Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Obama and Race

When Obama first took office, his poll numbers were sky high. Easily seventy percent of the country was solidly behind him, and even many conservatives were impressed with his post-election performance. (Immediately after Obama’s election, many in the traditional media were absolutely giddy with excitement. I was recently stuck in a waiting room with a copy of a December Time magazine; that issue featured four brief essays for possible Persons of the Year. The choices were Obama, Obama, the American people for electing Obama, and Obama again, but with Michael Phelps second).

Obama has squandered much of that good will. According to the reliable Rasmussen Reports, Obama’s overall approval numbers have plummeted from a high of sixty-nine percent in early January (and sixty-five on the day of his inauguration, with forty-four percent of those strongly approving) to fifty-one percent in the most recent day of polling.

It’s not difficult to find the reason for Obama’s drop in popularity. He has turned out to me more liberal than most (at least those who don’t listen to talk radio) expected. With the passage of the stimulus bill, he committed himself to deficit spending, and with cap-and-trade and health care reform, he has signaled his commitment to expensive and intrusive social programs.

Americans liked the hope and change stuff, but many draw the line here. So many moderates shift from “approve” to “disapprove,” and many more conservative people suddenly strongly disapprove of Obama’s policies.

Not a bad thing, from a conservative point of view. But there’s a catch. People who disagree with another politics can rarely restrain themselves to the issues—rather, the other person’s character and person comes under attack.

A good example of this phenomenon is the liberal response to George W. Bush. They couldn’t accept that Bush happened to support different policies than they did—instead, he was a stupid, uneducated hick controlled by a diabolical Dick Cheney. (This about a man who went to Yale, and whose family has set down some pretty solid roots among the Eastern elite).

It was inevitable that such attacks would crop up among conservatives as well. Most of them are irrelevant but tolerable—the worst of these are the nutty but harmless birth certificate rumors.

There are other, more harmful attacks as well, and unfortunately some of them involve race. One, which I experienced, was a chain email, the gist of which was an unflattering photo of Michelle Obama next to a picture of monkey. Another example was a conversation I had with a conservative stranger; she suggested that Obama’s sterling college record was tainted by affirmative action and summer classes, which in her experience were apparently crutches used by “stupid” blacks to retake hard courses. (Speaking as a college student, taking very difficult courses during the summer isn’t exactly uncommon, nor is it done only by unintelligent people).

Both of these people were quite nice; people who you wouldn’t expect to have a racist bone in their bodies, and indeed probably don’t—in the former case, I am quite sure that distain for Obama won out over good judgment with the “forward” button.

Such tasteless joke probably won’t set the cause of race relations back twenty years, or give the Ku Klux Klan a new lease on life, or anything of that kind. They’re just nasty and tasteless, and hopefully they’ll die out soon. And they aren’t any nastier than thing liberals have been known to say about conservative politicians.

At the same time, while these jokes and attacks may be mostly harmless to society at large, they hurt the Republican party. Puns aren’t the lowest form of humor, racial jokes are, and racial attacks are the nastiest. A party, or a movement, is defined by its base—and what discerning person would want to be part of a movement that thinks insinuating that a black woman looks like a monkey (which Michelle Obama, by the way, really doesn’t) is a hilarious and cutting bit of wit?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The First Black President?

In the days following Barack Obama’s election, Americans were feeling pretty darned progressive, if they did say so themselves. And they did say so, smugly and often, congratulating themselves on their fundamental human decency for having the grace to elect a black man. Something that would have been unthinkable a generation or two ago had become reality, and Americans basked in self-justified pride.

It’s one of the most common American clichés: anyone, no matter their race, color, class, or creed, can become president. Barack Obama is seen as fulfilling that ideal.

But let’s be realistic. Barack Obama’s blackness is, literally, only skin deep. Culturally, he is very, very white.

Obama’s father was his sole connection with any sort of African heritage. He left Obama’s mother when Barack was two. Four years later, Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, moved to Indonesia with her new husband, where Obama spent the next four years. After age ten, he was raised primarily (and at times exclusively) by his maternal grandparents. From the fifth grade through high school, he attended the Punahou School, an elite prep school.

From there, he went on to the exclusive Occidental College, then transferred to Columbia University. He picked up his law degree at Harvard, where he was editor of the Harvard Law Review.

Those are very strong credentials for president—in fact, looking at them, they are much stronger than those of either John McCain or Sarah Palin. (And yes, there are other considerations than education in the selection of a president, but education is a consideration).

