Crumbling Shackles

The human imagination stubbornly refuses to die. And the moment any significant number of people simultaneously shake off the shackles that have been placed on that collective imagination, even our most deeply inculcated assumptions about what is and is not politically possible have been known to crumble overnight.

— David Graeber, The Democracy Project (2013)

Both the country and the Sift had an amazing week. What was amazing for the country is outlined below. As for the Sift, it had the most page views of any week ever — more than 150K — led by a surge of interest in last August’s post “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party“. (Being extensively quoted at FireDogLake may have had something to do with that.) That article got more than 120K views this week, rocketing past “The Distress of the Privileged” to become the most popular post in Weekly Sift history. (Between them, those two posts account for slightly over half of the traffic since the Sift moved to WordPress in 2011.)

This week’s featured posts are “Two Cheers for Justice Kennedy” and “Slurs: Who Can Say Them, When, and Why“.

This week everybody was talking about the Supreme Court

Thursday, the Court refused to gut ObamaCare, and Friday it legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. I broke off one piece of my Court analysis into its own article: “Two Cheers for Justice Kennedy“. Gay-rights advocates loved the rhetoric in Kennedy’s majority opinion, but his reasoning was mushy and convoluted. He provided justification for the criticism that he was redefining marriage according to his own values, and he didn’t establish a more general gay-rights precedent that was there for the taking in some of the lower-court rulings.

Roberts and polygamy. I was a little surprised that Chief Justice Roberts went for the polygamy cheap shot.

One immediate question invited by the majority’s position is whether States may retain the definition of marriage as a union of two people. Although the majority randomly inserts the adjective “two” in various places, it offers no reason at all why the two-person element of the core definition of marriage may be preserved while the man-woman element may not. Indeed, from the standpoint of history and tradition, a leap from opposite-sex marriage to same-sex marriage is much greater than one from a two-person union to plural unions, which have deep roots in some cultures around the world. If the majority is willing to take the big leap, it is hard to see how it can say no to the shorter one.

If you’ve lived anywhere that allows same-sex marriage, you’ve seen that it’s barely a leap at all. All the legal structure remains exactly the same, you just allow more people to access it. Polygamy OTOH opens up all kinds of complications, like: How does family health insurance work if you can add as many people to your family as you want? They may not be insuperable difficulties, but there’s some thinking to be done.

But what really amazed me was that Roberts learned nothing from Justice Scalia’s dissent in Lawrence, the case that threw out laws criminalizing sodomy in 2003. Scalia made a reduction-to-absurdity argument, claiming that the Court’s reasoning would lead to same-sex marriage; since that would clearly be absurd, the Lawrence ruling must be absurd also. But instead, his dissent has been quoted again and again in subsequent years, making Scalia the inadvertent prophet of marriage equality.I don’t expect to see legal polygamy anytime soon. But if it does happen, Roberts will be its inadvertent prophet.

Obamacare. For the second time — the first was three years ago — the Supreme Court refused to kill ObamaCare, with Chief Justice Roberts writing the opinion once again. This time he had Justice Kennedy with him, adding to the four liberals (Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor) to make a 6-3 decision. The far-right faction of the Court (Thomas, Alito, Scalia) united around a dissent written by Scalia in his trademark everyone-who-disagrees-with-me-is-an-idiot style (maybe best rendered as an emo song).

[BTW: I’ll take some credit for being right about the outcome. When I examined this case last summer, I wrote: “I don’t think they’ll overturn the subsidies. The Roberts Court practices conservative activism, but prefers to do it by stealth. … I can imagine Thomas, Alito, and Scalia going that way, but Roberts and Kennedy will be reluctant.”]

Like the previous legal attack on ObamaCare, this one was basically absurd. (In the 2012 case, a new legal theory was invented precisely for the purpose of killing ObamaCare, and got four justices to endorse it. Salon‘s Andrew Koppelman wrote: “The constitutional limits that the bill supposedly disregarded could not have been anticipated because they did not exist while the bill was being written.” In fact, it got five justices: Roberts endorsed the theory, but re-interpreted the Affordable Care Act to avoid applying it.)

This challenge was more of a legal “gotcha” attack, claiming that the way one sentence was worded, the law didn’t mean what everyone involved in the legislative process thought it meant and intended it to mean. As I explained last summer, the sentence establishing the subsidies to help people pay for health insurance refers to “exchanges established by the State”, while 33 states let the federal government set up a healthcare exchange for them. So the plaintiffs in King v Burwell argued that the subsidies weren’t valid in those states. As Roberts observed in his opinion, this would likely have started a “death spiral” of health insurance in the federal-exchange states: Without the subsidies, the individual mandate wouldn’t apply to a large number of people, who then would wait until they got sick to get insurance. Insurance companies would raise their rates to compensate, pushing even more people out of the market, and so on.

According to former Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, who was lobbied heavily by the administration but ultimately voted against the ACA, the interpretation pushed by the plaintiffs was “never part of our conversations at any point”. She attributed the disputed sentence to “inadvertent language”.

Back when we had white presidents, Congress handled this kind of thing without getting the courts involved. It’s not at all unusual to discover after a law is passed that some part of it isn’t worded quite right. But these drafting errors are just fixed by new legislation, which usually passes without noticeable opposition. (No one has come up with an example of a major pre-Obama law that got skewered because of inadvertent language.) Similarly, it’s typical for a complicated piece of legislation to need minor fixes to its procedures, and Congress used to simply recognize that the fixes made the law better, rather than seeing this as a chance to refight the original battle and scuttle everything.

But in Obama Era, Republicans in Congress practice an unprecedented scorched-earth opposition, and have abandoned all previous standards of fair play. So there is no chance of getting amending legislation passed. (This is also why Obama has had to do so much through executive order. No matter how sensible a procedural change is, Congress will not pass it. Obamacare delenda est!) So the law Congress originally passed is the one the Court has to work with. Like Obama, the Court had to decide whether to take on a larger role to compensate for Congressional dysfunction.

Fortunately, Roberts and Kennedy did the sensible thing. Looking at the option of canceling the subsidies in 33 states and throwing their insurance markets into chaos, Roberts wrote: “It is implausible that Congress meant the Act to operate in this manner.”

And it is. No one who voted for the law has come forward saying s/he thought it meant what the plaintiffs claimed. And when the state legislatures were deciding whether or not to create healthcare exchanges, nobody argued that they were risking their citizens’ subsidies.

Roberts’ interpretation has an added bonus: One way the case could have come out (the way one of the appeals courts ruled) is that the sentence in question is “ambiguous”, and so the Court would defer to the IRS’ interpretation. But that would allow the next president to order the IRS to interpret the law differently. By finding on his own authority that the sentence means what the Obama administration has been saying, Roberts avoided that scenario.

So maybe now we can just let the law operate as intended. It seems to be doing pretty well.

and symbols of the Confederacy

When I wrote “Please Take Down Your Confederate Flag” last week, I had no idea how suddenly the ground would shift. I expected South Carolina’s Republican majority to rally around that flag, leading to further protests like flag-burnings.

Well, within hours after I expressed that expectation, not only did Governor Haley ask the legislature to remove the flag from the capitol grounds, but a groundswell began to remove Confederate symbols across the South. Alabama Governor Bentley removed Confederate flags from a memorial on his state capitol’s grounds. Tennessee started talking about removing the bust of KKK Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest from its capitol. Mitch McConnell called for moving the statue of Jefferson Davis in Kentucky’s capitol to a museum. Several governors said they’d eliminate the option of putting a Confederate flag emblem on state license plates. Statues people had been walking past obliviously for decades suddenly became issues in places like St. Louis and Kansas City.

On Facebook and various other forums, I’ve been amazed how quickly Confederate defenders jump to charges of “banning” Confederate symbols, which I don’t think anybody is asking for, and which would violate the Constitution anyway. What we’re asking is that governments stop endorsing the Confederacy, and that individuals and private institutions that endorse the Confederacy face criticism. It’s your First Amendment right to fly any flag or put up any statue you want, but it’s my First Amendment right to point out that you’re promoting and celebrating racism.

The encouraging thing is how quickly the country seems to have lost patience with the mythology of the Confederacy’s noble Lost Cause. President Obama summed it up in his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney

Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers.  It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong — (applause) — the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong.  (Applause.) It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.

The Confederacy fought to keep millions of African-Americans in slavery. There was no nobility to that cause. It was immoral and does not deserve to be remembered kindly or proudly. For decades, American leaders have tip-toed around those truths for fear of offending white Southerners — that’s the real political correctness in this issue. Maybe that’s over.

As for what to replace those Confederate monuments with: There’s a real shortage of monuments to the hundreds of thousands of slaves who escaped their masters and joined the army of the United States. No doubt every Confederate State has such a black hero. You can impugn the motives of many of the Northerners who fought, but these Southern blacks were the real freedom fighters of the Civil War.

Let’s not overestimate the importance of these symbolic moves. But they seemed impossible just a few weeks ago. As David Graeber has said (see quote above), political common sense can change very suddenly. It gives me hope for issues that seem hopelessly jammed today, like serious action on climate change.

and you also might be interested in …

I mentioned Obama’s Charleston eulogy above. If you haven’t seen the whole thing [transcript, video] you should.

