Saturday, August 11, 2007

Bill Sali backtracks

-- by Dave

So after sticking his foot in it the other day by quite plainly arguing that Muslims do not belong in a real American Congress, Republican Rep. Bill Sali of Idaho is eagerly backtracking now, saying that he didn't really mean to imply that Muslims should not be serving in Congress, nor should there be Hindu prayers in the Senate:
Idaho Congressman Bill Sali said today a Minnesota Muslim congressman has every right to serve in Washington, D.C., but he hopes the country's leaders continue to follow Christian principles.

Sali said his comments quoted on a conservative Web site should not have given the impression that Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison did not belong in Congress.

"He got elected the same way I did," Sali told the Statesman in a phone interview today. "People certainly have the right to elect anyone they want."

In an interview posted online this week by the Christian news outlet American Family News Network, Sali said: "We have not only a Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate, we have a Muslim member of the House of Representatives now, Keith Ellison from Minnesota. Those are changes — and they are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers. The principles that this country was built on, that have made it great over these centuries were Christian principles derived from scriptures. You know, the Lord can cause the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike."

Sali was quickly attacked by some blogs around the country, including, which pointed out that the founders wrote Article VI, which states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

Sali seems to be disingenuously claiming that he wasn't arguing that Muslims didn't belong in Congress -- he was only pointing out that this was something the Founding Fathers didn't envision. Nothing wrong with that, is there?

Well, to begin with, there is something wrong with that: The Founding Fathers did in fact anticipate that perhaps even Muslims might be participants in the American Dream. I actually was mistaken to suggest that the Founding Fathers were silent on the subject; as Barbara O'Brien at Mahablog points out, Thomas Jefferson in fact wrote explicitly on the subject in his autobiography:
The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.” The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.

And, as Nash notes in my comments:
Quotations from the various founders are discussed in this context in a 2002 Library of Congress bulletin by James H. Hutson. These include quotes from Jefferson and Richard Henry Lee, as well as a description by Jefferson of the significance of an action taken by the Virginia legislature in 1786.

In various of these quotes, "Mahamdans" or "Mahometans" or "Mohometans" are included as examples of the religious followers being discussed.

As Hutson says:

The Founders of this nation explicitly included Islam in their vision of the future of the republic. Freedom of religion, as they conceived it, encompassed it. Adherents of the faith were, with some exceptions, regarded as men and women who would make law-abiding, productive citizens. Far from fearing Islam, the Founders would have incorporated it into the fabric of American life.

Further, gmoke notes in my comments that Benjamin Franklin likewise spoke of Muslims in the context of religious freedom in America, citing page 149 of The First American; The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by H. W. Brands (New York: Doubleday, 2000):
"... [Benjamin] Franklin helped arrange the construction of a new building (prosaically called the 'New Building') for the express purpose of hosting preachers unwelcome in the regular pulpits of the city. Franklin spoke his desires rather than strict reality when he declared in his autobiography that 'if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mahometanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.'"

OK, so perhaps Sali is just ill-informed. That wouldn't be new. But it might be easier to take Sali's claims at face value were he not one of those folks in Congress who makes a fetish out of the intent of the "Founding Fathers" and "constitutional values" as though they held certain magical powers. Note, for instance, how harkening back to the values of the Founders is one of the central notes of this Sali campaign speech by Alan Keyes back in 2006.

It couldn't have been more clear that Sali was arguing that the presence of Muslims in the Congress was an insult to the intent of the Founders and as such did not belong, though once the remarks got out and it was clear such a position was politically untenable, Sali began scrambling to find a way to say, no, he hadn't said such a thing.

But it's going to be a lot harder for him to make that case when his regular defenders among the fundamentalist set, such as the Idaho Values Alliance, defends him by saying he's right -- that, indeed, his "concerns" were "eminently justified":
Despite the Christophobic firestorm directed at Rep. Sali, he is exactly right with regard to both of his concerns.

Hindus believe in a virtually infinite number of gods, and worship cows, monkeys and snakes. Our Founding Fathers, on the other hand, believed in one God, the Creator God revealed in the Old and New Testaments, the God who is the source of our inalienable civil rights and liberties.

As a people, we pledge allegiance to "one nation under God," not "one nation under gods." Hindus are certainly free in America to worship as many gods and animals as they want to, but we must not be deluded into thinking that they pray to or worship the same God who is enshrined in our Declaration of Independence.

Congressional invocations are not just ceremonial in nature, but substantive. They are one of the crucial ways in which our leaders seek the assistance of the God who granted us such signal blessings at the time of our founding and for over 200 years since.

For the sake of our country's future and continued prosperity, it's important that we maintain the custom of the Founders, so that the God we call upon in congressional invocations continues to be the God of George Washington, John Adams, James Madison, Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

You get the picture: Hindus are unworthy of religious freedom and a role in American society because they worship critters. Sigh. (For a more balanced explanation of Hinduist beliefs, just check the Wikipedia entry.)

But wait! We can't forget Islam! Like the Ronco peeler, there's more:
Further, Rep. Sali's caution with regard to Islam and public policy is wise. The citizens of Minnesota certainly have the right to send anybody to Washington they wish, but when you examine nations whose public institutions have been shaped by Islamic politicians, you invariably find no freedom of religion, no freedom of speech, no freedom of conscience, no fundamental rights for women, and no freedom for ordinary citizens to choose their own leaders.

It is still a capital offense in 22 Muslim nations to convert from Islam to Christianity. In Saudi Arabia, it is illegal even to worship Christ in public, and officials there continue to confiscate Bibles, crucifixes, and Stars of David even from tourists who bring them into the country.

If an Islamic-inspired worldview were to shape America's public policy, this country would become a far different land than the one bequeathed to us by our Founding Fathers.

It would no longer be the "sweet land of liberty" of which we sing but something tyrannical and repressive. That's not the kind of nation the American people want, and Rep. Sali is right on target in issuing his word of caution.

So, in other words, he wasn't mistaken to suggest that Hindus and Muslims can never make real Americans. Right.
...The question then is not whether Sen. Harry Reid has the right to ask a Hindu to offer an invocation, for clearly he does, nor whether the people of Minnesota have the right to send a Muslim to Congress, for clearly they do. And despite hysterical accusations to the contrary, Rep. Sali has never questioned those rights.

The question is not whether they have the right to do what they did, but whether they were smart and wise to do so.

Certainly in our public discourse there must be a place for reflection here, and to ask whether their actions represent prudence and whether, as a matter of political wisdom, these things are good or bad for America and its future.

Ah, we get it. This is what's unsaid in Sali's mea culpa. They mesh rather neatly, actually: He's not arguing that Muslims and Hindus don't belong in Congress -- it's just that allowing them there means we're all going to roast in fiery Apocalypse from a wrathful Christian God. Or something along those lines.

