Tag Archives: coalition-building

Who are these people again?

I wrote earlier today that I was going to pull up the floorboards trying to disprove my own perception that the rebellious factions within the GOP aren’t all that ideologically distinctive. The past couple of hours I’ve been pouring over census data, political reports, and even looking into the rough outlines of every current House members’ history in office. To spoil the findings, if there’s any ideological splint happening here between Republicans, it is deeply hidden.

To give an indication of how a markedly more conservative slice of the contemporary GOP (the “suicide caucus”) has evolved into a less ideologically remarkable portion of the broader Republican Party, I looked at who within that group has stayed a member of these agitating groups within the GOP. Here’s a look at the original set of districts whose representative signed on to that original letter asking the Republican leadership to threaten a shutdown:

pvi_romney_marginAs you can maybe work out, the horizontal axis is the score given those districts in the 2014 Cook’s Political Report. Built off of a variety of political factors, including election results from several years, it roughly predicts the ease of a Republican or Democratic win in a district (with Republican leaning values here treated as positive, Democratic leaning ones as negative). The vertical axis is the margin by which Romney won (or if negative – lost) that given district. Unsurprisingly, the two have a rough correspondence. Within that splash, however, the seventeen steadfast representatives who are members of the Freedom Caucus and signatories in both 2013 and 2015 letters urging a Republican shutdown are marked with a C above their district’s dot. The newcomer representatives who signed the most recent letter and are members of the Freedom Caucus but couldn’t have signed the earlier letter since they are freshmen representatives have an F above their district’s dot. Representatives that may be unannounced members of the secretive caucus but have signed both letters are marked with a D.

If there are ideological forces at work, they appear to be complex, with both more centrist and more extreme districts appearing to have less proportionate weight in the smaller, more persistent faction. With many saying that the districts that produce Freedom Caucus Republicans aren’t significantly different from other Republican-electing districts, it seems that this says more about all Republican districts and their divergent demographics and ideas from the electoral majority in the US. This doesn’t exactly lend credence to interpreting this new faction as uniquely un-ideological in its contentious fight with the Republican Party leadership, but it certainly fails to suggest an ideological component to the division.

What appears to be a vastly better indicator for who’s in which camp among the House Republicans is what year they were elected in. Below is a set of charts that advance from the core seventeen representatives, to that group plus their newly arrived freshmen caucus members as well as signatories who haven’t been announced (yet?) as Freedom Caucus members, to any House Republican who participated in any of these campaigns, to the broader House Republican Party Caucus.

gop_factions_house_topAs you can see, the cohort of Republicans elected in either the 2012 election or a special election held after that one but before the 2014 midterms balloon from a middling fourteen percent of Republicans into an undoubted majority of the representatives upending the legislative process from within the Republican Party. Pre-Obama era Republicans shrink into nonexistence the further you reach into those types of Republican congressional circles. What’s interesting is that this is not only observable as the group that has largely created these rebellions within their party, but it’s almost every single Republican elected during that time frame who has rejected the leadership’s standard process and standard bearers.

parliamentary_analysis_factional_gopIf these really were functionally three separate parties vying within the House for a parliamentary-style majority, you would think there would be some Republicans supportive of their own party elected within that time period. Instead, it looks like there really is a seniority-motivated revolt happening. The Republicans involved in these almost splintering factions have become increasingly vocal that they hope to change procedures in the House in order not necessarily to advance substantively different policies but to more easily advance their projects and personal takes on those shared ideas. This is a group of Republicans looking to advance out of legislative childhood (unlike the less rebellious freshmen elected in the 2014 midterms or later, maybe they are still too young). As a country, our financial status and political process have been caught up in a collective tantrum, born out of a professional adolescence.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Who are these people?

I’ve previously noted that the Republicans have so far seemed able to pull together their coalition in the House between (known) Freedom Caucus members and other Republicans. Yesterday’s successful election of Paul Ryan purely from within the Party underscores that. No one should be shocked by that, as the most recent hints at a possible split between the Republicans differed from earlier factional breaks in that there was basically no observable difference between the two groups’ congressional districts. In fact, the “true conservative” rival to Ryan’s Speakership was basically identical to the first establishment contender for the job, Kevin McCarthy. While he (and for several dissenting Republicans, Ryan as well) wasn’t conservative enough, someone almost indistinguishable on policy somehow fell in the same camp as them. In the end, this seems to have more to do with where different Republicans come down on the issue of how the caucus should run, and less about their ideological niche within the Party.

All that said, I don’t want to have overlooked anything. Since the ballots in the election of Ryan are secret, there’s no way of knowing which forty-three Republicans defected to Daniel Webster (FL-10). That said, the murmurs that helped derail Kevin McCarthy’s original candidacy for Speaker have continually come from a somewhat recognizable faction – the Freedom Caucus. While a large majority of that group’s members expressed support for Ryan holding the Speakership, they quite vocally avoided giving an official endorsement of him. Throughout this process, that caucus seems tied up within talk of splintering the Republican Party, at least within the House.

Earlier this week, I poured over the list of known Freedom Caucus members and compared it to two different letter-writing contingents within the Republican Party which challenged their leadership in the House. One was the “Suicide Caucus” who petitioned for the Republican leadership to demand the repeal of Obamacare or else let a debt-ceiling-induced default destroy the US credit rating in 2013. The other is a group very, very loosely affiliated with the Freedom Caucus that similarly petitioned for the Republican leadership to threaten to let us default on our debt by means of the debt ceiling if Planned Parenthood wasn’t stripped of federal funding.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a notable amount of overlap between the members of congress using what amounts to more or less the same tactic, and the Freedom Caucus itself. In the overlap of all these groups, there is a small cadre of seventeen Republicans who signed both of those public letters and are on the known member list for the Freedom Caucus.

usa house cd coreThe districts in red are held by the seventeen congressional members at the heart of these overlapping factions. They are alphabetically by last name Justin Amash (MI-03), Jim Bridenstine (OK-01), Jeff Duncan (SC-03), John Fleming (LA-04), Trent Franks (AZ-08), Tim Huelskamp (KS-01), Jim Jordan (OH-04), Raúl Labrador (ID-01), Mark Meadows (NC-11), Mick Mulvaney (SC-05), Steve Pearce (NM-02), Scott Perry (PA-04), Keith Rothfus (PA-12), Matt Salmon (AZ-05), David Schweikert (AZ-06), Randy Weber (TX-14), and Ted Yoho (FL-03).