It’s really hard to imagine how Obama could have picked up all that Christian theology at his madrassa in Indonesia. But seriously, I think people who assume authentic Christianity belongs to conservatives will be stunned.

I’ll be interested to see if we hear more of this change: Where presidents have been ending their speeches with “God bless America”, Obama ended this one with: “May God continue to shed His grace on the United States of America.” It is a more humble usage, less amenable to American exceptionalism.


Ted Cruz is calling for Texas clerks to express their “religious freedom” by not processing marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Hmmm. Would he support a clerk expressing his religious freedom by refusing to process gun-owner licenses?


Now that they’re not allowed to discriminate against gays, at least two Alabama counties have stopped issuing marriage licenses entirely. Good luck with that. I’m sure this principled civil disobedience will bring gay rights advocates to their knees. Personally, I am quivering at the thought that opposite-sex Alabama couples who can’t get married will blame me rather than their local officials.


I have already expressed my sympathy with the Bernie Sanders campaign. But if you are tempted to forward some of those anti-Hillary social media messages, you might want to explore where they come from. You might be carrying water for some right-wing group that is trying to turn Democrats against each other.

and let’s close with a inter-species musical jam

Who knew elephants could boogie? Actually, elephant intelligence is remarkable, and ought to be studied further. For example, elephants are one of the few species that can recognize their own reflections in a mirror. Unfortunately, elephant labs tend to be rather expensive, so for the foreseeable future we’ll understand white rats a whole lot better.

Here’s a question somebody ought to know the answer to: If elephants have a sense of rhythm, does that mean they’ll get in step with each other on long migrations?

Slurs: Who Can Say Them, When, and Why

Why President Obama can say “nigger” and I can’t (except when I can)


Maybe the best treatment of racial slurs ever to appear in a movie was this scene from the 2006 film Clerks 2. Randall, a fast-food worker, can’t understand why porch monkey is racist: When his non-racist grandmother used to say it, he claims, she just meant “a lazy person” not “a lazy black person”. After a black customer (played by Wanda Sykes) freaks, Randall’s friend Dante finally convinces him that porch monkey really is a racial slur (and maybe Randall’s grandmother had more racial prejudice than he remembered). But then Randall decides he’s going to “take it back”; he’s going to keep saying porch monkey, but reclaim it by using it in a non-racist way. A frustrated Dante explains to Randall that he can’t reclaim porch monkey, “because you’re not black!”

“Well listen to you,” Randall responds. “Telling me I can’t do something because of the color of my skin? You’re the racist.”

Randall’s obtuseness and Dante’s exasperation are funny, but Randall’s view is not that different from a lot of white men: Why are the rules different for us? Black rappers say nigger all the time, but when we do it’s racist. Meredith Brooks can name a song “Bitch” and Christina Aguilera can up the ante to “Super Bitch“. But when a guy says “bitch”, it’s sexist. A female writer like Lisa Miller can title her New York Magazine article “Hillary Clinton Finally Has Permission to be a Bitch” and it’s supposed to be, like, liberating or something. But when Glenn Beck referred to Clinton — the same woman! — as a “stereotypical bitch“, that was objectionable.

What’s up with that? When blacks and women can say and do things that white men can’t, isn’t that a double standard? And as Randall says, aren’t the liberals who promote that double standard the real racists and sexists?

In a word, no. But in real life — particularly when an example springs up unexpectedly, like Randall’s porch monkey — explaining why can be frustrating. A whole branch of the media is devoted to promoting what I have elsewhere called privileged distress, the feeling among white men — and Christians and English-speakers and the rich and every other privileged class in America — that they are really the persecuted ones. Their supporting examples and arguments and ways of framing the situation come easily to mind, while the explanations of why that’s the wrong way to look at it require some thought.

So let’s do some of that thinking.

Banter or insult? When blacks say “Hey, nigger” or “What’s up, nigger?” to each other, that’s banter. But if a white man like me walks up to a black and says, “What’s up, nigger?”, it’s an insult — even if I’m smiling and friendly when I do it. Why? There’s actually a color-blind rule here that’s fairly simple: An insult can be friendly banter if it can be thrown right back at you.

The reason it can be banter when one black guy says nigger to another is that the other guy can respond, “Who you calling nigger, nigger?” That doesn’t work when the white guy says it.

It’s not a double standard, because the same rule applies to me in exactly the same way. At my 40th high school reunion last fall, we were constantly making fun of how old we’ve gotten. Picture me with a too-full beer stein, and a classmate saying “Hey, old man, you sure you can lift that? Don’t want to hurt yourself.” It’s banter, and everyone laughs, because we’re all the same age.

But now imagine that the handsome and athletic young guy tending bar says the same thing to me as he serves the drink: “Hey, old man. You sure you can lift that? Don’t want to hurt yourself.” Now those are fighting words. He’s thrown an insult at me that I can’t throw right back. Now I’ve got something to prove.

The same rule applies all over: Fat people can kid each other about their weight. Tyrion Lannister can tell dwarf jokes. It’s not a double standard.

There are no white male equivalents. Sometimes you’ll hear people banter, not by throwing the same insult back and forth, but by using insults that are more-or-less equivalent. Picture two white guys at a bar, taunting each other in a friendly way with dago and pollock.

Some white guys think they should be able to use nigger the same way. The other guy can throw honky or cracker back at us, so it’s all good. Here’s the problem: honky and cracker are in no way equivalent to nigger.

If you just look them up in a dictionary you might think they are equivalent: honky is a racial slur directed at whites, nigger at blacks. What’s the difference?

Usage.

Nigger has centuries of usage behind it, and the connotation of that usage is that blacks are a subhuman race. Nigger evokes a detailed stereotype — lazy, stupid, violent, lustful, dangerous — while honky just says you’re a white guy I don’t like. For centuries, niggers weren’t really people. There’s no equivalent word for whites, because whites have always been seen as people.

If that example of the importance of usage doesn’t ring true for you, look at a different example: cow and bull. If you had recently arrived from Mars, where you learned English out of a dictionary, you might think that cow and bull are equivalent insults for women and men: Each compares a human to a bovine of the same gender.

But those words have centuries of usage behind them, and so they connote very different different ideas. Calling a woman a cow implies that she’s fat, lazy, and stupid, probably good for nothing but whelping and suckling babies. Calling a man a bull, on the other hand, is a compliment. He’s powerful and headstrong. A running back can bull his way over the goal line, while someone who gets intimidated out of making a legitimate claim has been cowed.

Likewise, a Martian might think that prick and cunt are equivalent insults: They each identify a person with his or her genitalia. But a prick is a minor annoyance, while a cunt is a subhuman who is only good for sex. You might have an argument with a prick, but talking to a cunt is just stupid.

Limbaugh.

In short: No way, no how can white men banter with nigger. Neither the word itself nor any equivalent insult can be thrown back at us. Ditto for bitch or cow or cunt. A woman can shoot back with prick, asshole, bastard, or jerk, but it’s just not the same.

Taboos vs. stereotypes. White guys like Rush Limbaugh treat slurs as if they were taboos — words we’re not supposed to say just because we’re not supposed to say them, like shit or fuck. There’s no reason for it, it’s just a rule. Worse, it’s a rule that’s not applied fairly: Only white guys get called to account when they break it.

How Limbaugh pictures himself

Consequently, white guys make slurs the object of bad-boy humor. Limbaugh thinks he is being brave and daring when he calls Sandra Fluke a slut. And he thinks he’s being clever when he finds ways to come as close as possible to saying nigger without actually saying it. (It’s like those I-didn’t-really-say-a-bad-word jokes we told in grade school: “What did the fish say when he swam into a concrete wall?” “Dam!”)

That’s what white guys — and a few non-white guys who are trying too hard to fit in — mean when they brag that they’re “not PC”. It’s a James Dean pose: I’m a rebel. I can’t be bound by your arbitrary rules about what words I can or can’t say.

What’s wrong with that attitude is that society’s distaste for slurs is not a meaningless taboo. There are at least two good reasons for it:

  • In any disagreement or discussion, using a slur is cheating: You’re hitting your opponent with a club they can’t use to hit you back.
  • Every time you use a slur, you perpetuate the stereotypes it invokes. Calling a black person a nigger raises the notion — whether you’re thinking about it consciously or not — that blacks are subhumans who don’t deserve equal treatment. Calling a woman a cunt reinforces the idea that women are just good for sex, and don’t have to be treated like thinking beings.

The various disadvantaged communities are all debating whether or not it’s ever OK to use the slurs themselves. Some argue that when black rappers use nigger, they jam the stereotype rather than perpetuate it. Some women believe that saying bitch is liberating, because it shows the word doesn’t scare them. Others disagree, believing that any use of a slur promotes its stereotypes.

I think this: Those issues are for those communities to figure out. In the unlikely event that they ask my advice, I might give it. But until then, my opinion as a white guy doesn’t and shouldn’t matter.

