Sexualized Conservatism

Via Pam Spaulding at Pandagon, we can find this sharp, pointy, paragraph-like object wedged near the tail-end of a 1991 article from Bush's new Surgeon General nominee:
At our Boston meeting, we spent some time discussing the complementarity of the human sexes. Although one could gather from the discussion of the consultants in scripture, theology, and Christian ethics that there may be some lack of assurance that the human sexes complement each other, I believe that it is possible to argue succinctly from an anatomical (structure) and physiological (function) point of view that the human sexes are indeed complementary.
According to Dr. Creep Me The Hell Out, I can see that what the Wife of Bath argued over 600 years ago is still under debate in some circles which he happens to frequent. Further, as Digby notes, Roger Simon's manlust over Mitt Romney's physique, while not equally creepy, is certainly both quite odd and also widespread among many conservative pundits:
This is on top of his earlier embarrassment from a few months back:

But Romney is so polished and looks so much like a president would look if television picked our presidents (and it does) that sometimes you have to ask yourself if you are watching the real deal or a careful construction.

Romney has chiseled-out-of-granite features, a full, dark head of hair going a distinguished gray at the temples, and a barrel chest. On the morning that he announced for president, I bumped into him in the lounge of the Marriott and up close he is almost overpowering. He radiates vigor.

But, hey, at least Romney actually is a handsome, chiseled fellow. When they start going on and on about the babe magnet Fred Thompson or the hunky Giuliani I have to shake my head in wonder. There's something wrong with them and it has nothing to do with being gay or straight. This is way deeper than that --- so deep, in fact, that someone should do their psychology thesis on the subject. Why do so many male Washington courtiers have giggling mancrushes on phony Republican politicians? A question for the ages if there ever was one.
Conservatism is heavily sexualized, and these two examples are just the tip of the, um, uh, iceberg. From impeaching Clinton over sex, to making gay marriage the centerpiece of the 2004 campaign, to protecting child predator Mark Foley in order to try and hold onto FL-16, conservative politics has a tendency to be extremely sexualized. As I wrote two years ago:
If you hadn't already noticed, the modern conservative movement wants to control every aspect of sexual activity and intimate relationships. They want to control marriage, they want to control women's fertility, they want to keep teens from knowing about sex, they want to stop gay people from doing it, they want to ban contraceptives, they don't want anyone to talk about masturbation, and they certainly don't want to see boobs on television.
The conservative obsession with sex and the body is directly connected to their identity politics and cultural supremacist ideology. The identity they seek to force upon the rest of the country (and, indeed, the world) is not merely white and Christian, but also in line with "traditional" views of sexuality (which are often contradictory and nebulous). This presents progressives with a huge wedge opportunity, not unlike the immigration wedge (which is also identity-based) that is currently wrecking havoc on the Republican Party. Simply put, most people who vote Republican are not in line with theocon movementarian views on sexual identity, and if these theocon were somehow foregrounded in our national political discourse, it could create a long-standing, nearly permanent wedge within that party. Apart from the occasional Mark Foley type scandal, I don't necessarily know how this can best be accomplished, but it is worth thinking about. Many theo-conservatives want to find your porn, show it to your mother, and then tell her which positions she and her husband are allowed to engage in during sexual intercourse. It may sound creepy, and it isn't the sort of subject people enjoy discussing in public, but that many social conservatives hold such creepy beliefs would cause them a lot of problems if this sort of thing was discussed in public. I have to wonder if the conservative movement has long benefited from relative progressive silence of sexuality.

Unions to Clinton: Please Tell Penn We Don't Like Him

Mayor Quimby's response to Mr. Burns blocking out the sun:
People, take it easy. We're all upset about Mr. Burns' plan to, uh, block out our sun. It is time for decisive action. I have here a polite but firm letter to Mr. Burns' underlings, who with some cajoling, will pass it along to him or at least give him the gist of it.

Union leaders to Hillary Clinton on Mark Penn's union-busting:
The presidents of two large labor unions have written to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to complain that Mark Penn, her pollster and chief strategist, is chief executive of a public relations firm that is helping a company fight a unionization drive.(...)

"If Hillary is pro-worker and pro-union, she will certainly take steps to rein in Mr. Penn," Mr. Hoffa said in an interview. "He cannot serve two masters, working for a pro-union candidate and working for anti-union companies."

In the letter, Mr. Hoffa and Mr. Raynor said, "It is with distress that we write you today," adding that they valued Mrs. Clinton's positions on many worker-related issues.(...)

In interviews, Mr. Hoffa and Mr. Raynor stopped short of calling on Mrs. Clinton to disassociate herself from Mr. Penn.