Because of the secretive nature of the Freedom Caucus, those are only the confirmed set of congressional representatives who fall into all three of those groups. Another seven House members publicly have signed on to those two letters but have so far not been announced to be Freedom Caucus members themselves. For anyone attempting to uncover the presumably broader membership of that Caucus, those seven are more or less a researching ground zero.

usa house cd core plus seven hidingThe seven non-members of the Freedom Caucus but fellow signatories on the two letters have their districts in orange. They are John Duncan (TN-02), Blake Farenthold (TX-27), Louie Gohmert (TX-01), Richard Hudson (NC-08), Walter Jones (NC-03), Kenny Marchant (TX-24), and Thomas Massie (KY-04).

Similarly, there are another seven representatives who are confirmed members of the Freedom Caucus and publicly signed on to the most recent letter, but who couldn’t voice their support or criticism of the original “suicide caucus” because they were not elected until the 2014 midterm election, after that crisis had passed. The large number of freshman representatives is definitely a distinctive characteristic of this newest agitating group within the Republican House.

As Pew Research pointed out, that was arguably the motivating characteristic that prompted them to support Speaker candidates other than McCarthy and more generally have a combative relationship with Republican leadership. Their grievances were arguably less about getting a particular set of policies passed, and more about their perspectives being taken seriously by the Republican leadership in the House in spite of them lacking seniority.

usa house cd core plus seven hiding plus seven freshmenThe relevant freshmen representatives’ districts are in yellow. They are Brian Babin (TX-36), Dave Brat (VA-07), Ken Buck (CO-04), Curt Clawson (FL-19), Jody Hice (GA-10), Barry Loudermilk (GA-11), and Gary Palmer (AL-06).

With the differences dividing Republicans in the House increasingly being about dynamics between legislators and less about policy, the resulting boundary between Republican groups has been fuzzy and more difficult to characterize. The era in which the Far Right quasi-splintering bloc came from an especially distinctive part of the country is largely gone, and with it that these different groups will consistently represent the same faction. They have coalesced around the particular circumstance, usually with a changeable policy cause and fueled by a contest for seniority in the House and visibility in the Party. There’s nothing like a party platform which more or less unifies them. They’re just periodically emergent groups with a constantly shifting boundary with the broader Republican Party.

Out of the broader House, fifty Republicans joined the “suicide caucus” but appear to have eschewed the more recent letter and any overt affiliation with the Freedom Caucus (although admittedly twelve of them left the house before the formation of the Freedom Caucus or the recent letter campaign). Six Republicans have unambiguous membership in the Freedom Caucus but haven’t made public their support for either of the debt ceiling letter-writing campaigns. Another five have only joined the most recent abortion-focused letter. Together that makes up the majority of representatives with any involvement with these groups – people who were briefly, conditionally, or tangentially active.

Later today, I will have a post up exploring the ways in which these murkily distinctive groups of Republicans do and don’t differ from the broader Republican House and general congressional delegation. By and large, however, it seems that ideological disagreement has taken a backseat to (at times very contentious) disagreements how to go about legislating those shared ideas.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Their motives

TW: racism, nativism, heterosexism

Alex Pareene over at Salon has an interesting piece up about why precisely the Republicans in the US Senate are egging on Democrats to choose between getting immigration reform done without provisions for queer families or making no progress on the issue at all. His take seems to be that the Republicans are opposed on the basis of three major, distinct issues: their contempt for their Democratic colleagues, their contempt for queer and genderqueer people, and their racism towards the undocumented specifically and immigrants generally.

While, I’ll grant Pareene that all of those forces can and often do operate individually, the last two seem uniquely capable of interacting in harmful ways that the Republicans would be particularly interested in exploiting. Yes, exploiting – as I mentioned above, this is very effectively dividing progressive organizers as an issue, with MoveOn putting out videos about why this and other issues need to be ironed out of the bill before its passage while America’s Voice is calling for people to thank Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) for guiding the bill through the editorial process as he did (while allowing the inclusive language he added himself to be stripped from it).

This has actually been an explicit goal of many overtly heterosexist groups for years now: to divide the modern progressive coalition into groups motivated by opposing the patriarchy (in this case, queer people) and those motivated by opposing White supremacy (in this case, predominantly Latin@s and other people of color). An inevitable outcome of that, of course, is that queer people of color and women of color are made uniquely vulnerable, as the political process is forced to choose between protecting them from racism or shielding them from patriarchal oppression. In this case, that’s the space many queer Latin@s find themselves in – as “burdens” for the at times gender normative reform movement to consider and tokens for the heavily White-dominated queer and genderqueer advocates to potentially extend a hand (maybe).

(A declaration of existence, from here.)

Beyond that gross game of divide-and-conquer that the Republicans seem to be playing, there’s also the simple question of why they’re permitting immigration reform to go through in the first place. As often mentioned here, immigrants are repeatedly asked to prove their usefulness or be worth the cost, which seems to tie into the current exploitative conditions many undocumented immigrants currently work within. Reform needs to have a proven benefit to non-immigrants to justify the loss of a “below the law” labor pool. But that labor pool has certain defining features – frequently they provide hard physical labor, which doesn’t mix very easily with frankly flamboyant stereotypes of queer and genderqueer people.

It could be a simple as Republicans thinking that there are no queer and genderqueer people within the labor pools they’re negotiating with.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Israeli Elections promised much besides more Netanyahu

If you haven’t been following the major media coverage of the recent Israeli parliamentary elections, let me sum up the question that preoccupied it – will Prime Minister Netanyahu remain in office? Pretty much everyone paying attention who isn’t trying to speculate to drive up media consumption could pretty easily tell you that he succeeded and that claims that the centrists were the real winners here aren’t terribly rooted in reality. For more on that issue, I’ll direct you over to Emily Hauser, who’s got it pretty much covered.

