Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Some Deities Need to Show ID

(Read the entire cartoon here.)

I've been meaning to write more about Park51, the proposed Muslim community center that wouldn't really be a mosque and wouldn't be at Ground Zero. However, it seems that there have been 5-10 good pieces per day on it for the past month or so. And while this project never should have been an issue, it was made into one by the usual right-wing noise machine. While some people may be genuinely upset, most of that distress results from exposure to a series of shameless, divisive lies. We've seen this game before. It's not healthy for our national political discourse to be dictated by liars, scoundrels and bigots. And it'd be shame if once again, fundamental rights and basic decency were sacrificed to appease them.

(This is in large part but not entirely a round-up/resource post, so if you've been following this story closely, some of it may be familiar. If nothing else, check out any Daily Show segments you missed, but feel free to skip around.)

The Timeline / Considering the Source

Justin Elliott at Salon has put together a short, invaluable timeline over this "outrage." Some moderate Muslims, previously tapped by the Bush administration for cultural and religious outreach, sought to turn an old Burlington Coat Factory in Manhattan into a Muslim Community Center. (Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is specifically Sufi.) Tentatively named Cordoba House at first, the project was patterned on familiar models such as the YMCA and a local Jewish community center. (The project's developer, New York-born Sharif El-Gamal, has given more background in two interviews.) The site happens to be two city NYC blocks away from Ground Zero (several blogs and shows have shown photos of the surrounding area). The project received unanimous approval from the local zoning board, and even Fox News covered the story favorably at first.

But then, basically, bomb-happy, right-wing, Islamophobic blogger Pamela Geller and the like-minded started a stink over it. Eventually, more prominent right-wing outlets decided to run with the story, facts and decency be damned, and other right-wing political celebrities like Rudy Giuliani, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich decided they wanted a piece of that action.

If you're not familiar with Pamela Geller, this segment gives a good run-down:

I wondered why he didn't cover her most infamous post – a lengthy, psycho post about Barack Obama being Malcolm X's secret love child – but Geller claims she didn't write that, and didn't believe that part – just the parts about Obama not born in America and perhaps being a secret Muslim, I guess. (Hey, even crazy people have to drawn lines.)

It's also important to note that Republican strategist Mary Matalin, despite Geller's history, signed her to a six figure book deal for a screed against Obama (it's now published). Meanwhile, Geller's protests that she isn't a anti-Muslim bigot, and claims that criticism of her has been "radically intolerant," are pretty rich given her history of hateful statements.

There's a debate about how much of Geller's shtick is deliberate lying versus sincere, paranoid bigotry, but with Newt Gingrich, there's no doubt: He's a scumbag and opportunist.

In any case, accounts of this "controversy" that ignore its origins, and elide the facts – it's not really a "ground zero mosque" – do the public a grave disservice.

The Anti-Defamation League

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) received a fair amount of criticism for coming out against the project and basically betraying its own charter. Here's part of their release:

We regard freedom of religion as a cornerstone of the American democracy, and that freedom must include the right of all Americans – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other faiths – to build community centers and houses of worship.

We categorically reject appeals to bigotry on the basis of religion, and condemn those whose opposition to this proposed Islamic Center is a manifestation of such bigotry.

However, there are understandably strong passions and keen sensitivities surrounding the World Trade Center site. We are ever mindful of the tragedy which befell our nation there, the pain we all still feel – and especially the anguish of the families and friends of those who were killed on September 11, 2001.

The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process. Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found.

As Eric Martin observed:

I've read this about five times now, and I still don't see how they get from the premises in paragraphs 1 and 2 to the conclusions in paragraph 4.

The third paragraph is the weakest of bridges in this regard, not only because paragraph 4 betrays the principles extolled in the first two (though that does sort of give the game away), but for the simple fact that many of the families and friends of those killed believe that the mosque would be a testament to American values triumphing over ignorance.

Myself included. Not to mention, undoubtedly, some of the Muslim victims' friends and loved ones. They count too.

After all, why do some passions and sensitivities get valued over others and, if we must choose, why should we choose to give priority to those responses informed by divisiveness, bigotry and ignorance?

This is shameful for the ADL. Absolutely shameful.

Greg Sargent ripped apart another paragraph from the same statement, and also dissected a subsequent statement by the ADL that wasn't much better (possibly worse). It's disappointing, if not entirely surprising. Glenn Greenwald has documented how the ADL has been selective in its objections at times, and Scott Horton recently wrote about an odd episode involving ADL head Abe Foxman.

Mayor Bloomberg

Whatever his other faults or merits, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave a great speech about religious freedom and cultural tolerance, and how they're central to the city's identity and history:

You can read the speech here. On the same webpage, the video accessible through "More Resources" in the right column is well worth watching. It shows Bloomberg's speech, but also features NYC religious leaders of different faiths (and some with strong ties to 9/11) speaking passionately and thoughtfully on the same theme. The First Amendment, including Freedom of Religion, was obviously a founding principle of America, and it's disturbing to see it assaulted. ("The freedom to worship – or not" is the central idea behind the annual Blog Against Theocracy.)

President Obama

It's currently Ramadan, and President Obama also spoke out in defense of religious freedom at an Iftar dinner:

You can read the text of the speech here. It was a good speech.

Unfortunately, when questioned about the speech, Obama offered a weak follow-up statement. While logically consistent, it undercut the strength of his speech and was never going to appease the Geller crowd anyway.

George Washington

In "Founding Fathers Address Proposed Islamic Cultural Center in Lower Manhattan," Scott Horton quoted George Washington on these issues:

On August 17, 1790, the warden of the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, Moses Seixas, penned an important letter to the president of the United States. Drawing attention to the devastation suffered by the once prosperous seaport, Seixas also addressed the question of freedom of religion and expressed a hope about what America would become:

a Government which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance—but generously affording to All liberty of conscience, and immunities of citizenship:—deeming every one, of whatever nation, tongue or language equal parts of the great Governmental Machine:—This so ample and extensive federal union whose basis is Philanthropy, mutual confidence, and public virtue, we cannot but acknowledge to be the work of the Great God, who ruleth the Armies of Heaven, and among the Inhabitants of the Earth, doing whatsoever seemeth [to Him] good.

And to this George Washington replied, providing his correspondent the honor of a flattering echo of the original:

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.

The Times report from Saturday brings us some voices that recall those of Moses Seixas, including Rabbi Irwin Kula and C. Welton Gaddy. But it also brings us the louder voices of intolerance, including the increasingly shrill leader of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, who does an honest job only in characterizing his own comments:

"Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational," he said. Referring to the loved ones of Sept. 11 victims, he said, "Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted."

