has been to Madrid and Bilbao; or the heart specialist who isn't really one at all; instead, he drives the fence-enclosed cart that picks up golf balls at the driving range, the cart that 99% of people hitting off the mats are trying to kabong with a well-struck iron or a beautifully drawing drive.

The less fortunate ones will start their first grown-up job. After four or five or six or seven or however many years it took them to graduate from college, they'll finally have to get a haircut, a pair of shoes that covers the entire foot, put on a shirt that covers most of their torso and does not say, "Delta Tau Delta/Alpha Chi Omega Spring Bar Crawl Informal 2006" or sport a T-shirt with clever one-liners like, "P * * * y Magnet" or "Warning: Touch Me and You'll Burn I'm So Hot," put away the sweat pants with "I Love Pink" or "Delta Gamma Forever" on the butt, take off their welded-on baseball caps or at least turn them around and practice their conversational skills so that the words "like," and "dude," or the phrases, "like, no fucking way," or "get the fuck out!" or "bitch you are such a slut!" do not make an every-other-word appearances in their sentences, especially the ones they will use in their job interviews.

The first few years after college are a difficult time in a young person's life, much more so than the commencement speakers drawn from politics, business, entertainment or technology, university presidents, career center counselors or even professors are willing to admit. For a teen-age underachiever like myself, college was a great time, my personal Get Out of Jail Free Card from high school, an opportunity to start over, free from the suffocating cliques and social pressures to become the person you wanted. You spend four years -- that's all I was permitted at my father's expense -- taking steps towards adulthood, learning how to navigate your way through personal problems (getting blown off by Sheryl Crow) or financial crises (($7.24 in the bank with a week left in the semester) on your own, learning about the rest of the world works (you mean they actually have grocery stores in other countries? Who knew?) and learn the art of calm, deliberative and engaged conversation on complex and often controversial topics ("YOU'RE GODDAMN RIGHT WE SHOULD HAVE DROPPED THE ATOMIC BOMB ON HIROSHIMA SO FUCK YOU, ASSHOLE, WIMP, SHITHEAD!!!") and how to sleep on other people's floors to avoid paying rent or buying groceries that will help you transition into the adult world.

And then what? Just like that, you're back at the bottom, fretting over whether you're going to get a job doing someone else's bidding for barely enough money to pay your rent, go out once in a while, buy beer that actually tastes like beer and have enough money to buy clothes for work, usually from places you would never have considered entering in broad daylight when you were spending other people's money. Who wants to tell their friends, extended family or former professors that their first job, for the most part, really sucks? You spend most of your day looking for things to do because there just isn't that much going on; what you actually do doesn't really require skills beyond 10th grade literacy (and that's even if you attended a public school in the South, like me); you would quit and wait tables or mow lawns or just bag it and drive around the country attending major league baseball games in every city if you could.

But you can't. Nope. You went to college, you majored in political science and you're in debt up to and probably past your eyeballs. And, to complicate matters, you live in Washington, D.C., where bragging about how long and hard you work doing something that is no doubt very important is the highest form of conversational currency. Try this little test sometime:

"So," says an assembly line Washington professional to you, adjusting his Timex watch under the cuff of his ill-fitting button-down shirt with one hand while looking over your shoulder to see if he knows someone genuinely important, "who are you working for since you graduated?"

You: "I work as a male prostitute for Hollywood female starlets shooting scenes for their movies in Washington. These women are away from home for long periods of time and they have needs, if you know what I mean (don't forget to wink while you say this). It's all very cool. I get a call from a personal assistant saying that Julianne Moore, Sandra Bullock, Kate Hudson or Hillary Swank is coming to town for a week and would like someone to show them around town. And that's what I do. No $300 massages, just brass-tacks, scream-out-loud, crazy-ass sex with some of the hottest women in show business. And let me tell you about Lindsay Lohan . . . that girl can party."

Him: "Great talking to you. I think I see someone who owes me an email. Nice seeing you again."

"Again?" You've never seen that person. Ever. You'll also never see that person again. Until he needs something, provided you have something to offer.

Now try this answer:

You: "I'm working as a Legislative Assistant for Rep. Bob Forehead, who represents the 3rd district of Fredonia."

Him: "Hey, that's a great job! I was with Representative Forehead a couple of days ago -- he and I are very good friends -- to talk about some legislation that I am helping him write. You ought to get to know Patty Pearls and Wally Wingtips . . . they've worked for him for a long time and know everyone in this town. Stay with it. You're in a good place. Here's my card. We'll talk again soon."