It seems the better issue to explore might not be who would be in charge of Israeli in the near future and rather who would put them there and why. Some of the data points towards there being a rather shocking reorganization of Israeli political parties and with that the country’s political landscape, but as Hauser noted, without necessarily translating into any significant change in policy. To get a sense of this, we have to break down the existing political parties into slightly more fine-tuned blocs than Haaretz already has, namely like this:

(Data from the previously mentioned Haaretz coverage and here.)

It’s hard to very quickly summarize what happened there in words, compared to the above visual. The newest Knesset looks smoothed out – with an end to the representative discrepancy between the rightist and leftist parties, the retained Arab and Ultra-Orthodox blocs, and the possible (but unlikely, as we’ll get into) coalition government by the center-right, center, and center-left. It seems moderate above all else, doesn’t it?

Not really if you care to notice that the plurality that will have the first chance to form a coalition is not just Netanyahu’s Likud, which might be called “center-right” for Israel, but rather an electoral alliance between Likud and and the rightwing Beiteinu party. As members of the Beiteinu party already hold high-level and policy-impacting positions within the cabinet, this electoral consolidation of the parties does seem to reflect their ties, but without Beiteinu ceding its more conservative views.  In short, what passes as center-right is something that leans pretty hard to the right. Hauser, for that matter, thinks that the engine behind Netanyahu’s probably continuing leadership was the rightwing vote, and with that alliance and the demonstrable shift in support from the rightists to Likud, but probably as a result of a largely shared agenda, rather than political extremes becoming more moderate.

Realizing that, Yesh Atid might seem like a counter current, as its imposing head, Yair Lapid, has largely run against Prime Minister Netanyahu in these elections. Hauser’s theory was that just as rightists have flocked into the increasingly more conservative Likud, the center-right is now largely feeling into the center. That being said, his centrism seems more rhetorical than policy-based. As Hauser pointed out, his insistence on the government at least negotiating with Palestinians seems like a “diversion with which to distract the international community” while occupation and settlement continue. Less than a year ago, the Yesh Atid platform called for, without clarification, changing “the system of government”. I’m sensing a bit of a trend among the wealthy and western here. Seeing as his light policy is pretty much every major and secular party in any democracy supports but with the difficult to swallow portions of Likud’s plank ignored rather than replaced, it’s hard to see him providing much resistance to Netanyahu’s coalition, especially when he’s said as much himself. Was a vote for him just a slightly more conscience-approved version of voting for Netanyahu for the Israeli right? In any case, if he proves resolute, Netanyahu can always work something out with the Ultra-Orthodox bloc (as he did with some of those parties to form the existing government), who also have enough votes for him to be able to form a coalition with (assuming he retains the general support from the rightists).

On the other hand, the center-left, the only major bloc other than the rightwing to see a major reduction in size, seems to have let any political consensus disintegrate every which way. One major party, Kadima, has utterly dissolved into the leftist Hatnuah (under the leadership of Tzipi Livni, former head of Kadima) and the remaining center-left party, Labor. Meanwhile, Labor initially joined the current coalition government with Netanyahu’s Likud party and assorted rightist parties, but then splintered as the majority of the party decided to break the coalition. As a result the Independence party existed for the past session of the Knesset, which effectively pulled the more conservative members of the Labor party. For instance, many of the Independence representatives had close relationships with settler movements or outright said that Palestinians deserve a “shoah, which is the term typically used to refer in Israel to the Holocaust. In spite of losing their conservative wing to an ad hoc centrist party, their number of seats in the most recent election in fact nearly doubled from 8 to 15. Coupled with the schism in Kadima, however, this has translated into a net loss for the center-left bloc, but resulting in greater ideological clarity between the center, center-left, and leftist blocs.

In short, this past election suggests that in addition to Netanyahu’s plurality of support, he has the potential governing coalitions with three different blocs, any two of which would be sufficient to form a government. He’s already reached out to the rightists and is likely to successfully negotiate with the parties that didn’t enter into an electoral alliance with him. From there, he has the choice between negotiating with the Ultra-Orthodox, who will be disappointed in his secularism, or the centrists, who’ll look the other way while safe and secure behind the Iron Dome. Conversely, any sort of a counter-coalition seems doomed to failure, with the Arab-friendly parties being politically toxic to almost all others, the center-left and leftist in-fighting having recently drawn a lot of blood, and a good chunk of support having moved into the more Netanyahu-friendly center. As Hauser noted, there isn’t a 59 vote minority to a probable 61 vote Third Netanyahu Government, but rather four separate oppositions – which are rooted (and often not very firmly) in opposing his coalition as the political status quo that can never fall (the centrists), the enablers of the emerging economic elite (labor-minded center-left), the militant occupiers on the behalf of the Ultra-Orthodox (the reformer left), and the enforcers of the Israeli ethnic hierarchy (the Israeli-Arab parties).

Israel needed more than one additional MP to be assigned to one of those four blocs. It needed a leftwing political culture of solidarity rather than balkanization, and without that conservative Israelis seem poised to control the political process for not only this government but beyond the near future.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How do you have a civil war if you’re almost all on the same side?

There’s an interesting opinion piece by Thomas Edsall in the New York Times about the Republican Party’s current tribulations that’s been making the rounds over the past couple of days. It covers quite a few different issues, but it’s clearest points seem to be that the marketing subcontractors affiliated with the party are paid independently of their results and that the party’s base is divided between a mob of social conservatives resistant to any social change and a significant but smaller group of free market powerhouses. Sadly for Edsall, neither of these are particularly radical or new ideas. One trend of 2012 was the steadily growing obviousness of racketeering within the conservative movement and its chronic inability to hire the right people to send out its messages. Likewise, many others have been talking about a Republican “civil war” between a base that demands a loyalty to social policies that are politically toxic in general elections (particularly when the policies restrict women’s rights) and the smaller faction of moneyed interests within the party.