Words as words. Now, somebody is bound to point out that in my discussion of why white guys shouldn’t use nigger, bitch, and cunt, I’ve used nigger, bitch, and cunt. Isn’t that liberal hypocrisy? Aren’t I just waving my liberal privilege in Rush’s face, saying “I can say it but you can’t!”?

I plead not guilty. There is a difference between using a word and referring to a word. I haven’t been talking about “the niggers”, I’ve been referring to the word nigger.

Why is that OK? Once again, these are not taboos. There’s no dark magic in the letters that is unleashed whenever they are put together. The power is in the use, not in the pronunciation.

That distinction is too complex for children, so we teach them not to use the words by presenting them as taboo. And this creates problems for children, as when the tattle-tale blurts out: “Teacher, Billy said shit.”

Likewise in the mass media, where children might be listening and might regard the speaker as an authoritative example — “But Mommy, the man on the radio said it.” — we insist on circumlocutions like the N-word. But when adults talk to other adults as adults, we need to be able to name the words we’re referring to. Otherwise you wind up in situations like the stoning scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Obama on WTF. So now we come to President Obama’s interview on the podcast “WTF with Marc Maron“, where he said:

Racism, we are not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public.

And that caused a freak-out. Fox News’ Todd Starnes was one among many:

It was disappointing to say the least to hear such a vulgarity come out of the mouth of the leader of the free world.

But there you have it folks – this is man who was supposed to usher in the post-racial America. This is the man who was supposed to unite, not divide.

What President Obama said is indefensible. It soils the dignity of the Oval Office.

That’s a reaction to breaking a taboo: It would be appropriate if Obama had said fuck or shit. We don’t want our president saying crap like that.

But look at it in light of my previous analysis: We have a black man referring to the N-word in a forum not intended for children. It’s fine.

Fox’ David Webb raises this question:

Could you imagine if a Ted Cruz or somebody on the Republican side used it, in the same context, what the reaction would be.

You mean referring to it, in a discussion of racism intended for adults? I’d be fine with it.

Glee. What I’m not fine with is what Ted Nugent did: Use Obama’s example as an argument in favor of slurs and offensive symbols in general.

What sort of politically correct zombie could actually believe that the elimination of a word or a flag would reduce the evil of racism?

What sort of goofball could possibly believe that certain words are OK for one group of people but forbidden by others?

That, by the way, is the definition of racism.

I’m sure Ted and Randall could have a long talk about that, but no, it isn’t.

There’s something gleeful in Nugent’s usage of nigger, and that right there is the final test I’d recommend to any white person who’s thinking about saying it: You might think you’re referring to the word in the analytic way I have endorsed. But while analysis may at times be satisfying or even fascinating, it is almost never gleeful.

So if the word tastes delicious in your mouth, if saying it feels like a forbidden pleasure, something else is going on. Maybe you should reconsider.

Two Cheers for Justice Kennedy

By all means, celebrate. But, looking to future gay-rights cases, Justice Kennedy gave us more rhetoric than precedent.


Friday, the Supreme Court ended the decades-long legal debate on marriage equality, making same-sex marriage legal for the entire nation in Obergefell v Hodges. Across the country, supporters of gay rights were jubilant as they read to each other delicious paragraphs out of Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion. But I have a complaint: Justice Kennedy got the right result for the wrong reasons, and that will eventually cost us.

Not in other marriage cases — that’s over, just like everybody says. But Kennedy’s soaring rhetoric about the dignity of gay relationships wasn’t supported by a sound legal framework that we can use in, say, employment equality cases.

The DOMA hangover. As regular Sift readers know, I have mixed feelings about Justice Kennedy, particularly on the subject of gay rights. He tends to rule the way I want, and he’s often the swing vote that puts my position over the top. But being the swing vote, he usually ends up writing the majority opinion, and he writes it badly. That’s what happened when the Court threw out the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) two years ago, which I covered (along with Chief Justice Roberts’ hamstringing of the Voting Rights Act) in an article I demurely called “This Court Sucks“. And it happened again Friday.

The reason Obergefell came to the Court in the first place was that lower courts could not follow Kennedy’s mushy reasoning in the DOMA case. The Supreme Court is supposed to do more than just decide the current case, it’s supposed provide interpretive frameworks for lower courts to apply, so that future cases can be decided without involving the Supremes again. But when Judge Kean was throwing out Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage, for example, he wrote that he had “gleaned” — not quoted, gleaned — two principles from Kennedy’s DOMA opinion. Other courts gleaned other principles and disagreed, so the highest court had to sort it out.

This time, Kennedy has made marriage equality the law of the land, but he’s done it with another piece of mushy reasoning that is a poor climax to the distinguished series of lower-court decisions supporting same-sex marriage, going all the way back to the 2003 Goodridge decision in Massachusetts. Instead of following the compelling logic laid out by one lower court after another, Kennedy’s opinion looks like exactly what critics of marriage equality say it is: a judge redefining marriage according to his own values. His ruling is full of beautiful tributes to the dignity of same-sex couples, but short on the kind of step-by-step legal thinking you can find in the lower-court rulings, which I summarized last month.

Due process isn’t enough. Every pro-marriage-equality judge I know of, other than Kennedy, has centered the argument on the 14th Amendment‘s guarantee of “the equal protection of the laws”. As I summarized:

In practice, that phrase has been interpreted to mean that if the government treats some people differently than others, it has to have a good reason. The more significant the discrimination, the weightier the reason needs to be.

That’s why laws that provide a marriage option to opposite-sex couples but deny it to same-sex couples are in trouble: because it’s increasingly hard to say what legitimate reason the government might have for that discrimination.

… So the claim that gays and lesbians want to “redefine marriage” has it exactly backwards. During the last century-and-a-half, marriage has already been redefined. And in marriage as it exists today — rather than during the Revolution or the Civil War — what’s our justification for refusing its advantages to same-sex couples?

Instead, Kennedy focuses on the 14th Amendment’s due-process clause, and finds a fundamental right to marry in the word liberty. His rhetoric is inspiring if you already agree with him, but if you don’t, his reasoning isn’t compelling. The dissents by Roberts, Thomas, Scalia, and Alito eviscerate his argument, and rightly so.

Kennedy’s biggest problem is that the Constitution doesn’t require governments, either federal or state, to recognize marriage at all. (If Oregon wanted to become “the free love state” and stop performing marriages entirely, that would be up to Oregonians.) Liberty traditionally means being left alone by the government, not that the government must help you in some way. So Roberts makes an argument that appears in some form in all the dissents:

Our cases have consistently refused to allow litigants to convert the shield provided by constitutional liberties into a sword to demand positive entitlements from the State.

The question Kennedy should have raised is: Once the State has defined the “positive entitlement” of marriage for some people, what’s its justification for denying those benefits to others? But that’s an equal-protection issue, not a liberty issue.

In short: the ruling came out the right way, but the people who still want to hold out against marriage equality feel vindicated in their view that the Court has usurped the power of the legislative branch by “redefining marriage”. It didn’t have to be like this. Why, oh why, couldn’t Justice Ginsburg have written this ruling?

Why it’s important. The lower courts nearly all used the equal-protection framework: Define a level of scrutiny appropriate to laws that discriminate against gays, and then examine the government’s reasons for discriminating under that level of scrutiny. One of the issues to decide, if you go that way, is whether gays and lesbians are a class that has traditionally faced discrimination, and so how much benefit of the doubt a legislature or electorate should get as to its motives.

Racial discrimination, for example, faces the highest level of scrutiny. As a matter of judicial precedent, laws that discriminate against traditionally disadvantaged racial groups are inherently suspect. Similarly, laws that discriminate against women are inherently suspect. It’s possible that some particular race- or gender-discriminating law can be justified, but a court will not give the government any benefit of the doubt.

The traditional discrimination against gays and lesbians certainly would justify giving laws against them some heightened level of scrutiny, but the Supreme Court has never done so. Kennedy doesn’t do so either.

Pro-marriage-equality judges who don’t invoke heightened scrutiny are forced to give the legislative branch the benefit of the doubt. And so they end up having to argue that same-sex marriage bans are completely irrational. That argument has been made, and was sitting there for Kennedy to endorse. He didn’t.

Going either way would have established a precedent for fighting other anti-gay discrimination: Either anti-gay discrimination would face heightened scrutiny in the future, or there would be a precedent for saying that certain kinds of anti-gay discrimination are irrational.

Instead, Justice Kennedy gave us just this result, justified by a lot of effusive rhetoric that has no further legal consequences.

The “threat to American democracy”. All four dissents lamented a judicial usurpation of powers properly belonging to the democratic branches — which is in fact a fair criticism of the argument Kennedy made. The place for flowery rhetoric is in the legislature or on the campaign trail. But it wouldn’t have been a fair criticism of the equal-protection argument Kennedy avoided.

Dahlia Lithwick raised the right question:

And all I could keep thinking was, “Where was all this five unelected judges chatter when you all handed down Citizens United? Or Shelby County? Why does this rhetoric about five elitist out-of-touch patrician fortune-cookie writers never stick when you’re in the five?”