American citizens do indeed have the right to be irrational and bigoted. But, as George Washington explained, they do not have the right to oppress their fellow citizens by institutionalizing their bigotry in government action. And, as Moses Seixas explained, those who have survived deprivation and oppression will find better solace in a faith that counsels compassion and community rather than the repression of those of a differing confession.

(I've seen several other bloggers and organizations quote this Washington letter since, but Horton was the first I saw to cite it.)

Fear, Ignorance and Hatred in Context

None of the current furor exists in a vacuum. As Will Bunch explained, "It's not about the mosque -- it's America's war on "the Other"":

It is no surprise that by mid-2009 I was hearing from the leader of the anti-Obama group the Delaware 9-12 Patriots that the 44th president of the United States "is absolutely not American" while his neighbors were screaming at town hall meetings: "I don't want this flag to change. I want my country back!" These rank-and-file citizens were often echoing what they heard in a 24/7 right-wing media bubble of ratings-driven irresponsibility -- outlandish neo-McCarthyite allegations that Obama had Commies and Maoists working in the West Wing, Glenn Beck's notorious claim that the president has "a deep-seated hatred of white people" and, perhaps more tellingly, of "white culture," and most recently radio's Rush Limbaugh's bizarre charge that Obama is probably the "best anti-American president the country's ever had."...

Which brings us to the present crisis: Mosques in America. It should tell you something that the backlash against Muslims practicing their faith in America is far greater in 2010 than it was in the months immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. That's because the political firestorm with its epicenter in lower Manhattan really has nothing to do with 9/11 or its aftermath, and everything to do with "the Other" the awful forces and fears that have been unleashed in the last couple of years -- fears that craven politicians like Gingrich, Palin and the formerly rational Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota are eager to surf into the White House in 2013. If the Manhattan mosque controversy were really about our 9/11 sensibilities, how does one explain the opposition to other Islamic houses of worship from Tennessee to California to Staten Island?

Adam Serwer commented on the "Obama is a Muslim" campaign in "On Obama, Islam, And Political Identity"(emphasis mine):

[Conservative blogger John] Hinderaker is mad that the AP isn't reporting as fact an interpretation of a feeling that some conservatives have about "the currents that swirl through world events." Feel free to snap your fingers when you're done reading. As Dave Weigel writes, "To be American is to agree with John Hinderaker; to disagree is to be a Muslim."

Still, I think on some level, Hinderaker is right. Some conservatives see Obama as being different from them, and they deploy "Muslim" as an epithet to express their suspicion and anger toward him. I'm sure part of it also has to do with conservative elites reinforcing or at least winking at the notion that Obama is being deceptive about his religious beliefs and that describing someone as a "Muslim" is some kind of an insult. As the Pew poll notes, "Beliefs about Obama’s religion are closely linked to political judgments about him. Those who say he is a Muslim overwhelmingly disapprove of his job performance, while a majority of those who think he is a Christian approve of the job Obama is doing." In a less politically correct time they probably would have used a different word.

Back on 8/17/10, Digby posted two of the conservative propaganda videos against Park51. The first one especially is ridiculously deceptive. As Digby quipped:

In case you didn't know, this is a "bigger threat to our freedom than Nazism ever was."

People who live entirely in the wingnut noise machine honestly don't know the truth about the project and are being scared half to death by this propaganda. Those who are apathetic (most Americans) probably think as Kevin [Drum] did, that the "mosque" is being built on the site of the WTC as part of the planned memorial, which just seems odd. I don't think you can underestimate how uninformed most people are on just about anything. But on this issue I think there's a very good chance that they are more misinformed than usual.

I could be wrong, though. Maybe most of the country really believes that it's insensitive for American Muslims to practice their religion near Ground Zero, in which case we have bigger problems.

This is a case of both/and. Many Americans are misinformed on this issue, to the degree they've followed it at all. But a fair number of the right-wing base is opposed to Freedom of Religion for anyone but themselves. (More on this later.)

Roy Edroso has been following this issue extensively, with his most thorough roundup being "Ground Zero Mosque Story Confirms It: Conservatives Are The Honky Party." After surveying the crazy, he concludes:

And so on. With extremely rare exceptions, you can go now through all rightwing sites and publications, from the high-end to the low, and find the same thing: A willingness -- actually, an puppy-like eagerness -- to exploit the basest religious and racial fears for political gain. (More than usual, we mean.)

We might adopt a lofty pose, scratch our chins, and say this speaks poorly of the state of the conservative movement. But whom would we be kidding? There is no conservative movement, intellectually speaking -- merely a consortium of crackpots and bigots who believe that gays are threatening their marriages, rich people are overtaxed, black people are the real racists, and the building of a mosque at the site of a disused Burlington Coat Factory somewhere near Ground Zero presents a graver danger to American liberty than the other mosques already near Ground Zero.

About the most charitable thing you could say for them is: Maybe they're only pretending to believe this nonsense.

It's also worth checking out "It's Obama's Fault People Think He's a Muslim, Say the Guys Who Keep Telling People He's a Muslim," and a short post examining that legendary conservative tolerance. Roy and TBogg both looked at the latest ravings of bombs-away neocon and McCarthyite Jennifer Rubin. Maha has been blogging up a storm on this issue as well. (I don't agree with all of this Roger Ebert piece on the issue, but it's characteristically thoughtful.)

The Daily Show

The Daily Show is always good and often brilliant, and their segments on this story have been absolutely superb. Here's the first one, which shows that Islamophobia is indeed a factor:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Municipal Land-Use Hearing Update
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

In the same episode, Wyatt Cenac scouts the location:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Municipal Land-Use Update - Ground Zero Mosque
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Let's examine the hypocrisies in Fox News' coverage on this issue, look at crappy coverage from "legitimate" outlets, and play the analogy game with tolerance:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Let's see how deeply the deception and hypocrisy of Fox News' coverage actually goes:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Extremist Makeover - Homeland Edition
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

While there are some significant differences between that NRA convention and the current furor, Moses' Heston's remarks are highly relevant.

If you thought the Fox News crew was shameless in that previous segment, wait 'til you check out this one:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Parent Company Trap
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade are pretty stupid, but there's no way Dan Senor's performance (the name omission) is a fluke. On this issue, he and Dana Perino are evil.

Rachel Maddow

Rachel Maddow has done several good exposés, but "Scaring White People for Fun and Profit" is a standout:

Here's a transcript.

Ignorance about Islam

While some people may be genuinely upset about the Park51 project, there's been quite a bit of ignorance of Islam on display. That includes Islam's relation to 9/11, and the vast divide between American Muslims and the extremist group Al Qaeda. Muslims have actually been praying inside the Pentagon for years, and did so after 9/11. Many Muslims were killed in the 9/11 attacks, including at least one first responder.

