Comfort Zone

Will Ballot Box Fraysters ever give Will Saletan a break?

After a rumble of criticism in Ballot Box Fray over his characterization of comments made by SEIU chief, Andy Stern, William Saletan enters the fray to clarify the remark. In his piece (“Howard Dean’s Quagmire: He’s won the campaign war. Now comes the postwar“), Saletan writes of Stern’s reassurances that the union is copasetic with Dean:

The testimonials reek of defensive language. In his speech, Stern says his members are “totally comfortable” with Dean’s positions on health care issues. That’s like a white person saying he’s “totally comfortable” with the black family next door.
Here, Saletan spells it out:
What could be funnier than a bunch of Dean supporters who, thinking their guy got misinterpreted and smeared about the Confederate flag, commit the same racial misinterpretations and smears against a sentence critical of a Dean supporter?

… My point about “totally comfortable” is that it’s the faintest of praise. It’s what people say when they can’t muster genuine enthusiasm and have been wrestling with whether they can even stand the thing they’re trying to praise. The classic example is when somebody who’s uncomfortable with gays or blacks says he’s “comfortable” with them. If you’re really comfortable, you don’t have to say it. You’re just at ease with them.

So to those of you who think you saw racism in that sentence: What you actually saw was awareness of it as a contemporary phenomenon.
For RicNCaric (“Howard Dean: Hard-Ass Moderate“), the larger issue with Saletan’s posture on Dean is…
In one of the world’s most dishonest self-characterizations, Bush ran as a “compassionate conservative” as a way to appeal to the moderate vote from a right-wing perspective. Dean actually is a moderate, but he’s been running as a hard-ass opponent of the Bush administration as a way to appeal to the Democratic left. Dean’s advantage in pitching himself this way is that he doesn’t have to fake it. He is an authentic confrontational, bad-tempered, sharp-tongued hard-ass and that’s what a lot of Democrats want to see right now. Dean has a lot of work to do on the Democratic politics of race and class, neither of which he seems to be very good at. However, if he can inject some hard-ass energy and dynamism into appealing to blacks and labor, he would be a formidable challenger to the Republicans.
In contrast, The_Slasher-8 sees eye-to-eye with Saletan on Dean’s wholesale opposition to the Bush tax cut here:
Dean’s position on middle class tax cuts is his death knell. I want to see Bush out as much as anyone, and I think it’s true that by retaining the middle class tax cuts, we prolong the economic problems which will be caused by the whole package.

But if we don’t get Bush out, we’re going to GET the entire package, along with some new cuts (complete repeal of capital gains?). Dean simply refuses to understand this, and I don’t give a rusty fuck how much more consistent he has been on Iraq than the others. HE CAN’T WIN.
Fraywatch encourages Democratic primary voters — particularly the undecideds — to visit their respective caucus boards and mix it up. Official caucus rules are forthcoming … KA3:25 p.m.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Emily Bazelon’s piece (“Monument From Hell: Make room for a Matthew Shepard hate monument in a town square near you“) has Jurisprudence Fray popping off. Bazelon chronicles how Casper, Wyo., has painted itself into a constitutional corner by displaying a granite replica of the Ten Commandments in its Central Park. Rev. Fred Phelps—the least-actualized Kansan since Dick and Perry—has seized upon the tablets as a precedent to erect a monument of his own, effectively condemning the late Matthew Shepard to hell. “Many people who read” rjc’s post will “will probably take issue with the idea that the Bible might be used as a source of truth or as a basis for moral judgment.” Rjc prefers the Sermon on the Mount to the Ten Commandments and introduces a hypothetical whereby we “start putting the beatitudes and the greatest commandment everywhere we used to put the ten commandments.” To read rjc’s post in its introspective, meandering entirety, click here.   BenK charges Bazelon with “misinterpreting the establishment clause” of the constitution.  Here, Ben writes:

