Tuesday, April 28, 2009

With Specter Switch, It's Official: Modern Conservative Movement All But Dead

By Manifesto Joe

I was born, but it wasn't yesterday. Arlen Specter's decision to switch parties from Republican to Democrat has almost everything to do with political expediency and almost nothing to do with any change in the Pennsylvania senator's thinking.

Remember, this is the guy who, as a young lawyer, sold the Warren Commission on the single-bullet theory of the JFK assassination. That ought to speak volumes about his intellectual honesty. But in politics, you take it where you can get it. President Barack Obama, a relatively inexperienced but precocious politician, quickly welcomed Specter to the Democratic Party.

Perhaps most significant is what this signals for the modern conservative movement. Not that Specter was ever a conservative -- his voting record has been consistently independent and centrist.

But it wasn't that long ago (1995) that Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, whose voting record was similar to Specter's, switched from Democrat to Republican.

In a nutshell, the conservative movement is now officially all but dead. And, if the Republican Party doesn't change soon, it may again become a minority party for 40 years.

Specter cited the movement of the GOP to the far right, and the number of Pennsylvanians who are registering as Democrats. Republicans, moving to the far right? Ya think? Specter was first elected in 1980 as part of the "Reagan Revolution," so it's hard to see how he could have missed that over the years.

What has changed is that a lot of Americans, especially younger ones, now see the very real and calamitous consequences of what passed for "conservative" governance for most of the past 28 years.

There's a revived awareness that the public interest matters more than self-interest, and that is a great antidote to the poisonous ideas that have often been at the core of modern conservatism. There is some diversity among Republicans -- their ranks range from Ayn Rand atheists to the Religious Right. But the nexus that held them together for 28 years was the idea that an economy can prosper through the unintended consequences of everybody rapaciously pursuing their own pot of gold.

Who needs planning? Who needs regulation? Who needs to pay taxes, for that matter?

We do. America does. And our rich friends in the gated communities are going to have to ante up as well. The old "tax and spend" and "class warfare" mantras of conservatives have become cliches that twentysomething Americans grew up hearing but don't buy anymore.

Specter, again, is no conservative. But his switch signals that centrists no longer believe that they have a place in the Republican Party. Our economy's future looks less like the Adam Smith model and more like that of John Maynard Keynes.

America has seen two distinct philosophies battling for hearts and minds for over a century. The Specter switch is, I think, one more big indicator of which side is ultimately going to win.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Governor Goodhair Redux: Texas Becomes Laughingstock Of D.C.

By Manifesto Joe

I promised more on Governor Goodhair. It seems that in our nation's capital, people are still, two weeks later, talking about Gov. Rick Perry's veiled threat of Texas secession. It's become the most popular joke on Capitol Hill.

It's been no secret to many of us here, for years, that we have a nice-looking cretin for a governor. I suppose that's a marginal improvement over an anthropoid-looking cretin. I refer here to Perry's predecessor, the one they call W., who recently left the White House. (Also known as Chimpy, and here as Il Doofus.)

But a cretin is still a cretin. In a state that once produced the likes of LBJ, Sam Rayburn, Olin Teague, Ralph Yarborough and others, it's frustrating to watch the procession of Republican half-wits in high office. Hell, I'd settle for Jim Wright, or even DINO Lloyd Bentsen.

Texas Democrats seized the day on this one. There's a T-shirt in circulation with Perry's face on it, with something like, "Republican Class of '09 -- most likely to secede."

The national comedians didn't miss this. Jay Leno, I thought, had the best line: He hoped that Texas really would secede from the Union "so we can invade them for their oil."

In Washington, McClatchy Newspapers reported this:

Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D- San Antonio, said dryly, "It has been a topic of conversation. We have been the butt of many jokes." His favorite suggestion: "that Charlie Gonzalez be ambassador to the U.S. from Texas."

"I’m bilingual; I speak English and Texan," he said.

But on a more serious note, he said: "I think the governor got carried away. You see posturing in preparation for the Republican primary. It serves no useful purpose."

Perry is all but certain to be challenged by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the 2010 GOP primary, and political analysts say the governor is playing to the party’s conservative base with his anti-government stance. Perry is one of a handful of GOP governors who have refused part of the federal stimulus money, specifically, $555 million for Texas in additional unemployment funds.

But the secession suggestion isn’t playing well with one Texas conservative: Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a former state Supreme Court judge.

"Well, I don’t think it’s particularly useful," he told reporters during his weekly interview. "The legal response is 'you can’t do it.’ We fought a Civil War. You can’t do it."

For the entire McClatchy story, here's the link.