Why, that makes perfect sense.

Well, I think we can get to the bottom of this: Note that Sali, in his apologia, contends that the problem is multiculturalism:
"The idea that somehow we can move to multi-culturalism and still remain the same — I think that's a little dangerous, too," he said. "From my standpoint, I believe the Founding Fathers were overwhelmingly Christian and the God they were talking about is the God of the Bible."

Well, a lot of folks on the right say they hate multiculturalism, but they never get around to identifying what the alternative is.

And the alternative to multiculturalism is the rule envisioned by the Founding Fathers, which is to say, rule by white male Christian property owners. And that, really, is what Bill Sali is claiming America is all about.

As it happens, I know a few non-males, a few non-whites, and a few non-Christians who would all disagree.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Some Are More Equal Than Others

-- by Sara

Dave writes below:
Ever notice how, for some Christian fundamentalists, freedom of religion means the freedom not only to discriminate against other religions or other beliefs, but to actively promote hatred of them, to advocate their exclusion and oppression?
Yes, I've noticed. In fact, I've been noticing this a lot lately -- and it's been worrying me. This attempt to warp our traditional notions of "discrimination" is an emerging meme with accelerating momentum within the Dominionist right. I'm glad Dave brought it up, because I've been wanting to pick at it a bit further.

A Charge To Keep Have I
Evangelical Christians of all political gradients have always considered it their first duty to convert the world to Christ. In fact, that obligation to spread word of their faith is perhaps the core definition of what it means to be "evangelical." Different sects have different thoughts on why spreading the Gospel is important; but they all think it is important -- the most important work of their lives.

However, historically -- at least, since the Revolution -- American Christians (of all stripes) have gone about their conversion efforts in fairly low-key way. Before the Revolution, too many of the original colonies had state churches that were overweening in their use of government -- via taxation, zoning, ordinances, and so on -- to hobble the activities of other faiths. These persecutions fell particularly heavily on the Baptists --who as a consequence have, for most of their history, had a visceral understanding of what's at stake when the wall of separation falls, and thus have a long and illustrious tradition of being strikingly militant in its defense. But it's fair to say that the Revolution was almost as much about liberating religion from the colonial state churches as it was about getting out from under a bad king.

For a long time after the Constitution put an end to these persecutions, proselytizing churches continued to cherish the protection of that hard-won wall of separation. For 200 years, most of them have clearly understood that their freedom to practice their faith is a reciprocal deal -- they are only free to follow their faith as long as (and to the extent that) others are free to practice theirs. This understanding has, through the years, made Evangelical ministers some of the country's most persistently loyal and passionate defenders of the wall of separation. More often than you can recount, local Evangelical ministers have usually been the first ones on the scene whenever religious freedom was being threatened. They understood, all too well, that whatever persecution they allowed in their towns could, sooner or later, be loosed on them as well.

That sense of reciprocity also informed their conversion efforts. If you don't want to be coerced, you don't coerce others. If you want the right to raise your voice in the town square, you cannot silence others when they do the same. The only authentic conversions are the ones that result from mutual respect -- God doesn't want forced souls bowing before him, and no church wants people who are there under duress. And because most American Christians understood religious freedom in these reciprocal terms, small towns like mine (6,000 people, 22 churches) found it easy to co-exist for centuries; and big cities could edge over to make room for Jews, Muslims, and many other faiths as well. This mutual respect is a deep and cherished part of the American religious landscape. It's one of the things that has made this country special.

But that consensus has been shifting over the past decade, largely due to the Dominionist movement's ability to move extremely radical anti-Constitutional memes down the transmission belt and into the center of the national consensus. They've been working on this one since the 80s (it took awhile, because it's so contrary to everything we stand for); but, over the past three or four years, it's begun to take root in places you might never have expected. The idea that our traditional reciprocity no longer applies to Evangelicals -- that their special relationship with God endows them with more rights than the rest of us -- has been gathering a serious and unmistakeable head of steam. The implications of this one idea for the country's future are many and frightening.

The Corporatized Church
Part of this casual attitude toward the wall of separation may stem from the long decades that religious fundamentalists have now spent in bed with their free-market counterparts. It's inevitably American that this impulse to sell one's religion to the masses would, in this day and age, evolve into a sophisticated and complex (and cynical, when you think about it) marketing campaign; and that the Evangelical churches who launched such campaigns would, in turn, become not so much houses of worship as vast sales organizations incorporated for the main purpose of attracting eyeballs and moving product. (The TV preachers led the way in the 60s; but the techniques they pioneered are now used in megachurches from coast to coast.) In the minds of many of these church "executives," the right to freely proselytize wherever, whenever, to whomever, is nothing short of the right to dominate their market and stay in business -- another form, if you will, of free market fundamentalism, protected by the same laws that allow secular corporations to profit as they will, unchecked by silly regulations or the demands of any other common good.

(The fact that these religious marketing organizations are now run like secular corporate businesses also leads them to completely ignore the IRS restrictions on political speech. Tell a corporation that it can't support candidates and lobby for its own interests? What kind of Commie are you? A 501(c)3 religious tax exemption is a just another nice loophole offered by the government -- and if you use it well enough, you can afford enough lawyers to keep that same government off your back, and buy you a political voice, too.)

This bottom-line business perspective also transforms these churches' view of other religions. No longer are other churches seen as sharing the broad shade of that almighty Constitutional wall; no longer are you bound to them by the common duty of maintaining it. If a church is a business, then those other churches are nothing more than competitors horning in on your territory. They're obstacles to be destroyed in your quest for total market domination, a task these leaders approach with the same ruthlessness Borders brings to shutting down the local bookstore. As such, they have no rights worth respecting.

In this straight business perspective, the wall of separation is just another restrictive government regulation. And if pulling that wall down on top of your competition is what it takes to wipe them off the map -- well, then, let's go get the ball and tackle and bring 'er on down.

9/11: The Wrath of God
Given that we're talking about religious communities, it's natural that the justification for this kind of marketplace Darwinism would be expressed in theological terms. But, since 9/11, there've been some new twists in fundamentalist theology that have turned up the level of group hysteria to the point where the emotions are much harder to contain -- and have, in turn, added an urgent sense of pressure behind this new and expanded assertion of rights.

The Christian right (as Falwell and Robertson told us the very day after 9/11) believes that America has a unique covenant with God, who founded the nation with a special mission. To wit: we were to be the paragon of Christian nations on earth. They also believe that 9/11 is God's indictment on America -- the direct result of the Evangelical movement's own failure to fulfill that covenant. They sincerely believe it was all their fault: they had 200 years to win the entire nation to their beliefs -- and now God's tired of waiting. If they'd only worked harder and saved more souls, he wouldn't have had to send that wake-up call.