Yet Obama’s experiences are not those of a “typical” black person. He grew up in a white family, and was educated at mostly white universities, and mingled with mostly white people during his formative years. Obama’s connection to Africa lies only in his genes, not his life experiences.

This is not a problem, unless you care about identity politics. Much of Barack Obama’s support arose from the fact that many wanted to be a part of the election of the first black president. But while it is hard to measure “blackness,” a half-Caucasian whose formation arose almost entirely from white culture is scarcely connected with the more general African-American experience.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

An Abortion Party

There’s this column in AlterNet written by Bynard Duncan that’s raising some eyebrows around the conservative side of the Internet. It’s called “My First Abortion Party,” and it’s easy to see why it raised conservative eyebrows. The whole thing is basically pointless—Duncan describes the infamous party, then seems to realize there’s some more space to fill and asks some questions he doesn’t even try to answer (“what are the inherent emotional features of being "male" or "female?”), and then allows for room for anger and disagreement.

Overall, it’s a pretty poorly written piece, but that’s not why conservatives noticed it. The hook, of course, is Duncan’s “first” abortion party, like invitations to such parties are normal and are just pouring in for most people.

Duncan sets up the situation:
"Have you guys heard the news?" Maggie (name changed) unwrapped the scarf from around her neck and patted her flat belly. "Preggers." It was around 30 degrees outside, and her cheeks were splashed pink from the Indiana wind.
She had discovered earlier that week, after missing a period and taking the test. "I kind of knew already. My boobs and my lower back have been killing me for a while."

Yeah, that’s a confirmed feminist all right. You might think that a 22 year-old college senior (as “Maggie” is) might be a little worried, but “Maggie” is just as cool as a cucumber. Because that’s just how modern girls act, or at least how Duncan thinks they should act.

I’m not even sure how he’s supposed to know Maggie, anyway. She’s supposed to be his girlfriend’s best friend, but he looks a lot older than college age in his Facebook picture (the only information I could find about him), and his girlfriend looks even older than he does.

Anyway, Maggie is going to have a party to help raise money for her abortion, which is the part that gets conservatives mad, and hopefully even makes liberals a little uncomfortable. So Duncan and Ali (that’s his girlfriend) walk in, and
we were bludgeoned with a blast of hot air, followed by the tangy stink of dance floor revelry. Someone had taken a red bed sheet and hung it below a light fixture to resemble a giant womb. Every so often, a dancer’s head or arm or dreadlock would brush against one of its smooth folds, creating a rippling effect. "Let’s Go Crazy" by Prince was playing.

Sounds like a pretty crazy party, huh? They even found a red bed sheet, which I didn’t think existed. (I’ve never seen one, at least). And they have a song with an fitting title playing. Sounds like quite the scene of debauchery, huh?

Or not.
I sat down and struck up a conversation with Eli, the three-year-old son of one of the partygoers.

Given that Maggie is supposed to be a college senior, I wonder how many people old enough to have a three year old son she knows well enough to invite to her parties. And honestly, I’d love to have a look at little Eli’s parents. Given the circumstances, I’d guess the poor kid would be surrounded by alcohol and underage drinking, giving him a head start on alcoholism that most drunks only dream about.

Maggie’s boyfriend was also there, though he was “looking uncomfortably alone,” since I guess Maggie’s friends were angry at him for his involvement in the abortion, though I’m not sure what they wanted. Duncan used this fact to raise his questions about differences between male and female, though since he never even tries to answer them they just come off as silly and pointless.

Now, I doubt the abortion party happened as Duncan said. The party seems sometimes to be a shocking scene of debauchery, and then turns out to be pretty family friendly. Maggie’s calmness in the face of her difficult situation is pretty odd. And I find it difficult to think that Maggie’s friends would be angry at her boyfriend for being too involved; rather, I think it’d be more likely the other way around.

There’s a chance “Maggie” read that article, and I can’t believe that Duncan would make the situation so recognizable that her identity would be exposed to any acquaintances reading. So Duncan probably changed enough details to both conceal identities and make the thing more interesting. The real story was probably a lot less shocking, and a lot more boring.

Still, the article reveals something interesting about the pro-choice mentality. The whole first half is nothing more than an attempt (a successful one) to shock pro-lifers, while simultaneously attempting to portray abortion as normal and commonplace. (Remember, this is his “first abortion party, so presumably there will be many more).