Mr. Raynor said, "She ought to send a clear message to this guy Penn that she is unhappy about this union-busting stuff and that he shouldn't be associated with it."
Wow! Way to rock the boat and challenge the status quo! A couple of unions would like Clinton to "send a message" to Penn on their behalf. That's pretty strong stuff. I wonder what that message would be? Perhaps they can look to Quimby for more advice on how to organize a union in the company where Penn's firm in conducting the union busting:
"I propose that I use what's, uh, left of the town treasury to move to a more prosperous town and run for mayor. And, uh, once elected, I will send for the rest of you."
Wouldn't want to play hardball or anything. After all, the company Penn's firm is seeking to keep non-union only employs 17,000 workers.

TarHeel has more in the diaries.

Obama's Come To Jesus Moment

Speaking of progressive instincts, five weeks ago the New York Times published an article on Obama's "search for faith" that greatly increased my esteem for the man. From the article:
Twenty years ago at Trinity, Mr. Obama, then a community organizer in poor Chicago neighborhoods, found the African-American community he had sought all his life, along with professional credibility as a community organizer and an education in how to inspire followers. He had sampled various faiths but adopted none until he met Mr. Wright, a dynamic pastor who preached Afrocentric theology, dabbled in radical politics and delivered music-and-profanity-spiked sermons.(...)

Still, Mr. Obama was entranced by Mr. Wright, whose sermons fused analysis of the Bible with outrage at what he saw as the racism of everything from daily life in Chicago to American foreign policy. Mr. Obama had never met a minister who made pilgrimages to Africa, welcomed women leaders and gay members and crooned Teddy Pendergrass rhythm and blues from the pulpit. Mr. Wright was making Trinity a social force, initiating day care, drug counseling, legal aid and tutoring.
I am about as secular and generally irreligious as someone comes, but that Obama's connection to his faith arose in the context of left-wing activism and preaching somehow still makes me feel a personal connection with him. It reminds me of how my entrance to politics came not though mainstream electoral work, but through the social justice movement that was often steeped in the ideals of the so-called radical left. Further, a ministry such Wright's Trinity Church would be quite normal in my long-term area of residence, West Philly, where anarchists are still commonplace, Republicans poll in the single digits, and one can still see the MOVE house that was bombed by the city (in fact, when I first moved to Philly in 1997, I lived on Osage avenue). Obama's background and spiritual path connect to areas of the country like West Philadelphia in a way that few, if any, national politicians are able to do. It just isn't the sort of neighborhood that one often sees portrayed accurately, if portrayed at all, in our national mass media. Obama, however, I think would understand it quite well. On both a cultural and personal level, that means a lot to me.

This is also why I sometimes just don't "get" Obama. The contorted, insider view of politics that I described in my post on Edwards below is about as far from ordinary life in West Philadelphia as one could possibly imagine. Yet, often times, Obama seems to buy into that mentality. Despite what I intuit to be his utterly progressive core stemming from his work as a community organizer and the way he found his faith, often times his proposed policies seem decidedly neoliberal, his occasional left-wing straw man rhetoric feels like it targets residents of West Philadelphia, and some of his campaign associates seem to be establishment of the worst sort. In many ways, it is almost the exact opposite of my questions about Edwards, whose past voting record was quite neoliberal, but his proposed policies now sound extremely progressive.

The whole situation feels very difficult to sort out. The progressive choice between Edwards and Obama seems to be in no way clear to me. In both cases, there seems to be a disconnect between past and present, policy and rhetoric, instincts and action. What is the real Barack Obama like? What is the real John Edwards like? I honestly don't know, but I currently lean toward Edwards. Let me emphasize that I lean toward Edwards. When I watch the lengthy Obama vs. Edwards discussions on MyDD, mostly I am stunned by just how vehement and certain so many commenters appears to be of their choices. In many ways, it reminds me of Fattah vs. Nutter for Philly mayor (both of whom were representin' West Philly). As the campaign went on, so many supporters of one candidate or the other were just so damned certain that the other candidate was the devil incarnate, that I wondered sometimes if I was reliving Kerry vs. Bush arguments on non-partisan message boards. After a while, it all struck me as truly absurd. Figuring out where someone's political instincts truly rest is not an easy game, and I think we should all maintain more open minds and personal senses of fallibility in our judgments on this front than we have to date. After all, if there is one common characteristic of Edwards and Obama, it is that they have both clearly changed during their political careers, and always seem to be engaged in a learning process. I'd like it if we all acted same way.