Now, the only way to atone for this catastrophic lapse is to stop messing around with ecumenical cheek-kissing, and get serious about stepping up their efforts to establish theocracy. Their God doesn't require sacrificial virgins or kings; what he does require is that we sacrifice the Constitution on the altar of national religious purity. There is no room for reciprocal niceties and walls of separation and mutual tolerance any more, not when God is visibly pissed and the whole world is about to be lost to Satan. In the meantime, those other churches are blasphemers and heretics, sowing deadly confusion, questioning our divine intentions, and distracting us from doing what only we know must be done to truly safeguard the nation.

About 15% of your fellow American believe, to at least some degree, that they will be at personal physical risk -- from Muslims, from the Devil, and from God himself -- until the theocrats finally and firmly take in charge of everything. If the rights of non-believers get trampled in the process, that's too damned bad. Rights are a luxury we can no longer afford. Those people had their chance at salvation, and they made the wrong choice. In doing so, they forfeited their place at the table of the Elect, and affirmed their status among the subhumans that neither God nor Christian is bound to care for. Now, they'll have to live with the consequences -- which, if we have our way, will mean living at our meager mercy until they finally relent and submit to conversion.

And so our Air Force Academy cadets are (per Mikey Weinstein) treated to brown-bag lunch lectures with titles like "Why We Cannot Let You Have Your God While We Have Ours" -- which are officially sponsored by our tax dollars. Roy Moore still tours the country with his rock, crying discrimination wherever the laws limit religious speech in public venues like streets, parks, schools, courthouses, and legislatures. The Southern Baptist Church -- the second-largest Christian denomination in America after the Catholics -- has strayed far from its illustrious Baptist history to mobilize against hate-crimes laws, claiming -- with a straight face -- that such laws would unduly restrict their "freedom of religious expression." (Translation: they believe that God wants them to commit hate crimes.) And Christian fundamentalists everywhere have picked up the trope, screaming that they're being persecuted by hateful secularists whenever they are "forced" to associate with gays, treat non-believers as equals, subsidize public schools that teach real science and history, or view media that don't conform to their narrow "values."

And as long as there's a single doctor left performing abortions -- the health of the mother be damned -- we're all just asking for God to smite us again. He's done it once. He could easily do it again, just as suddenly and even more horrifically. These people are gripped with the existential terror known only to five-year-olds: Daddy's mad, stuff got broken, and somebody's gonna get a spanking for it.

An Ominous Direction
The fundamentalists among us have, simply, jumped the track -- and are now heading off in a radically new direction that is, very pointedly, re-defining our historic understanding of the First Amendment. Suddenly, in their minds, "justice" is no longer defined as merely having exactly the same rights everybody else does. They are claiming that their religious doctrines absolutely require them to harass other people about their beliefs, take over the government, co-opt the military for religious ends, bomb clinics and kill doctors, demonize gays, oppress women, and dismantle the Constitution. It's not hard for the more paranoid among us to imagine a day when they will assert a "religious freedom" right to commit genocide for God as well. That is, after all, where the heinous logic of all this leads.

Anyone who objects to that agenda and seeks to limit it via public speech, the press, the law, or the courts is now immediately denounced as being un-American. How dare we infringe on their sacred, inviolate, legally-guaranteed freedom of religion? God requires this of us. It's what we believe. You cannot argue with that, let alone take action to stop us. The Constitution says we have this right -- and any liberal who says we don't is just revealing his or her true hypocrisy and intolerance. Yet when we invoke that same Constitution in defense of our own rights, we are -- by their definition -- committing yet another act of Nazi-like persecution against them. In their minds, the Constitution is valid only as long as it empowers them, and silences the rest of us.

Ironic, isn't it -- they way they defend their radical intentions by scurrying right back to the shelter of the very wall they're so intent on tearing down? Unfortunately, though -- that, too, will serve their agenda in the end. After all, there's more than one way to nullify a law you don't like. One is to make rational and emotional arguments against it (even if it involves rewriting history, which, of couse, they are), eventually persuading your fellow citizens to change it. The other is to simply misuse the law in ways that mangle it beyond recognition, ultimately rendering it ineffective and unenforceable. And that's what's happening here. Dominionist Christians are deliberately and willfully warping and bending the entire First Amendment -- with its guarantees of free speech, free press, and freedom of religion -- around their own bizarre arguments in ways that will weaken it, re-cast and distort our understanding of its guarantees, and eventually destroy it.

This is a new and ugly phase in the history of Christian America. Whenever one group begins to assert a legitimate, God-given, government-approved right to dominate and deny rights to others, it's also another ominous sign of creeping proto-fascism. We are now sharing this country with a substantial class of people who not only harbor the fierce belief that they are superior to the rest of us -- yes, a master race, and their rhetoric is starting to work that meme as well -- they also believe that the future of the country is at immediate risk unless the non-believers are restrained and subdued, placed under total control of their betters. Further: they believe that they are justified by God to do this by any means necessary -- within or without the Constitution.

That's what's going on in the minds of people like Congressman Sail when he tries to exclude Muslims from Congress. Sail, no doubt, believes that the Christian God requires this of him; and that he's failing his duty to the nation if he doesn't do what it takes to silence heathen voices and keep them out of government. But he's far from the only one: this belief is now everywhere on the dominionist right. We need to start being aware of it, and calling it out whenever it raises its voice to assert that some of us are more equal than others. Because that voice is very much what fascism sounds like.

Update: Talk2Action discusses an article from Christian commentator Stephen Mansfield that appeared in USA Today last week. Mansfield's one of the promoters of the above argument: in a recent Focus on the Family interview, he said that it'll be a "much, much better country" when Congress and the judiciary get off their duffs and start legislating his way. And why will it be better? Because "It's less open to the cults. It's less open to the non-Christian religions."

And this guy is being taken seriously by the editors of the nation's largest paper.

Just go read it. This is exactly the kind of stuff I'm talking about.

Blue-eyed girls and nasty Nazis

-- by Dave

Anyone who's been around the far right for awhile can tell you all about its truly creepy sexual qualities. Child molesters and pedophiles are unusually common, as are various kinds of domestic-violence and rape cases. (In one militia trial I covered, three of the eight suspects had child-abuse convictions in their past.) When some of these get characters get all bellicose about "freedom," it makes your skin crawl thinking about just what the word means to them.

So did this little item from Susy Buchanan at the SPLC's Hatewatch blog, reporting on a new documentary about the white-supremacist singing act Prussian Blue, comprised of a couple of teenage twin girls:
“Nazi Pop Twins” contains several profoundly creepy scenes. Chief among them is a speakerphone conversation set up by April Gaede between her daughters and white supremacist terrorist David Lane, who was in prison serving a 190-year sentence for his part in the 1984 machine-gun murder of a Jewish radio talk show host in Denver. (Lane died shortly after filming was completed.)