This is clearly a gamble by Perry for the redneck vote, which is considerable in this state. But the sheer ignorance of this won't be lost on everybody -- apparently it wasn't lost even on the likes of Sen. John "Cornhole" Cornyn. And it may not be lost on all those unemployed people who will be denied benefits because of Governor Goodhair's grandstanding.

Not that Kay the Breck Girl (R.I.P. Molly Ivins) would be much of an improvement, but my money's on ol' Kay Bailey for next year's GOP gubernatorial nomination. We have it on authority as high as Kelly Clarkson that Kay has great taste in fragrances. And she was a UT cheerleader, while Perry was a "yell" leader at A&M.

Well, marginal improvements are better than none.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Why Does Governor Goodhair Hate America?

By Manifesto Joe

By now I suppose that everybody who follows matters political knows that the governor of my state, Rick Perry, made a statement at a tax day "Tea Party" gathering that strongly suggested that Texas might, under great duress, want to secede from the Union.

I had hoped Governor Goodhair meant that we Texans could all just get out of the Teamsters or the United Auto Workers en masse. There ain't very many of us who is members of them there union outfits anyway, so there would be no change that anyone outside Texas urban areas would notice.

But unfortunately, I don't think that's quite what Governor Goodhair meant. He was probably pandering to the rubes, the people who don't quite get it -- that the reason they drive on paved streets, can cross bridges without crashing into the river, can get their elderly parents on Social Security, that their children can construct English sentences even if they haven't gone to Yale, is because taxes are collected.

There are a couple of things to remember about the governor's statement. One is that he's facing a potentially tough campaign for re-election, even though he's already been the state's longest-serving governor. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, appears to be tired of Washington and seems to want a swell job back home. She sort of looks like a moderate Republican by Texas standards, so Perry may be setting up early to line up the right-wing yahoo base.

Then there's the matter of intellect. Rick Perry has a great head of dark hair, and from all the female accounts that I've heard, he is the closest thing to a Ken doll we've ever had in high office in this state. But, as the late Molly Ivins often pointed out, Governor Goodhair ain't the sharpest pencil in the box. He's a grad of Texas A&M -- not a place known for high academic distinction -- and he majored in animal husbandry. His grade-point average was 2.3. Oh, by the way, he was an Aggie cheerleader.

This would explain why he's not quite up to the legal and civics questions here, i.e., that it actually would be quite illegal for Texas to quit the Union. The bozos actually did it along with several other Southern states back in 1861, and the sad result was 600,000 Americans killed on the battlefield. I guess they don't teach much about the Civil War in Animal Husbandry 101.

But I don't think Goodhair's lack of cultural literacy is to blame here. He's looking ahead to 14 years in the Governor's Mansion, and CNBC's Chris Matthews tells me that 31% of Texans who responded to a poll actually think that Texas has a legal right to secede from the Union. He's cynically betting that the ignorant rubes in this state are numerous enough to get him past Kay Bailey in a nasty 2010 Republican primary.

To read the latest on this, here's a link to the Houston Chronicle's online edition. Also, there will be more about our illustrious Governor Goodhair in subsequent posts.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Politically Incorrect Thoughts: Would No Nukes Lead To More Kooks?

By Manifesto Joe

This is from a book by Roger Kahn:

Late in April 1915, as spring came to Flanders, the German army introduced poison gas -- greenish iridescent chlorine, choking, vomiting, lung-searing chlorine -- into trenches near the village of Ypres. In 1916 the German navy began unrestricted submarine warfare -- sinking cargo ships and passenger vessels without warning. ...

This was war, not marbles. The British army introduced its own weapon of terror, the armored tank, spitting machine-gun and cannon fire, crushing flowers, flesh, bone, everything in its path, the dreaded mythic juggernaut turned real. U.S. reporters applauded "Tommy Atkins' new toy." The German soldiers who found themselves facing the first tanks on September 18, 1916, reacted in an understandable way. They panicked and ran.

This passage came from an unlikely source, A Pure Flame of Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring '20s. Kahn's 1999 sports biography shrewdly works in the ambiance of the times rather than just sticking to the details of legendary boxing champ Dempsey's tempestuous, colorful life.

While recovering from a prolonged illness, I was seeking something "light" to read, and found Kahn's work, surprisingly, somewhere in the middle. At the same time, I read accounts of President Barack Obama's idealistic call for a nuclear-free world.

The connection? Kahn pointed out briefly but eloquently what kind of enormities warring humans are capable of in a non-nuclear time. We've certainly seen plenty of carnage since the U.S. first used atomic bombs in 1945. But we've also seen circumspection and restraint that we might not have seen otherwise.

The main thing that kept the Cold War "cold" for 45 years was what came to be known as "mutual assured destruction" or by that most appropriate acronym "MAD." Looming large over nasty local conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Nicaragua and Afghanistan was always the prospect of tens of millions dead, on both sides -- and untold horrors for the "survivors."