According to one recent poll:

14% of Americans believe that mosques should not be permitted anywhere in the United States. A clear partisan divide exists over both self-reported understanding of, and tolerance for, Islam. Republicans are far more likely to claim an understanding of Islam either somewhat or a great deal than Democrats: 58.5% of Republicans compared to only 48% of Democrats. Of course, this self-professed understanding doesn’t lead to tolerance; where 25% of Democrats have a somewhat or very favorable view of Islam, only 8.3% of Republicans share the same outlook.

Not that liberals are always right, but this would be in line with the trend of Fox News viewers scoring the poorest on news fact quizzes while being the most certain they were well-informed. I highly doubt most of the Park51 protesters could even name the Five Pillars of Islam. Similarly, it's unsurprising that the crazy, anti-Islamic "Burn the Koran" Christian preacher has never read the Koran. Nor is it shocking that Newt Gingrich's history on "Cordoba" is deceptive at best. On a related "scandal," as Juan Cole explains, claims that Obama was "born" a Muslim are false. Meanwhile, conservative Daniel Larison has two pieces on Imam Rauf and what it means to be a "moderate" Muslim.

While some of the Park51 protesters aren't Islamophobic, other mosques around the country have run into "vehement opposition." There's just been a case of arson at "the construction site of an Islamic center in Tennessee," adding to a number of other troubling incidents. Not all of the Park51 opponents are bigots, but it's a factor for some, and a wider problem in America.

Bush and his Administration

As many folks have pointed out, George W. Bush did reach out to Muslims in rhetoric on occasion, and deserves credit for that. But let's not go overboard, either. He also called fighting terrorism a "crusade." He lied us into a war in Iraq, and mismanaged both that war and the one in Afghanistan. His administration killed thousands of innocent Muslims, and treated others as subhuman, holding them without charges for years, abusing them, torturing them, and in some cases, murdering them in custody. He was the best friend bin Laden ever had. Cheney claimed invading Iraq made sense because the 9/11 terrorists came from the same "geographic base," meaning completely different countries in the region, but he correctly calculated that many Americans can't tell them furriners apart and the press wouldn't bother to explain. There's a looong list of this stuff, of course. Some of Bush's language was pretty good, and much better than the current wingnuts such as Pam Geller. But let's not pretend this bigotry blossomed overnight. It was central to Bush's foreign policy, and bigotry has been central to the GOP's domestic campaigning (scary Muslims, gays, you name it).

It's both disappointing and telling that Bush has chosen not to speak about Park51, because if he took a stand defending it, it could dampen some of the right-wing furor. Perhaps his silence is because he has a book coming out. Meanwhile, Karen Hughes, a Bush surrogate, has said she wants Park51 to move, but has tried not to mention her past working relationship with its imam.

The National Security Issue

As The New York Times reports:

Some counterterrorism experts say the anti-Muslim sentiment that has saturated the airwaves and blogs in the debate over plans for an Islamic center near ground zero in Lower Manhattan is playing into the hands of extremists by bolstering their claims that the United States is hostile to Islam.

Opposition to the center by prominent politicians and other public figures in the United States has been covered extensively by the news media in Muslim countries. At a time of concern about radicalization of young Muslims in the West, it risks adding new fuel to Al Qaeda’s claim that Islam is under attack by the West and must be defended with violence, some specialists on Islamic militancy say.

Former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan has much more on the same theme:

The furor over the proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero makes me think back to one of the most important lessons I learned from al Qaeda terrorists I interrogated--that they have a warped view of America. To them--and this they get from Osama Bin Laden's rhetoric--the U.S. is a country at war with Islam and Muslims, and so they had a duty to fight us.

While I was serving on the frontlines I found that this distorted view of America was common among ordinary Muslims too, and it was only by correcting this image did we encourage locals to help our investigations and turn against al Qaeda. Our efforts were helped by public statements, like from President Bush in the days after 9/11, declaring that America was at war with al Qaeda and not with Islam. I was in Sana, Yemen, on that day, and I remember our military and law enforcement group feeling encouraged that our leadership understood how to frame our battle.

But while we started off on the right note in dealing with the Muslim world, our leadership soon demonstrated that they failed to understand that our war against al Qaeda was not just a military fight, but an asymmetrical battle for the proverbial hearts and minds of Muslims across the world too...

There are many reasons for supporting the Muslim community's right to build a cultural center and mosque on private property, not least of all the First Amendment of the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion. But from a national security perspective, our leaders need to understand that no one is likely to be happier with the opposition to building a mosque than Osama Bin Laden. His next video script has just written itself.

Other Reactions

Democratic senators Al Franken and Jeff Merkley have both made strong statements in support of the Park51 project. (Talking Points Memo has a list of others.)

Harry Reid's statement that the project should move somewhere else seemed pretty gutless. Howard Dean was less than inspiring as well. While Dean showed more nuance in his follow-ups, he ignored that this controversy was manufactured, which completely changes the dynamics about coming to some negotiated settlement.

A few conservatives, including Ron Paul, have spoken out for the rights of the project's founders and against Islamophobia. (I agree with Digby's criticisms of the statement's other elements, though.) Meanwhile, lawyer Ted Olson, whose wife was killed in the 9/11 attacks, expressed support for the project: "we don’t want to turn an act of hate against us by extremists into an act of intolerance for people of religious faith. And I don’t think it should be a political issue." That's genuinely admirable.

The Big Picture

The biggest issue is that you either support Freedom of Religion and the Constitution, or you don't. Part of a free society is that other people are free to do things of which you may not approve. Park51 would be built on private property and won approval of the local zoning board. The project has every right to build there, and interfering with that on a governmental level would be a dangerous attack on core American values and laws. As mentioned in an earlier post:

The attacks on mosques and a Muslim cultural center in Manhattan, on religious freedom itself, is the same mentality of torture proponents – we're not safe because we haven't been savage and intolerant enough. It's completely wrong, antithetical to American values, nihilistic and suicidal – we simply can't protect our "civilization" from others by destroying it ourselves.

It makes no sense to say that Islamic extremists seek to destroy America and civilization itself, and "hate us for our freedoms," and then turn around and attack those very same freedoms – ya know, those liberties that form the bedrock of American society and its concept of civilization. But it should be a familiar shtick by now. Regardless, the best way to defeat foreign extremism and intolerance may be through sticking up for freedom here at home - by challenging domestic extremism and intolerance. The Park51 founders claim to repudiate everything Al Qaeda stands for, and have been vouched for on that front even by war hawk Jeffrey Goldberg. So why object?