“When the girls were little they were like daughters or something,” says Lane, 69, who later calls twins Lynx and Lamb — who were 14 at the time — his “fantasy sweethearts.” “Now that they are grown women, and being a natural male, it’s… well, you know what I’m trying to say.”

Oh yeah, we do. (Lane, incidentally, is also the author of the white-supremacist creed called the "Fourteen Words.")
Other lowlights include April Gaede teaching her 3-year-old daughter Dresden the white power ABCs (“A is for Aryan, B is for blood…”) and April’s father Bill Gaede, a California rancher who brands his cattle and horses with swastikas, negotiating the purchase of an M-16. Bill Gaede tells the filmmakers that Mexicans rape horses and boasts that he’s personally shot six Mexicans in the past four years.

Yep, just swell folks all over.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The freedom to oppress

-- by Dave

Ever notice how, for some Christian fundamentalists, the freedom of religion means the freedom not only to discriminate against other religions or other beliefs, but to actively promote hatred of them, to advocate their exclusion and oppression?

Take Republican Rep. Bill Sali of Idaho for instance. He thinks Muslims should not have been allowed to say a prayer in the hallowed halls of Congress, nor should they even have representation there:
A conservative Idaho lawmaker believes America's founding fathers would not have wanted a Muslim elected to Congress or a Hindu prayer delivered in the U.S. Senate.

Last month, the U.S. Senate was opened for the first time ever with a Hindu prayer. Although the event generated little outrage on Capitol Hill, Representative Bill Sali (R-Idaho) is one member of Congress who believes the prayer should have never been allowed.

"We have not only a Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate, we have a Muslim member of the House of Representatives now, Keith Ellison from Minnesota. Those are changes -- and they are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers," asserts Sali.

Sali says America was built on Christian principles that were derived from scripture. He also says the only way the United States has been allowed to exist in a world that is so hostile to Christian principles is through "the protective hand of God."

"You know, the Lord can cause the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike," says the Idaho Republican.

According to Congressman Sali, the only way the U.S. can continue to survive is under that protective hand of God. He states when a Hindu prayer is offered, "that's a different god" and that it "creates problems for the longevity of this country."

Randy Stapilus at Ridenbaugh Press (who, for Western politicos, should be on everyone's must-read list) got ahold of Sali's press spokesman for clarification:
When we asked Wayne Hoffman, Sali’s press spokesman, about the context of the comments (and whether they were accurate), he at first couldn’t recall the comments, then quickly corrected himself: "Ah, I get it now . . . Congressman Sali was invited to be on American Family News, a nationally syndicated talk show. This would have been last week, and the comments were made during that show. . . . I would hasten to add that several bloggers have gone into a weird place with regard to this comment, adding bizarre analysis onto this. I'd take it for what it says, nothing more."

Well, taking it for what it says, and nothing more, it's clear that Sali is saying that Muslims have no place in Congress, and that that they should not enjoy the same freedom of religious belief as everyone else, reflected by saying a Muslim prayer in the Senate.

But Hoffman chimes in at Stapilus' site:
UPDATE: A comment from Hoffman on the preceding post: “Randy, I feel the need to clarify the post you have on your website. Congressman Sali was merely expressing a personal opinion, based on his strong belief in the need to reach out for God’s guidance at the start of each day. That’s all. He bears no ill will toward Hindus, and he has no issue with working with Representative Ellison, nor with the fact that people of his district elected him. If you have questions, please ask.”

OK, I have a question: Wayne, can you not read what Sali said? OK, roll the tape again:
"We have not only a Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate, we have a Muslim member of the House of Representatives now, Keith Ellison from Minnesota. Those are changes -- and they are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers."

Well, perhaps they were, perhaps they were not. As far as anyone can discern, they were silent on the subject of Muslim American citizens. Some of them were in fact unrepentant racists, so seeking their advice may not be all that useful anyway.

But what we do know about them is that they believed in the freedom of religion. It's one of America's true founding values. See, e.g., the First Amendment.

If you talk to most Christians, actually, they get this. They understand that the freedom of religion -- the absolute freedom to find and practice any belief system you like, whether it's Abyssynian fire worship or atheism -- is what keeps us all together as Americans. It's our national glue. That's because it prevents any one belief system from imposing its values on any of the others. It implies an automatic respect for others' private religious beliefs.

This is true of a number of fairly conservative belief systems, including Mormonism (see the onrunning battle within the Republican religious right over Mitt Romney's candidacy), Catholicism (which has a long history of facing outrageous discrimination and demonization in America, e.g., the anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s), and, for that matter, Islam, which behaviorally speaking is generally quite conservative, especially by Western standards.

People who come from these faiths instinctively understand that what enables them to practice their faiths as they wish is the freedom of religion. And Keith Ellison's presence in the House, and the saying of a Hindu prayer in the Senate, are crystalline examples of that freedom in action.

No one can say whether the Founding Fathers could have envisioned a day when international trade and communication were daily commonplaces in American lives; when immigrants would come to our shores from around the globe, bringing with them not just industry and creativity but also their various religious beliefs; when Muslims would become Americans and Americans Muslims. But that day certainly has come to pass. And in a competitive global economy fueled by the high technology we produce, we are the better for it.

Moreover, it's important to understand that Sali's words amount to hatemongering: He is arguing that Muslims do not belong in American society. This kind of exclusionism is not just profoundly antidemocratic, it's incredibly counterproductive in the 21st century.

Nor can Sali say legitimately that Muslims do not deserve representation on the floor of Congress. By definition in our democracy, Muslims have earned representation in the House by electing one of their own there.

Sali also clearly suggests that allowing Muslims to say prayers in Congress would at best alienate what he thinks is the Christian God, and at worst perhaps bring down His wrath on them. If that isn't an argument for excluding them, I don't know what it is.

It will be interesting to see what Sali himself has to say about this in the days to come. Can we expect a non-apology apology, a defiant insistence that he's right, or perhaps even a kabuki correction? Who knows?

Certainly, what his press spokesman has fed us so far flatly contradicts the meaning of Sali's salvo, which looks like the opening moves in a kabuki dance. The rest of us, meanwhile, can read the script quite clearly.

Breathing their own bullshit

-- by Dave

Back when Republicans were still obtaining and accruing power, they became masters of the non-apology apology, a way of making it look like they were saying "sorry" for bad policy, or for the ugly and bizarre things that came out of their mouths, without actually doing so. It made them seem less noxious even as they were ramrodding their agenda through full steam ahead. At best, they might admit "mistakes were made" and then hurry along to the "let's move forward" part.

But now that the fruits of years of misbegotten Republican rule are coming home to roost and the public wakes up to its manifestations, their grip on power is slipping. The prospect of even further losses loom large on their personal horizons, so they're just kind of curling up into fetal positions and refusing to admit that anything it wrong at all.