This tactic is characteristic of the pro-abortion movement as a whole. Their position—that abortion is moral—is indefensible. (Not that this proves abortion is wrong—but it is impossible, outside the theological sphere, to say when the soul enters the body. And if you don’t believe in the soul, I honestly don’t understand how one could put a value on human life). So if it is very difficult to win converts via logical debate, the next best thing is an appeal to emotion, where abortion is painted as both normal and necessary.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What Will Palin Do Next?

Sarah Palin’s weird resignation is still rocking the political world, especially since the Michael Jackson funeral has driven comparatively unimportant topics such as U.S.-Russia relations well off the radar. (I didn’t plan to watch the Jackson special, but some unexpected events led me to a seat in a McDonald’s under a TV showing it. Al Sharpton—who to my knowledge had absolutely nothing to do with Jackson when he was alive—was speaking, which tells you all you need to know about it). So political news is stuck on the last big story, and every pundit out there is frantically trying to figure why Palin resigned, and where she goes from here.

Such speculation about Palin’s is utterly pointless, of course, since there isn’t anything to go on besides her weird farewell speech, and while it isn’t particularly easy to decipher is clear enough to speak for itself. Palin seems to have quit due to three main reasons—frustration at her limited influence as Alaska’s governor, disgust over the constant media scrutiny of her family, and weariness about the constant and—so far—groundless ethical complaints.

Those reasons aren’t really that compelling. Governor of Alaska might not be the most influential position in politics, but still, it does have some influence, and Palin’s assertion that she is now a “lame duck” because she won’t run for reelection in a year and a half is just strange. Any while the ethics complaints are no doubt annoying, and expensive for Alaska, few if any of them seem to be valid, and they are a part of the job. (Note: if, as some speculate, it turns out Palin resigned due to a ethical or personal scandal, ignore that last sentence).

Palin’s concern for her family is the closest thing she had to a legitimate reason to quit. The attacks on her, and her family, have been really over-the-top and cruel, and there doesn’t seem to have been much fact-checking involved. But she seems to have an intention of staying in politics—she mentioned a “higher calling” and quoted O.P. Smith, saying that she “wasn’t retreating, but advancing in another direction,” and opened a Twitter account.

Palin seems to want a political future. But does she have one? Every cable news pundit has tried to answer that question, and if so, to guess how Palin will try to rebrand herself.

My guess, which is completely unfounded and is almost certainly wrong (but every other blogger is doing the same thing, so can you blame me?), is that Palin is planning a presidential run built solely on a populist platform. Palin doesn’t seem to be particularly popular with the elites in the Republican party, and there can’t be many Washington power brokers who like her. The mainstream media still dislikes her, so creating a favorable image with these handicaps, while stuck as governor of an unimportant and isolated state, may have seemed like too daunting a challenge. Palin is still popular among the conservative rank and file, so she may very well have felt going populist was the way to go.

Now, Palin is free to pull down lots of cash via speaking gigs, and can spend more of her time writing her book. (Or, possibly, supervising her ghostwriter’s work). She will, I think, run for president in 2012, and if she does, she will run only on the cult of personality that is Sarah Palin. She won’t have anything else—expect perhaps for the support of Rush Limbaugh and some of Fox News, which is not inconsiderable. But she will be forced to do without any help from the Republican party or many interest groups, at any rate unless she wins the nomination.

Would a Palin populist platform succeed? It shouldn’t. Palin showed promise as John McCain’s running mate, and didn’t do terribly poorly in a very difficult position, but since then has become a broken record (always whining about media unfairness, and if her complaints are not invalid, they do become tedious), and has acted unpardonably in her resignation. I couldn’t imagine myself voting for her.

I would guess that many Republicans feel the same way. But it doesn’t do to underestimate Sarah Palin. If an unlikely 2012 run succeeded, she would hardly be the first presidential candidate to win on little more than a smile and a speech. (Obama springs to mind, and so does Kennedy). Palin probably won’t ever be president now, and probably won’t ever even come close. But she does have some remarkable talent, and it would be foolish to write her off.

Another note. Some pundits are saying that Palin was foolish to accept McCain’s running mate offer. She might regret it, but politically, it was a smart move to make. She was governor of Alaska, and such offers don’t often come along for people in that position. Accepting McCain’s offer was the wisest course for her.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Left's War on Science

During the Bush years, one of the most commonly leveled charges against Bush and conservatives was the “politization of science.” There was more than a little truth to these charges, though Bush did not so much “politicize” science as ignore any undesirable science—Bush probably believed in evolution, but he was sympathetic to intelligent design proponents, and ignored any science proving global warming.