Presidential IQ

A political scientist friend of mine sent me an article yesterday that attempts to estimate the IQ of 42 of the 43 Presidents of the United States. You can read the entire article here, including the convoluted methodology. I would rather just cut to the chase and post the amusing results, ranked from highest to lowest:

Estimated Presidential IQ Range, Age 18-26. Source: Dean Keith Simonton, UC Davis
  1. J. Q. Adams: 165-175
  2. Jefferson: 150-160
  3. Kennedy: 148-160
  4. Clinton: 147-159
  5. Carter: 144-157
  6. J. Adams: 145-155
  7. Wilson: 144-155
  8. Madison: 135-160
  9. T. Roosevelt: 142-153
  10. Garfield: 141-152
  11. Arthur: 141-152
  12. F. Roosevelt: 140-151
  13. Lincoln: 140-150
  14. Filmore: 137-149
  15. Tyler: 137-148
  16. Pierce: 136-147
  17. Hayes: 136-146
  18. W. Harrison: 136-146
  19. Van Buren: 135-146
  20. B. Harrison: 134-145
  21. Eisenhower: 134-145
  22. Cleveland: 133-144
  23. Nixon: 133-143
  24. Polk: 133-143
  25. McKinley: 133-143
  26. Bush Sr.: 133-143
  27. Jackson: 130-145
  28. Washington: 135-140
  29. Hoover: 132-143
  30. Regan: 132-142
  31. Coolidge: 131-142
  32. LBJ: 131-141
  33. Ford: 130-140
  34. Truman: 130-140
  35. Taft: 130-140
  36. A. Johnson: 129-140
  37. Buchannan: 129-140
  38. Taylor: 129-140
  39. Harding: 128-140
  40. Bush Jr.: 129-139
  41. Monroe: 128-139
  42. Grant: 125-130
The paper actually goes down to a decimal point, allowing for tiebreakers. Also, if you remove John Quincy Adams, the range is fairly narrow, only 27-28 points from Grant to Jefferson at each's median. The paper also claims to have an extremely accurate methodology, and that there is a correspondence between intelligence and performance in the Presidency. Somehow, back in 2000, that completely backfired on Gore, who was widely considered to be much smarter than Bush. However, Bush somehow seemed to still win personality points more than Gore. Perhaps, now that people are sick of Bush and consider him a failure, we need to start pushing "gravitas" as an important characteristic of a chief executive. Also, I wonder which current Democratic candidate is the "smartest."

Democrats To Be Saved By Learning From Republicans

The Democratic Party is in the midst of a severe electoral crisis. Right now, we only control the US House, the US Senate, the majority of Governorships, the majority of state legislatures, and we lead in only seven out of the eight top-tier matchups in the 2008 general election. Our future prospects look equally dim, as those leads in the 2008 general election are only coming from trendlines showing us down by double digits. Further, we hold slender, barely double-digit lead in generic congressional ballots, and we have to defend fully twelve of the thirty-three Senate seats up for re-election in 2008. (That's nearly 40%!) Also, Democrats only hold a net 25-30% edge on Republicans in the favorable / unfavorable ratio, and have only increased their partisan self-identification advantage by a rate of only three points a year for the last five years. While we now hold a fundraising advantage on Republicans for the first time in decades, we, um, uh... ok, I'll just stop there.

One of the nice side effects from our great electoral success in 2006 is that the tide of books, speeches, and studies by progressives with conservative movement envy has been significantly reduced. No more do we have to hear about how great Republicans are at virtually everything political: language crafting, staying on message, voter identification, GOTV, paid media quality, free media booking, etc. Now that Republicans and the conservative movement have been historically trounced on the electoral front, their political sophistication no longer appears all that profound. We beat them at the height of their fundraising prowess, the height of their early voting programs, the height of their voter contact programs, and basically the height of their everything. Republicans did not lose in 2006 because of mistakes. In fact, their machine was working so well that supposed uber-genius Karl Rove was convinced that Republicans would do just fine in the 2006 elections.

I, for one, am quite glad that we are no longer wallowing in conservative envy. I was tired of hearing just how smart Republicans were on the electoral front, and how stupid we were, even though the peak of Republican electoral power in 2002 still only netted them a 5.1% victory among the national electorate. Granted, there is a danger in my attitude. When you lose a campaign, generally speaking people criticize everything you do, and look to improve on every aspect of your political machinery. However, when you win, often people are too quick to praise everything you did, and lose some of the impetus to turn a critical eye on elements of your infrastructure and strategy that could be improved. A better attitude should always be to realize that even in defeat, there are probably things we did quite well, and even in victory, there are things we could have done much better. Further, it is important to remember that the differences between the worst electoral defeats and the biggest electoral victories are pretty marginal on the national stage these days. Even a realignment ultimately means, at most, a more or less permanent swing of about 7-8% of the national electorate, which roughly represents the margins of the 1988, 1994, and 2006 national elections. The vast majority of voters take actions independent of the decisions and output of any campaign or political machinery. More often than not, consultants, analysts, and other political operatives are just working to improve on the margins.

To wax Yoda for a moment, improve we still can. The key, I think, is to just have some perspective on the amounts we can improve. Consider, for example, a triple book review in the New York Times focusing the use of language in our national political discourse. One of the books reviewed is The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of a Nation by Drew Weston, a professor at Emory. Reviewer Michael Tomsky is clearly quite excited about the ideas present in the book:

There's more...


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