Out here in the Northwest, we saw this recently when Republican Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon told reporters that he has no regrets over his role in allowing the largest recorded fish kill ever in the West:
Sen. Gordon Smith says he doesn't regret helping restore water to Klamath Basin farmers in 2002, despite the massive salmon die-off that followed on the Klamath River. In fact, Smith questions whether the diversion to farmers was the cause of the fish kills - a position severely at odds with environmentalists and one that is likely to keep the issue alive politically.

Smith said in an interview with the editorial board of The Eugene Register-Guard that he thought the die-off was more likely a result of disease and said: "I am not here to make any apologies.I am proud to fight for the farmers or any group of Americans whom the federal government says has no standing, no water. I just find that offensive."

Unsurprisingly, the denials also involve a good of flat-out lying.

There is little question, scientifically speaking, that the fish kill was caused by the shutoff of water into the Klamath River. Both federal and private scientists have studied the matter, and unanimously concluded that it was caused by the loss of oxygen due to the extremely low flows. Smith should know this, and one must suspect he is fully informed on the subject and just making shit up.

Moreover, Smith also claims in the R-G interview that the fish didn't die until 18 months later. In fact, the kill occurred in September 2002, and the shutoff was in March 2002.

But the most mendacious aspect of this is his characterization of the groups he was coming to the defense of. It wasn't the Klamath Basin farmers he was defending; rather, it was a group of bellicose right-wing extremists who were claiming the loss of water for farmers was part of a New World Order conspiracy. Smith and the federal officials -- reaching to the highest levels of the Bush administration -- who kowtowed to their claims and probably broke the law in the process were in fact enabling and empowering fanatics of the most conspiratorial militiaman stripe.

As I observed shortly afterward:
Of course, as one might expect, this fish kill did little to help the handful of farmers it was meant to protect. Many of them are now anxious to trade their land back to the government. But in the meantime, the real bread-and-butter jobs in the Klamath -- the salmon fishing industry, providing some 4,000 family-wage jobs and $80 million a year to the region -- were severely trashed. Many of those businesses went belly-up along with the fish.

Of course, the Patriots and their mainstream cohorts now strenuously deny that the water plan killed the fish -- claims that, as usual, have been thoroughly debunked.

The recent revelations of involvement in this policy decision from the very upper echelons of the Bush administration, and the clear evidence that the choice was based on politics, not "sound science," are of course the most significant short-term issues related to this case.

But in the long term, Americans need to ask what the White House is doing by capitulating wholly to right-wing extremists who clearly did not represent the larger interests of working people in the Klamath Basin. And by capitulating to them, giving them real power.

Now we know that the White House influence extended not merely to Rove, but to Vice President Dick Cheney himself, who it has been revealed was pulling many of the levers to get the water cut. Smith's denials that he knew anything about Cheney's machinations are about as credible as the rest of this steaming heap of senescent bullshit.

Why he would indulge in such transparent nonsense is puzzling. It must beat ever admitting a mistake, even when it's as painfully self-evident as the stink of rotting salmon.

Torridjoe at Loaded Orygun has more.

One Year

It was one year ago today that Dave handed me my own key to this place and paddled off into the sunset in pursuit of orcas. When he got back three weeks later, the place was still standing, so he asked me to stay on. And I'm still here.

It's turned out to be a remarkable experience -- the first in what's turning out to be an ongoing series of new adventures. Thanks, Dave -- and everyone else who's made me welcome and turned this in one hell of a growth-inducing year.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Soldiers of the apocalypse

-- by Dave

If this story from Max Blumenthal in The Nation doesn't shake you to your core, then you may not appreciate fully what's happening to this country. It opens with an update on the most recent exploits of actor Stephen Baldwin (one of the Baldwin brothers, mostly known for their liberal politics):
Baldwin became a right-wing, born-again Christian after the 9/11 attacks, and now is the star of Operation Straight Up (OSU), an evangelical entertainment troupe that actively proselytizes among active-duty members of the US military. As an official arm of the Defense Department's America Supports You program, OSU plans to mail copies of the controversial apocalyptic video game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces to soldiers serving in Iraq. OSU is also scheduled to embark on a "Military Crusade in Iraq" in the near future.

"We feel the forces of heaven have encouraged us to perform multiple crusades that will sweep through this war torn region," OSU declares on its website about its planned trip to Iraq. "We'll hold the only religious crusade of its size in the dangerous land of Iraq."

The Defense Department's Chaplain's Office, which oversees OSU's activities, has not responded to calls seeking comment.

Think about this:

By making this proselytization part of official DOD "outreach," we begin the process of making the Christian conversion of American soldiers official military policy.

And then we are sending these converts into a Muslim war zone with visions of crusades dancing in their heads.

Can things possibly get any more insane?

Well, yes they can. Read on:
But behind OSU's anodyne promises of wholesome fun for military families, the organization promotes an apocalyptic brand of evangelical Christianity to active duty US soldiers serving in Muslim-dominated regions of the Middle East. Displayed prominently on the "What We Believe" section of OSU's website is a passage from the Book of Revelations (Revelation 19:20; 20:10-15) that has become the bedrock of the Christian right's End Times theology: "The devil and his angels, the beast and the false prophet, and whosoever is not found written in the Book of Life, shall be consigned to everlasting punishment in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."

With the endorsement of the Defense Department, OSU is mailing "Freedom Packages" to soldiers serving in Iraq. These are not your grandfather's care packages, however. Besides pairs of white socks and boxes of baby wipes (included at the apparent suggestion of Iran-Contra felon Oliver North, according to OSU) OSU's care packages contain the controversial Left Behind: Eternal Forces video game. The game is inspired by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' bestselling pulp fiction series about a blood-soaked Battle of Armageddon pitting born-again Christians against anybody who does not adhere to their particular theology. In LaHaye's and Jenkins' books, the non-believers are ultimately condemned to "everlasting punishment" while the evangelicals are "raptured" up to heaven.

I hope everyone remembers some of the details of the "Left Behind" game:
Imagine: you are a foot soldier in a paramilitary group whose purpose is to remake America as a Christian theocracy, and establish its worldly vision of the dominion of Christ over all aspects of life. You are issued high-tech military weaponry, and instructed to engage the infidel on the streets of New York City. You are on a mission -- both a religious mission and a military mission -- to convert or kill Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, gays, and anyone who advocates the separation of church and state -- especially moderate, mainstream Christians. Your mission is "to conduct physical and spiritual warfare"; all who resist must be taken out with extreme prejudice. You have never felt so powerful, so driven by a purpose: you are 13 years old. You are playing a real-time strategy video game whose creators are linked to the empire of mega-church pastor Rick Warren, best selling author of The Purpose Driven Life.