Some protesters of Park51 have said they agree that the project has the legal right to build there, they just object to the location, and they're not bigots. Okay, fair enough. I also don't take issue with anyone who actually lives in New York City, lost friends or colleagues on 9/11, and is genuinely upset (Jon Stewart addressed this in one of his clips). If there's any serious discussion to be had, it's with them. However, this is primarily a neighborhood issue, not a national one, and the question remains: how far away is far enough?

Meanwhile, I'm not convinced most of the Park51 protesters fall into those categories. Some of the protesters simply don't know the facts, and believe the Fox News propaganda instead. (I'll link this Mrs. Polly interview again. There's also Eugene Robinson's column one and discussion, and column two and discussion. They're occasionally eye-popping.) There is ignorance about Islam and/or bigotry out there, as the national anti-mosque incidents show. Many of the loudest protesters live nowhere near Manhattan, and tend to attack New Yorkers as a cultural elite, yet see no contradiction between that and trying to claim 9/11 as theirs alone. The most prominent critics of the Park51 project have been Pam Geller, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and the Fox News crew. All of them fit one or more of the three characteristics on the wingnut checklist I proposed the other day: liar, extremist, asshole. What prominent critic of the Park51 project has described it honestly? Has any prominent critic acknowledged how this controversy was manufactured? Seriously, has there been one on the national stage I've missed?

The Park51 founders are free to discuss their proposed center with any concerned locals. But on the national stage, any "debate" shouldn't be dictated by the dishonest, paranoid or dishonorable. I agree with Glenn Greenwald that this issue is not a "distraction" – it's uncovered some important, familiar issues of fear and bigotry, and is a classic example of the right-wing noise machine at work. And it would be shame if once again, fundamental rights and basic decency were sacrificed to appease a bunch of dishonest, hateful, screaming brats.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Engaging the Opposition, and A Wingnut Checklist

Engaging the Opposition

Is there any way to cut through the political divides in America? Is there any common ground to be found? Anne Laurie at Balloon Juice linked a piece that ponders this, "Political Theater v. the Reality-Based Community," by John H. Richardson. It's a short, interesting piece:

Kill the umpire! Shouting in the middle of a crowded sports arena, or a slow news day — that's what all John Boehner's cries for the heads of Geithner and Summers are about. It's what all his party's cries of "socialism" are about. And I bet it's the same with the poll that says 18 percent of Americans think Obama is a Muslim and 28 percent think he's from Africa and 33 percent think he eats Christian babies with a side of fava beans.

Conservatives are turning themselves into the spandex-clad heroes of a really cheesy potboiler.

And liberals, pathetic rationalists that we are, always do the same dumb thing — in 74 percent of adjudicated calls, we say, statistics show that umpires are actually accurate within a margin of 67 percent, adjusting for minor variations in humidity and the GDP, which is the only thing standing between us and a state of anarchy. Our entire politics is one big spoiler alert.

Conservatives? They laugh and paint their faces red.

This is generally accurate on the national stage – liberals tend to go wonky, discussing the quality of a policy, whereas conservatives typically go for an emotional marketing pitch – remember the propaganda about "death panels"? (The lies, fear and spite are necessary, because conservative policies are generally horrible.)

Richardson continues:

The far left always pushes its favorite alternative, which is to shout kill their umpire, but this never gains much steam because liberals are not constitutionally inclined that way. Everyone has to try and understand the idea of red and blue states is an illusion, because every state has plenty of both and the margins are usually very thin. But we don't even have red and blue people. So Obama and Robert Gibbs are right: No matter how frustrating and futile it may be, we have to resist the temptation to demonize the other side and keep trying to find common ground. Because there is common ground.

Richardson goes on to quote conservative Conor Friedersdorf, and discusses both their experiences in turning down the heat of disputes, and engaging people of different political views. All that's good, as is this point:

This is the thing our rational political discussions always overlook: People aren't rational. They aren't consistent. They don't have worked-out positions. We know this from novels and movies, where the very definition of satisfying art is complex characters who can't be reduced to a one-dimensional caricature. But when we enter the supposedly factual world of politics, we pretend to forget it. So it's interesting that Freidersdorf's argument is "grounded in the assumption that Internet commenters aren't always being real."

Yes, many voters – and human beings in general – hold irrational beliefs, and haven't really thought them through. These can be harmless, or deeply destructive. Regardless, Richardson's right that it's unwise to forget these dynamics. But he loses me a bit with his closing paragraph:

These days, that's what conservative politics is. But we're all feeling the same distress. And the more we ridicule them or smear them all as racists, the louder they're gonna shout down that umpire, bringing us closer and closer to the danger point when the crowd turns into a mob and the umpire actually does get killed.

There are several different issues here. (Since Richardson's piece is short, it would be unfair to treat it as his be-all-end-all diagnosis on American politics. I'm mainly using it as a launching point.) It's one thing to debate the political effectiveness of calling, say, Rush Limbaugh or Mark Williams a racist. It's quite another to say that it isn't true, and that liberals or anyone else should pretend that Limbaugh and Williams aren't racists, despite the formidable evidence to the contrary. Liberal bloggers have been expressing concern about right-wingers committing violence for years now, and there already have been some shootings by right-wingers who have swallowed propaganda from the Fox News/right-wing noise machine hook, line and sinker. I don't think Richardson is warning us about liberals becoming a mob (even if individuals are driven to rage). He's talking about right-wingers, who are angry and believe things that aren't factually true, doing violence to their fellow Americans. While engagement and de-escalation are worthy pursuits, they don't fully address those dynamics. Moreover, pushing those responses and nothing else shifts the burden of responsibility almost entirely from the hucksters and the marks to the more sober, responsible adults.

As I wrote over at Anne Laurie's post, while Richardson makes several good points, there’s a huge difference between dealing with "real people" versus politicians, pundits and professional hacks. I can gently challenge my friend’s basically-otherwise-decent-and-occasionally-sweet mother on her homophobia, have a civil, good-natured discussion, get her to laugh, and maybe make some headway. It’s completely different with someone like Mark Williams, who’s a bullying, arrogant, angry racist and a general asshole otherwise to boot. Common ground with Williams would start with him acknowledging his “black folks’ letter to Lincoln” was racist. Common ground with Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, John Boehner and the rest would start with them joining the reality-based community and not lying constantly. Every so often liberals and other reasonable folk can extend an invitation to them to get off the Evil Train, but it’s foolhardy to expect that it will happen. When Andrew Breitbart, Karl Rove and Grover Norquist openly seek the permanent destruction of liberals, liberal institutions, and the Democratic Party, it's wise to take them at their word. By all means, let's have conversations with real people who might be able to de-escalate or have a reality-based conversation. But it doesn’t take a finely tuned bullshit detector to peg the truly crazy and the professional scumbags.