This is, or should be, sort of embarrassing for conservatives. Conservatism prides itself on its strict allegiance to facts (though I guess most political philosophies would do that), and the outright denial of evolution, and the disregard for any evidence of global warming flies in the face of that ethos. Conservatives should do a little self-examination on this issue.

Conservatives should do some self-examination—emphasis on the self part, because they do not need any help from liberals. Liberals are in no position to criticize conservatives for their attitude towards science—their attitude towards science is just as careless and selective as that of conservatives.

Take feminist theory (which isn’t, perhaps, science in the strictest sense, though a bachelors degree in feminist studies is technically a bachelors of science degree, and it does involve sifting evidence and forming hypothesis’s). Feminism is taught in a great many colleges, and is considered—at least on the Left—as a legitimate course of study. Yet the most respected feminist textbooks are full of obviously false “facts.”

In Nancy Lemon’s Domestic Violence Law, Lemon explains that the phrase “rule of thumb” arose from laws in Romulus’ Rome regulating the width of wife-beating rods. She also reveals that between twenty and thirty-five percent of women in emergency rooms are there due to domestic violence, and that women who are domestically abused are twice as likely to suffer miscarriages and birth defects. All these “facts” are completely baseless—yet university professors continue to pass them off as solid truth.

Another example of liberal disregard for science is its attitude towards global warming. Most liberals believe in the existence of man-made global warming, and given that most scientists do too, they are probably right to do so. But their support for climate change regulation too often seems to exist independently of the science of global warming, and they are quite willing to ignore inconvenient truths to advance their agenda.

A while back, environmentalists circulated a poignant picture to bring home to Americans the effects of global warming. It showed two confused looking polar bears stuck on an ice floe, with open water all around them. It was an effective shot—when the iceberg finished melting (thanks to global warming of course), the polar bears would presumably sink to a watery death, all thanks to remorseless Western consumption.

In reality, that sort of thing is quite common, global warming or no global warming. Icebergs exist no matter the earth’s temperature, and polar bears are pretty good swimmers, so they rarely drown, no matter how far they end up drifting.

Japan’s Mount Kilimanjaro is famous for its snowcapped summit. That snow is melting, which was another striking global warming image—until it was revealed that the mountain’s snows had been melting for decades—well before man-made global warming had begun.

Anthropogenic global warming is real, but the proper way to get the public’s attention is not to fabricate scary anecdotes. This sort of thing is every bit as dishonest as those who attempt to disprove global warming using obviously bad science.

It is not only the Right that is guilty of politicizing science. The Left is equally guilty—and sometimes more so. Both sides accept only that science which conforms with their beliefs—and ignores the rest.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Revolution Over

It looks like Michael Jackson's death has more or less ended the whole Iranian revolution thing. Yeah, there were other factors, such as the Iranian government's crackdown on dissidents, but the MJ saga pushed it off the front page pretty quickly, meaning that the mullahs could get away with murder. (Literally, in some cases). I never thought the revolutionaries had much of chance, but it's sad to see it end.

Michael Jackson R.I.P.

Michael Jackson is dead at fifty. And the reaction to his death is fitting. Every cable news and entertainment channel, and most every radio station, is running (or at least was running—it has been more than twenty-four hours since Jackson died) wall-to-wall coverage of his death. The death of Michael Jackson is a lucrative business—aside from the monster television ratings to be had, Jackson’s albums are selling again—Thriller hit #1 on Amazon.

This orgy of profit is appropriate, given Jackson’s career arc. He was deprived of any sort of childhood by his abusive father, forced to practice singing and not much else. His success as a child star condemned him to a sort of eternal childhood—his handlers injected him with female hormones to preserve his youthful voice, and he was encouraged to live in a Peter Pan, never-grow-up world.

Jackson bore some responsibility for his increasingly eccentric actions—but he never really had a chance. No one could do much given his circumstances—instant fame, but incredible pressure and dreadful and sometimes abusive authority figures. His fame would have nigh-impossible for even the most balanced person to handle. In Michael Jackson’s case, the results were horrible.

He went a little mad, ruining his face with plastic surgeries, allegedly molesting children, and going from riches to rags, dying a poor man. Michael Jackson was an icon, a legend, one of pop music’s greatest figures—but also an American tragedy.