... This game immerses children in present-day New York City -- 500 square blocks, stretching from Wall Street to Chinatown, Greenwich Village, the United Nations headquarters, and Harlem. The game rewards children for how effectively they role play the killing of those who resist becoming a born again Christian. The game also offers players the opportunity to switch sides and fight for the army of the AntiChrist, releasing cloven-hoofed demons who feast on conservative Christians and their panicked proselytes (who taste a lot like Christian).

A little while back, Digby noticed that we're going to have a real systemic problem on our hands when these veterans get back from the war:
I predict that we are going to see a remarkable resurgence of rightwing violence if the Democrats take full control of the government. These people are always surprisingly cooperative when the government is run by Republicans and then rediscover their "anti-government" beliefs when Democrats share or dominate the government. I can't imagine why that would be.

We will also, sadly, see veterans involved in this. Aside from the PTSD they will come home to a world that isn't very understanding. How could we be? They've been in hell. I suspect that some of them will be attracted to the rightwing militia (or worse) unless the government makes some very aggressive moves to help these people out and provide every kind of counselling and support they can think of. The last thing we need are hardened Iraq veterans finding solace with the rightwing terrorists.

Thios problem is amplified by the presence of increasing numbers of neo-Nazis and skinheads signing up for service and shipping out to Iraq:
This isn't a problem affecting just the Nazis, gang-bangers, and other violent personalities worming their way into the military. It also affects the many more formerly normal, non-racist recruits who have been dragged into multiple tours of duty in Iraq, regardless of the profound psychological effects of such treatment. This includes many people whose evaluations have recommended they not be returned for duty. There's a reason to call Iraq the Timothy McVeigh Finishing School.

This will, I fear, become a significant component of the predictable surge in far-right activity that is almost certain to manifest itself in the USA over the next couple of years, especially as Democrats and liberals expand and entrench their hold on power. We're essentially re-creating the conditions that arose in Germany and Italy after World War I: scores of angry, disaffected and psychologically damaged war veterans, poised to organize into a political force aimed at "rebirthing" the nation and its heritage.

What's even more disturbing, though, is that the top brass at the military seem all too willing to create those conditions.

Knowing that these soldiers are being preconditioned for a "kill or convert" mentality through video gaming, that concern just became a bona fide state of alarm.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Leering Old Men: Another Take

-- by Sara

As Dave discusses in a post below, Digby thinks the conservatives are a bunch of whining babies who can't take a loss. Dave responds with the observation they're leering old men who can't get it up any more. Both views suggest that our national corps of conservative talking heads, taken as a group, has a very warped relationship with masculinity. But I've got a third take on it, which sort of takes in both their arguments and then goes a little deeper.

Over the years, my online ex-fundie community has spent a lot of time puzzling over the ways in which fundamentalism arrests the moral, social, emotional, intellectual, and sexual development of anyone who embraces it. (And I could argue that, inasmuch as fundamentalism is authoritarian religion, this observation may well hold true for political and social authoritarians as well.) Specifically, we've come to a consensus that the belief system traps people somewhere around the age of five or six -- and keeps them there for as long as they continue to believe.

In fact, that naivete -- deceptively packaged as purity and innocence -- is one of the main things people are seeking when they're drawn into authoritarian systems. They join up because they feel overwhelmed by the complexity and nuance in the world. There's just too much to keep up with, too much responsibility, too much chaos. Often, they've been caught in the gears of the machinery of modernity, and have had large parts of their lives chewed up by the works. It all feels out of control. (Chris Hedges, in his new book American Fascism, describes how Christianist proselytizers are taught to seek out people going through hard times-- they're the hottest conversion prospects.)

Unfortunately, seeking this regression means giving up on quite a few of the most important attributes of adulthood. First, there's the intellectual sacrifice. There's a huge cognitive leap that occurs around the age of seven (it usually comes in right alongside reading fluency) that enables a far greater level of abstraction -- typically, at the expense of magical thinking, which drops off dramatically once kids learn to read. At this age, kids give up fantasy play and Santa Claus in favor of a more empirical approach to life, and more serious pursuits leading to the mastery of adult-world skills. Developmental psychologists call this leap "the age of reason."

Right-wing authoritarian (RWA) followers have little use for reason; but are very invested in their fantasy lives. They take myth and metaphor absolutely literally, because interpreting them requires a level of abstraction they aren't comfortable with. In other words: they are voluntarily choosing to operate at the intellectual processing level of a first-grader.

They also have to give up on adult-level emotional functioning (which, as I mentioned, may be welcomed as something of a relief after adult life has blown up under you a few times). Authoritarian followers crave someone who will keep things ordered and safe, someone who will provide and protect and set firm rules and boundaries; someone all-powerful and all-knowing who can teach you right from wrong and keep the harsh parts of the world at bay. Someone, in short, who looks like Daddy looked when you were about five years old.

RWAs would far rather curl up in Daddy's lap -- even if it means abandoning reason and taking the occasional spanking -- than try to deal with the world by themselves, on adult terms. This is also why RWA family and community relationships (as Lakoff has explained) are necessarily hierarchical. These people still need parents around, because they don't feel emotionally safe without the presence of a strong authority figure. Egalitarian relationships terrify them, because there's nobody in charge to make the rules and set the boundaries that keep people from hurting each other. And that's damned scary, because (as masters of projection) they're quite sure that everybody else in the whole world is also still five years old and playing by sandbox rules. Without a playground supervisor in charge, they know for sure that somebody will get hurt.

This is why this voluntary intellectual regression is accompanied by a similar moral regression. Any parent of a kindergartner knows that a child's morality is determined solely on the basis of outside (adult) authority, which makes and enforces the rules. This is pretty necessary when you're very small, because left to your own devices, id will run wild. At this age, the self-control just isn't there yet.

Still, it's coming, which is why five- and six-year-olds are tremendous rules lawyers. A lot of their social interaction is about what's fair, what's mine, and what's going to get you into trouble. And anyone who's spent time around fundamentalists will recognize fear of external authority (in the form of the pastor or God), rules lawyering (this time involving a well-thumbed Bible) and a constant battle with id as big preoccupations as well. You'll even find tattling: "I'll take it to the Lord in prayer" is just a slightly kinder form of "I'm gonna tell Daddy on you."

Which brings me around to my point, which is that the over-the-top behavior around masculine gender roles Digby and Dave are noticing is pretty classic early primary behavior, too. The games boys play at this age often involve extreme masculine archetypes -- cowboys, cops, soldiers, sports heroes, spacemen, and so on. (It's interesting that Little Boots has, at one time or another, tried to cast himself in all of these roles -- and that the male Kewl Kids just swooned over it, every time. Remember the fuss over Jet Pilot Action Figure Bush's "package"? Damn fool didn't loosen his straps before getting out of the jet. Nobody else on the deck had his crotch trussed up like a Christmas goose; and to them, he looked like a rookie idiot. But Chris Matthews practically had an orgasm on-air while watching him prance and strut.) The fact that so many mainstream and conservative media guys are suckered by this posturing shows that they don't really have a clue about what a Real Man looks like -- though, somewhere deep down inside, they're pretty sure they don't qualify. That's why they're so easily wowed by men who can put on the costume and make it look good.