It would be naïve for liberals to think that a better idea or policy will prevail on its own without being pitched well, but it's also naïve to think that Newt Gingrich and company have any interest in running the country well. (Richardson, who recently wrote a superb, damning portrait of Gingrich, certainly isn't naïve, which is why that one post shouldn't be taken as a final statement. This post fleshes his views out further, and some of the disconnect may be semantic.)

This leaves liberal activists with some old dilemmas. One, what's the most effective political approach? Even if you have good policies (perhaps vastly superior policies), you still need to pitch them well. Second, on the more personal level - how do you fight evil people without losing your soul? (Pick other terms if you like, but I don't think "evil" should be reserved solely for fictional villains like Darth Vader. Severely hurting other people or your country, whether intentionally, blithely or recklessly, qualifies as "evil" in my book.) The current political climate is pretty insane, and trying to push back against the racism, Islamophobia, and eagerness to destroy the social safety net while giving even more wealth to the super-rich can all be maddening.

Blue Gal recently tackled these issues from a personal, Christian, Quaker perspective. I find myself repeatedly returning to them (probably in most depth in "Concern Trolls for Nixon"). There isn't one, easy answer. However, when it comes to the national political discourse, it's a major battle merely to have a reality-based discussion in the first place, before we even get to the question of what the hell we should actually do.

The dynamics may be different on the ground level, and it's very helpful to distinguish between the professional hacks and average citizens. Mrs. Polly at Rumproast interviewed some protesters of the "Ground Zero Mosque" (that isn't really a mosque and isn't at Ground Zero). If you head over to watch it, the exchange is pretty civil, and the two protesters don't seem like bad guys per se. But they've been lied to, they're upset, and they will not acknowledge the contradictions in their stance. Maybe they can admit it all to themselves later. More likely, they won't ever directly back down and admit they’re wrong. If they get something out of their fight, some concession from the other side (move it another two blocks!), then maybe they can let it go. They won't lose face that way.

Now granted, liberals should anticipate such things in their political calculations, and practice good negotiation strategies (start with a more liberal stance and compromise to the more "centrist" position, rather than starting with the "centrist" position – looking at you, Obama administration and Democratic leadership). However, "compromise" doesn't work when it's an essential issue, such as Freedom of Religion. Those two protesters might eventually back down or see the light, but the sincerely crazy wingnuts (Pam Geller) and professional bullshitters (Newt Gingrich) of the world will never stop. At best, they'll merely change their pitches. And the right-wing noise machine is powerful, coloring every "debate," and inventing fake scandals all the time. Liberals simply can't anticipate them all. Professional conservative hacks enter debate, discussion and negotiation in bad faith, and generally the conservative base sincerely believes their bullshit. It's folly to ignore this. "Anticipation" and strategy have to encompass combating these overall dynamics and changing them, versus constantly playing defense by debunking one fake scandal after another. Good debunks are very important, but a larger political framework must be offered to combat the crap spewed constantly by Fox News and the gang.

Those first two questions this post mentioned were: "Is there any way to cut through the political divides in America? Is there any common ground to be found?" With average citizens, perhaps, and it's worth a try. However, on the ground level, and especially the national level, the more relevant question is, "What's the best way to combat bullshit in the political discourse?"

A Wingnut Checklist

Here's a first crack at a Wingnut Checklist. It applies mostly to movement conservatism and its allies, although these dynamics aren't limited to one party. There are Democratic politicians and hacks who will display the same behavior, mostly those of plutocrat, war hawk or authoritarian tendencies. However, those are all conservative trends. And while the Democrats have their scoundrels, these dynamics absolutely dominate the Republican Party, and have for decades now. There's only a small percentage of "reasonable conservatives" left, and few of them are on the national stage or have much influence in the GOP. There is really no major conservative movement or bloc that does not demonstrate one or all or these elements. (In some cases, they prefer to fund other wingnuts versus openly espousing this stuff themselves, hence the many conservative think tanks and astroturf organizations around – they're paying 'the help' to do the dirty work.)

The next time a person or group (normally conservative) pushes some "scandal," consider whether any or all of these apply:

1. They make factually false claims. Additionally, while some of the zealots may be true believers in these false claims, the ringleaders are deliberately lying for political reasons. (Some are more specifically classic bullshitters, not caring whether what they say is true or not.) [Liars]

2. What they propose is extreme, and antithetical to core American values and law. The "debate" they're instigating goes far beyond a mere policy dispute, and instead attacks more fundamental American values. They're authoritarians, stomping on almost every part of the Constitution save the Second Amendment. They oppose Freedom of Religion, warrants for searches, due process, humane treatment and freedom from torture, and basic civil liberties for anyone they don't like. Sometimes what they propose isn't antithetical to the Constitution itself, but is nonetheless genuinely radical and extreme (eliminate progressive taxes, eliminate income taxes altogether, eliminate the estate tax altogether). To the degree they've given it any thought, they want to tear up the social contract in favor of some form of neo-feudalism. [Extremists]

3. They are assholes. This group seeks to dominate or destroy those they view as foes. They do not seek peaceful coexistence, or building a better system for everybody, and have no interest in running things wisely or well. Their goals are radical (#2), and they will lie, cheat and steal shamelessly to achieve them (#1). They will not stop voluntarily, and are extremely dangerous in positions of power. Basically, in a classic case of projection, they are as implacable and ruthless as the foes they demonize with their distorting, McCarthyite rhetoric. They seek domination atop a hierarchy, not a more fair society. (For instance, even if one mistakenly believes that opposing the building of any mosques in America is somehow a respectable position, it cannot possibly be called an inclusive vision for America.) [Assholes]

Feel free to improve this checklist. But for almost every conservative-driven "scandal," you will see one or all of these three elements: liar, extremist, asshole. Any one of them alone is sufficient cause for challenging and defeating their campaign. Any time these bullies and brats get their way, it only encourages them. And given all three elements, and an issue of actual importance, it's imperative that their campaign is confronted and overcome. Yeah, we can continue to try to have civil, honest conversations with average citizens of different political views. When in doubt, starting with that approach is wise. When confronting professional scallywags, factually-based debunks still play an important role. However, it's folly to expect good faith from them, and basic common sense to look for the lie and be prepared for some of their favorite bullshit claims and debating tactics.

You don't compromise or make peace with Joe McCarthy. You challenge him, expose him, debunk him and defeat him. (And you record history accurately so you're ready the next time his type comes around.)

Update: John H. Richardson has written a thoughtful response to this post, plus one other on this general theme. Head over to read them. (I hope to have a follow-up post done at some point.)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Don't Know Much About History

Well, at least something good came out of Glenn Beck's rally in DC. An old pal who also grew up in the DC area recently wrote:

Great time at the Natural History Museum! The tea party folk kept everyone away from downtown and the tea party doesn't seem to believe in natural history, so the place was empty.