Really . . . try it. You'll learn soon that I'm not making this up.

* * * * * * * * * *

Work, work, work. That's all Washingtonians like to talk about. New Yorkers like to talk about money. Los Angelenos like to talk about deals . . . deals coming, deals going, deals missing and deals pending. Southerners like to talk about football. Washingtonians talk about work like weight-lifters talk about how much they can bench press. "You worked how many hours last week? 483? That's nothing. We didn't get out until 28 o'clock on Friday night." So you start to wonder: "What's wrong with me that I'm not working that much or that I don't really care if I do."

The answer: Guess what? No one is really working that much. The people who regale me with their stories of workplace heroics are the same ones who forward me unfunny emails throughout the day, email me links about things I may or may not care about, call to vent about some injustice visited upon their child in youth sports, by their 2nd grade music teacher or ask me where my children are going to summer camp three years from now, email me to tell about the email they sent to someone about another person's email who had emailed another person about an email sent out by someone I don't know about an email that has nothing to do with me or anyone related to me or email me to tell about something they just won on Ebay after six very intense hours of bidding.

My dad ran a small retail business for 25 years and then ventured into other things that required him to go to an office building with an elevator, marking the first time that he had to venture beyond street level to go to work. My mother was a nurse. My neighbors growing up owned small grocery stores, insurance offices, two-person accounting firms, managed retail stores or worked for Delta, Coca-Cola or some other company I had actually heard of. I didn't know anyone who taught college, practiced law for a big firm, worked in politics or was a "consultant" of any kind. But my parents and their friends all worked hard, and spent very little time during the day wasting as much time as their "professionally educated" children do, whether shopping on-line, exchanging "drop-dead" emails with their son's hockey or soccer or baseball coach for hours on end or reading blogs like this one.

Here's what I can tell you:

Do not make work your life. Do not become one of these people who ends up profiled in the Washingtonian or the Washington Post as one of Washington's "rising stars." Do not plan your career so that everything you do depends on a patron. At some point, your boss will lose an election, get nailed doing something really stupid or you'll realize that loyalty begins at the bottom and there is little room for you to advance. You'll quit or get fired, and you'll be right back where you started -- looking to ride someone else's coattails and make someone else's dreams come true, not your own.

Washington, D.C. is a great place for people who really loved high school -- the Post is the school paper; the Washingtonian the yearbook; Congress is the SGA by any other name; the White House is for anyone who got elected to something in high school and never got over it; the bureaucracies are the nerds' revenge . . . maybe they weren't cool enough to get elected to the homecoming court in high school or invited to join a fraternity in college, but they are smart enough to extract their revenge on the cool kids; and the Supreme Court? That is for National Honor Society members, the kind of kids who aced every class in high school, but couldn't make through a sleepover or summer camp without coming home early. I have lived in Washington almost eighteen years. People still ask me why I don't get involved in politics or try to latch on to someone's candidacy so that I can "use my skills." Leaving aside for the moment that I don't have any skills that could possibly benefit anyone in politics, the question for me is not why I am not involved, but why would anybody want to do this?

* * * * * * * * * *

Around 25% of all college graduates receive their undergraduate degrees in business. Less than 4% major in English and 2% earn a degree in history and less than that graduate with a philosophy degree. Here's one for you: more degrees are awarded to undergraduates every year in Parks, Recreation, Leisure and Fitness Studies than in foreign languages, comparative politics and Middle East studies combined. So much for September 11 changing everything.

For the liberal arts major, nothing is more awkward than having to explain to friends and relatives bearing congratulations and gifts at their commencement what he or she plans "to do" with their degrees not that they've graduated. You majored in political science? Are you planning on going to law school? Running for office? Worse, you majored in philosophy, so what can you do with that, right? Go to law school? Teach English in China? Work as an au pair? Really, what can you do with a degree like that?

All you can do with a college degree is frame it. Beyond that, how you choose to make your way in the world is up to you. Few people, even those with degrees in business, are prepared to do much more than menial work for someone else when they leave college. Although we tell our prospective students (and their families) that we are preparing them for careers in their chosen fields of study, that is nothing more than a sales pitch. All we can do is provide a baseline education in the hope that our students will become a little less certain, a little more skeptical and a little more aware that there is much to learn and that life's most enduring questions do not have clear cut answers. The world is too complicated, there is too much left to chance and there is simply so much that is going to cross a young person's path that cannot be known or predicted that the true legacy of a college education is the gift of an open mind.

