Posts Tagged ‘2010 elections’

Some thoughts on violent rhetoric

In the wake of the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (and the collateral murder of half a dozen others), much discussion has turned to Sarah Palin’s infamous target map, the gun-heavy campaign events held by Jesse Kelly (Giffords’s 2010 opponent) and various examples of violent campaign rhetoric that have come from candidates and opinion-leaders on the Right over the past few years. This is pretty predictable, as is the response: There’s no evidence that Jared Loughner is a Palin supporter, a Kelly supporter or a Tea Party supporter. He’s just a lone nut! Well, maybe. His seemingly insane rhetoric about grammar and mind control strongly recalls that of David Wynn Miller, a prominent figure in the far-right “sovereign citizen” movement. Maybe Miller is insane, too, but the ideology that underlies the sovereign citizen movement has popped up before.

But focusing on Palin’s map — which she ridiculously now wants to claim has “surveyor’s marks” on it — and allowing people to just dismiss Loughner as crazy misses an important, bigger point. For the past two years, conservatives have made their case primarily by stoking fear. They have repeatedly claimed that Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress are going to kill people, trash the economy, let foreign terrorists have the run of the place, etc. This isn’t an exaggeration of what they’re saying — they’ve taken the rhetoric of “genocide” from the far-right anti-abortion movement and scaled it up to their entire platform. So let’s say that Loughner is unstable, as various armchair psychiatrists have already diagnosed him as schizophrenic. A hallmark of this sort of mental illness is the perception of grand forces conspiring against you, or of someone or something being out to get you. Palin’s map is disgusting as campaign rhetoric, but it doesn’t say to an unstable person, “Hey, here’s a reason to go after this person.” But telling your followers that the government is going to pull the plug on grandma or that it’s deliberately setting murderous terrorists loose in America is different. Referring to an abortion provider as “Tiller the killer,” as Bill O’Reilly did repeatedly, is different. When that kind of rhetoric is tolerated, we shouldn’t be surprised when someone murders Dr. George Tiller, or tries to murder Democratic officials.

As much as this behavior, as well as more explicit threats — Sharron Angle’s “Second Amendment remedies,” the Tea Party’s “We Came Unarmed This Time” t-shirts — seems to be majorly cresting right now, this is part of a pattern dating back at least to early in the Clinton Administration. In 1994, both Sen. Jesse Helms (Clinton “better not show up around here [Fort Bragg] without a bodyguard”) and Rep. Bob Dornan (“The Second Amendment is…for hunting politicians, like in Grozny, and in the colonies in 1776, or when they take your independence away”) made violent threats against President Clinton. The difference then was that those comments were scandalous, and they were condemned by Republicans and media figures along with Democrats. Now, the conservative media machine allows this type of rhetoric to percolate and largely hide from the mainstream. Most of our officials and media figures now probably have little idea what’s happening in conservative social media, or even much of talk radio and Fox News; meanwhile, there’s much more of it than there was in 1994. To understand the implications of this type of violent and delegitimizing rhetoric, we first need to understand just how prevalent it is and how ingrained it has become in a particular segment of the population.

Filed: We R in Control || 16:56, January 10 || 1 Comment »

Liberals and the legend of Feingold

''Thanks Russ'' window in Madison

This empty Madison storefront was also a Kerry campaign office in 2004. Coincidence?

I spent four days in Madison over Thanksgiving break and learned two important things. First, my happiness at being back in my favorite city is only strong enough to survive one day of single-digit wind chills. And second, the development of the Legend of Russ Feingold is already well underway. All along State St., the “Feingold ’10” stickers have been permanently and prominently affixed behind store counters, while local talk radio has turned its ire to the “they” that populates the rest of the state (to be fair, this is also true in discussions of Gov.-elect Scott Walker’s plan to cancel a Milwaukee-Madison Amtrak route). No one I talked to was very receptive to the idea that Feingold shot himself in the foot by filibustering the financial reform bill, even though the result of his action was to weaken the bill so that Scott Brown would become the 60th vote.

This was all at the top of my mind when I read Dahlia Lithwick’s piece on the search for the new Feingold. The way Feingold supporters come across in the piece you’d think he was dead, because the last time liberals went looking for the “next” somebody it was Paul Wellstone. Ironically, the person most self-consciously working to uphold Wellstone’s legend — Al Franken — is suggested as a potential next Feingold as well, but dismissed by “civil libertarians” for his votes in favor of warrantless wiretapping. But then, he also voted for the financial reform bill, so maybe it’s a wash. But I suspect for liberals of a certain stripe, the lesson of Feingold’s defeat will be retrenchment. This is admittedly a bit of nutpicking, but these FireDogLake comments suggest that even Feingold saying “no” to a 2012 primary challenge isn’t enough to turn some minds from it.

Of course, since he’s not dead and not running for president in 2012, it’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here. It’s probably not a 2016 run — his window was 2008, when liberals might’ve gone big for him, if the Daily Kos straw poll is any evidence. Trying to get back to the Senate in 2012 if Herb Kohl retires? Challenging Walker in 2014? I’ve always felt that Feingold has an executive style about him, but I just don’t know if electoral politics is the place for him anymore. Facing a tough environment and a likely Republican wave, he pulled punches (when he punched at all); the campaign environment’s not going to be much more pleasant in the next couple cycles.