In addition to the above links, if you missed it, here's The Daily Show's Beckapalooza preview:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
I Have a Scheme
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

"What Teachers Make"

This was passed on by one of my former teaching colleagues:

This version has clearer audio, but is more subdued. Here's Taylor Mali's webpage and YouTube channel.

I haven't watched all of his stuff yet, but "The Impotence of Proofreading" is great, and seems to owe a debt to Richard Lederer's World According to Student Bloopers.

(There are also those teachers who try too hard to be cool.)

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Onion Takes on Time Magazine

TIME Announces New Version Of Magazine Aimed At Adults


Time and Newsweek occasionally have decent articles, but it can be painful to find them. (A 2007 post I wrote looked at a sloppy Time cover story on teaching the Bible.)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Poor Historical Analogies (8-20-10)

The list of poor historical analogies citing World War II is exhaustively long, but this one is particularly, um, impressive. From a Newsweek piece via Jonathan Schwarz comes this contender:

President Obama and the business community have been at odds for months. But in July the chairman and cofounder of the Blackstone Group, one of the world’s largest private-equity firms, amped up the rhetoric. Stephen Schwarzman—the leading John McCain supporter in a firm that, in 2008, gave more money to Obama—was addressing board members of a nonprofit organization when he let loose. “It’s a war,” Schwarzman said of the struggle with the administration over increasing taxes on private-equity firms. “It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”...

Schwarzman’s original beef with Obama grew out of a 2008 campaign promise that “carried interest”—the compensation structure of private-equity-fund managers—would be taxed as ordinary income (35 percent) instead of capital gains (15 percent). Obama and many Democrats have argued that it’s unfair for people like Schwarzman, with a net worth of about $8 billion, to pay taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries and chauffeurs. More substantively, the commissions and fees that hedge-fund managers reap (20 percent of their clients’ profits) are not, strictly speaking, capital gains because the managers themselves never held the stocks.

Yeah, and a progressive income tax is like the Holocaust. (Hey, as long as we're going all Godwin, why not go all the way?)

There's more:

Schwarzman is also angry at the president for some of his rhetoric (Obama has talked of “fat-cat bankers”) and for not having a prominent former CEO in his cabinet or inner circle—concerns shared widely throughout the business community, including among Democrats. “Steve thinks the president lacks an intuitive feeling for the role of capital markets,” says a Wall Street executive who knows Schwarzman. “Obama is from Mars and Steve is from Venus.”

This guy is worth eight billion, meaning he's a incredibly wealthy man, while average folks are having a really rough time of it these days. Yet he's complaining about his taxes possibly going up and that (as the Balloon Juice crew would put it) his tender fee-fees are hurt. It seems like "carried interest" always should have been taxed much, much higher anyway, he'd be getting off easy even with the proposed increase, and he had a ridiculously sweet deal for a long time. These are not the sufferings of Job. While tax rates should be set rationally - which would entail raising taxes on the super-wealthy anyway - I'm thinking Schwarzman's grandiose feelings of victimization give a little extra incentive.

While not every wealthy person, not even on Wall Street, acts this way, if you've been following the news this past year, you know Schwarzman's attitude is hardly rare in his circles. I think it's time to revisit another Schwarz post, from October 2008:

Who wouldn't be stunned when the most greedy, venal, vicious, cruel, arrogant, ignorant human beings on earth aren't eager to work in the public interest? Especially when people like them have never been willing to do so in the entire history of mankind, except on the rare occasions when they've been directly threatened with execution? It's stunning!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Strange Condition"

Here's Pete Yorn's original, "Strange Condition"...

...And here's Morgan Page featuring Lissie, covering it.

Eclectic Jukebox

Mean Girls, Drama Queens and Angry Loons

While I try to avoid All Things Palin, sometimes the snowbilly grifter (as dubbed by TBogg) is hard to ignore, and this little tale from the other week epitomizes both her and her right-wing pals.

Phase One: A Palin Incident

This silly tale started with an incident in Homer, Alaska, which Sarah Palin was visiting for her reality TV show. A resident, Kathleen Gustafson, put up a banner declaring Palin the "worst governor ever." Palin stopped to protest. Here's the video of the encounter:

Gustafson's main objection seems to be that Palin quit halfway through her term, a fairly common, mainstream criticism, whatever her other views. Alaskan blogger Shannyn Moore, who's from Homer, gives much more background. Palin's bodyguards trying to block the filming is obnoxious (apparently one man might be her husband). According to Moore, they later tore the sign down. The oddest moment is Palin's grimacing shtick when Gustafson mentions she's a teacher.

Phase Two: Palin Defends/Attacks

Palin generally makes the news, and in this case she was criticized. Palin predictably manned her Facebook parapet to complain about the reaction to her behavior:

The LSM has now decided to use this brief encounter for another one of their spin operations. They claim I – wait for it – “appear to roll my eyes” when the lady tells me she’s a teacher. Yes, it’s come to this: the media is now trying to turn my eyebrow movements into story lines. (Maybe that’s why Botox is all the rage – if you can’t move your eyebrows, your “eye rolling” can’t be misinterpreted!) If they had checked their facts first, they would have known that I come from a family of teachers; my grandparents were teachers, my father was a teacher, my brother is a teacher, my sister works in Special Needs classrooms, my aunt is a school nurse, my mom worked as a school secretary for much of her professional life, we all volunteer in classrooms, etc., etc., etc. Given that family history, how likely is it that I would “roll my eyes” at someone telling me that they too work in that honorable profession? Stay classy, LSM.

If you're not fluent in Palinese, "LSM" stands for "lamestream media." As Roy Edroso comments:

I'm actually sympathetic toward her on this score. But you know what would have really won me over? If she'd compared this attention to her facial expressions with the attention also absurdly paid to the facial expressions of Al Franken by wingnut shit-stirrers.

But that would never happen. Not only because -- to use a phrase traditionally employed by gomers -- it doesn't fit the narrative, but because it would require Palin to show sympathy for someone other than herself.

And I've never seen her do that.

She does defend her kids, but only when she fantasizes that they've been attacked by the media -- which isn't really a sign of interest in their welfare, but of an interest in the exploitive possibilities of one's own family that would have embarrassed Richard "Checkers" Nixon.

In other people's families, she's less interested...

He's got more (and head over for his links). But yeah, Palin is hardly pushing for substance in the political discourse, and never has. She hides behind her Facebook screeds (some of them surely ghost-written), allowing her to throw crap at others, make news and rarely answer questions from a reporter or citizen. It's the classic right-wing model, perfected by Ann Coulter – seek credit for saying something "provocative," but refuse any accountability for what you say. Palin lives for the cheap political attack herself, and loves media attention, even if – hell, especially - when it's negative (from a non-Fox News source, that is).

