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Jun. 15 2010 — 10:54 am | 58 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Clinton more than popular Obama, Dana Milbank still useless


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is more popular than President Barack Obama, and to Dana Milbank, that must mean something:

By any measure — favorability ratings or job approval — Americans by a sizable margin have warmer views of the secretary of state than they do of the president. This is of little use to Clinton beyond bragging rights, but among Hillary ‘08 fans there is some satisfaction that the woman Obama once cut down as “likable enough” is now more liked than he is. Depending on the measure and the poll, she leads him by roughly 10 to 25 percentage points.

To understand why, look no further than their calendars for Monday. The president was in Alabama and Mississippi, trying again to change the public perception that his administration has been weak in its response to the oil spill. The secretary of state was in Washington receiving plaudits for being a “passionate leader” and for taking a “resolute and genuine” stand against human trafficking and slavery.

I’ll try to make it easy for Milbank; Hillary Clinton is more popular than Barack Obama because she isn’t the president. If the tables were turned with Obama as secretary of state and Clinton as president — faced with ten percent unemployment, a lagging economy, and an environmental disaster — then her popularity would be lagging, Obama’s would be soaring, and we’d still have to deal with this idiotic column (names reversed, of course).

One last thing: only in the Washington Post is okay to make light of human trafficking in a failed attempt to turn near-meaningless poll numbers into something worth talking about.

Jun. 15 2010 — 10:22 am | 91 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

Your Morning Dose of Terrible Punditry

Glenn Greenwald’s civil liberties commentary is more than welcome, but his forays into more straightforward punditry leave much to be desired. Often, his “analysis” is marred by his fundamental ignorance of how our politics and government operate. This from a recent interview with Conor Friedersdorf, for example, is a terrifically bad piece of punditry:

I think the citizenry is becoming less and less defined by loyalty to one of the two parties, and these partisan divisions are breaking down, becoming much less clean. We saw that with opposition to TARP, the general anger toward corporatist control of Washington, discomfort with our policy of endless wars, and the widespread disgust with incumbent power.

There simply isn’t any evidence for this assertion. Americans are no less willing to label themselves as Republicans or Democrats, and the vast majority of Americans claim some partisan preference, even if they label themselves “independents.” Even the Tea Partiers are a recognizably partisan group; most identify as Republicans. Most Americans either don’t care or aren’t aware of the “corporatist control of Washington,” and insofar that there is any widespread discontent, it’s over the creaking economy and ten percent unemployment. Greenwald isn’t analyzing as much as he is inserting his biases and calling it fact.

What’s more, Greenwald falls back on that old formulation of those who can afford the luxury of indifference, “there really isn’t any difference between the parties”:

…the two-party system does not work in terms of providing clear choices. No matter who wins, the same permanent factions that control Washington continue to reign. That’s true no matter which issues one considers most important. At some point, it’s going to be necessary to sacrifice some short-term political interests for longer-term considerations about how this suffocating, two-party monster can be subverted.

I don’t see how Greenwald can peddle this bullshit when we’re only two years removed from an administration that systematically attacked government’s ability to do right by the least well-off. The last administration stood opposed to environmental action, food safety, workplace safety, labor regulations and reproductive rights. It robbed the federal government of its ability to respond to disasters, and left Americans rotting in the aftermath of a massive, city-destroying hurricane. Barack Obama isn’t perfect, and the Democratic Party is a flawed vehicle for advancing liberalism, but there’s a lot to be said for a party that explicitly commits itself to capable and compassionate governance. Indeed, I would like to see Greenwald make his argument to the millions of Americans with newfound access to health care, or the millions of Americans empowered to fight for equal pay, or the millions of Americans whose lives are improved in countless ways by a government that takes regulation seriously.

It’s very easy to rail against “the two-party system” when failure was the norm for more than a decade and you’re conveniently removed from most of its effects. But the truth is that by electing President Obama and a Democratic Congress, we’ve done a whole lot to improve life for millions of Americans. Pretending otherwise is fun and satisfyingly self-righteous, but it isn’t productive.

Jun. 14 2010 — 12:38 pm | 168 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Are Republicans afraid of governing?


That’s the question posed by the Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen after catching this admission from Republican aides:

Republicans have been engaging in some premature drape-measuring for a few months in anticipation of winning back control of the House of Representatives. Some top GOP aides privately admit that they got ahead of themselves.

Turns out, not all Republicans are rooting for their own to win the House.

“I want Republicans to make massive gains but I want them to fall one vote short of taking the House,” said Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary to President George W. Bush. “I want to see more evidence that Republicans are ready to govern. I want to see more substance, particularly on what spending they will cut.”

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who has been tasked with recruiting candidates by House Minority Leader John Boehner, confirmed that this view is held by numerous party operatives and leaders, though none in Congress.

I’m not actually convinced that there are many Republicans interested in actually governing the country, but those that are must find themselves in a bind. If Republicans win the House this November, they’ll have the economy to thank for creating the conditions for a win, and their polarizing rhetoric to thank for energizing the base. Railing against socialism and tyranny is ridiculous and counterproductive, but it encourages participation and action on part of Republican activists.