But they're even more easily cowed by men who can actually fill the boots. John Kerry. John McCain. Colin Powell. Bill Clinton. (You don't have to agree with their politics; but nobody can say these men haven't comfortably worn the full measure of male power and responsibility for some critical stretch of their lives.) Like little boys, the media guys are so awed by the outward forms of masculinity that they eagerly make a fetish out of them; but they also actively fear and resent men who display the authentic internal goods that make an honest-to-God man. These guys' very presence incites such a strong sense of personal inadequacy that the Boys On The Bus can only resort to attacking them in ways that are openly calculated to feminize them -- that is, to bring them down to their own level. He look French. He's whipped by his powerful wife. He's preoccupied with his hair. Translation: This guy has more balls and more maturity than we do -- and we need to take him down before everybody figures out how inadequate that makes us feel.

Whatever the "real" content of manhood is (that's a whole separate discussion), sexual agency and virility lie somewhere near the core of it. It takes a sexually mature and capable man to find and woo a partner, father children, sustain the relationships that make a home, and take his place among the valuable men of the community. When you're a kid, Dad's sexual competence is the very heart of what makes him the alpha male in your family pack. At five or six, the physical attributes that make him a man are magical stuff -- and not only do you not have those attributes, your childish sense of time is such that it's easy to fear that you never will. The whole issue, as Freud knew, is fraught and uncomfortable. The only way little boys can deal with this deep and mysterious discomfort is to make giggly jokes about it. It's either that, or stand in dumbstruck awe about the power that your young life utterly depends on, yet you simply cannot comprehend -- and that's not an option on prime time TV.

The howling conservative and MSM men we're seeing on the air these seem to be stuck in some early sexual stage -- a stage where manliness and sexuality are scary adult mysteries, the obsessive stuff of wild curiosity, rampant misunderstandings, crude jokes, dress-up play-acting, and bizarre fetishes. For all their media power, these guys have sexually scarcely moved beyond playing doctor-- and, at this late stage, probably never will. Scratch any leering old man, and you'll expose a scared kid who, fifty years on, still hasn't come to terms with his own uncontrollable wet dreams, let alone the challenge of engaging productively with his own adult sexuality and that of the real-life adult women he shares the world with.

My first husband -- who as a Latino, a clinical psychologist, and the son of a Marine Corps drill instructor, knew a thing or two about the anatomy of macho -- used to say that the first rule of real macho was that those who possess it never need to prove it to anyone. If you have to prove it or put it out on display, you don't have it in the first place. And if you are intimidated by seeing it in others, you aren't even in the ballpark. The truth of that should come home to all of us every time we hear an MSM or conservative talking head going on in breathless awe about some public figure's "manhood," or asking leering, creepy questions about other people's sex lives.

In a time when we need thought leaders who can help us sort out the issues and navigate the national crisis, we've got a media staffed by sniggering, leering first-graders who exhibit every regressive intellectual, moral, emotional, and sexual characteristic of right-wing authoritarian followers. It's time to clean house -- and to demand new media voices who aren't in business to make fun of the grownups, or shamed by people who show the attributes of true maturity and power. It's time to send the scared little boys home, and put some authentic adults in charge.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

An interview with mcjoan

-- by Dave

It’s a long way from a mountain plateau in Idaho to a presidential debate in Chicago. But Seattle’s Joan McCarter – aka “mcjoan,” as the thousands of readers at the mega-popular blog Daily Kos know her – has managed that neat feat.

Saturday’s Democratic presidential forum at the Yearly Kos “netroots” convention at the McCormick Convention Center in Chicago featured seven of the eight candidates and an unusually lively and engaged debate, perhaps spurred on by a vocal and equally engaged audience. It was co-moderated by the New York Times’ Matt Bai and “mcjoan” (or, as a comic later that night joked onstage, “better known as Em Cee Joan to her fans”).

McCarter grew up in politics in Idaho, worked briefly for now-Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon when he was a congressman, and wound up in Seattle getting a master’s in Russian Studies at the University of Washington.

I sat down and had a nice long chat with Joan shortly after she finished moderating the presidential debate.


Q: Tell me about your academic background.

McCarter: I have a masters in international studies from the University of Washington's Jackson School. It's in Russian Studies, which I'm really using now [laughs]. I did a masters thesis on public health in Russia, so I combined public health, public policy, and political science.

Q: Who do you work for now?

McCarter: I work for Marcos. I am a Daily Kos Fellow. Up until January of this year I worked at the University of Washington as an editor and an instructional designer in the UW extension. I was helping develop online instruction courses.

So for awhile there my entire life was online. Work all went online, blogging was all online.

Q: When did you first start posting at Kos?

McCarter: I signed up in February of 2004. That makes me a relative newbie. I lurked for awhile, I read for awhile, and I signed up because I thought, 'OK, I can join this conversation.'

I should back up a bit. One of the reasons I'm wearing this bracelet today because of my brother-in-law, who we lost last year to lymphoma. He was the person who actually got me onto the blogs. He kept reading Daily Kos and telling me, 'You know as much as those guys. You know as much as those guys. You want to jump into that boys' treehouse and start butting some heads.'

Q: Because it was kind of a boys' treehouse back then.

A: It was very much a boys' treehouse. It was a boys' club, even when I joined relatively late. It took me awhile to find my voice. I've always loved electoral politics, democratic politics. Like everyone else, I was horrified by the war in Iraq. And this was the perfect niche for me.

Q: So it was the war in Iraq that motivated you to get involved.

McCarter: Sure. Backing up a little further, my first life in politics, after the election in 1994, was when I had taken most of the year off to work on a campaign in Idaho, and ended up doing sort of coordinated campaign work in Ada County.

Q: You grew up in Idaho, didn't you?

McCarter: I grew up in Idaho, in Democratic politics. My dad was state chair of the party during the halcyon days of [Frank] Church and [Cecil] Andrus.

Q: What's his name?

McCarter: Joe McCarter. Dad actually hired Chris LaRocco [the wife of Larry LaRocco, a former Idaho congressman and a Democratic candidate for the 2008 Idaho Senate race] to be an organizer for Andrus in Twin Falls County, and that's how Chris and Larry got into politics. So I've known Larry for a great deal of my life. Everybody in Idaho knows everybody when you're a Democrat.

Q: I knew Larry when he was Frank Church's press secretary. I always felt bad about what happened to him, losing to Helen Chenoweth.