Filed: We R in Control || 9:59, November 30 || No Comments »

Save Our Senate!

In the 96-year history of popularly elected senators, the Senate has been more likely to change hands than the House. This is logically a little odd, because the entire House is up for election every two years, as compared with just a third of the Senate. And yet, there it is. Perhaps the races being at the state-level make them generally closer, which makes them easier to flip? I don’t know. But this historical fact, combined with the fact that the Senate really was never in control of the Democratic leadership, even with 60 members in the caucus, has lead me to be a little surprised by the focus on the Senate by the netroots and other Democratic activists. Liberal blogs and e-mail lists have been full of fundraising and volunteer requests for Senate candidates in tight races this year — Feingold, Sestak, Giannoulias, Conway, Reid. By contrast, I’ve noticed relatively little national activist attention on particular House races, or region- or state-based bundles of races. Attention to gubernatorial races — that is, the races that will have enormous impact on state spending, the lack of which is likely to exacerbate the economic downturn — seems to have been largely about uncompetitive sideshows, particularly in New York, Colorado and California. The competitive race in Florida got some attention, but Illinois, Pennsylvania and Minnesota didn’t.

Now, whether or not the Senate or House were structurally more likely to flip is an open question. I think the answer is probably the House, given the make-up of this year’s open Senate seats (some were looking at 2010 as a potential Dem pick-up year in the Senate, way back when), but that’s easy to say in hindsight. The question of whether the Senate was worth focusing on is also an open one, considering that the likely 53-47 majority isn’t going to be able to do much in the face of continuing minority obstinance. But what I find interesting is that the Senate focus seems like it might have worked. Democrats underperformed both the model consensus (loss in the mid-40s) and the poll consensus (loss in the mid-50s) by losing 65 seats in the House. They lost some potentially winnable governorships and state legislatures, with Pat Quinn hanging on by a Chicago neighborhood in Illinois. And yet, they beat the Senate consensus by one seat, and nearly hung on in Illinois and Pennsylvania. In 2012, of course, the lion’s share of the attention will be focused on the presidential race, but in 2014 it’ll be worth looking at this as something of a firewall strategy and examining how it can be understood and built upon the next time the campaign gets decentralized.

Filed: We R in Control || 10:59, November 3 || No Comments »

What is the value of political celebrity?

After getting home from voting this morning, I found myself gazing across my bookshelf for no particular reason, when my eyes stopped on Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason. In a 2007 blog post called “Why Gore Will Run” (which was to be followed by another called “Why Gore Won’t Run,” I should add), I discussed how Assault read like an alternate-universe campaign book. In the spring of ’07, Gore was the hidden heavyweight of the Democratic Party, and probably could have sapped a lot of the anti-Hillary left-wing energy that Barack Obama ultimately corralled. Instead, he has spent the past three and a half years largely out of the public eye, popping up occasionally to get divorced or be accused of sexual assault. His signature issue was taken off the table in 2009, after health care and the stimulus drained the party of its will, but you wouldn’t know it by looking Gore-ward for signs of consternation or calls to action.

With the Democratic base apparently disheartened and staying home — in record numbers, if the polling gap between likely and registered voters is to be believed — why hasn’t Gore been marshaled to campaign for his party-mates? To parachute into Milwaukee and Philadelphia and Las Vegas to make the case against apathy? To follow the Gingrichian path to both partisan and traditional media outlets? Only Bill Clinton, the relentless and preternatural campaigner, has been so dispatched for the Democrats, venturing into the Blue Dog territory where Obama is least welcome. But if progressive disinterest is the key stumbling block today, sending a centrist to persuade southern, conservative Dems to stick around isn’t going to get the job done.

There are many potential reasons Gore isn’t out there, of course, the foremost among them being that maybe he doesn’t want to be. He’s done running for office. He may be looking at the model of the Clinton Global Initiative as something he can replicate, and that’s a model that’s largely divorced from electoral politics. And he’s famously not a great campaigner, of course. But compare Gore to another base-pleaser: Sarah Palin. Whether she’s running for president or just looking to cash in, yes, she has her own motivations for inserting herself into the 2010 campaign as much as she has. And yes, plenty of Republicans don’t like her or think she’s qualified to be president (at least according to those anti-dentite bastards at Politico). But she — along with others like Gingrich and Glenn Beck — is using her private citizen celebrity to bring attention to an array of candidates who couldn’t attract it themselves, particularly during primaries. She hasn’t had a 100% success rate, of course, but she has succeeded. She’s not going to be president, she’s not going to be the GOP nominee, and she’s probably not going to even make a serious run, but she is going to get richer and she is going to help get some conservative extremists elected. In 2012 there will be a fairly prominent Democratic figure spending a lot of time on the campaign trail, but in 2014? Like this year and all others, broad fundamental factors (primarily economic) will foretell most of the results in the general elections, but primaries are another story. After the success of conservative primary candidates this year, now is the time for progressives to begin thinking about how to approach those primaries, and to think about the potential value of the transferred credibility and interest that political celebrities can bestow.

Filed: Super Special Questions || 14:15, November 2 || 1 Comment »