The idea that Republicans have potential allies who align with one of those blocs but not the other and they just have to figure out some new way of reaching out to them correctly seems pretty suspect when you actually look at how many conservatives analyze their own politics. They don’t view there as being a choice between support for economic policies that produce systemic class inequalities and support for a likely religiously-informed social conservatism. To them, those are the left and right hands of their politics – why bother lopping off one or the other? There are, of course, those who go even further and seem to view them as not only overlapping belief systems, but mutually supporting ones. For many modern conservatives, breaking with any part of that perceived socio-economic policy package is a breaking of a whole. It likely doesn’t matter to those people that they’ll still agree with the party when it comes to tax policy if they’re ignoring the social system surrounding the hope to install around that and other economic policies.

Beyond that sticky issue, there’s an implicit assumption that even if those present Republican voters stand by an exclusively fiscal-focused revamp of the party, there’s a significant number of other voters out there who will be enticed by the Republican message of tax cuts and ignoring growing economic disparities. That’s not even shown by the data Edsall uses in his own article:

(From Edsall’s New York Times opinion piece.)

The largest gaps between public perception of the Republican and Democratic parties are indeed over issues that are seen as primarily social in nature – the rights of women, queer, and genderqueer people. But the other major gaps all concern issues obviously concerning economic policy: assistance to the poor and tax policy. The issues on which Democrats have little lead or still trail Republicans in public perception are a mixed bag of social policies (firearms regulation), economic policies (handling the financial and energy industries), and ones that are a bit of both (immigration). The Democrats might have more strength on social issues, but the perception of them as ideologically more mainstream has both economic and social dimensions.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but it seems easier to find myriad faults with this specific prediction of a coming Republican ‘civil war’ than to see its development.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Luke Russert officially does not get it

TW: sexism

I’ve written before about the incredible potential the 2012 US elections showed – namely that a huge (and growing) coalition of various social groups working in solidarity with each other can and will win elections. Earlier today, Representative Nancy Pelosi announced that she would attempt to represent that coalition in the House of Representatives. She held a press conference surrounded by newly elected women, many of whom I’ve already gushed about – like Representatives Tulsi Gabbard, Kyrsten Sinema, and Tammy Duckworth.

Nancy Pelosi
(Nancy Pelosi, speaking earlier today. Originally from here.)

Like those three, many of them were more than some of the first women ever elected to the national stage by their districts or states. But many were also the first of another marginalized social group, whether a religious minority, LGBT* person, or disabled person. In running to be the representative of this mixture of identities unified by a need for society to finally acknowledge them and address issues significant to them, Pelosi was taking a stand about what kind of a political force the Democratic Party could be, should be, and if she has her way, would be.

And then Luke Russert asked the question that’s still setting the blogosphere ablaze:

“Mrs. Pelosi, some of your colleagues privately say that your decision to stay on prohibits the party from having younger leadership. It hurts the party in the long term. What’s your response?”

Yes, he actually said that. We can of course break down the sexism embedded in that – that he avoided calling Pelosi by her earned title, that he presented his opinion as factual (“It hurts the party” not “allegedly hurting the party”), and that there’s a clear political message sent in highlighting the age of a female politician (which is clearly lost on Russert).

But what’s more, it treats the diverse coalition that Pelosi has spent years building as a stage prop. It’s not of importance, unlike the ostensible House Minority Leader’s age. The ally that Pelosi is for people of color, to LGBT* communities, to disparate religious groups, and to disabled people is frankly irreplaceable for the time being, but apparently that fact is like so many irrelevant to Luke Russert. In fact, the only portion of the coalition that Russert potentially even belongs to is the “young” as he’s not even thirty years old. And lo and behold, it’s the issue that he raises – age!

What we have here is the antithesis to the solidarity-focused politics of the Democrats. In Russert’s mind, evidently, when these sorts of issues of systemic power matter tends to be when they affect him specifically and directly. When they don’t though, they’re irrelevant or something he can perpetuate without a thought. It’s the opposite of solidarity. It’s narcissism. This wasn’t a mistake, but Luke Russert saying all too clearly what he really thinks.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Bryan Fischer on LGBT* people, and what it all means

TW: eugenics, conversion therapy, kidnapping, state toleration of violence, criminalization of homosexuality

I have to confess, I saved this last day of Bryan Fischer week to cover the crown jewel of Fischer’s hatred for humanity – his well-documented bigotry against the LGBT* community. I chose that partly because it’s better known, compared to his worrisome advocacy for similarly second class citizenship being applied to many other social groups – namely women, non-Christians, and people of color. But I’ve also set up Bryan Fischer week this way because rather than the perfect example to start with, his attitudes towards LGBT* people are reflective of so many different hostile narratives he has towards people other than himself.

On Tuesday, I covered Bryan Fischer’s support for controlling the sexual behaviors of various groups whether by general social forces or direct government policy. The basis of his argument involved broadcasting abilist fears of the Muslim community (as genetically inferior because of alleged inbreeding) and advocacy for dehumanizing sexual policing of especially Black women and Latinas (as he claims they produce too many children). All of his analysis rests on what are little more than rehashed eugenic arguments. Similarly pseudo-scientific arguments crop up in his more pedestrian anti-LGBT* spiels, as Fischer has claimed that LGBT* people are produced by Freudian or Malthusian psychological processes and can be unmade by extremely damaging conversion (or “Ex-Gay”) therapy. The primary difference between Fischer’s proposed policies for disabled, Muslim, Black, and Latin@ people and those for LGBT* people rests with his belief that the supposed psychological roots of LGBT*-ness can be canceled out, as opposed to the genetic roots of those other groups’ supposed inferiority (which can only be contained).

Yesterday, I looked into the fig leaf Bryan Fischer put over his strict boundaries for people he classifies as female. Although he claims to accept people’s right to accept or reject his categorization of them, he consistently misgenders transgender men and concern trolls women he claims are endangering their femininity. This shows that his openness to allowing other people to step outside of the narrow classifications he offers them doesn’t actually exist. There many other segments of the LGBT* community – namely those who identify with one of the less commonly professed permutations of masculinity, femininity, both or neither – who are obviously at risk for the same contempt. Likewise, it seems inevitable that part of performing those gender identities, in Bryan Fischer’s eyes, involves sexual and romantic attraction towards people he deems appropriate. So, his statements are also a threat to people with sexual orientations Fischer does not endorse. Of course, the corresponding hostility he expressed towards female politicians as walking contradictions are mirrored in statements about LGBT* public servants. In speaking of Supreme Court justice Elena Kagan, who was rumored among conservatives to be a lesbian at the time of her confirmation, Fischer lamented,

We simply should not elevate to the highest court in the land people who are known for engaging in sexually abnormal behavior which would technically make them felons in a quarter of the states over which they will have jurisdiction.