* * * * * * * * * *

And just when did 22, 24 or even 25 become the cut-off point for young adults to make their choices in life? About this time last year, I had the pleasure of coffee and conversation with a recent graduate of my university, a 23 year-old woman who is brilliant, beautiful and will achieve whatever she wants. And here she was . . . worried that she didn't have a "plan" for the next few years, or even the few years after she finished law school. Part of me understood exactly where she was coming from, having had the same anxieties after I finished college and had gotten off to a less-than-terrific start in graduate school (except I wasn't as smart and certainly not as attractive as my former student). But the other part of me -- the semi-grown up part -- couldn't believe what I was hearing. How could someone like this feel pressure about anything? Here is someone who is as good as it gets, and yet feeling like she wasn't moving ahead fast enough.

(By the way, my student was accepted at several excellent law schools and ended up taking an offer from one that included a full academic scholarship.)

This was not the first conversation I have had like this with former students (and now friends) in their twenties. For all I make fun of some AU students, I have had the privilege over almost 19 years to teach some incredible young men and women, people far more talented, hard-working and mature than I was in college. Confession: I wasn't nearly as together as my students are when I was 21, 22 or 24. The difference was, and this may not apply to everyone going through the post-college blues now, is that I was never pushed to achieve, achieve, achieve and achieve. Kids now have a hard time just being kids. I had good time being 12 when I was 12, being 15 when I was 15, and 17 when I was 17. Now the pressure to make not just good grades, but perfect ones, to build a resume so that colleges will give you a serious look, to devote ridiculous amounts of time and money to their children's sports interests to "round out" that perfect child (and secure a professional contract or, at minimum, college scholarship) is not just wildly disproportionate to its long-term significance. It is dangerous. Our amazement at the intellectual capacity of our children and our propensity to treat them as trained seals obscures the reality that we are dealing with young people, whether 9, 13, 19 or 22, who are emotionally and socially not prepared for the world we want them to enter.

Take your time. Make sure your first adult choices are good ones. They are not permanent. Think of them as guideposts for the next round. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Above all, relax and remember that it is your life you are living.

* * * * * * * * * *

How do you know where you will end up in 10 or 20 years? Well, you don't. But hopefully the place you find yourself, whether in the White House or an African village, in Bethesda or in Timbuktu, will be the place you want to be. In our best moments, we all want to make a difference in lives of other people. But you cannot make a difference unless you are passionate about how you choose to live your life. Not just the work you do, but the books you read, the music you play and listen to, the friends you make and value . . . the whole thing. In the end, be happy that you made the right choice for yourself, not just the right choice for others. Take a chance on your dreams, and you may find the view from the other side more beautiful than you could have ever imagined.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

White folks is good folks

"I think you're getting a little carried away on the race issue with Hillary," said a friend to me the day after Barack Obama defeated her in North Carolina and came within an eyelash of upsetting her in Indiana. She held her fingers about half an inch apart as she said this to me, the better to emphasize that the shorter the distance between her fingers the more I was wrong. "I am not a woman for Hillary, but I think the race thing is unfair."

Oh? How do you feel today?

"I never liked her because of how she treated women," my friend said. "I never thought she would stoop this low. There's nothing to really say."

No, there isn't. Not when the first and only "serious" woman to run for president says something like this:

"I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on . . . Senator Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me. There’s a pattern emerging here. . . These are the people you have to win if you’re a Democrat in sufficient numbers to actually win the election. Everybody knows that."

Forget, for a moment, how anyone can take seriously Hillary's decision to "forge ahead" in her quest for the White House. Forget, for a moment, how the mainstream media continue to run stories after Hillary's unsuccessful last stand Tuesday night suggesting that she even has a remote chance to win the nomination, that her climb uphill is "now" more unlikely than it was before the North Carolina and Indiana results, that the superdelegates will take a long look at five months of primary results and decide to award the nomination to the loser because she is more "electable."

Forget it. Forget it. Forget it.

After the South Carolina debacle, I wrote how the Clintons would fixate on the "white working class" in hopes that, having alienated African-American voters during the Southern and Mid-Atlantic primaries, it could build a winning coalition by uniting Women for Hillary and a complex demographic (white, ethnic, Catholic . . . sometimes all in one package) that isn't comfortable supporting black candidates. My view and others who shared it were shunned to the side after the Clinton campaign successfully spun the Pennsylvania primary as a referendum on which Democrat could better "connect" with the working class, which I have always interpreted as nothing more than a euphemism for white voters who harbor hidden and sometimes not-so-hidden racist attitudes towards African-American candidates. Even Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell acknowledged that "certain" Pennsylvania voters would not support a black man for president. So Hillary wins Pennsylvania by winning the white working class vote, not the black working class vote, and the new story line emerges . . .