And, with "no nukes," can it be imagined what a conventional war between U.S.-NATO forces and a Soviet-Chinese alliance would have been like?

Let's suppose that a "Star Wars" ICBM interception system could be made to work, with virtual certainty. Suppose there were no exceptions -- U.S. cities and strategic bases would be protected from attack by bomber-delivered devices, and from low-flying cruise missiles launched from submarines.

In such a world, the dreams of Ronald Reagan, Edward Teller and the other 1980s "Star Wars" proponents would have all come true. I doubt that is quite what Barack Obama has in mind, but in such a scenario, nuclear weapons have been, for all practical purposes, eradicated from Earth.

If human history is the basis from which to forecast, the slaughter that might result would suffice to make a Joseph Mengele or Pol Pot queasy.

Humans have a vast history of being boundlessly greedy, paranoid and savagely unconcerned about the lives of others when they are not restrained by moral values, prison bars, higher reasoning, fear of damnation or anything else that can impose and enforce ethics. I do not know if this depravity is innate, but it has surely been witnessed by all but naive and sheltered people.

Nations behave in much the same way as individuals. If not bound by economic weakness, moral admonitions or fear of destruction, they are most certainly capable of enormities.

The "MAD" acronym has a ring of truth. Since 1945, we have spawned generations of closet neurotics. The neurosis has reared its head in forms as diverse as yippies and Lyndon LaRouche supporters. An estimated 19 percent of Americans are mentally ill and in need of treatment, some psychiatrists say. Drug abuse and alcoholism are common. We escape reality in elaborate worlds of frivolity created by the blind poets of our age, TV scriptwriters.

Approaching my 53rd birthday, I cannot recall a time in which nuclear weapons did not exist. As a small child mesmerized by TV, I saw an animated microcosm of the Cold War, a 1950s minimalist depiction of a human figure fleeing radioactive fallout. Public-service announcements about where to find shelter from radiation have long vanished from the little screen, but the image still haunts me.

All that considered, I would rather live in an age of anxiety than be killed or maimed in an age of greater carnage. War is far from obsolete -- but across much of the globe, unlimited warfare is of necessity a thing of the past -- for now. With all the terror that nuclear weapons present for humanity, arguably the world is now, in a grotesque way, a somewhat safer place in which to live.

I urge the unconvinced to dredge up history lessons and ponder the events of the decades before the use of the A-bomb on Hiroshima.

When Ronald Reagan was a preschooler, the colonial powers of Europe began a war. The U.S. was later lured into this war to "make the world safe for democracy."

Hundreds of thousands were killed in single battles, like at the Somme in 1916. The doomed were, like cattle, prodded headlong into ritual killing at the command of "over the top." Many more lost limbs, faces, lungs, minds.

That was supposed to be "the war to end all wars," but it wasn't. Fighting broke out during the 1930s in Spain, China and Ethiopia. Sometimes this was rivaled or exceeded by the organized slaughter and starvation orchestrated in the Soviet Union during those dark years.

After 1939 the world was immersed in a struggle of previously inconceivable proportions, in holocausts unrivaled in history, in a crimson, six-year nightmare -- until a warm, clear day in August, when the human race got a sobering glimpse of what the end might look like.

(An aside -- while hindsight is always 20/20, I think Harry Truman made a serious moral mistake in August 1945. He should have had the first A-bomb dropped just outside Tokyo Bay, as a demonstration, then sent a message to the imperial Japanese government: "Any questions?")

Barbarism certainly hasn't vanished since then, but its onslaught seems to have slowed. Holocausts seem to occur in remote areas like Sudan -- and, notably, in areas where there really are "no nukes." Carefully measured wars sometimes kill no more soldiers than U.S. highways kill motorists in the course of a year. (The civilians lost as "collateral damage" are, of course, often another question.)

Life now has a profound uneasiness. But it is life, as opposed to the very permanent alternative.

Where would I, an American male born in 1956, be now if nuclear weapons had never been invented, and the threat of their use did not exist? I suspect I would have been killed in battle long ago, or disfigured by sophisticated conventional weapons, fighting a war against communists that neither side would have been likely to "win."

Yet I find myself urged by my president, a manifestly brilliant and good man, to in some sense open the Pandora's box, to eliminate the nuclear threat, to potentially turn the conventional might of nations loose in the world once more.

I find myself looking back with neurotic nostalgia to the "MAD" theory. It may have kept me alive for nearly 53 years.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Yes, I'm Still Alive ...

... But recovering from a prolonged illness. I will be posting within the next couple of days. -- MJ