After showing a stunning misunderstanding of the outcome of the Supreme Court case Lawrence v Texas and how federalism in the United States works, Fischer continued on to claim that an LGBT* justice would be biased in favor of LGBT*-friendly legal arguments. Naturally, he openly admits wouldn’t be a concern for a cisgender and straight justice being prejudiced for what Fischer refers to as “sexual normalcy and natural marriage”. Clearly Fischer has picked out the terrain he deems acceptable for LGBT* people to work within, and having a say in judicial processes is not part of it.

On Monday, I wrote about how Bryan Fischer views state-sponsored and religiously ordained violence as an acceptable means of normalizing his religious beliefs and social views. Acceptable targets seemed to include other residents of the United States who belong to different cultural traditions and seemingly any other people in the world against whom there’s something of a casus belli. It’s easy see Bryan Fischer as pushing an analogous case of state-tolerated if not state-sponsored violence against LGBT* people. Fischer took advantage of an unusual custodial case to grandstand on the issue of queerspawn people’s existence, essentially stating that such people should be forcibly assimilated into straight parentage, even if against the wishes of their parents or they themselves. On children born into such families, Fischer explained,

Given the direction our society is headed, and its willingness to sacrifice children to the god of sexual perversion, Lisa Miller may not be the last mother who needs a modern version of the Underground Railroad to deliver her child from evil [presumably meaning LGBT* parenting]”

In no part of the analysis does the will or security of the child enter the equation and the government’s capacity and duty to remove children from dangerous homes is pretty quickly dismissed. As Fischer finishes this article raising these broader points and bringing up additional custodial battles involving at least one LGBT* individual, he effectively advocates for himself and like-minded people to have the ability to enact mass violence against alternatively structured homes with the toleration of the government. But Fischer doesn’t simply want to erase queerspawn from existence through assimilation – he also supports criminalizing homosexuality. He’s said before: “This is the purpose of the law: it’s for the lawless and disobedient to engage in homosexuality – it’s perfectly appropriate for that kind of behavior to be against the law.” He’d clearly like to enlist the state in his campaign of violence against LGBT* people. Just as he views it as a quite literally sacred duty of the military to convert or kill Muslims.

The lesson I draw from Bryan Fischer’s beliefs and his limited but enduring popularity in certain circles is that there are still powerful forces in the United States that legitimize extremely violent and coercive attacks of many different social groups. And while it’s very much a common view to present these issues as independent – that women’s rights are distinct from Muslim’s rights – it’s very difficult to say that if you delve deeply into the discussion. These narratives are flexible, and the hostile arguments Bryan Fischer applies against some social groups, he frequently applies against others. Beyond the far too often forgotten force of intersectionality between many social groups – that, for example, the security of indigenous people and equal rights for disabled people are potentially equally important to a disabled Native American – there’s also a common theme of similar arguments being applied across categories. If the struggle of any specific social group is for something more than acceptance of their specific people, but rather a clear disagreement about what kinds of social and political attacks are reasonable, then solidarity is key.

Occupy Oakland solidarity protest - 'Oakland + Cairo are one fist'
(These might be the only political statements that can effectively challenge the Bryan Fischers of the world. Originally from here.)

The claims Bryan Fischer makes about the validity of violence against LGBT* people and against the Muslim community are rooted in the same understanding of how government should operate and what its goals should be. Both need to be challenged in tandem to make progress against the underlying problem: a fascistic belief that mass violence is legitimate when aiming to shore up the “correct” moral order, which for Bryan Fischer is explicitly Christian, cisgender, and heterosexual, among other traits.


This is the third of four posts as part of Bryan Fischer Week, in which I hope to lay out that Bryan Fischer is among the worst human beings on the planet, a terrifying influence on the United States’ body politic, and a threat to the security of a sizable chunk of the country’s population

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What do you do with a country like Russia? And who can and should do it?

TW: political killings, electoral rigging, silencing protesters

If you have a good memory, you’ll recall the on-going indications from the Romney campaign that as possible future President, Romney would reignite the Cold War with Russia. I’m curious to see if the recent crackdown on foreign-funded (including US-funded) non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Russia, will elicit US pundits to proclaim him to be a visionary who foresaw the coming conflict with Putin’s Russia. The obvious problem is how this is necessarily an issue of American foreign policy and furthermore one that requires decisive action on the part of the President. Russia’s problems so far have been internal in nature, even with the constant talk of “foreign agents.” Charging the opposition with being foreign collaborators or lackeys has been Putin’s response to the protests since they began almost a year ago against blatantly fraudulent parliamentary elections. This is not a strategy unique to Russia, nor even the eastern hemisphere.

This newly proposed policy has everything to do with domestic politics in Russia, especially those pertaining to civil liberties and transparent political processes. The electoral system is fundamentally fixed – for years violence against journalists has shut down effective reporting in the country, advocates of democracy and transparency have long alleged that domestic donors are threatened with arrests or violence, and last minute “fixes” from ballot stuffing to voter intimidation have become common. As demonstrations late last year and early this year continued – alleging all sorts anti-democratic efforts – the protest band Pussy Riot stormed the altar of Moscow’s main Russian Orthodox cathedral, calling on the Virgin Mary to protect them from Putin. The performance was filmed and distributed online after their arrest for hooliganism and insulting the Russian Orthodox faith (as one band member put it “I’m Orthodox but hold different political views” from church officials who urged the country to reinstate Putin as President).

(The original protest with the now famous song “Punk Prayer: Mother of God Drive Putin Away”)

The problem for Putin is clear – anarchist and feminist critiques of the de facto one party rule of Russia are getting a lot of attention and going mainstream. With the clear evidence of electoral rigging provided by better-funded NGOs like Голос (translatable as “Vote” or “Voice”), which had navigated the attacks on domestic financial supporters by looking for international support, popular movements hostile to the Putin presidency are developing.