"Obama's Bubba gap," . . . "Obama's problem with the working class," . . . "Bittergate reinforces Obama's image as elitist," and so on.

That interpretation was always wrong. Obama doesn't have a "problem" with white working class voters in Pennsylvania. Or Indiana. Or West Virginia. Or any other state where a sizable voting bloc exists that meets this description.

White working class voters who hold racist attitudes towards African-Americans have a problem with Obama. Obama has campaigned for their votes as hard as anyone. That Obama hasn't undergone a Halloween-quality personality change doesn't mean that he isn't after that vote. But when you are up against a population that won't vote for you because you are black, you have as much chance of winning that vote as you do men who won't vote for a woman.

Bad questions don't yield bad answers. They yield no answer at all.

So Hillary has now admitted what has been the obvious tactical shift in the last two months of her failed campaign: to divide the Democratic party in hopes that white racist voters would mobilize in mass numbers after the threat of an Obama nomination was now real. Anyone who didn't believe that the Clintons wouldn't dip that low were wrong. As I mentioned in my post, "Strom Thurmond redux?" the Clintons knew exactly what they were doing when decided to take out the racial bludgeon. They weren't after the nostalgia of the 90's. They leapfrogged over that decade back to the 50's.

Americans other than white ones work hard and struggle to pay their bills, much less live a comfortable life. Fortunately, the Democrats have emerged from this disastrous primary season with a candidate who has no interest in playing racial politics. Barack Obama is the real deal, and he ain't nobody's mammy, Hillary.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Live Zeebop tonight

Please come out tonight if you can make it. We play three sets from 8-11 p.m.

Pap and Petey's is located at 421 H St., NE, at the corner of 5th and H St. Light food to go along with an excellent selection of reasonably priced beers and whatever elixirs strike your fancy.

New Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

It's over

Barack Obama is now the presumptive Democratic nominee. From this point forward, nothing will change in the respective positions of the two candidates. Obama will end the primaries with a lead in the popular vote, states won and delegates pledged. Superdelegates, who have broken for Obama by near 8-1 margin in the last two months, will have no choice but to follow the natural outcome of the primary process or risk further damage to an already weakened party.

Someone in Democratic party hierarchy . . . Howard Dean, Al Gore, Jon Stewart . . . someone . . . has to tell Hillary it's over.

Naturally, the attention has focused on Obama's "problem" with white working class voters and not Hillary's pathetic showing among African-American voters garnering only about 6-8% of the black vote in North Carolina and Indiana. I'd like to see this headline: "Obama takes North Carolina; white working class voters continue to struggle with the idea of a black president."

Don't think we will . . .

Wonder what the Clinton spin will be tomorrow morning? That North Carolina doesn't count because too many argula-munching black nationalist college educated homeowners who live in or near college towns live there? That only Indiana counts because Hillary won it . . . barely. And that since Indiana is so close to Illinois, Obama should have to forfeit Illinois, which borders Wisconsin, so he should have to forfeit that, too, and any other state that touches or is related to that state or any other state or any state of mind or state of disrepair.

It's over. Even the Clintons have to know that.

Strom Thurmond redux?

In 1948, Harry Truman faced a three-front war in his battle to continue the legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the four-time elected Democrat who guided the United States through the Great Depression and World War II. On his left was Henry Wallace, running as the Progressive Party candidate. On his immediate right was Thomas Dewey, the Republican governor of New York who really wasn't all that conservative, at least not compared to the last thirty years of Republican presidential nominees who have sought and held the office.

On his far, far right was Strom Thurmond, the South Carolina Democrat and committed segregationist who found President Truman's decision to desegregate the military so offensive that he broke with his party to run for president on the Dixiecrat ticket. Said Thurmond:

"I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there's not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches."

For his efforts, Thurmond won 4 states (South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama) and 38 electoral votes. Thurmond left the party in 1964, further disillusioned by President Lyndon Johnson's decision to support the civil rights movement and embrace the black vote, a decision that still continues to define the major schism between the Democratic and Republican parties in American politics. Today, 43 African-Americans serve in Congress. Forty-two serve in the House and one, Barack Obama, serves in the Senate. Not one is Republican.