The most-quoted Roberts line was:

Indeed, however heartened the proponents of same-sex marriage might be on this day, it is worth acknowledging what they have lost, and lost forever: the opportunity to win the true acceptance that comes from persuading their fellow citizens of the justice of their cause.

If you’re a straight person very distant from the gay community, this might sound convincing. But if you imagine yourself in the place of a same-sex couple, it isn’t convincing at all. Would you rather have widespread social approval ten years from now, or the equal protection of the laws today? The answer is pretty obvious.

The comparison to interracial marriage is apt. XKCD draws the chart:

Our fellow citizens are being persuaded of the justice of marriage equality — not, for the most part, by referendum campaigns, but by living in society with same-sex couples. That process will continue apace.

In these the-sky-will-fall-if-we-allow-this situations, most people have to see something in action before they realize the panic-mongers are conning them. As I predicted back in 2003:

Personally, I expect the same-sex marriage issue to follow the same course as interracial marriage. After a few years of Chicken-Little panic, the vast majority of Americans will recognize that the sky has not fallen, and that the new rights of homosexuals have come at the expense of no one.

Today, no one cares how interracial couples got the right to marry. Most young people have trouble believing it was ever an issue. (Have you ever tried to explain to a teen-ager why his friend’s parents’ marriage would have been illegal 50 years ago? I have.) So it will be for same-sex marriage.

The Actual Monday Morning Teaser

Yesterday, readers got a little more insight into the Sift’s inner workings than I wanted to give them. You see, I want anybody who comes to the blog on a Monday morning to at least get a promise that articles are coming; that’s what the Teaser is for. So I like to get it posted as early as I can. I’m usually a morning person, so I roll out of bed, grab a cup of coffee, walk to the computer and post.

Well, yesterday I woke up later than usual, with one of those strange I-just-woke-up beliefs that it was Monday and I was running late. Forget the coffee, I had to get to the computer and get a Teaser up right now. It was posted before I saw enough of the world to realize it was Sunday.

I could have taken it down then, but one of my policies is that once commenters notice an error, I can fix it, but I can’t pretend it didn’t happen. (The comments often contain my acknowledgement of mistakes I’ve edited out of the text.) Deleting the post would delete the comments that corrected me. So the wrong-day Teaser stays up.

Anyway, I have it on good authority that it really is Monday today. So here’s what you can expect: Unlike what I would have done yesterday, I’m going to pull my Supreme Court analysis out of the summary and make it a separate article “Two and a Half Cheers for the Supreme Court”. It should go up around 8 or 8:30.

Then I’ll post an article on racial and gender slurs that I’ve been thinking about for a while, but waiting for a news hook: The conservative furor over President Obama saying “nigger” in an interview was the hook I was waiting for, so “Slurs: Who Can Say Them, When, and Why” should go up by 10. It begins with a scene I really love from Clerks 2, and concludes with a scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, so I think it does a good job of mixing light and heavy.

Then the weekly summary will cover other people’s reactions to the Court decisions; the amazing crumbling of support not just for the Confederate flag in front of the South Carolina state capitol, but for Confederate symbols all over the country; Obama’s eulogy for the Charleston victims; why you should think twice before forwarding that anti-Hillary tweet; and a few other things before closing with a human/elephant musical jam. Maybe 11 or 11:30 for that.

It really is Monday, isn’t it?

The Monday Morning Teaser

Update: It’s actually Sunday and I’m not running behind at all. Thanks to the commenters for pointing this out before I actually started posting articles.


I’m moving slowly on a rainy morning. The featured post today will be “Slurs: Who Can Say Them, When, and Why”. The conservative freak-out over President Obama saying “Racism, we are not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public” provides an occasion for me to collect some thoughts that should be obvious, but for some reason aren’t to some people. I’ll try to keep it amusing, with relevant clips from Clerks 2 and Life of Brian.

Since I’m getting a late start, it might be 10 before that appears.

There’s an amazing week to cover in the summary: two major Supreme Court decisions; Confederate symbols started coming down — not just in South Carolina, but all over; the TPP is back from the dead; and President Obama’s eulogy for the shooting victims in Charleston might go down as one of the great American speeches. Expect that around noon.

And I’ll close with something celebratory: a video of two actual, non-animated, boogying elephants.

Perhaps Mentally Ill

A black shooter is a thug, a Muslim is a terrorist, and a white attacker is perhaps mentally ill.

— an unidentified interviewer for RT network’s “In the Now

Now is the time for mourning and for healing. But let’s be clear. At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency.

President Barack Obama

This week’s featured post is “Please Take Down Your Confederate Flag“. But last August’s “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party” is also topical again; it had picked up more than 20K new hits between the Charleston shooting and 9:30 this morning, making it the second Weekly Sift post to go over a quarter million page views.

This week everybody was talking about the terrorist attack in South Carolina

But not everybody was calling it that. Since the shooter was a white supremacist and his victims were not whites, the incident was usually referred to as a tragedy, i.e., one of those bad things that happens now and then that nobody can do anything about. Rick Perry even called it an “accident“. (I discussed this phenomenon after the 2012 Sikh Temple shooting in “White Right-Wing Christian Terrorist“.) An interviewer at RT put it like this:

A black shooter is a thug, a Muslim is a terrorist and a white attacker is perhaps mentally ill.

If the subject weren’t so serious, it would have been comical to watch Republicans and their right-wing media allies struggle against the notion — obvious from the beginning to anybody without ideological blinders — that this was a racial attack. Multiple talking heads on Fox News tried to spin the shooting as an attack on Christians, because the imaginary persecution of American Christians fits within the boundaries the Fox fantasy world, while the very real persecution of blacks doesn’t. (Larry Wilmore collected the clips and added appropriately amazed commentary. Media Matters gives the chronology, showing that witness accounts of the shooter’s racist statements were already public before Fox’ Christian-persecution spin.)

Lindsey Graham and Rick Santorum played along with that farce. (Jeb Bush merely professed ignorance: “I don’t know what was on the mind or the heart of the man who committed these atrocious crimes.” — as if he shooter hadn’t announced what was on his mind.) Fox trotted out a black minister, Bishop E. W. Jackson, to make the Christian-persecution case, not bothering to mention that he is also a Republican politician. Wilmore was not impressed: “Black don’t distract,” he said. He also ridiculed Jackson’s statement that the shooter “didn’t choose a bar, he didn’t choose a basketball court, he chose a church”, suggesting that Jackson could also have listed “a chitlin farm” or “a watermelon stand” as stereotypic places where blacks congregate.

In a particularly Orwellian editorial, The Wall Street Journal saw the shooting as a chance to congratulate America on its racial progress: Unlike after the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, authorities in Charleston are not conspiring to help the perpetrator get away.

The universal condemnation of the murders at the Emanuel AME Church and Dylann Roof’s quick capture by the combined efforts of local, state and federal police is a world away from what President Obama recalled as “a dark part of our history.” Today the system and philosophy of institutionalized racism identified by Dr. King no longer exists.

In a different context, Wilmore recently introduced The Nightly Show’sExtremely Low Bar Award“. This looks like another strong candidate: Our law enforcement system is no longer conspiring with white-supremacist terrorists, so we must have this racism thing just about knocked. It makes me proud to be an American.

The New Republic‘s Jeet Heer also looked back to the Birmingham bombing, but pointed out that the conservative media’s response then was very similar to the denial of white racism we’re seeing today. He quotes a National Review editorial from 1963:

The fiend who set off the bomb does not have the sympathy of the white population in the South; in fact, he set back the cause of the white people there so dramatically as to raise the question whether in fact the explosion was the act of a provocateur—of a Communist, or of a crazed Negro.

And the significance of this particular church to a white supremacist couldn’t be clearer: One of the oldest black churches in America, Emanuel AME was founded by (among others) Denmark Vesey, who was hanged for leading a failed slave revolt in 1822.

Discussion of the Confederate flag that still flies in front of the South Carolina state capitol, and can’t even be lowered to half-mast without an act of the legislature, is a topic I pushed into its own article. My main point there is that a symbol like the Confederate flag is so powerful that your personal intentions in displaying it don’t matter: It means what it means. Maybe you associate it with country music and good barbeque and The Dukes of Hazzard, but that just doesn’t matter. It is the flag of slavery and Jim Crow and the KKK and lynchings and Dylann Roof. You can’t make that stuff go away.

Finally, there’s the frequent statement — based on more-or-less nothing — that Dylann Roof was a “loner” or a “lone wolf”. We now have what appears to be his manifesto, and it’s filled with standard white-supremacist rhetoric and references. We still don’t know whether he met other white supremacists face-to-face or had any help planning his attack. But he clearly was plugged in to that network, through the internet at the very least.

Make the parallel to Muslim terrorists and ISIS. If a Muslim shooter had been browsing ISIS web sites and wrote a manifesto full of ISIS rhetoric, would we see him as a loner, or think of him as part of ISIS? Those same Republican politicians — Lindsey Graham, for example — who cast Roof as a disturbed loner would be demanding that a similar Muslim be grilled hard (and maybe even tortured) to identify his contacts in the movement.

and the Pope’s global-warming encyclical

Charleston dominated my attention this week, so I still haven’t finished reading Laudato Si or given its message the attention it deserves. Next week.