While the Homer incident was trivial in the grand scheme, Palin's rebuttal remains unconvincing. Hey, who are you going to believe, her or your lying eyes? She comes off as pretty snide and obnoxious in the video. It's far down the list of reasons not to vote for her, but it smacks of the same "mean girl" persona many female writers identified in Palin back during the 2008 presidential campaign. After Gustafson says she's a teacher, Palin seems to be playing for the audience, mostly her daughter, something along the lines of "Figures" or "Oh, we all know what commie liberals those teachers are!" There are a few different interpretations of her reaction (read the post and comments here, for example), but it sure looks like Palin is disparaging teachers as a general group and/or Gustafson personally. While I have no doubt that Palin dislikes teachers' unions - a lamentably common conservative position, and one cited by some of Palin's defenders on this - she doesn't mention them during the incident, nor in her Facebook post. (By the way, did you know who's in teachers' unions? Teachers.) Palin mentioning the teachers in her family in her Facebook post isn't an exoneration; it's further condemnation, because she should know better.

Indeed, the entire GOP should know better. Earlier this month, House minority leader John Boehner attacked the bill to help states keep teachers, police officers and firefighters employed, because he claimed it was "a pay-off to union bosses and liberal special interests." Republican opposition was near-unanimous. The bill finally passed, and as Steve Benen points out, it was both "good policy and good politics" – but Benen also notes that now some Republicans are charging that it was some grand Democratic Party-schoolteacher conspiracy. Seriously. It's become increasingly common to see the Republican Party run against the middle class, which amounts to horrible policies and shouldn't be good politics, but that's the reality. Arnold Schwarzenegger has attacked teachers, nurses and firefighters out here in California, and George Will and other conservatives have attacked teachers (as well as teachers' unions) for decades now. (On a related note, I agree with Digby that this article is one of the stupidest I've ever read.) In any case, it's predictable rather than implausible that a conservative, especially one with Palin's anti-intellectual shtick (and history of bullying librarians), would attack teachers in some fashion.

Phase Three: Right-Wing Bloggers are Go!

Here's where it gets interesting (if both odd and familiar) for me. If you check out memeorandum, the initial incident got a surprising amount of coverage – but then things just kept on rolling. Right-wingers sought to defend Palin, which is fine, but those defenses became increasingly nutty. Palin's fans are pretty zealous, and it's a right-wing blogger standard that their "citizen journalism" actually means "mobilizing to slander innocent people who don’t share your political views." (The right-wing crusade against Graeme Frost is still the nadir.) Sure enough, right-wing bloggers quickly set out to dig up dirt on Gustafson.

Phase Four: Right-Wing Smears Repeated Uncritically

A few outlets, including Yahoo, uncritically passed on right-wing attacks against Gustafson. The three big attacks were that Gustafson wasn't really a teacher, that she confronted Palin as a stunt for a local radio show, and that she was a singer in a drag queen band. (Follow the links at the bottom of the Yahoo post.)

I happened to see the Yahoo piece, and was mildly curious about how they'd cover the incident. I followed their links, and saw that one of bloggers attacking Gustafson was Jim Hoft, a.k.a. GatewayPundit. He claimed the teacher that Sarah Palin mocked wasn't really a teacher. My first reaction was, "So what? That doesn't change that Palin mocked the teaching profession." My second reaction - knowing Hoft's track record on accuracy about, well, anything - was "I wonder how long it will take for Hoft to be disproven?"

Guess what's coming next, kids?

Phase Five: Reality-Based Bloggers Debunk the "Scandal"

Jim Hoft's post title at First Things blared, "THAT WAS NO TEACHER… Unhinged Leftist Who Confronted Palin Is a Singer in a Drag Queen Band (Photo)." Oh, he had the goods, all right:

The leftists were outraged that Sarah Palin had the nerve to confront this angry “teacher.” Teachers should be respected.

It’s just too bad she’s not a teacher. Kathleen Gustafson is a singer in a drag queen band.

(HOMER TRIBUNE/Randi Somers) – Director Kathleen Gustafson (left) steps in to provide harmony as Hedwig (Atz Lee Kilcher) polishes up his performance at Pier One on Aug. 28.

Kathleen Guftafson is not a teacher. She’s a theater tech… And a liar.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Most of Hoft's links went to a post with running updates by conservative blogger Macsmind –this being the key one:

UPDATE: Here’s a story about her singing abilities with a drag-queen band. Whoohoo!

That's where Hoft got the photo. The thing is, if you bother to, y'know, actually read the linked story, it's a about a one-man show/musical with a cult following called Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which was made into a 2001 film. So Gustafson isn't a singer in a drag queen band (not that there's anything wrong with that), and teaching theater tech is, um, teaching. Obviously the queer stuff gets them all excited, but Hoft, Macsmind and other conservative bloggers who pushed these charges were inaccurate, whether through malice, ineptitude or some mix of both.

Still, even if they were accurate – so what? How would any of it exonerate Palin? Even if Gustafson wasn't a teacher, Palin still approached her, was still snide to her, and still disparaged teachers. The same holds true even if Gustafson does some local radio show. I don't think most people are dumb enough to think that every Alaskan adores Palin, who was widely criticized over quitting the governorship, or that every Alaskan hates her, either. So why attack Gustafson? Because some people - in the supposedly liberal media, who conservatives despise anyway - thought the incident made Palin look bad? The facts remain that while the conservative base adores Palin, she's extremely unpopular with Americans as a whole - and mostly, the more they've seen of her, the less they like her. This incident isn't liable to change her ratings much either way. This was just another right-wing smear job, attempted as a distraction – and an unsuccessful, clumsy one at that.

Andrew Sullivan found more:

A Singer In A Drag Queen Band?

Er, it appears she is directing a production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. As one commenter at the theocon First Things notes:

Ahem – “Theater Tech” is the name of the class. It teaches highschoolers how to create sets, lighting plans, build props, etc. Her collegue Amy Christenson isn’t a “Music” and Mark Robinson isn’t a “Choir” all by himself. The word that follows their names is most likely the name of the class they teach.

And she’s not a singer in a Drag Queen band, she’s obviously directing the stage play “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” If she was in the Sound of Music, would you claim she was an Austrian au pair?

There's more:

The…ahhhh…”drag queen” who is actually the character Hedwig, the star of the play, is Atz Lee Kilcher. We long-time Alaskans know him as one of the musical Kilcher clan whom I watched perform when they were kids. You would know him as Jewel’s brother.