Since the 2008 South Carolina Democratic primary, the racial fault line in American politics has moved to the Democratic side. President Bush's interest in mending the post-1964 African-American abandonment of the Republican has been nonexistent, and the prospect of John McCain, whose presidential campaign theme has now settled around a desire to re-elect George Bush to a third term, serving as a Republican ambassador to entice black America to come with him is pure fantasy. African-American voters have always supported Democratic nominees more so than any other major party constituency, with American Jews the only other group that even comes close in party loyalty. But this year will be different. For the first time in my political lifetime, a Democratic nominee has all but abandoned the African-American vote in an effort to consolidate the "white working class," banking on the belief that enough white, blue collar Democrats will not take the dare to vote for a black presidential candidate. The Clinton campaign's decision to make Barack Obama a black presidential candidate, rather than just Hillary's rival for the Democratic nomination, is an absolutely stunning development. I can't quite figure out whether the mainstream media and the political commentators who dominate those airwaves are just in denial over such an explicit exercise in racial politics or are so deluded in their thinking that they actually believe that something other than race is what has pushed Hillary's campaign forward in the last month. The mainstream media's decision to turn the other cheek on the racial bludgeon taken up by the Clintons either reflects their own ignorance or some darkly cynical need to push a story line -- Jeremiah Wright's crazy street preaching -- that bears absolutely no relationship to Obama's ability to hold public office for the sake of ratings. Her support among African-Americans has plummeted to a low that would make a Republican blush, an accomplishment not matched by any modern Democratic presidential contender

Let's be real. The policy differences between Hillary and Obama are insignificant. Hillary's decision to embrace the gas tax holiday is nothing more than an effort to buy last minute votes. Six months ago, Hillary was the serious, smart candidate, the one with 35 years of experience who would be ready on Day One. Now, she is Rosie the Riveter, a convert to the "values" of small town America who doesn't need a fancy economist to tell her what real people need from their government. But the "working class" in the small towns that is giving Hillary her latest second wind is white, not black. African-Americans comprise a much greater percentage of poor people within their demographic group than whites. African-Americans are hit much harder than other groups by fixed taxes because their incomes, on average, are lower than whites. None of this seems to register with the mainstream media, which pushes the Clinton spin on Obama's inability to close the "Bubba" gap. In every state where Obama has faced an uphill demographic climb, i.e., he faces a large swath of the population that is white, ethnic (i.e., Irish or Italian Catholic), not college educated and/or working in white collar jobs, elected officials in those states have admitted that "certain white voters" will not cast their ballot for a black man. No matter. That story is moved to the side and we get wall-to-wall Jeremiah Wright. Here we are, fighting a war to export democracy, religious freedom and ethnic tolerance in Iraq, and we still have a lingering, "Is America ready to vote for a black man?" question hanging over the American presidential race. The questions raised about Obama by the mainstream media and the Clinton campaign -- Jeremiah Wright, the Farrakhan association, William Ayers -- all have a sharp and distinctive racial cast to them. These symbols were chosen deliberately to give white voters uncomfortable with black people in positions of power (other than sports and entertainment) a cover that seemed reasonable. Someone who votes for Hillary in the primary and decides s/he can't vote for Obama in the general cannot come to that conclusion independent of race. Obama has not made a deliberate effort to demonize Hillary because she's a woman. Conversely, a large number of Obama voters who ordinarily would have voted for Hillary in the general election are so genuinely repulsed by the explicit appeal to race by the Clinton campaign that they may well sit it out, should it come to that. Pick-up trucks, NASCAR events, inane giveaways like the gas tax plan, the staged shot-and-beer phot ops . . . all these are designed to appeal to a "white working class" that could not be more removed from Hillary Clinton's last 35 years in public and private life.

In a few hours, this mess in the Democratic party, created and stoked by the Clintons, will hopefully be over. Really . . . two states that are largely irrelevant to Democratic politics have been anointed as the campaign's defining moment, a truly crazy development. Indiana and North Carolina are states with ignoble racial histories (the Copperheads, the Klan and Jesse Helms, for starters) that, have for the most part, sided with Republicans in modern presidential politics. Had Obama won Indiana and North Carolina back in February or early March, I bet that the Clintons would have added them to the list of "insignificant" states that don't really matter because (a) they will go Republican in November anyway and (b) they didn't win them.

