Friday, October 7, 2011

Fear Stalks

Two bits of performance art last night suggest how panicked Democrats, progressives, and socialists (see item #2) are becoming.

One is Harry Reid's decision to muscle his caucus together and weaken the minority's ability to offer amendments to a measure after cloture has been invoked. Philip Klein has a helpful summary:

Tonight, McConnell made what's called a "motion to suspend the rules," to allow a vote on the amendments. Such motions are almost always defeated, because they require a two-thirds majority to pass. But they're another way for the minority party to force uncomfortable votes. Even though the minority party doesn't get a direct vote on the amendment, how somebody votes on the motion becomes a sort of proxy for such a vote. In this case, for instance, if Democrats had voted down a motion for a vote on Obama's jobs bill, it would have put them in an awkward spot.

Though it's been the standing practice of the Senate to allow such motions by the minority, tonight Reid broke with precedent and ruled McConnell's motion out of order, and was ultimately backed up by Democrats.

So, the end result is that by a simple majority vote, Reid was able to effectively rewrite Senate rules making it even harder than it already is for the minority party to force votes on any amendments.
And what caused Harry Reid to rewrite rules in this way? A desire to keep the Senate from having a vote on Obama's jobs bill. Is the president's plan that toxic (or that much of a pipe-dream) that his own party doesn't want to vote on it in the Senate?

Democrats seem to fear that they're on the verge of losing control of the public narrative. This attempt to shut out minority voices is a flailing attempt to provide uniformity to that narrative, to shut out any competing principles or politically embarrassing facts.

This brings us to the second piece of performance art: Lawrence O'Donnell's interview with Herman Cain. Cain is often most effective in these talking-head encounters, and the vitriol of O'Donnell's questions helped the Republican presidential contender portray himself in a good light. The interview is worth watching in full, but a few points bear particular mention.

Perhaps one of the most striking features of this interview is O'Donnell's apparent desire to jump in the timewarp machine and approach the campaign of 2012 like it's 1968.

In a time when millions suffer in long-term unemployment, the national debt is skyrocketing, and the globe's political-diplomatic order is on the verge of disintegrating, O'Donnell seems much more concerned about whether Herman Cain was sufficiently activist about Civil Rights in the 1960s: why didn't he join in the Freedom Rides? Where was he during the protest marches? It seems rather bizarre to think that Cain's viability as a presidential candidate should depend upon if he went to marches fifty years ago. The premise of O'Donnell's questions seem to suggest that there was only one route for a virtuous "black" man in 1960s America: engaged on the frontlines of political activism. While I think that the fight for Civil Rights was a virtuous activity, it was not the only one. And the totalizing narrative on race that O'Donnell was edging toward seems less than desireable.

Vietnam was another fixation of O'Donnell here. As he's done in the past, O'Donnell seemed unable to resist indulging in a little militarism (and more than a little opportunism) when he claimed he was "offended" that Cain had the temerity to run to be Commander-in-Chief without having volunteered to serve in Vietnam. Apparently working on ballistics with the Department of Defense during the war (which Cain did) does not count as a sufficient contribution to the war effort. Based on O'Donnell's premise that it's "offensive" to dare to be president without having volunteered to go on the battlefield, I presume he spits upon the picture of Franklin D. Roosevelt (that "chickenhawk" who took a cushy job in military administration instead of volunteering to fight during World War I) and looks upon the administration of Bill Clinton (no Vietnam volunteer he) as an offensive abomination in American history.

O'Donnell's rabid attempt to caricature Cain as a cowardly lackey of The Man shows a deep anxiety about the failure of Barack Obama's "progressive" dreams. And it's unfortunate that this anxiety is manifesting (and will no doubt increasingly be manifesting) in vitriol, personal enmity, and snide rhetorical questions. There are some shortcomings to Cain's economic plans, and O'Donnell was stronger when interrogating Cain about actual policy options that could affect the future of the USA---and not when playing the grand inquisitor of the 1960s.

Our nation is in great trouble, and the best route out of this danger is the well-intentioned interrogation of all possible options. Instead of the rhetoric of exclusion, the tactics of totalization, and the drug of demagoguery, the spirit of charity and rationality would much better serve our purpose.

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