Protests in Perm
(Protesters for the release of Pussy Riot in Perm, Russia, holding up a sign saying “the arts are the territory of freedom.” Originally from here.)

In a country where the bureaucracy is explicitly manipulated to invalidate most challengers’ candidacies and protesters are threatened with lengthy jail sentences, it’s unclear exactly what a Romney-led United States could do to help. Most of the population of Russia isn’t threatened with political killings – so a military intervention seems to be not only tactical nonsense but an ethically impractical solution. Sanctions are well-established non-starters. The EU has far more in the way of economic and political ties to Russia, and so far they’ve been leading the charge with all the diplomatic pushes they can.

If Romney honestly wants to help the people of Russia, and this isn’t empty posturing to make the US vote like it’s the 1980s again, he should be specific about what powers he sees the American presidency having which could be used to assist efforts to reinstate democratic and transparent governance in Russia. As with many other issues, he needs to be specific, if he’s going to speak up on this topic again.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This year’s presidential campaigns are stuck between a rock and a hard place

TW: misogynistic policies and rhetoric, institutional racism, deportation, gun violence

Last week, I quoted Brian Williams lamenting that there’s currently little in the way of grand appeals to moderate, centrist, and undecided voters from either the Obama or Romney campaign. Williams faulted the campaigns themselves, implying that they are unconcerned with the quality of political discourse in the country, but I think there’s other factors explaining why both major parties’ tickets are playing cautiously. Looking back over Nate Silver’s record of the presidential polls so far this year, there have been two really interesting political shifts over the summer. As his methodology behind the his poll numbers is rather well thought out and has a good track record of predicting results, I think there may be something important to the appearance a subtle shift in favor of Obama in late June and a sudden erosion of that support at the tail end of July.

(This is a capture of Nate Silver’s “Now-Cast” for the popular vote in the presidential election.)

As shown above, for the most part Obama has hovered approximately 1 to 1.5 percentage points above Romney, excepting the brief period mostly in July when the gap reached as much as 2 points. Interestingly, both the background lead of Obama as well as his July boost seem linked to a wide variety of shifting factors. Unlike the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, which were to a large extent referendums on George Bush’s prior term or terms, there’s a great deal of muddling about what issues this election will focus on.

I’d argue that two major forces were creating Obama’s smaller but sustained lead prior to the last week of June, through his July surge, and even now – the blowback from the War on Women and increasing restrictions on voting. Especially in the past few weeks, misogyny that simultaneously denies women their reproductive freedoms, denies basic scientific knowledge of female reproductive biology, and denies that women are valid witnesses to their bodily experiences, has been exposed as a component to the Republican presidential ticket and the Republican Party’s platform.

Likewise, while new voter restrictions have disenfranchised millions of Americans, their effect on the polls is probably quite negative for the Republican Party, as they can easily be interpreted as fixing elections. Whether criticism of the party for attempts to purge voters in Florida and Colorado as well as instituting new restrictions in numerous other states will actually counterbalance the mass disenfranchisement in the coming elections remains to be seen, but currently both presidential campaigns seem to anticipate even the most stringent barriers to voting to have minimal impact.

Against the electoral background created by those two issues, late June saw a bit of a perfect storm, if a smaller one, for the Obama campaign. The President’s executive order to halt deportations of undocumented individuals who would have been able to apply for citizenship under the DREAM Act on June 15, was an action the Romney campaign couldn’t respond to without either alienating vital Latino support or nativist segments of the Republican base. He spent the following weeks in June seeming weak and indecisive if not two-faced on the issue, which allowed Obama to regain levels of Latino support reminiscent of his 2008 landslide.

Meanwhile, in proceeding weeks the Obama campaign had been producing some hard-hitting ads about Romney’s record of disaster capitalism at Bain, but I remember an ad originally aired on June 23 affecting people more than earlier ones. Something about the poetic cruelty of being forced to build the stage on which an executive announced your downsizing convinced people more effectively than earlier ads, which many pundits had declared to be a tactical mistake by the Obama campaign. In any case, this and later ads seemed to shore up Obama’s support in Democrat-leaning areas of the rustbelt and give him a small but clear lead in more conservative states in the same formerly union-rich region.

Of course, not all of the major events at the end of June were ones that necessarily favored Obama. The most impacting of them – the Roberts ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – was contained in its damage, however, as it mainly rallied the conservative base to push for a full repeal and the liberal base for a reinstatement or similar fix. The only demographic that it seems to have caused to shift were independents who agreed with Obama’s progressive social policies and comparatively moderate international approach but differed with him on economic issues. Concentrated in rural New England, the worst damage was in New Hampshire, where Obama’s lead shrank significantly but didn’t disappear.

While there are obviously other issues that have reared their heads at various points in this election, these seem to be among the major players, which the Republican National Convention is in part trying to respond to, both to prevent another rush like the July surge and to address the fact that their party is systemically behind. That’s why we’ve seen so many prominently featured female speakers of color – Mia Love, Nikki Haley, Lucé Vela, Condoleezza Rice, and Susana Martinez. That’s partly an attempt to inoculate their party from criticism for supporting nativist, racist, and misogynistic policies. This is also why they’ve worked to reframe the “You didn’t build that”/“We built it” debate around immigrants who started family-run businesses (like the Tangs referenced by Rand Paul), pulling the quote out of its context as a criticism of the supposed captains of industry. That’s an effort to reframe the previous discussion of class and inequality in a way more favorable to their party. That’s also why Attorneys General Pam Bondi and Sam Olens (of Florida and Georgia, respectively) framed voter restrictions as a reasonable precaution and a national health care mandate as tyranny – to defend the Republican stance on those issues. It seems likely that at least a few of those themes will be touched on throughout the remaining speeches tonight.