Strange, strange and stranger. The last major battle of the Democratic primary season, which has been mathematically over for a month and a half, now comes down to two blocs of swing voters: those who hate the Clintons for what they've done to the party vs. those who "aren't ready" to vote for a black man for president. It should not have been this way, and the blame for the party's now-sorry state rests solely with Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The new new new math

Last week, I offered the new new math that explained how Hillary Clinton is really winning a primary campaign that she is really losing. Keith Olbermann's "Countdown" editorial last night defining the Clinton campaign's new "metrics" (I still hate that phrase) gets it even better.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Hillary's gax tax amnesia

In 2000, during the last year of his two terms in office, President Bill Clinton resisted calls to reduce or eliminate the federal gas tax for the summer vacation season:

"The problem I have with it, apart from what it might do to the Highway Trust Fund and the spending obligations that have already been incurred by the acts of Congress, the budgets, is that I'm not sure that the savings would be passed along to the consumers."

So now Hillary Clinton supports a federal gas tax holiday as a means of putting money back into drivers' pockets. Not a single economist who has been asked about this proposal has endorsed it, with most concluding that gas tax holiday is just an election year gimmick. Do you think a mainstream reporter will ask Hillary anytime soon about her switch from 2000? Do you think Hillary will admit that her husband was wrong?

Live Zeebop this week

You can catch Zeebop this Wednesday night, May7th, at Pap and Peteys, located at 5th and H Sts., NE, just a few blocks away from the Union Station metro. We'll play from 8-11 p.m. No cover, no minimum. Great place, cool atmosphere, diverse and friendly crowd. Join us.

We'll be there every Wednesday in May -- the 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th.

Thanks to all of you who have come out to see us play. We appreciate the support. Thanks to our friend, Duke Cross, for making us the Wednesday night house band at Paps and Petey's.

Mark Caruso, our smooth and tasteful (but still nasty) guitarist, will be back from his Achilles surgery. Justin Parrott, our phenomenally talented young bassist who lays down a bottom so fat that even white folks wanna get up and dance, is on bass; and me, drums.

And look for the Monday California Tortilla (in downtown Bethesda) outdoor dates to start up real soon.

Red State Update

Jackie and Dunlap have advice for Miley Cyrus and describe the last Democratic debate, if there is one.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The numbers behind the black abandonment of the Clintons

Here's some empirical data on the migration of African-Americans from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama.

This sort of confirms what I wrote in my post, Black Unlike Me, yesterday. Interesting latter half of the week. Race and the Clintons and, separately, the sudden interest in the crazy white preacher friends of John Mcain, two issues in the campaign that I have been writing about for months, just emerged in the slightly-off-mainstream culture and politics sites, like Salon, and mainstream media like the New York Times as the real deal.

Keep watching. Leaders lead only if followers let them.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Black unlike me

So I guess the cat is out of the bag . . .

Barack Obama is black. African-American. Exotic. Bi-racial.

Call him any of the above. Just make sure you don't refer to him as white. And, above all, make sure you identify him as "the first serious African-American candidate."

After seven or eight months of intensive campaigning by Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain and their now-forgotten rivals, the mainstream media have now fallen into line and begun the intensive public cross-examination of Obama that more suspicious observers (me included) of racial politics knew was inevitable.

Since Bill Clinton, a man for whom I voted twice and used to respect as a racial bridge-builder, tried to diminish Obama's victory in the South Carolina primary back in January as nothing more than blacks voting for a black candidate, I have viewed his comments, as well as Hillary's inaccurate and strangely irrelevant comments about Martin Luther King, Jr.'s place in the civil rights movement as the turning point for Democratic primary voters. Those comments certainly energized African-American voters, who turned out in record numbers to vote for Obama in the next significant string of February primaries, when Obama ran off twelve consecutive victories to knock the Hillary-tanic off-stride. The Clintons were, at least in public, offended that they had been accused of subtle and not-so-subtle race baiting, touting their long and, at least to them, admirable service to African-Americans. I thought those comments would turn the momentum permanently towards Obama, since they were a straight lift from the Lee Atwater campaign book of racial politics.

Yet, from Super Tuesday forward, the Clintons have played the race card to perfection. They have moved the mainstream coverage of Obama away from his early position as a cross-cultural candidate (read: a black man who doesn't scare white people) to a black man with a strange and radical past, with crazy preachers (Jeremiah Wright), late 60s revolutionaries (William Ayers) and celebrity anti-Semities and racists (Louis Farrakhan) as part of his contemporary entourage. The Clintons knew exactly what they were doing when they made this racial pivot, and it is paying off in droves. Hillary Clinton deserves special credit. Once the media-anointed front-runner who surrounded herself with the centrist, Volvo-driving, Land's End-vest wearing, Martha's Vineyard-bound, East Coast-educated white establishment Washington-centric Democrats determined to secure her place as the candidate who could "manage" the less capable and less schooled, Hillary has reinvented herself, with a powerful assist from the mainstream media, as some sort of populist frontierswoman who enjoys nothing more than a night out with her bowling buddies for a few beers and some pizza. Her reputation for truthfulness is so jaundiced that her lies on the campaign trail, big and small, are shrugged off as simply Hillary being Hillary. Had Obama offered a fabricated story about enduring snipers in Bosnia, not only would he have been mercilessly excoriated for lying, he would have had to answer questions about what kind of father would willingly travel with his daughter to a war zone. Underneath this criticism would have been Obama's behavior as a "responsible" black man.