Localities, even states, should be free to establish whatever religion they want, as long as they can still give ‘full faith and credit’ to other jurisdictions, in terms of things like extradition and commerce …Nobody seems to recall that the bill of rights, for example, was meant to restrict the Federal Government, not bind the local communities to some generalized notions of freedom.
Not so fast, says PubliusJr, replying to BenK that:
Your argument that the state of Utah could blithely decide to be Mormon would probably come as a surprise to the city fathers of Salt Lake, whose petitions for statehood were routinely rejected between 1849 and 1887, partly on the grounds that the Mormons practiced polygamy, prohibited by federal statute in the 1860s.
Zathras argues that Casper can avert the e.c. because:
It is not only possible but easy to make an argument that display of the Ten Commandments as a foundational document of American law is permissible and refusal to similarly display passages from the Koran or Bhagavad Gita is as well, provided one is basing the case on historical grounds.
Z contends that “the legal structure of this country, so exceptional in the world, was developed primarily by men raised in the Christian tradition,” which:
deeply offends people like Emily Bazelon who sincerely believe that there is no difference between the Ten Commandments and a hateful statement about a murder victim.
Here, historyguy takes strong issue with Zathras’ attribution:
The founding fathers modeled this nation on Roman models of representative democracy, with a nod to the Greeks. They thought well of Jesus’ teachings. Some were worshipping Christians as well. They had little use for the Old Testament, and less for the Ten Commandments.
Outstanding work from The_Bell, as always, who agrees with Zathras on the issue of moral equivalency:
Personally, I think Ms. Bazelon is correct and to protect citizens from things that might offend them, I think we have to interpret the Establishment Clause such that the Ten Commadments need to go. But I also agree … that although the law needs be broad enough to cover them both, let us not pretend there is the slightest equivalence in the offense intended either by the monuments themselves or by those who would erect/maintain them.
OWH has a compelling question for the Fray’s G.C.s:
I’m not convinced that the Matthew Shepherd conundrum is as difficult as it appears to be. Couldn’t the city refuse to allow the “Monument of Hate” on the grounds that it is libelous and would subject the city to tort liability?
The schadenfreude enjoyed by the “anti-religious crowds” annoysRipley, because the baby invariably goes out with the bath water. Secularists will “use this as an excuse to drive all forms of religious expression out of the public view.”Mike_Murray finds that “hate speech given a religious overlay is as much political speech than religious (both not either).” Here, MM expands, posing the board’s most thoughtful—and trickiest—question:
Would not an identical argument be made for speech (particularly political speech)? If I am allowed to put a monument to WWII veterans (a political opinion if a very common one) do I necessarily take on a burden to allow Nazis and such to place a monument to the SS? If we allow a monument to be placed to Martin Luther King do we have to allow the KKK to plant a monument as well?

The result would be the banning of all speech (message) of any sort in any public place; in other words, the banning of all monuments of any nature.

If the answer is no, then the answer is no for religious messages as well as political ones (and for exactly the same reasons).
… could make for more interesting airport foyers and street maps … KA4:00 p.m.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Fraysters hit the googleplex this weekend to take in The Matrix Revolutions. Both in Culturebox Fray and Movies Fray, blue-pill-poppers weigh in on the final installment in Larry and Andy Wachowski’s three-pack.  Curiously, Geoff goes New Critic on Slate film critic, David Edelstein (“The Matrix Regurgitated: The final episode in a slam-bang, dreary mess“). Here, Geoff strips down the trilogy this way:

It is wrong to expect Baudrillard or Umberto Eco, or whatever po-mo philosopher you have in mind, set to kung-fu choreography. From the first movie to the finale, The Matrix has been a damned good sci-fi movie set in a mind-bending future world. If it overlapped with the post-modernist’s wet dream about the hyperreal, I have to say, that’s probably overreading. The simulacrum of The Matrix isn’t profound. It’s cool. Get over yourself. It’s a nifty future world. Little more.
(Fraywatch Spoiler Disclaimer: The complete reading of highlighted posts may divulge key plot points and thematic revelations of the flick. If you’re one of those people, please turn your head away from your monitor when viewing these posts.)For more on The Matrix and Jean Baudrillard, read RichardAN’s fun primer here.Voting with Edelstein and Matt Feeney (“Unplugging The Matrix: Why the sci-fi franchise went south“) is fray_wray, who laments:
by putting the tension of the story where it belongs, in the struggle human drama in the face of belief or non-belief, the Wachowskis could have preserved their powerful action sequences and made us care …The Matrix asked big questions and made it thrilling; the sequels offer nothing but answers—with very little left to the imagination—and it feels deadly dull.
Fray_wray attributes some of the narrative malaise to the sense that
1999 seems like an eternity ago, and the dot com bubble and hedonistic heights of rave culture in an America drunk on its own ‘90s excess played expertly into the themes of the original film. But just because the new millennium has brought us the depressing prospect of long-term paranoia … doesn’t mean the Wachowskis had to revert to the childish, clichéd mysticism they’ve offered in 2003.
Thrasymachus chimes in twice on Revolutions, first here (“The problems with Reloaded aren’t philosophical. Fate is just as profound a dilemma as reality.”), then expanding here:
The best thing about the first Matrix movie was the way it stripped away the banal cogs of existence (jobs, laws, taxes, and other instruments of control) and revealed a universe of freedom, power and danger behind the scenes …Well … so much for the purity of that vision.
T concludes, “In retrospect, I wish the rabbit hole hadn’t gone quite so bloody deep.” Here, MsZilla splits the difference, declaring that Revolutions is “hardly revolutionary,” but nevertheless, “if you take this film with its mates, it did its heritage proud.” Along with Geoff, MsZilla touches on the anime that inhabits the trilogy:
The Wachowski’s have learned one thing from mainlining all that anime—sometimes the right thing to do for a story is to kill a character. That John Wayne belief that all the good guys will stand up out of the rubble or if they died they have been sacrificed for some great good is carefully kept in doubt. They didn’t decimate the cast list, but the choices they made really added a lot. Not all stories have happy endings, and people die for reasons that don’t save the universe. Cinema, meet real life. Real life, meet cinema.
For the multimedia impaired, whywhywhy grumbles, “Why should I have to beat a video game or watch some anime to understand a movie?”For a little help, visit the Animatrix site for a little briefing before hitting the main event …  KA9:10 a.m.

Friday, November 7, 2003

Eye Paid For This Microphone! Fraysters, bummed that they’ll have to flip over to WB’s Tarzan on Nov. 16 now that CBS has pulled The Reagans from its schedule, rushed Chatterbox Fray en masse. To Mike_Murray, the light in which Reagan is portrayed is irrelevant. MM writes:

Leave it be for a few years. Yes, courtesy to the dying and their family does have a place and is not ‘quaint’. When we say speak no ill of the dead we are referring primarily to the recently dead. I think it reasonable to extend that to the dying as well …How would we have felt about a salacious docudrama about Kennedy three months after he was assassinated?
TheNewSnobbery retorts that Reagan is fair game:
Politicians are just celebrities, and ex-presidents are subjected to all kinds of small public indignities (as well as grand accolades) all the time.

I’m telling you, the extent of the drama for the Reagan family would go like this.

[Cocktail Party Setting]

Random Reagan Family Member #1: Did you see that terrible thing on CBS?

Random Reagan Family Member #2: No, I have better things to do with my time.