I do want to make two strategic observations that explain why I think this is a big deal:

  • Climate-change denial is geared towards confusing people about science; it’s not well set up to oppose a religious movement that defends God’s creation. Scientists are well-known evolution-pushing liberals who are easy to cast as part of a global socialist conspiracy. A diverse consortium of religious leaders is harder to tar with that charge, and fossil-fuel conservatives look ridiculous when they try.
  • What we’ve seen in regard to both women-in-the-clergy and gay rights is that no Christian denomination wants to be the most liberal group to defend a benighted conservative position. When the Congregationalists turn, that puts pressure on the Episcopalians, and when they turn the onus shifts to the Methodists, and then the Presbyterians, and so on. The Catholic Church has been the only denomination big enough to resist that kind of pressure, and now that it has taken a strong position calling for action against climate change, there’s no telling where the dominoes stop falling. American Christianity might wind up speaking with a fairly united voice on this issue.

BTW: NOAA’s May statistics still have 2015 on its way towards being the hottest year on record, replacing last year.

and still more presidential candidates

Jeb Bush’s announcement was an anti-climax, because he’s so clearly been running for months now. And I’m left with the question: What issues will he run on? His positions on immigration and education are unpopular with the Republican base. I have heard no specific suggestions for how he would fight ISIS or terrorism in general differently than President Obama. I really don’t think his blaming Obama for “the biggest debt ever” will stick, given that Obama has drastically reduced the deficit he inherited from Jeb’s brother.

I’ll get to his speech eventually in my 2016 series, probably after I do Hillary’s, but my immediate reaction is surprise at how little is in there. There are hints of a tax plan, hints of increased defense spending, but the only number in the speech is his goal of 4% annual GDP growth. Increased growth would be good — I wonder why nobody ever thought of that before.


Jeb didn’t stay in the news very long, though, because the next day Donald Trump announced his candidacy with a rambling speech that sounded like the kind of thing you’d hear from the guy on the next stool at your favorite bar. Digby warns us that we have to take the Donald seriously. But the comedians had a different reaction: Jon Stewart looked to Heaven and said “Thank you.” Larry Wilmore unwrapped Trump’s candidacy as a gift from the Comedy Gods.

Here’s what’s going to be amazing once the debates start in August: All the minor candidates are going to be looking to make headlines by saying something outrageous, but how are they going to compete with Trump? What will they have to say?

In the 2012 cycle, the crowd reactions were bad publicity for the GOP as a whole: They booed a soldier calling in from Iraq because he was gay. They cheered the idea of letting somebody without health insurance die. What is the audience going to do when Trump says that Mexican immigrants are rapists? Or voices one of his other incredible opinions? The general public may get a chance to see just how far around the bend the Republican base really is, and how every single one of the candidates panders to that insanity.


I loved Jamelle Bouie’s take on Hillary Clinton: She was a nerd before it was cool, and her public-image ambiguity stems from trying not to look like the geeky policy wonk she really is. He thinks she should “go full nerd” and be herself.

and Rachel Dolezal

I am still trying to fathom the depth of the public reaction to Rachel Dolezal, the woman who was born to white parents and raised as a white girl, but at some point in adulthood began presenting herself as black, and eventually became president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP.

In part, the story attracts attention because of its man-bites-dog character. Light-skinned blacks have been passing as white in America since colonial times, as I discussed last year in a review of Daniel Sharfstein’s The Invisible Line. (One member of a black-turned-white family Sharfstein researched was a Confederate officer during the Civil War and a Louisiana senator afterward.) But passing in the other direction is not something you hear about very often.

But even that doesn’t explain the urgency with which writers of all racial and political identities have been addressing this topic, as if Dolezal’s situation demanded our immediate action. I suppose if I were connected to the Spokane NAACP, I’d have a responsibility to form an opinion about Dolezal. And I can imagine that I might feel conned if I belonged to the constituency of the Spokane NAACP, and counted on it to represent my interests. I might believe that I had at least deserved the chance to know the details of Dolezal’s claim to a black identity before she was hired, so that I could decide for myself how confident I felt in her ability to represent me.

But that doesn’t make it a national issue either.

A lot of the ink spilled about Dolezal concerned what her kind of “transracialism” says about transgenderism, which was still on everybody’s mind after the Caitlyn Jenner story broke a few weeks ago. But the parallel between Dolezal and Jenner escapes me. Jenner broke the story herself, and all she asks of us is that we let her live her life (and maybe watch her TV show). What if Dolezal had done likewise? She might have said, “Hey, everybody, for a long time now I’ve been thinking of myself as black. So I’m going to darken my skin and frizz my hair and try to live in the black community as a black.” And then everybody could do what they wish with that information.

I don’t see anything to object to in that scenario.

The transgender community is already discussing how they feel about Jenner’s celebrity, which will likely offer her a de facto spokesperson role, if she wants one. But to make the case similar to Dolezal, Jenner would have to be angling for a role not just as spokesperson for transgender people, but for women. I see no sign of that at all.

If you do feel compelled to form an opinion about Dolezal, here’s an interesting thought experiment: What if one of her parents had crossed the racial line in the other direction? Then Dolezal would be reclaiming some forgotten black grandparent, but her life might have been almost exactly the same. She might have been raised as a white girl by parents everyone believed to be white, and have had all the same experiences, giving her no additional insight into the black experience in America. Intuitively, it seems like the grandparent would make her claim to blackness more authentic. But why? Is it really just genes?


In the section above, I was using a couple of abstract principles that someday I’ll have to flesh out on my philosophical/religious blog, where I post far less frequently. First, judgment is not an end in itself. Judgment is a tool for guiding action. If you can’t foresee playing a role in some relevant decision-making process, then you don’t really need to have an opinion, and there’s no inherent virtue in forming one. Sometimes thinking a case through is a worthwhile exercise that sharpens your mind. But it can also be a way to avoid other topics that really do demand your judgment. (On my Facebook news feed, I found it instructive how fast discussion of Dolezal dried up as soon as the Charleston shooting gave us a serious racial issue to think about.)

Second, the standards of judgment should serve the purposes of judgment. Just as judgment is not an end in itself, high standards are not ends in themselves either. So the answer to the question: “Do I believe Dolezal is really black?” depends on why I need to know. If it’s up to me to decide whether she gets some kind of affirmative action benefit, then I’d set a fairly high standard, and would probably say no. But if I’m her neighbor, and the question is whether I’m going to accept her for what she aspires to be, then I’d apply a lower standard and probably say yes.


And finally, if you go full Zen on the topic, all our identities are false. We talk about “true” and “false” identities, as if we were dealing with a binary category. But authenticity is a continuum like anything else. (That was the philosophical theme of my Jenner article.) Anybody’s identity is only authentic up to a point.

All of which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience:

The first thing the intellect does with an object is to class it along with something else. But any object that is infinitely important to us and awakens our devotion feels to us also as if it must be sui generis and unique. Probably a crab would be filled with a sense of personal outrage if it could hear us class it without ado or apology as a crustacean, and thus dispose of it. “I am no such thing,” it would say; “I am MYSELF, MYSELF alone.”

I can’t help wondering what James’ crab voice sounded like when he gave the original lecture in Edinburgh in 1901.

and let’s close with something cute

It’s been a tough week. We need this.

Please Take Down Your Confederate Flag

It’s his flag, not yours.


Friday, I was walking along Main Street in Nashua, New Hampshire, a few blocks from where I live, when a pick-up truck drove by trailing a full-size Confederate battle flag behind its cab.

The truck didn’t stop, so I didn’t have a chance to ask the driver what message he thought he was sending. But I know what message I received. A little more than 36 hours had passed since Dylann Roof had murdered nine black people at a prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, saying “You rape our women and you’re taking over the country. You have to go.” So, given the timing, what such a vigorous display of that flag said to me was: “Right on, Dylann.”

It’s possible that I’m misjudging that driver. Maybe he’s a Southerner stuck in New England for the summer, showing his regional pride. Maybe he’s a Lynyrd Skynyrd or Dukes of Hazzard fan who hadn’t been listening to the news at all. Maybe he’s the kind of guy who just likes to get a rise out of people like me. Maybe … I don’t know. I can spin possibilities all day, but the message I keep coming back to is: “Right on, Dylann.”

It pissed me off. I’m white, I’ve never been to Charleston, and to me Roof’s nine victims are little more than names and faces on my TV. But I imagine being gunned down in my church by someone I welcomed, and I get angry. And then I feel sad. And then I despair that we will never be done with this ancient tribal barbarism, much less ever achieve our stated national goal of “liberty and justice for all”.

As the truck went by, I didn’t respond, didn’t yell an insult or wave my middle finger or anything like that. To be honest, it was gone before I could react. But I like to think I would have restrained myself anyway. Because my anger, my sadness, my despair … maybe that was exactly what the driver wanted from me. Maybe hate-evoking-hate was exactly his purpose.