McCarter: In 1994. After that election, I thought, 'I'm not doing politics anymore. I'm getting a masters degree and doing something different.'

Q: So let's fast-forward to when you signed up with Kos. I remember that it was very much a boys' club, as you said, and I was reading some very sexist stuff in the comments. And then Markos wrote a somewhat infamous post about feminist issues needing to take a back seat to "real" issues like the war.

McCarter: It was a meta-war we were having. That was actually one of my more proud moments. It was before I was made a front-pager, but I took after him in the comments on that and we had a brief exchange there. It was after that that he apologized -- as limited as his apology was. He doesn't apologize often.

Q: Maybe part of that military background.

McCarter: Yes. And the other thing about Markos is that he's got an incredibly thick skin. Incredibly.

Q: Obviously, because after having that exchange with you, he started pushing you out on the front page. Have you been pretty comfortable there?

McCarter: I have. I love it. It's the best job I've ever had. You know, I never thought I would find the perfect job for me. And I love the kind of writing we do, I love keeping track of the different issues and just writing short posts. It's a thrill. I'm a little worried about taking on this book project, wondering if I have the attention span to write entire chapters. [Laughs]

Q: What's the book project?

McCarter: It's about Democratic politics in the interior West. I've gotta come up with a catchier title than that, though. [Laughs]

Q: That's your subtitle. Who's publishing it?

McCarter: Vaster Publications, which was created by Markos, actually, and Jane Hamsher [the creator of the popular community blog Firedoglake].

Q: So, were you happy with how the presidential candidates' forum went?

McCarter: I thought the interaction them was the best I've seen it yet. At least up on the stage, that was what it looked like. The audience sort of got everyone fired up and engaged.

Q: So how did you get roped into moderating the forum?

McCarter: Gina [Cooper] thought I would be good for it. She and I had spent a lot of time together at the last convention, we've gotten to know each other. I've put together some other panels, and she thought it would work. Markos did not want to do it because he's got so much other stuff going on, so he just said -- hey! And also because I'm probably the No. 2 person at Kos. And having a woman onstage -- it's important that we're out there representing liberal bloggers.

Q: So for all of Markos' alleged sexist reputation in some quarters of the blogosphere, the reality is fairly different.

McCarter: At least half of the editors are women. In my class, there was only one man promoted.

Q: So how did feel to be like being up there onstage with presidential candidates?

McCarter: Terrified! But it was easier to become engaged than I expected. I was concerned that I would be too much in my head thinking about the next thing. But I never had that opportunity because it was all happening so fast and we had to change up so quickly.

So the questions didn't necessarily go in the order we had them in, and half of my questions went by the wayside. I had some pretty tough ones on being a Democrat, renouncing triangulation, that sort of thing.

I wanted to ask Obama about some of that, because every now and then in his speeches you hear, 'Well, it's not a Democratic problem or a Republican problem, it's all of our problem,' that sort of thing. And I want to ask him about making a contrast. Because in 2007, I don't think you can argue that it's an equal problem particularly.

Q: It seems to me that it reflects a certain naivete on the part of not just Obama, but Democrats generally, that they seem to have this idea that you can – as Kerry did in 2004 – that you can just have it be an all-positive framing, but you don’t do any fighting back. That you don’t hit back at Republicans for their attacks – not only the things that they’re hitting you with, but their own misbehavior and bad policy.

McCarter: Yes. And this reinforces the idea that Democrats are weak, and that just falls back into the idea that they’re weak on national security, that they’re weak on defense. It just feeds that whole namby-pamby image.

Q: You felt that this may have been the best event so far of all the debates we’ve seen on either side.

McCarter: I think in drawing them out, Richardson was stronger yet than I have seen him in a debate, as was Dodd. Clinton held up very well under some hostility. Obama and Edwards did their usual, you know, red meat to partisan crowd. But I thought particularly it showcased Dodd as the passionate person he really is.

Q: Yes. I thought Dodd gained the most in this one. He did a lot of good for himself; he was impressive.

McCarter: And I thought it was the best performance for Richardson. I think he was – he seemed, in some previous ones, a little distracted – but it felt to me that he was right there and wanting to get in on all the discussions, and very engaged.

And I was onstage seeing them, so, I don’t know if it felt the same way in the audience.

Q: But I thought Richardson killed himself with his saying he supported a balanced-budget amendment. He got booed for that.

McCarter: Yeah.

Q: Still, I came out of it thinking I’d be comfortable with four of them up there – Clinton, Obama, Edwards, or Dodd – as the nominee.

McCarter: Isn’t that nice – to know that whoever the Democratic nominee is going to be is you’re going to be OK with them?

Q: Well, for me at least. Obviously not everyone here feels that way, but … And you know, I felt that way generally in 2004, even with Kerry as the ultimate nominee. I was just disappointed they weren’t prepared to fight back.

McCarter: Yeah, and that’s why I was a Dean supporter; I liked the fire in Howard. His keynote here [Thursday night] was just – it made me cry. It was good to see that fire.

It was really fun to have the extended discussion we did have on the 50-state strategy [Dean’s expansive strategy as chairman of the Democratic National Committee]. I thought that would be a raise-your-hand, and we wouldn’t really get a lot of follow-up. I was very pleased with how they reacted to that idea and how they expanded on it.

Q: Do you have any interest in getting involved in Seattle politics?

McCarter: I get very frustrated with Seattle politics. I think growing up in Idaho politics, the stakes are so much harder, and I think people pick their fights more intelligently, because it’s so much harder to win.

When I worked for [then-Rep. Ron] Wyden in Portland, some of the time, this was my problem with Ron, because it was his seat for life if he wanted it. He’s been better as a senator, I think, about being a little tougher, having a little harder edge. But there’s so many things that being in a safe district allow you to do.

Q: So this has been a long personal road for you.

McCarter: We lived out on a ranch near Fairfield. There were about 15 kids in my class.

Q: And then you wind up moderating a presidential debate. That’s a long ways to go.

McCarter: Kind of a long ways. You know, there are memories – we used to have birthday parties for Cecil Andrus in our back yard. So it’s not totally foreign to me. But it’s still – it’s pretty astounding to me to be part of something like what is happening in the blogosphere, to be part of what’s happening here, not just with the debates.

Q: It’s almost as if they’re re-energizing democracy, getting ordinary people re-engaged.

McCarter: The energy in that room from all of those people who care so passionately – and that’s just the people who could come. Multiply it by the tens, hundreds of thousands out there. It’s very exciting.

Q: And it’s exciting that you get to play this kind of role in it.

McCarter: Yeah, that’s very exciting too. Yes! [Laughs]


Cross-posted at Crosscut.

Be sure to also check out my previous YKos dispatches for Crosscut:

Running for president with the netroots

Not exactly a pack of nutcases