Next Tuesday, voters in North Carolina and Indiana will vote in the Democratic primary. For weeks, Hillary's camp has been playing down the North Carolina election as one that she cannot win because of the large number of black voters. Instead, Hillary's forces, with the media in tow, have made Indiana, which has voted for a Democrat twice in presidential elections since 1932 (1936 and 1964), the bellwether state in determining Obama's "electability." North Carolina doesn't really count because too many blacks live there. Indiana does count because it will measure Obama's ability to, as Newsweek put it its cover story this week, close the "Bubba Gap." Barack Obama has already won some of the "whitest" states in the country (Alaska, Kansas, Idaho, Nebraska, Montana, Utah and Wisconsin). Apparently, that doesn't matter. Sorry, but Indiana simply doesn't matter. A $5 bet in Las Vegas on Indiana to go Democratic in November should net $2 or 3 million, just like a $2 bet on Vermont to go for John McCain in November should yield a similar return.

The Clintons' estrangement from African-American voters is the result of a deliberate calculation to concede that "bloc" to Obama and court instead the "working-class white" vote, which is, politeness stripped, a demographic that historically has not voted for black candidates and carries a legacy of racism all its own. Americans tend to measure their attitudes towards racism by the "purity" of their legal structure. American law no longer permits the formal segregation of blacks, nor permits government or business to discriminate formally against blacks and other minorities. Yet the courts have demonstrated an increased willingness to restrict public and private efforts to address racial discrimination in American life by limiting the power of government to require remedies for past and ongoing racial misdeeds. In June 2007, the Supreme Court emphatically stated that the only way to end racial discrimination was to end racial discrimination, concluding that a voluntary effort to diversify segregated public schools was unconstitutional. And last week, the Court upheld a completely worthless "voter I.D." law, passed by Indiana, requiring voters to use a government-issued I.D. to vote in all elections. The law was not passed to address a problem in voter fraud, because no such problem existed, as the Court even acknowledged in its plurality opinion. Indiana, like the other states that have passed voter I.D. laws in the last five years or so, enacted this statute to make it more difficult for voters most likely to support Democrats -- the poor, African-Americans and other minorities -- to cast a ballot. Not a single state that has passed a voter I.D. law has done so with a majority Democratic legislature. Does this mean that the voter I.D. movement is a clever Republican tactic to secure their power in the states? Sure. But to suggest that voter I.D. laws have no relationship to race is simply to continue a great American tradition -- simply because laws and customs tend to burden minorities disproportionately does not mean that race is a factor. A more reasonable interpretation of the Indiana case is that it amounts to a poll tax, a mechanism that was long used to exclude blacks from the voting rolls. And when you take into account African-American support for Republicans nationwide, the motivating force in this movement comes into clearer focus. For me, this is a truly disgusting development in American politics, one I thought would be so transparent that it wouldn't make it out of the starting gate. How wrong I was . . .

* * * * * * * * * *

I started writing this on Friday but didn't finish. This morning, Sunday, I accidentally came across an article in the Washington Post Outlook section on Chelsea Clinton's emergence as a political surrogate on behalf of her mother. The article was written by a 29 year-old Post reporter, whose curiosity in writing the piece, as far as I can tell, is whether Chelsea really "represents" his generation. Here's an observation and question that comes at the front of the piece:

"Chelsea has been winning kudos in this campaign as an effective surrogate for Hillary Rodham Clinton, but I keep wondering whether she's an effective representative for us. Like me, Chelsea's a twentysomething (28 to my 29), a member of the generation that, as it happens, I spend a lot of time learning and writing about. We're ironic, sarcastic and self-deprecating, a reflection of the pop culture and politics that played out while we grew up in the 1980s, 1990s and onward. We were weaned on Chevy Chase movies ("Spies Like Us," of course, being the best), grunge and MTV's "The Real World" (seasons 1 and 2 only, please) and trained by the Onion, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to detect spin in the most banal comments. People my age shed privacy at the nearest high-speed Internet connection and, more often than not, display the very grown-up qualities of self-awareness and self-reflection.