The problem comes when it’s actually time to make policy and pass bills. If Republicans capture the House, they’ll do it with a slight majority, and to do anything of consequence, they’ll be forced to cooperate and compromise with a more liberal Democratic minority (since the Democrats who lose will most likely come from moderate or conservative districts). Given that the GOP must accommodate a conservative and increasingly fickle base (see: Sen. Bob Bennett), Republicans risk a grassroots revolt by working constructively with congressional Democrats.

Republicans have good reason to fear a House majority; not only will they be constrained by a Democratic Senate and White House, but they’ll have to contend with a base so rabidly anti-government that it’s now hostile to governing itself.

Jun. 14 2010 — 10:37 am | 128 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

Afghanistan wins the $1 trillion Powerball jackpot

In the United States, winning the lottery is sold as a hugely positive, life changing experience. But the truth is a little more complicated; every life bettered by winning millions of dollars is countered by those lives shattered by the sudden influx of cash and attention. Often, lotto winners are so besieged by problems — greedy relatives, untrustworthy friends, bad business decisions — that they walk away from the experience battered and broke.

At the risk of over-extending the analogy, you can think of this discovery in similar terms:

WASHINGTON — The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

It’s hard to understate the significance of this; $1 trillion dwarfs the Afghan economy by a factor of 62. This kind of wealth could transform Afghanistan for the better in ways that are a little hard to fathom. Unfortunately, that’s not terribly likely. More often than not, underdeveloped, unstable countries that stumble onto natural resources remain underdeveloped and unstable, but are left with more violence, more corruption, and more class stratification.

For lotto winners, part of the problem in winning comes from the sheer scale of the wealth. Winning tens of millions of dollars is nice, but when you’re accustomed to dealing with — and worrying about — $50 here and a $100 there, and when you have weak financial literacy skills (which is the case for many Americans), it’s virtually unmanageable. Likewise, it’s often the case that poor countries lack the infrastructure, experience or professional expertise necessary to manage the massive wealth that comes from oil reserves or mineral deposits. And without strong institutions, these countries are ripe for corruption, factionalism and violence.

I would love for this discovery to benefit Afghanistan, but my hunch is that it won’t, and will instead leave Afghan’s in worse shape than before. It doesn’t help either that there is a good chance that this will push the United States into an indefinite occupation of Afghanistan, lest China tries to take advantage of the country’s newfound mineral deposits. Given the likelihood that this will spawn more violence, more suffering and a longer occupation, I’m not sure that this is good news. But it’s still early, and precedent notwithstanding, there isn’t a ton of evidence to justify my pessimism. So we’ll see.

Jun. 11 2010 — 12:25 pm | 669 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

The Identity Politics of Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal


The Daily Beast’s Tunku Varadarajan argues for identity politics as the thing that keeps Indian American liberals from positions of prominence within the Democratic Party:

Why has no Indian-American liberal risen as high in the Democratic ranks as Jindal and Haley have done in the GOP? Could it be that because Democrats put more of an emphasis on identity politics, an Indian-American Democrat would have to contend with other ethnic constituencies that might think that it’s “their turn” first? And once you go down the “identity” route, your success as a politician tends to rest more on the weight of numbers—the size of your ethnic constituency, or your racial voting bloc—than on the weight of your ideas.

Varadarajan seems to think that identity politics are nonexistent within the Republican Party, when in fact, the opposite is true. The identity politics of whites — and particularly Southern whites — have defined American politics for the better part of thirty years, and they’ve been completely operative in the careers of Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley.

Bobby Jindal’s persona is probably authentic — I have no reason to think otherwise — but it’s clear that his Christianity, his unassuming name and his recognizable accent are all part of his appeal to white Southerners. It’s hard to imagine a Piyush Jindal rising as rapidly through the ranks of Southern conservative politics. The same goes for Nikki Haley, whose birth name is distinctively South Asian, and who repeatedly stressed her Christianity in order to dispel rumors about her religious beliefs. This doesn’t make her any less authentic, but it does suggest that it might be difficult to succeed in Southern conservative politics if you insist on retaining the cultural markers of your ethnic heritage.

In order to explain the rise of Bobby Jindal and Nikki Halley, Varadarajan puts forth a Southern conservative electorate that is hyper-ideological to the point of “color-blindness.” To Varadarajan, Southern voters are looking for reliable standard-bearers, race be damned. But that doesn’t fit with anything we know about the history of conservative politics or politics in the South. In all likelihood, Jindal and Haley owe some portion of their success to their ability to assuage the racial anxieties of white Southerners, and to assure them that their backgrounds notwithstanding, they aren’t too ethnic.

Photo credit: Patrick Collard/AP

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    I am a blogger and occasional freelance writer. Usually, you'll find me here, but I occasionally contribute to PostBourgie.com, as well as Spencer Ackerman's blog (when he's away). At my old Wordpress digs, I blogged about progressive politics, public policy, nerdy things and food, and here at True/Slant, I intend to do the same. I'm all about the social media, so feel free to follow me on Twitter: jbouie, or friend me on Facebook (though I might make you wait awhile). And if you'd rather avoid social media, you can always email me at jamelle DOT bouie AT gmail DOT com.

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