Intriguingly enough though, the issue of violence in American culture and potential policies of gun control, which seem linked to Obama’s falling numbers in later July, is a topic that can only be faintly implied, as in New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez’s speech. It’s worth noting that in the later weeks of July, originally after the Aurora shooting but as similar incidents continued to rock the nation, calls for gun control seriously perturbed firearm advocates, and tapped into a long-standing anti-Obama message. With a wide range of firearm-related deaths in recent memory, it’s understandable that this point is too politically risky for Republicans to directly address. It’s likewise the case that Obama, as described by Ta-Nehisi Coates, has to remain absolutely non-threatening as a Black man and can’t even obliquely reference these issues without eliciting blowback.

So the political campaigns have taken a huge twist in the past few months. Obama is capable of making key choices to heighten his lead but vulnerable to events outside of his control limiting his ability to discuss pressing issues in any capacity. Romney likewise can’t directly reference the issues most toxic to Obama because they’re potentially dangerous for him to be seen as politicizing, and he can’t counter Obama’s current strengths without some duplicity (namely, implying one thing to White supporters and implying another to Latinos and other people of color). This race is practically guaranteed from here on out to be an interesting series of rhetorical gymnastics. Obama can speak plainly but only as long as certain issues are out of the picture and Romney has to speak around issues to lead different groups to mutually exclusive conclusions about what his policies would be. To the extent that Brian Williams is right that neither campaign is directly addressing many of the important political issues, he’s ignoring the complex reasons behind their strategic choices.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

But what does Romney actually gain from allegations of racism?

TW: racism, “birtherism”

A lot of surprising events have happened over the past couple of days, from the revelation of an assassination plot among military members against President Obama to the Republican National Convention having to cancel multiple events. Of course, even before either of those issues came up, the fallout from Todd Akin’s statements was essentially eating up all the media coverage it could (and to some extent, rightly so). In the midst of all that, it’s understandable to have missed Romney’s most overt flirtation with birtherism yet. After all, it seems like a more extreme (and perhaps more desperate) version of what his campaign had already done by appearing with Donald Trump months earlier.

If you’ve read this blog in the past, you’ll know the extreme gratitude I feel towards Rachel Maddow for her tireless work to bring unacknowledged issues into the light of major media coverage. I’m certainly glad that amid all the shocking news events, Maddow took the time to address Romney’s statements. That being said, I’m concerned that she only looked at one possible interpretation of it: Romney is trying to be labeled as racist, because that will make him more credible to the far right. Maddow explains-

“If you are performing at the same level as the losing ticket [in 2008] did with Latinos, and you’re performing even worse than [the 2008 ticket with] African Americans, mathematically the way you make it up is by winning an even larger portion of the White vote, and potentially by suppressing the African American and Latinos who might vote against you.”

But how do you attract White voters who aren’t already supportive of the Obama administration but disinterested in the Romney camp? Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow bounced off of her earlier explanation saying,

HAYES: It’s a ricochet strategy – [alienated White voters] are never going to love Mitt Romney, but if liberals hate Mitt Romney a lot, enough, maybe conservatives will love Mitt Romney.
MADDOW: So this is- this is what I feel like this is. I feel like this is bait. I feel like this is “Hey liberals, complain- in particular, complain about racism, because if you are complaining about racism, your flaming liberal outrage- by the light of your flaming liberal outrage I look better.
HAYES: Yes, I think that’s right.

Two White commentators concluding that the correct response to blatant manipulation of racism for electoral gain is to either not call it racist or at least do so in a way that’s not “flaming liberal outrage” – that’s what we all had the great privilege to see last Friday on MSNBC. This isn’t to entirely disagree with Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes. They do have a point that Romney has a long history of trying to gain political clout from being labeled as a racist, but shouldn’t a key part of the response be to make being racist politically toxic rather than politically expedient?

Before the conversation between Maddow and Hayes, one of the better known Black bloggers out there started discussing this incident in light of the resurgence of the Libertarian Party, especially in several key swing states. There’s a rather important historical discussion to be had there – as the argument has been made that Ross Perot’s Reform Party presidential candidacy in 1992 siphoned off far right voters from the Republicans. Although Dan Quayle is still clearly confused (for instance, he believed many Tea Party protesters were dissatisfied independents, contrary to all evidence) even he can see the electoral threat to the Republican Party if a portion of its base were to lend its support to a third party. Failing to anticipate a third party presidential candidate, Quayle worried that in congressional races, “the presence of a tea party candidate would split the vote on the right and hand victory to the Democratic candidate.” The same dynamic could unfold on a national scale thanks to Gary Johnson.

If that’s the case, hoping to shore up support even with such a far right competitor, Romney has selected an extremist Vice Presidential candidate and peppered his speeches with racially charged references to President Obama. Perhaps there is some risk if higher profile individuals refer to Romney’s strategy as racist, as that could convince far right voters that he is furthering their interests in opposing a perceived “PC police”. Still, former President George Bush excelled at mainstreaming popular ideas among the far right (which gained him their support) without the ideas being labeled as extreme (which allowed him to maintain centrist Republican support). What if what’s needed is for critics to point out the virulent extremism in the Republican Party to prevent the return of another purportedly compassionately conservative administration? What if calling out Romney’s racism is actually the most effective tactic against it?

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Right-to-work: not as much democratic as divisive

You may have heard about assorted anti-union policies put in place since the “Tea Party” wave election of 2010, including a revived push for Right-to-Work legislation, which bans employment on the condition of compulsory involvement in a union. Since then, lobbying efforts has focused quite hard on challenging national policies which have historically left these issues to the states and enacting new local laws especially in the Rustbelt and upper Midwest, regions with a long history of politically powerful unions.

Beyond appeals that softening unions’ power may attract employers to those areas, the primary argument, like any advanced by what some have called the conservative movement, is about freedom. As the National Right to Work (NRTW) Legal Defense Foundation explains,

Compulsory unionism in any form–‘union,’ ‘closed,’ or ‘agency’ shop–is a contradiction of the Right to Work principle and the fundamental human right that the principle represents. The National Right to Work Committee advocates that every individual must have the right, but must not be compelled, to join a labor union.

There’s a clear allusion there, surprisingly enough to the originally Marxist concept of a labor aristocracy – that union leaders have interests that may differ from those of some or all union members. The Republicans’ fix, naturally enough, is a sort of democratic check on unions to attract and maintain membership, contributions, and other resources. If unions remain faithful to solving the problems faced by workers, the argument goes, they’ll become de facto “closed” or union shops. It ties unions’ success to something many Americans have been told always produces the best outcomes: competition.

