Creeping Medievalism

Even thought the Christian right does not want to guarantee the right to a public education, and is willing to uphold segregationist laws in order to make certain that does not become a right... Leading opponents, such as Alabama Christian Coalition President John Giles, said they did not object to removing the passage about separate schools for "white and colored children." But, employing an argument that was ridiculed by most of the state's newspapers and by legions of legal experts, Giles and others said guaranteeing a right to a public education would have opened a door for "rogue" federal judges to order the state to raise taxes to pay for improvements in its public school system. ...they do want to mold the science curriculum of public schools The school board has ordered that biology teachers at Dover Area High School make students "aware of gaps/problems" in the theory of evolution. Their ninth-grade curriculum now must include the theory of "intelligent design," which posits that life is so complex and elaborate that some greater wisdom has to be behind it.(...)

The idea of intelligent design was initiated by a small group of scientists to explain what they believe to be gaps in Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which they say is "not adequate to explain all natural phenomena. "(...)

Critics such as Eugenie Scott, director of the Oakland-based National Center for Science Education, say the Dover school board's decision is part of a growing trend. Religious conservatives, critics say, have been waging a war against Darwin in classrooms since the Scopes "Monkey Trial" of 1925. Tennessee schoolteacher John Scopes was convicted of illegally teaching evolution, but his conviction later was thrown out on a technicality by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

"There's a constant impetus by conservative evangelical Christians to bring religion back into the public schools," said Witold Walczak, legal director of the Pennsylvania branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. "The end goal is to get rid of evolution. They view it as a threat to their religion."

Perhaps we should form a truce: if you do not believe that public education is a right, then you do not have the right to determine curriculum in public schools.

Conservatives crush enterprise through intolerance. Conservatives crush enterprise by defending the interests of an aristocratic, status-quo corporate oligarchy over small business. In our current economy, jobs and new business are more dependent upon scientific knowledge that at any time in the past. Now, because intolerance and aristocracy are not enough, conservatives want to crush enterprise by making certain that the next generation is ignorant of modern science.

When will libertarians wake up and realize that free-spending conservatives who are the real threats to American enterprise and progress? Innovation, tolerance and entrepreneurship are liberal values, values to which conservatives are opposed.

Moving, Part Two: If The Question is Wrong, The Answer Will Follow

In the interests of promoting Republican talking points about Democrats and ideology even after the election, Rasmussen has conducted a poll: Saturday November 20, 2004--Half (51%) of the nation's Democrats say it would be best for their party to nominate a more centrist candidate in 2008. Twenty-five percent (25%) believe that it would be best to nominate a more liberal candidate than John Kerry. Count me in the 24% that would have answered "neither." Believing that Kerry's problem had something to do with his ideological predilections is difficult for me to swallow. First, such analysis assumes that a significant portion of the electorate conceptualizes ideology in a one-dimensional linear fashion, which is highly dubious. Second, such analysis assumes that Kerry and the Kerry campaign did an excellent job of delivering an ideological, specifically liberal, message. Does anyone seriously believe that Kerry framed a liberal message in a particularly effective manner? The first JFK did not back down from that challenge, while the second JFK refused to buy into labels.

While I firmly believe that we need to increase the number of liberals as a percentage of the electorate, I do not believe that moving in either direction along the one-dimensional, abstract ideological spectrum of left and right will have any noticeable impact on the party's electoral fortunes. We do not need to better appeal to liberals or moderates, since exit polls show we already do a darn good job of appealing to both. We do, however, need to increase the number of people that self-identify as either liberal or moderate (especially liberal), since people who do so tend to vote for Democrats. I do not think that moving in either direction will help in that task. I do believe that better framing of our message will help.

The Convention Speech I Would Have Given

Of course, I was not even invited to blog at the convention, much less speak at it. Anyway...

For the past few days, I have been thinking a lot about not only my own beliefs, but what it means to be a liberal. The more I think about it, for me the main difference between liberalism and conservatism is one of action and inaction, of results and being an ideologue. In the 1930's and 1940's, it was the first modern American liberal, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (he was the first because he managed to flip the terms) and his successor, Harry Truman, who actually did something about the problems we faced as a nation, whether it was the New Deal or combating tyranny abroad. Sure, conservatives can be active too, but typically only in maintaining the status quo or in working to strengthen already powerful institutions. In short, initative versus status quo.

So, here is my "personal initiative" opening salvo about liberalism. In 2008, someone needs to give something similar to this speech in primetime. It's a rough draft, but it hits at what I am trying to accomplish on the ideological front.

There's more...

The Conservative Vision of a Militarized Nation

Conservatives want the UN out of the US: A right-wing Republican group launched a television campaign calling for the United Nations to be kicked out of the United States, alleging the world body is a "safe harbor" for terrorism.

California-based Move America Forward wants the world body's New York headquarters shut down and its officials expelled from the country because it failed to support the US-led war on Iraq.

"The UN has become an apologist and defender of terrorist organizations and their agents," claims a 60-second commercial, which also cites the oil for food scandal involving alleged fraud in Iraqi oil sales.

The spot, which backs a "Get the UN out of the US" petition drive, claimed that "billions of dollars" intended for UN humanitarian aid was used to pay the families of "Palestinian terrorists" and to buy weapons for Iraq-based terrorists.