I don’t know what purpose motivates the government of South Carolina, or the legislature that put Dylann Roof’s favorite flag on top of the capitol in Columbia in 1961, and responded to an NAACP boycott in 2000 by moving it to fly in front of the capitol rather than above it. (Because the details of its presentation are enshrined in law, the flag could not be brought to half-mast in response to the Charleston massacre. So the American flag was lowered, but the Confederate flag was not.) I can’t say what motivates leaders like Governor Haley or Senator Graham to continue defending that flag.

Probably no state is more identified with the Confederacy than South Carolina, and no city more than Charleston. In 1860, South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union. Charleston harbor was where the Civil War’s first shots were fired. Charleston is where the Southern delegates walked out off a Democratic convention set to nominate likely general-election winner Stephen Douglas, splitting the party and setting the stage for Lincoln’s election and South Carolina’s secession. (According to historian Douglas Egerton, that series of events was foreseen and intended by the walkout’s leaders.) Years before that, South Carolina was the home of John Calhoun, whose speech “Slavery a Positive Good” announced to the Senate the arrival of the defiant, self-righteous Southern attitude that laid the groundwork for secession and war. (Calhoun’s statue still stands on a pedestal high above Charleston. The Emanuel AME Church where the massacre took place is on Calhoun Street.)

For decades after Appomattox, the Confederate flag was displayed mainly at cemeteries and war monuments, but it became a political symbol again after President Truman desegregated the military in 1948 and Strom Thurmond’s Dixiecrats rebeled. Truman was succeeded by Eisenhower and Kennedy, each of whom sent federal troops to enforce the Supreme Court’s desegregation decisions. As the federal government became more and more identified with the civil rights movement, states and cities across the South began flying the Confederate flag over their official buildings. As in the 1860s, the flag represented “states rights”, but particularly a state’s right to oppress its Negro population.

South Carolina started flying it over the state capitol in 1961. After the Voting Rights Act restored the franchise to South Carolina’s blacks, the flag became a political issue. The slogan of those whites who want to keep it flying has been “heritage, not hate“, as if the heritage of South Carolina and the Confederate flag could somehow be separated from slavery, segregation, lynchings, and all the other manifestations of racism right up to Wednesday night’s massacre.

Since Wednesday, there has been a national backlash against the flag. In The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote “Take Down the Confederate Flag – Now“, and many other writers and bloggers have posted some similar message, often in an angry or demanding voice. Hundreds protested in Columbia Saturday, but South Carolina’s political leadership has held firm. That intransigence has prompted calls for protesters to take more drastic action.

In that South Carolina will never willingly take down the flag, the time has come for opponents to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech and burn the Confederate flag — at the state Capitol in South Carolina, in front of the White House, in front of Fox News or maybe even outside the Grand Ol’ Opry.

One white supremacist’s merged symbol.

The writer angrily compares the flag to the Nazi hooked cross, and I’ve seen many blog articles and Facebook posts referring to it as “America’s swastika” or “the Confederate swastika“. (I found a literal Confederate swastika posted on a forum of the white supremacist group Stormfront. “I like it … a lot!” replied a commenter.)

I can imagine the feelings that lead people to say and write (and now do) stuff like that. Probably they’re a lot like what I felt when that truck went by me on Main Street. But burning Confederate flags to protest the Charleston massacre is like burning Qurans to protest 9-11. Yes, it will piss off the people who pissed you off. But how does that lead us anywhere good? I doubt that the glow of burning flags or books has ever enlightened anyone.

And enlightenment is what we need. The people who fly the Confederate flag need to come to understand the message they are sending. And understanding that message, they should take their flags down voluntarily. (Except for what I hope is the minority that really does want to say, “Right on, Dylann.” Racists have free-speech rights too.)

That’s what I’m asking, in as polite a form as I can manage: Please take your flag down.

I know you think your flag says something positive. But you need to understand that your intention does not control the message. You’re not saying what you think you’re saying.

Nobody enjoys being compared to the Nazis, but there is one way in which the swastika is an instructive example: It didn’t always mean what it means today. The swastika has a millennia-long history as a positive religious symbol. Even the word swastika has a pre-Nazi history, tracing back to a Sanscrit word that means good fortune. Particularly in India, you can see the hooked cross carved into temples built long before anyone ever heard of blitzkrieg or Kristallnacht or the Final Solution. There’s a lot in the swastika that I might want to invoke.

But I can’t.

The Nazis ruined the swastika. They own it now, because nothing captures a symbol like blood sacrifice.

Today, if I get a swastika tattoo or wear a swastika t-shirt or stencil a swastika onto the hood of my car, it doesn’t matter what I want it to mean. Whatever I think or intend, the swastika is a Nazi symbol, and no German-American like me will be able reclaim it for any other purpose for centuries.

And no, it doesn’t matter that generals like Rommel and Guderian were brilliant tacticians who revolutionized warfare, or that many of the brave German soldiers who marched under the swastika just wanted to defend their homes and families. The swastika is inextricably linked to Hitler and Auschwitz, and if I display it, I am linked to them too.

Something similar is true of the Confederate battle flag. Whatever you want it to mean, it belongs to the people who have sacrificed blood to it: the slave-masters and their defenders, the klansmen whose lynchings enforced Jim Crow, and the white supremacists who are still with us.

Dylann Roof laid his claim to the flag Wednesday night. He owns it; you don’t. What you want it to symbolize just doesn’t matter.

So take it down. It doesn’t say what you want it to say, and it won’t for generations to come.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Of course the event that overshadows everything else this week is the Charleston shooting. The events of the shooting are fairly straightforward and well known by now: We know who did it and how and why. He’s been caught.

There’s a deeper investigative report that needs to be done, but it’s a little beyond my powers: How many potentially violent white supremacists are out there? What’s the government doing to protect us from them? How do they recruit? What are the signs your teen-ager is being drawn in? And so forth. I suspect the Southern Poverty Law Center has such a report, but I haven’t searched it out yet. If you’ve seen something similar somewhere, leave a comment.

So this week I cover two intermediate-depth aspects of the shooting: (1) The amazing inability of conservative media and politicians to see and admit the obvious: that this was racially motivated terrorism. Many of them maintained (long after clear evidence to the contrary was available) that since this was a church shooting, it must be anti-Christian violence rather than racial violence. The rest just professed to have no idea why it happened. (2) The controversy that erupted after the shooting about the Confederate flag, which still flies in front of the South Carolina capitol.

The featured post “Please Take Down Your Confederate Flag” is my reaction to seeing a pick-up truck Friday — about 36 hours after the shooting — going down Main Street in my New England town, trailing a full-size Confederate flag behind the cab. That article is just about done and should be out by 7 or so.

However, the most popular post last week — and I suspect again in the week to come — is from last August: “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party“. The shooting made it topical again, and has given it another 18K hits so far. It was still picking up momentum yesterday.

The weekly summary covers the bizarre conservative reactions to the Charleston massacre, and then discusses (a little; more next week) the Pope’s climate encyclical, the entry of still more presidential candidates into the race, and Rachel Dolezal (whose story I punted on last week), before closing with the kind of non-disturbing video we need about now: two bear cubs playing together. Expect the summary between 10 and 11.

Serving the Poor

The “trickle-down” theory: the principle that the poor, who must subsist on table scraps dropped by the rich, can best be served by giving the rich bigger meals.

William Blum

This week’s featured post is “The 2016 Stump Speeches: Rick Santorum“.

This week everybody was talking about the trade-deal failure

What happened is a little complicated. The House narrowly voted in favor of giving President Obama the fast-track negotiating authority that the administration says is essential to getting the TransPacific Partnership treaty done. But it rejected the Trade Adjustment Assistance to American workers adversely affected by the treaty, with a large number of Democrats voting against it.

On the surface, it looks like House Democrats got the worst of both votes: the TPP goes forward without help for American workers. But (due to the way Congress works) that throws the issue back to the Senate, which passed the two provisions together. So it’s kind of a poison-pill thing: House Democrats are betting that Senate Democrats will find the fast-track authorization alone too bitter to swallow. If so, the whole deal is dead.

President Obama has made the issue a test of loyalty, but Democrats mostly haven’t bought it. (Republicans want the TPP for the benefits it offers their corporate masters, so they’re totally on board.) Robert Reich explains why:

[I]n recent years the biggest gains from trade have gone to investors and executives, while the burdens have fallen disproportionately on those in the middle and below who have lost good-paying jobs.

So even though everyone gains from trade, the biggest winners are at the top. And as the top keeps moving higher compared to most of the rest of us, the vast majority feels relatively worse off.

and Iraq

For nearly a year, we’ve been trying to fight ISIS while keeping our hands clean: providing air support, training Iraqi troops, “advising”, and so on. There was a brief flurry of optimism after the Iraqi government recaptured Tikrit, but that all evaporated when ISIS took Ramadi in May.

Judging from a great distance, the problem seems to be that Iraqis, particularly Sunnis, see no reason to risk their lives for the Shia-dominated government. The Obama-administration narrative that Iraqi units just need “training” isn’t credible. We’ve been training Iraqi troops since the Bush administration, and the current army shows what we have accomplished.