So how does Chelsea fit in with the rest of us?"

Notice anything curious about the above? First, the "us" the author asks about is clearly white. I could be wrong here, but go out and poll, scientifically or in a black barber shop (the African-American equivalent of the white diners where establishment reporters journey to find out what "real" Americans are thinking during the election season), how many African-Americans fitting Chelsea's "generation" were "weaned" on Chevy Chase, MTV, Jon Stewart and The Onion. Second, ask 28 or 29 year-old African-Americans if they've ever looked at Chelsea Clinton as some sort of peer in the fun house mirror and, more to the point, whether she is "one of [them] us." You might get a very different answer.

Read this carefully. There isn't anything racist about an article on Chelsea Clinton's role as a campaign surrogate, or whether she's too goody-goody to reflect a "generation" of Americans who get their news from Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert (who are my age, by the way) and the Onion. But the article is a perfect example of unspoken race privilege in American politics and culture. Go check out the Nielsen ratings and find out just how many African-Americans are tuning into Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert every night, or watching MTV, or putting out their $9.50 to watch the latest Judd Aptow adventure, or tune into the high-jinks of Will Farrell, Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn. Wanna bet you'll find some racially split results?

* * * * * * * * * *

The Clinton and McCain campaigns have succeeded in portraying Barack Obama as a black candidate, knowing full well that white Americans on the lower end of the socio-economic ladder harbor a deep suspicion of blacks in positions of political power. Obama has spent the last six weeks or so fending off questions about Jeremiah Wright, his "association" with the Weather Underground and a host of other scary black folks, while Hillary has gotten a free pass on her unsavory relationships over the past 30 some-odd years, her habitual lying or her race-baiting (Question: why hasn't Newsweek run a cover story called, "Hillary's LeBron Problem"?) and John McCain has not had to answer questions about his crazy preacher in-residence, John Hagee, or his characterization of the Confederate flag as a symbol of "Southern heritage." How in the world did a man born to a black father and raised by a white mother, who received food stamps and public assistance, become some arugula-munching elitist?

And the bigger question: why do the establishment media keeping running a story line that suggests that Hillary Clinton can win the Democratic nomination? If the roles were reversed; if Barack Obama had been mathematically eliminated from the race, as Hillary has; if Obama were dependent upon a sub-group of party activists to leap-frog him over the winner, as Hillary is; if the media persisted in running stories about Hillary that bore no relationship to her ability to hold public office, such as her flirtation with 60's radicalism and poor choice of business associates; if . . . if . . . if . . . the outrage from the Clinton campaign would be justifiably palpable.

But, no . . . Hillary is not black. You can be a Woman for Hillary; but you can't be an African-American for Obama, even after you have consistently supported white Democrats since white Democrats (and some Republicans) said you were allowed to vote 43 years ago; you can be a country-club Republican who found liberalism at Wellesley and Yale, who lives in an exclusive New York City suburb, who has been on the government payroll one way or another since the early 1980s, who can call Elton John to host a Manhattan fundraiser for your presidential campaign and somehow market yourself as a descendant of William Jennings Bryan. You can raise one eyebrow after another about your African-American opponent's questionable African-American acquaintances; wonder if he's genuinely a "Christian;" alienate an entire generation of voters, black and white, who chose your opponent because they found him interesting, accessible and inspirational, not because he differs much with you on policy, by appealing to the racial fault line in American politics . . . and have the mainstream media echo everything you say and still portray yourself as a victim. You can do all these things because you are white, and because you are smart enough and shrewd enough to know that Jeremiah Wright scares white voters to death, despite knowing that whatever garbage flows out of his mouth is G-rated compared to Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, John Hagee, Sean Hannity and the rest of the nativist, modern Know-Nothing brigade.

So go ahead, Hillary. Blow the Democratic party to bits. Demand that nomination for yourself because you want it, not because you earned it. Tell yourself that every black voter who sees through this "populist" facade that you're not really playing the race card and then wonder why they won't vote for you in November. Tell white voters more like you -- upper-income, well-educated and knowledgeable about politics -- that they should vote for you anyway after insulting their intelligence and turning them into a parody of a Martin Mull routine on silly white folks co-opted by a fairy tale.

And above all, remind every "white working class" voter in Indiana and North Carolina in the next 72 hours that Barack Obama is black by congratulating him for his "historic" candidacy of which African-Americans can be proud.

Unlike you.