Still: no corrections from GatewayPundit.

Well, that was hardly surprising. The site Sadly, No probably has the most extensive archive on the GatewayPundit Follies, but there was his confusion that different people can have the same names, his confusion about racial slurs, his factually-challenged attacks on the Clintons over Socks the cat, his appalling smears that Education official Kevin Jennings had promoted child porn in the classroom, and (my favorite) his claim that the Taliban was training killer monkeys to shoot Americans. Not only is he not Edward R. Murrow, he's not even Andrew Breitbart.

Phase Six: Parting Shots

Hoft did eventually post an update, though, linking one of Sullivan's posts:

UPDATE: The Palin-haters now claim that “theater tech” is the name of some class they teach in Alaska. Sure it is… Keep spinning libs.

Wow. Just – read that one again. Wow. I sorta envision Hoft, cursed and foiled again, spitting that out hatefully, vowing revenge and disappearing in a cloud of smoke.

Here's the thing. The original incident was pretty minor. You can think Palin's generally a swell person and was the best governor ever, but yeah, she was snide to a citizen and disparaged teachers. It ain't the end of the world, but neither of those moves was surprising. I'd think most Palin devotees would just say, "That Homer woman Palin was talking to had it coming!" and be done with it.

But no, the right-wing smear machine cranked up as usual, and true to form, came up with nothing of substance. Moreover, Hoft and the faithful are so rabidly partisan, so fervent in their defense of the divine Sarah, they're unwilling to acknowledge even basic facts, and refuse to accurately represent the articles they themselves link. They're just denying reality. That's what amazes me (and why I've written this looong post). They're prepared to go to the wall over this?!? I mean, come on, Jim Hoft is really going to claim that the state of Alaska doesn't have a class on theater tech and that teaching it isn't really teaching? Is that supposed to convince anybody who isn't on his side already, not to mention a complete zealot or hack?

At this point, I almost have to believe that Jim Hoft is pulling our legs, because I find it hard to believe that even he is this dim. Even given conservative hostility toward the arts, and the typical dynamics of right-wing, knee-jerk smear campaigns (here in defense of one of the most vapid politicians ever to grace the American political stage), it's pretty bad. And, ahem, as a former theater teacher, occasional director and techie, and vagabond thespian (it's legal now in California), I feel compelled to respond.

Hey, Jim Hoft, did you know? Theater is actually one of several art forms that's been central to Western civilization for over two and half millennia. That's not all! Many high schools and colleges teach classes about it! Theater is so popular, in fact, that it breaks into other classrooms - why, you can find students reading plays by that Shakespeare fellow in English classes! Not only that, some students put on school plays, which gets 'em some culture, and provides many the climatic scene in one of those motion picture thingies (another one of the arts) like Dead Poets Society or Love, Actually. And – shockingly enough – some classes teach students how to put on those plays! It turns out that microphones, speakers and lights don't magically work all on their own. Granted, it does take more effort to put on a real play than spewing inaccurate, intolerant bullshit constantly - but we find it's worth it.

Phase Seven: More Flailing, More Mocking

The nutty defenses of Palin didn't stop there. Over at Michelle Malkin's site, Doug Powers also claimed that "theater tech" meant Gustafson was lying about being a teacher – and again, mysteriously, why this would affect the initial criticism of Palin has never been explained. Powers continued:

When Palin asked Gustafson what she did for a living, and she said she was a teacher, that’s where eyeroll-gate started.

Oh, I don’t know, maybe Sarah somehow knew that Gustafson is also the director/singer in a drag queen band, that it was possibly a radio stunt or that Gustafson is (or at least was) president of the Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic — you know how the pro-abortion folks love Sarah.

Uh, how did Palin know any of this? Her awesome psychic powers? It's interesting that Powers is conceding the reaction, but come on, is this remotely plausible? Not to mention, Palin "somehow knew" Gustafson wasn't a teacher and was a singer in a drag queen band - when neither of these is true? It's like George Bush's all-knowing "gut," I guess. Hey, if Powers wants to argue that what makes Sarah Palin special is that she just somehow knows things that aren't true, I'm going to agree with him.

At least one other conservative blogger, Devonia Smith, took a similar tact. After repeating Hoft's charges about Gustafson not being a real teacher and a singer in a drag queen band, she wrote:

Although the liberal opinion seems to be that Sarah appeared to roll her eyes because the protester was a teacher; conservatives are certain that the knowing look exchanged with her family was because Sarah never believed for a minute the protester was a teacher. That Sarah Palin, she's a smart lady - and she was right to suspect that the "teacher" was not your ordinary classroom teacher.

Uh, okay then. Her "Mama Grizzly Sense" was tingling? (The same one that steered her brilliantly through the Couric and Gibson interviews, and so many other debacles, perhaps?) Funny though, Palin herself denied or downplayed that she rolled her eyes, but Smith also concedes this. I'm also guessing Smith's idea of "ordinary" classroom teachers neither teach theater nor dislike Sarah Palin, because come on, who's ever heard of such things? And again, Palin somehow knew or 'suspected' things that a) weren't true and b) wouldn't exonerate her anyway? It's really just a cheerleading "I like Sarah Palin" post (Smith seems to have many of those).

To recap, Palin denied or downplayed her facial reactions. Most right-wing bloggers seem to have abandoned that strategy. Instead, some conservative bloggers claimed Palin was exonerated because... Gustafson was a horrible person somehow, while others claimed Palin was exonerated because... Palin has Sherlock Holmes deductive powers or psychic abilities or something - that furthermore told her things that weren't true. Again, I think just saying "Screw you, liberals!" would be more honest than these elaborate, befuddled machinations.

Meanwhile, if you're more of a mind to mock Palin, here's Kristen Schaal on The Daily Show, some liberal mama grizzlies, and Jacob Weisberg on the qualities that make Sarah Palin special: "Palin's exuberant incoherence testifies to an unusually wide gulf between confidence and ability."

This was a pretty silly non-scandal. It's nothing compared to Breitbart's smear campaign against Shirley Sherrod, or the current loathsome attacks on the "Ground Zero Mosque," which would actually be a Muslim community center with a prayer room, located two long city blocks away (and out of sight) from Ground Zero. But many non-scandals seem to follow this basic pattern.

And surely we can all get along. Remember, implicit in most conservative defenses of Palin, including her own, was the notion that disparaging teachers was bad. That's progress, in a way. So I guess at least we all agree that teachers are wonderful, and we can hug, share a beer or two, and support our local arts scene by buying a ticket to the summer community theater show. Hey, maybe they'll be performing this little number:

Kwahng-Yi on guitar, ladies and gentlemen.

(Edited the last section for clarity. A late night.)