The various sectarian or ethnic militias are viable fighting forces: the Kurdish Peshmerga, for example. But if the struggle becomes primarily sectarian/ethnic, the vision of a united Iraqi government goes out the window, and ISIS’ claim to be the true defender of the Sunnis is bolstered.

Other than Iranian troops we don’t want for other reasons, non-American foreign intervention — say, Jordanians, Saudis, and Egyptians — also doesn’t appear to be in the cards, for reasons I don’t fully understand. And that creates a dilemma for American politicians. “Defeat ISIS” is a great applause line, but “another Iraq war” isn’t. What if the two mean the same thing?

This week the administration announced a further expansion of our footprint in Iraq, still short of fielding combat units to fight ISIS. But as our troops and our bases get closer to the front lines, I have to wonder: What happens if some Beirut-style surprise attack kills a few hundred Americans? What if dozens of our troops get captured and beheaded on YouTube? How are we not going to deploy combat units then?

I stand by the position I stated in my 2005 post “Cut and Run“: We need to abandon the illusion that our presence in Iraq is fixing something, and that if we just try harder and longer, we’ll fix Iraq well enough to stand on its own. On the contrary, our intervention has been a big part of the chaos-making process that has created ISIS and raised it to its current level. Another American occupation may keep a lid on things temporarily, but in the long term it just makes things worse.

And that raises another question, which Stephen Walt discussed in Foreign Policy: What if the Islamic State wins? In other words, what if the Caliphate remains in control of some piece of territory for the long term? “Live with it,” he says. In current American discourse, that scenario is unthinkable. But we need to start thinking about it, because none of the other options being discussed look realistic.

and that Texas pool party

The best what-happened account I’ve found is at BuzzFeed. The full 7-minute video shot by one of the kids at the party — you’ve seen 20 seconds of it over and over on the news — is here.

At TPM, a former cop analyzed the police response — the majority of officers who were talking to people and trying to keep things calm, and that one maniac who was running around, yelling, barrel-rolling, waving his gun, and generally (in the words of the father of a girl he mishandled) “doing his Paul Blart impersonation”.

What should officers do in similar situations? For starters, they must realize that the public—even a group of non-compliant teenagers—are not an enemy to be vanquished, but civilians to be protected, to the extent possible, from indignity and harm. A Guardian mindset encourages officers to be “procedurally just,” to ensure that their encounters with civilians are empowering, fair, respectful and considerate. Research of police and military encounters strongly suggests that officers are most effective at fostering goodwill and reducing antagonism when they approach each encounter with the goal of building civilian trust.

Atlantic had some background on McKinney itself, from a writer who went to high school there a few years ago. She references a Money article proclaiming McKinney one of the best places to live in America. (In boom years, my town of Nashua, NH has made the same list. In a nutshell, Money is picking out places where it’s relatively easy to find a job that pays you enough to buy a house in a low-crime neighborhood.)

“Underlying McKinney’s homey Southern charm is a thoroughly modern city,” the Money story gushed.

Southern charm is charming, of course, until it isn’t.

As always, Larry Wilmore provides the best comedic commentary on racial incidents. He discussed the original incident here, and the victim-blaming media response here.

And for balance, here are the worst responses. I think the booby prize should go to CNN “legal analyst” Paul Callan:

From the cop’s standpoint, he’s looking at this big kid, who he thinks is about to jump him. He then unholsters his weapon and the kid backs off. The cop then reholsters his weapon and continues to subdue. Of all of the things that he did, that’s probably the one thing that most police officers would say was within training and procedure.

He’s totally ignoring the question of who is raising the temperature of the situation. (Answer: the cop, not the kids.) And suppose one kid doesn’t back off fast enough and the cop shoots him dead. Would that be within training and procedure too?

and the bail system

The way Jon Stewart transformed himself from a mere comedian to America’s Most Trusted Journalist is that he started doing the kind of stuff journalists so seldom do any more, like putting statements of public figures right next to the contradictory statements they made six months ago.

Well, since John Oliver stopped being Jon’s substitute host and started Last Week Tonight on HBO, he has been taking the comedian/journalist thing to the next level. Rather than just providing an irreverent view of events in the current news cycle, Oliver has been actively muckraking: drawing attention to the normal things in American society that are seriously screwed up.

Several of the things Oliver has been shining his light on are related: they’re poverty traps. In other words, the rest of us either don’t notice them or consider them nuisances, but if you’re poor they can doom your attempt to climb out of poverty. For example, minor municipal violations — the kinds of things nearly everybody does at one time or another — can lead to debtors’ prison if you can’t immediately pay the fine. And if you have an unexpected expense — say, your car breaks down and you can’t get to work without it — most of us either have some savings, a close friend or relative with some savings, or a credit card whose interest rate isn’t ruinous. The poor, however, have to deal with payday lenders, completely legal businesses who charge annualized interest rates in the hundreds of percents. So if something prevents a poor person from paying off the loan in a week or two (and not rolling it over into a new loan), he or she is probably never going to get out of debt.

On the May 31 show, Oliver took on the bail system, pointing out some horrifying facts, (corroborated by an NYT article Wednesday):

  • Lots and lots of people (about half a million at any given moment, according the National Institute of Corrections) are in jail simply because they can’t raise the money to bail out.
  • Bail bondsmen will front you the money for a 10% payment, but (unlike bail itself) you don’t get that money back when you show up for trial. So $250,000 in bail can leave an innocent person who follows all the rules with a $25,000 debt. Even without interest, that’s about 20 months of full-time minimum-wage work, assuming you can get somebody else to pay all your living expenses during that time.
  • If you can’t bail out, you might spend weeks or even months in jail. Probably you will lose your job and possibly your home and/or custody of your children as well — even though you haven’t been convicted of anything and may well be innocent.
  • As a result, some people who face bail beyond their means for relatively minor offenses will plead guilty to something they didn’t do. (Rather than spend months in jail waiting to prove your innocence in court, you can plead guilty, get a suspended sentence, and go home.) That creates a criminal record that will follow them for the rest of their lives, but it keeps life from falling apart immediately.

Now add in the way our legal system arrests and charges non-whites in situations where whites could walk away — something Oliver had previously covered in his segment on prisons — and the much larger percentage of the non-white population in poverty, and you have a serious racial issue as well.

and you also might be interested in …

The Iowa Republican Party cancelled its famous presidential straw poll. The poll had long been criticized as a media circus with little-to-no predictive value, but I guess Michele Bachmann’s 2011 victory was the last straw.


TPM’s Josh Marshall says pretty much what I’ve been thinking about Rachel Dolezal and the whole passing-as-black thing.


After two months of “conversations” with voters, Hillary Clinton had the first real rally of her campaign Saturday in New York. The huge number of candidates has left me with a backlog of speeches to analyze, but I’ll get to this one soon.


The fiscal debacle in Kansas is moving towards its inevitable conclusion. In 2012, Governor Brownback went all-in on tax cuts for the wealthy, claiming it would produce economic growth and ultimately increased revenue through the magic of supply-side economics.

Because magic is usually not a major factor in economics, none of that happened. Kansas’ economy has benefited somewhat from the Obama recovery, but not so much as neighboring states that didn’t massively cut taxes. Instead, revenues dropped sharply — as common sense says they would — and Brownback hasn’t been able to cut spending on education and highways fast enough to make up the difference.

So Friday the legislature did what it had to do: raised taxes. But it didn’t restore the pre-Brownback status quo on income or business taxes. Instead, it raised the sales tax.

Imagine if Brownback had been honest from the beginning and said to working-class Kansans: “I want rich people to pay less tax, and I’ll make up the lost revenue by raising the sales tax you pay and cutting corners on your children’s education.” That would have been enormously unpopular and he could never have been elected. But by doing it in steps and promising different outcomes at different times, that’s the policy he has implemented.


When it comes to the news media, one of the most insightful people around is NYU Professor Jay Rosen, who writes the blog PressThink. Unfortunately, Rosen only blogs occasionally, which means I only read his blog occasionally; so it can take a month or so for me to notice something.

Back in May, he wrote “Campaign reporters: you are granted no ‘role in the process.’ It is your powers against theirs.” He discussed a common political problem, but with a new slant. The problem is that political campaigns are increasingly self-contained. The candidate stays insulated from reporters and even from unfiltered questions from voters. So campaigns stay “on message”. In other words, “I’ll tell you what I want you to know, not what you want to know.”

That’s an imperial posture, and it bodes ill for democracy. But Rosen pointed out that the solution isn’t for reporters to claim “their place in the process”, which candidates have imperiously denied them.

Political reporters: You have no guaranteed “role.” That’s a fiction you and your colleagues created to keep the game the same every four years so you don’t have to go to school on how to be useful and powerful in the election system as it evolves. The fiction works if you can get the right people to believe it, but when they clearly don’t care about your “role in the process” how are you going to make ’em care? Got a plan for that?

Rosen does: Reporters should represent the voters.