"It's time we sent a message to the UN: We are not going to tolerate your conduct anymore. We tell other countries not to harbour organisations that support terrorists, why then do we harbor the UN here in America?," the commercial added.

The advertisement, which Move America Forward officials said would begin airing nationally next week, calls for Americans to sign a petition calling for the United Nations to be booted off US soil.

Not surprisingly, The Freepers love it and are actively supporting this campaign.

Much, much more after the jump.

There's more...

The Issue Of Issues

Last week, Christopher Hayes wrote an engaging an important article about undecided voters for The New Republic, Decision Makers. In the article, Hayes uses his anecdotal experience as a canvasser in an attempt to debunk some widely held beliefs about undecideds.

In many circles, the first myth Hayes sets out to debunk, that undecided voters are not always rational, caused much stir. However, it did not do much for me. People are not always rational, and sometimes their irrationality impacts their political decisions? Well, duh. No one is rational about everything all the time, not even Spock. Then again, people who are irrational about everything all the time are unable to function. As humans, we operate along a broad continuum or rationality and irrationality. The debate over whether or not humans are rational beings does not make much sense to me, because I think the answer is so obvious: sometimes we are, sometimes we are not. It may be infuriating at moments, especially when it spills over into the realm of politics, but that is also just the way it is and the way it will always be.

What really struck me about the piece was the way Hayes discussed issues in the final myth he sought to debunk. Or, rather, the way he found it difficult to talk about issues with undecided voters:

Undecided voters don't think in terms of issues.
Perhaps the greatest myth about undecided voters is that they are undecided because of the "issues." That is, while they might favor Kerry on the economy, they favor Bush on terrorism; or while they are anti-gay marriage, they also support social welfare programs. Occasionally I did encounter undecided voters who were genuinely cross-pressured--a couple who was fiercely pro-life, antiwar, and pro-environment for example--but such cases were exceedingly rare. More often than not, when I asked undecided voters what issues they would pay attention to as they made up their minds I was met with a blank stare, as if I'd just asked them to name their favorite prime number.

The majority of undecided voters I spoke to couldn't name a single issue that was important to them. This was shocking to me. Think about it: The "issue" is the basic unit of political analysis for campaigns, candidates, journalists, and other members of the chattering classes. It's what makes up the subheadings on a candidate's website, it's what sober, serious people wish election outcomes hinged on, it's what every candidate pledges to run his campaign on, and it's what we always complain we don't see enough coverage of.

But the very concept of the issue seemed to be almost completely alien to most of the undecided voters I spoke to. (This was also true of a number of committed voters in both camps--though I'll risk being partisan here and say that Kerry voters, in my experience, were more likely to name specific issues they cared about than Bush supporters.) At first I thought this was a problem of simple semantics--maybe, I thought, "issue" is a term of art that sounds wonky and intimidating, causing voters to react as if they're being quizzed on a topic they haven't studied. So I tried other ways of asking the same question: "Anything of particular concern to you? Are you anxious or worried about anything? Are you excited about what's been happening in the country in the last four years?"

These questions, too, more often than not yielded bewilderment. As far as I could tell, the problem wasn't the word "issue"; it was a fundamental lack of understanding of what constituted the broad category of the "political." The undecideds I spoke to didn't seem to have any intuitive grasp of what kinds of grievances qualify as political grievances. Often, once I would engage undecided voters, they would list concerns, such as the rising cost of health care; but when I would tell them that Kerry had a plan to lower health-care premiums, they would respond in disbelief--not in disbelief that he had a plan, but that the cost of health care was a political issue. It was as if you were telling them that Kerry was promising to extend summer into December. (...)

In this context, Bush's victory, particularly on the strength of those voters who listed "values" as their number one issue, makes perfect sense. Kerry ran a campaign that was about politics: He parsed the world into political categories and offered political solutions. Bush did this too, but it wasn't the main thrust of his campaign. Instead, the president ran on broad themes, like "character" and "morals." Everyone feels an immediate and intuitive expertise on morals and values--we all know what's right and wrong. But how can undecided voters evaluate a candidate on issues if they don't even grasp what issues are?

Interesting stuff. I am intuitively inclined to agree with this analysis: I think Democrats are sorely lacking in good, positive, and vague articulations of their platform. Most Bush voters seem to latch on to horribly vague concepts such as "values" and "the war on terror." Throughout the campaign and according to exit polls, Kerry held comfortable leads among people who listed specific issues, such as the war in Iraq or health care, as their primary concern. Bush voters tended to be in the vague camp.

This discussion, which granted is based almost entirely on anecdotal evidence, also complicates any notion of moving to the right or the left in order to win elections (an issue which I have blogged about in the recent past). What is the point of moving anywhere along an abstract ideological spectrum when most voters, possibly the vast majority, just do not think of politics according to that abstract spectrum? Rather than moving anywhere, shouldn't we think about what concepts can we employ in order to develop a positive, populist and vague vocabulary that can serve as a broad ideological framework from which our specific policy proposals will resonate with more people? Lately, I am into using the concept of "personal initiative," but what have you been thinking about? Let me know.

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