Speaking of which, exactly what is Ron Jr. doing with his time? Is his foray into broadcast journalism now a career? Spare Fraywatch the Google search and do tell. Jmsrober agrees with MM:
Doubtless once Reagan passes on and enough time passes for people to distance themselves from Reagan as a living president he will be the subject of numerous films and books which show him in the worst possible light and the American public will accept this. The public doesn’t need to hold Reagan up as a saint but now is not the time to paint him as a sinner either which this film seems quite clearly to have intended.
Here, JCormac insists that the censorship/portrayal snafu is superfluous to the real issue. Viacom, parent company of CBS, doesn’t:
want to have Mel Karmazin or Sumner Redstone in some Congressional hearing concerning some potential multi-billion dollar acquisition being questioned by some freshman Republican House member (who named his kid “Reagan” to be sure) and forced to defend some crappy miniseries which few would have watched anyway.
Regarding Reagan’s stature in conservative quarters as a saint, The_Bell—a Republican— writes:
Ambrose Bierce once defined a saint as “a dead sinner, revised and edited.” Reagan is not physically dead yet of course but I suppose he is intellectually so. As a conservative, I can accept that definition of “Saint Ronald.” And it is only a matter of time before I shall doubtless accept it for “Saint Jimmy” and “Saint Bill.” Their canonizations are already clearly underway.
Bierce’s reported disappearance to Mexico is as mysterious as “Reagan’s enigmatic character,” which The_Bell follows up on here, touching on the Ronnie’s notorious “emotional detachment”—for better or worse. To Thrasymachus here:
The most troubling thing about Reagan’s illness isn’t that conservatives don’t want people mentioning Reagan’s cognitive deficits as President now, but that they were somehow successful in keeping the media from seriously discussing it then.
TheLastLiberal jumps to Reagan’s defense:
Reagan didn’t pay attention to details because his mind was on the Big Picture. Einstein was a poor student, never learned to tie his shoes, couldn’t handle money, etc. Shall we conclude that Einstein was “out of it” or had Alzheimer’s?? I think not.Reagan had his mind on “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.” Now, there’s a detail. His speechwriters took that sentence out of that speech five times, and Reagan put it back in—six times. It was an earth-shattering, world-changing sentence. He knew it …If Reagan were still in office, would we be fighting over nonsense, or would we be helping these people who are our actual allies?? Big picture, or Trivial Pursuit?
The_Slasher-8 here and historyguy here try to set the historical record straight on exactly what Reagan did or did not accomplish during his two terms in the White House. In related news, Slate’s editorial board has put horoscopes on the agenda as a possible addition to the magazine at an indeterminate date … KA10:00 a.m.

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Howard Dean “still wants to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.”

Give it to me straight, Doc: “I want them to put down those flags and vote Democratic—because the need for quality health care, jobs and a good education knows no racial boundaries.”  Flag flak—along with Dean’s relatively centrist views of gun control—have incited the indignation of his opponents and a little schadenfreude from Fraysters. But Joe_JP jumps to Dean’s defense here:

The message, as important, that the Democrats have the potential to attract many Republicans now attract because deep down their interests can be met by the Democrats is missed. One can blame Dean, in part, for using a bad metaphor. But, let’s also remember the whole point of using it.
Joe quotes Jack Balkin’s blog as a well-articulated explanation of Dean’s message.  Expressing her long-standing suspicion here of Dean (and her support of John Kerry), zinya writes:
To my fellow Dems, Dean, re NRA, shows an unwise pandering off the edge … again! I urge my fellow Dems who are Deaniacs at this point to reconsider … :) how much we really have yet to know or see about Dean …

Meanwhile, Kerry has walked the talk for 20 yrs of voting priorities consistently dear to our hearts—everything from environment to energy independence (and jobs!) to social justice to education to internationalism.
Joe’s defense of Dean in this thread can be found here and here, where he points out that Hubert H. Humphrey was a “supporter of gun rights” and that southerners Wesley Clark and John Edwards may very well hold views similar to Dean’s.  Was Will Saletan right about Dean back in June? Is he a closet centrist whose heretofore liberal base has embraced him hook, line, and sinker, despite his iffy views on some core Democratic issues?   Among Republicans in Kausfiles Fray, Neocon quotes the WSJ’s editorial page here, and suggests that “this may be the last time you ever read the WSJ editorially admiring Howard Dean.” Here, Neocon takes some pleasure in the Dems infighting over the southern issue:
It’s like watching someone you really dislike walk into traffic. You can’t help but yell, “Hey stupid, that’s a tractor trailer bearing down on you.” But they just wave cavalierly and walk right into its path.

At least we tried to warn them. Yes? What else can we do? Huh?
The Dean strategy is a curious one, and will be an interesting test for the Democratic base. On balance, here is a guy with very little appeal to Democrats long enraptured by identity politics—with the possible exception of gays. Jews and blacks are particularly suspicious of Dean. In parts of the south, he’s going with a “keep your gun and your job” message. If he’s going to pull through, it will be by flouting identity politics and single issues in favor of a less traditional brand of class warfare—one that emphasizes the natural rights of citizens over the traditional, shrill Gore-ish call for soaking the rich … KA 9:10 a.m.