Of course, what’s not often acknowledged is that competition can only effectively exist between multiple unions, with competing understandings of their workplaces’ flaws and means to address them. The few people who have realized this seem untroubled by the notion of competing unions, predicting that in “a competitive environment, a union leader who does not deliver the goods […] risks losing out to a more responsive rival”. Structuring labor laws so that unions not only have to remain useful to their members to maintain their power, but also compete with rivals, is something of a logical conclusion of right to work laws.

Advocacy for greater competition between labor unions has been quietly building since at least 2005, with legal arguments like this one in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Labor and Employment Law, which laments that existing regulations “stifle inter-union competition”.  It continues on this point, making unclear arguments that inadequate competition exists between unions, such as:

In addition to erecting high barriers to entry, insulating unions from competition most of the time, and resisting craft unit severance, the law also allows incumbent unions to employ opportunistic defensive tactics to thwart raid attempts. For example, an incumbent union facing challenge from a raider may collude with the employer to kill the raid by promising to be less militant  than  the raider” (begins on page 653)

Somehow this common process within the context of union shops is seen as a form of inadequate competition, even as the promise of competition drives an entrenched union to ally itself with the employer. How greater competition would actually work against such alliances between a union-based labor aristocracy and employers goes unstated. Elsewhere in the world, where union competition is more common, workers’ security and rights are less well protected as conflicts between unions as well as conflicts with employers both threaten them. In South Africa, for instance, a recent disagreement between rival unions resulted in workers killing each other – instead of coming to a consensus on how to protest low wages.

This unshakable belief – that competition will spur unions into becoming more responsive to other workplace factions – doesn’t bare out in reality and reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what unions do. Rather than providing services, labor unions engage in collective bargaining. That is, they develop a consensus on workers’ goals and how to attain them. Unions shouldn’t be seen as a source of benefits and resolutions which is external to the workforce, but rather a social space within which workers can contribute to workplace policies. Creating competing venues for workforce organization doesn’t improve results or give a labor aristocracy an incentive to provide greater benefits. Instead, it divides the political organizers and followers which at best makes any protests uncoordinated and at worst creates enmity between rival unions. The last thing it does is improve the lot of workers.

Tagged , , , , ,

Occupy Wall Street, the ACLU, and the Democratic Party

The people who have and still are stubbornly trying to occupy Wall Street are part of the liberal base of the Democratic party – the really important question is whether they, the everyday Democrats, are negotiating with the established political party (with a worrisomely high likelihood of no mutually satisfying outcome) or if their protests have (and will continue to) further the Democratic Party’s policy goals. Apparently, what’s key is to identify the relationship between the Occupy Movement and the official leaders of the Democratic Party.

Except, this entire discussion presumes that the occupiers are the only political faction potentially vying for influence over Democratic policies. Even a cursory knowledge of that specific movement reveals a process of contestation and conciliation between separate social and political contingents. At the core of the original protest was a general argument against the economic status quo by a mixture of post-capitalist anarchists and advocates of a more effectively democratically-checked and populist capitalism. These separate political camps effectively put aside their differences, agreeing to fight the common opponent of the existing economic system.

Following that initial negotiation between separate political groups, the Occupy Movement contended with the fact that its terminology recalled and appropriated the painful realities of many indigenous communities – and consequently alienated a large number of people of color, originally potential allies for the movement. Protesters worked to repair this rift, and largely succeeded, eventually incorporating Native American activists (and other activists of color) into the protests and a broader discussion of race-specific social justice into its message. This commitment to social liberalism likewise expanded into outreach to queer and feminist activists.

As the movement blossomed into a network of encampments across the US and even the world, in other urban contexts the protests’ purpose increasingly seemed to be an assertion of civil and political rights by various marginalized groups. Resolving these different intentions, especially within Occupy Oakland, was never really completed as police crackdowns on the movement gained momentum and spread across the United States.

Even within the movement, a number of different political needs competed for centrality to the protests’ message. These included the calls for a degree of economic stability and equality not offered by the current order, for social recognition and representation within the context of the economic debate, and for a feeling of security in the civil right to protest. Outside of the movement, additional political and social concerns shared by large numbers of voters (who had various relationships with the Democratic Party) competed and coordinated with those needs addressed by the Occupy Movement.

For all of the major issues addressed by Occupy, there was a common motif of proposed policies failing to match reality. The economic populists saw Dodd-Frank passed but not enacted. The social activists remembered the hard-won policy victories of the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement, the Queer Liberation Movement, and others but witnessed continued discrimination and marginalization. Those protesting against perceived restrictions of the right to protest saw a First Amendment that increasingly seemed meaningless. In that shared context, it makes sense that political procedure was meant to be reinvented – after all, it wasn’t producing the results it intended to. Looming on the horizon, as the movement halted because of police action, was the same process of negotiation with procedure-focused reform-friendly forces.

With Occupy focusing so intently on outcomes – that culpable banks have gotten off scotch-free, namely – and having come into conflict so immediately and frequently with police, it seems like the movement may have irreparably soured towards even innocuous-seeming political procedures. As a result it might have difficulty cooperating with an additional group of activists who work for organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who will defend the procedural rights of even the Ku Klux Klan even if the effect is the continued mainstreaming of white supremacy. Built on a basis of skepticism towards existing policies and now feeling targeted by militarized policy – has Occupy become unable to politically coordinate with the ACLU, which has become indispensible to any broader coalition that wants the US to remain a democracy?

So, it seems like a more immediately pertinent question than whether Occupy and the Democratic Party are serving each others’ interests is whether Occupy and the ACLU can stop making pot-shots against each other. With the ACLU having all but called Occupy protesters hyperbolic over a new federal security law, and the Occupy movement doubling down on insisting that the law will undermine their entire movement, negotiation looks like it’s off the table, leaving two of the major contemporary left-leaning factions of activists a bit at odds with each other. Perhaps we should ask if those two groups can cooperate, just as much as whether their aims align with the wishes of the officials in the Democratic Party.

Tagged , , ,