Candidates will only care about reporters if the voters do, and the voters will only care if they see the reporters working for them. In other words, if The Washington Post is consistently asking candidates the questions I want answers to — like, say, what the minimum wage should be or whether bankers who break the law should go to jail — then a candidate who snubs them snubs me. But if reporters mainly ask inside-baseball questions that only the political class cares about (like why Jeb Bush changed campaign managers), then why should I object if candidates avoid them?

So yes, voters feel cut off from imperial candidates. But which side of the cut-off are reporters on? If the press is also saying “I’ll tell you what I want you to know, not what you want to know”, then they’re just another branch of the Imperium.



The room doubles as the prison cell that holds all the pastors arrested for preaching Christianity or refusing to perform same-sex weddings.


Top-flight state universities may be on the way out, at least in red states. Governor Walker is trying to eliminate the tenure system in the Wisconsin state universities. And while that might work in the lesser schools, it’s hard to see how a major research university like the University of Wisconsin will maintain itself. Josh Marshall comments:

[W]hat Walker is doing is basically like lighting your own house on fire. States can get into financial jams and need to cut spending, either because of budgetary mismanagement or rough economic times. But if you look closely at what Walker is doing there’s no real budgetary imperative behind it. It’s just a desire to destroy a great public institution for the sake of doing it, driven in part by right-wing ideology and in part by the palpable animus Walker himself holds to people who managed to get an education.

And The Nation‘s Zoe Carpenter outlines the ways North Carolina’s state government has been trying to “put what was once one of the great and affordable university systems out of reach for many of the state’s aspiring students”, as well as stifle any academic work on poverty or race.

and let’s close with something awesome

A photo of twin tornadoes dropping out of a giant superstorm cloud formation.

The 2016 Stump Speeches: Rick Santorum

[This is part of a series of articles on the speeches of 2016 presidential candidates. The overall vision of the series and links to the other articles can be found here.]

On May 27, in a speech at Penn United Technologies in Cabot, Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum announced that he is running for president again. [video with transcript, better transcript]

Rebranding. The main thing I learned from the speech is: Santorum is rebranding for the 2016 cycle. He hasn’t changed the product, in that he still has the same positions and beliefs. But the emphasis will be different this time.

The Santorum of 2012 was mainly a culture warrior: anti-abortion (to the point of telling women carrying their rapist’s child to “accept what God has given you” and “make the best out of a bad situation”), anti-gay (he famously compared gay sex to “man on dog” in 2003 and then stood by that quote in 2011), and even anti-contraception. (“It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”)

And he still opposes those things. (Well, I’m guessing about contraception; he didn’t mention that.) But they’re not front and center any more. Instead, “My priority is you: the American worker.”

That’s not completely new either. In the 2012 cycle, especially after he was the last man standing against plutocrat Mitt Romney, Santorum tried to be the candidate of the working-class Republican. [see endnote 1] And much of the post-Ohio-primary wrap-up analysis said that Santorum could have won if he’d focused on that message, rather than getting drawn back into talking about contraception.

It sounds like he got the message. The announcement speech took place at a manufacturing plant in his home state, and was dominated by declarations like “Working families don’t need another President tied to big government or big money.” and “I promise you we will regain the title of a leader in world manufacturing.” He introduced himself by holding a lump of coal and telling about his coal-mining Italian-immigrant grandfather. [2]

New and improved nostalgia. Santorum’s conservatism has always been scented with nostalgia, but this time around the formula has changed: Rather than longing for Leave It to Beaver families, he’s trying to recover a past of humming factories, where unskilled workers could earn enough to support a housewife and send two kids to college. [3]

Any nostalgia-driven campaign has to answer two questions: How did we lose those golden days, and what can we do to get them back? Santorum answers the first in a classic right-wing fashion: American workers didn’t lose their place in the world economy, they were stabbed in the back.

In the late 70’s [4], like many of you, we saw the economic devastation here in Southwestern Pennsylvania and across this country, particularly in manufacturing, as a result of the excesses and indifference of big labor, big government, and yes, big business. Here in Southwestern Pennsylvania, the epicenter, we lost over 100,000 jobs in what seemed to be overnight.

That has to and did leave a mark on all of us. Afterwards, big government and big business told our workers that times have changed, American workers could no longer compete with low foreign wages and that those jobs were gone forever. Well, what about those politicians? For all those years, what did they do? What did they do for communities across this area and across this country and in small town America? They had no plan, and they provided no hope. And to that, I say: “No longer.”

As Middle America is hollowing out, we can’t sit idly by as big government politicians make it harder for our workers and then turn around and blame them for losing jobs overseas.

And they were subverted by an underclass.

Over the last 20 years, we’ve brought into this country, legally and illegally, 35 million mostly unskilled workers. And the result, over that same period of time, workers’ wages have flat lined.

Hillary Clinton and big business, they have called for a massive influx in unskilled labor. Business does it because they want to control costs. Hillary does it – well – she just wants votes. Their priorities are profits and power. My priority is you, the American worker.

Sleight of hand. Where Santorum will be vulnerable, at least in a general election, is in his answer to the second question: What in his proposals would actually do anything for the American worker? Answer: not much. His rhetoric about workers mostly just masks an agenda that will make the rich richer.

During Santorum’s grandfather’s lifetime, mining transformed from a hellish existence to the kind of endurable, good-paying job Santorum is nostalgic for. Two forces were responsible for that: government safety regulations and the United Mine Workers. Santorum is against both. His speech mentions unions only in that one derisive “big labor” quote above. As for regulations:

We will revoke every executive order and regulation — yeah — will revoke every executive order and regulation that costs American jobs.

Both in his speech and on his web site, Santorum frames a flat tax as his primary pro-worker idea. In fact it is an anti-worker idea, as anyone with common sense can see: Assessing the same tax rate on everyone reduces taxes for those who pay the top tax rates now, i.e., the rich. Unless the government is going to collect far less revenue, that means working people will have to pay more. And if a sharp loss of revenue and no corresponding cut in defense spending is the plan, will the deficit rise, or will Santorum make working people pay by cutting the other programs that make up most of the federal budget: Social Security and Medicare?

In short, what Santorum is proposing is the same sleight-of-hand Sam Brownback has played on Kansas: Cut taxes on the rich, and then (after huge deficits appear) re-balance the budget on the backs of working people.

The theory that this would create jobs is based on the same trickle-down economics conservatives have promoted for decades: Make the rich much richer, and then they’ll have the money to hire more people. It hasn’t worked for the last forty years, and doing even more of it in the next administration won’t work either. [5]

I could only find two Santorum positions that might genuinely help workers: an “incremental” increase in the minimum wage (I can’t find a commitment to a specific figure, but implicitly it must be lower than the $10.10 proposed by President Obama), and opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

Nativism. There is one other part of Santorum’s plan that will appeal to working-class conservatives: restricting immigration. His web site says:

He supports reducing immigration from about a million immigrants per year—the current level—down to about 750,000 per year. This will help blue collar American workers get back to work and thrive economically.

He spelled out his plan for undocumented immigrants in a column for Breitbart last month: Build an Israeli-style fence across the southern border, track more closely everyone who comes into the country legally on tourist or education visas, deport everyone who is here illegally, and start a guest-worker program for agricultural workers from Mexico.

Here at least the first-order common sense works: If you reduce the foreign-born competition for unskilled jobs, more native-born Americans might get them, and employers might have to pay more. Whether that all works once you figure in the secondary effects, though, is something a lot of economists doubt. Immigration doesn’t just take jobs, it creates jobs. Throwing out all those working, tax-paying undocumented immigrants will certainly shrink the economy. Whether the resulting smaller economy would have more jobs for the native-born — other than government jobs tracking down undocumented immigrants — is not clear.

At a minimum, there’s something unseemly about a guy glorifying his grandfather’s immigrant experience while denouncing today’s immigrants: Now that my family has made it into the lifeboat, let’s cast off.

Racial resentment. There was nothing overtly racist in Santorum’s speech, but his rhetoric is carefully constructed to appeal to a target audience — working-class Republicans — that is overwhelmingly white. Consequently, it contains certain code phrases that blacks and whites will hear differently.

It’s time we have a President who sees the struggle of working families in America not as an opportunity to divide us along race or class – but as a chance to unite us around the ideal that every child in America deserves her birthright – to be raised by her parents in a healthy home.

The idea that Democrats in general and Obama in particular “divide us along race or class” is very popular among Republicans. But let’s think about what it means. [6] First, delete “class” from the quote, because what else is Santorum doing when he talks about “a president tied to big money”? He’s dividing us by class. He’s saying Jeb Bush can’t represent American workers because he’s from the wrong class.

And how does Obama “divide us by race”? He talks about racism. Unless you believe racism ended with Jim Crow — somebody should ask Santorum about that — it continues to be a problem America needs to address. And how are we going to do that without pointing out ways that the black or Hispanic experience of America continues to diverge from the white experience? So in essence, what Santorum (or any of the other Republicans who use this phrase) mean when they denounce those who “divide us by race” is: People who talk about racism should just shut up.

Black Americans hear that message loud and clear, and know that they are not welcome to put their concerns forward in Santorum’s America. In short, Santorum’s white-targeted rhetoric divides us by race.

The culture warrior. Santorum the Culture Warrior is not gone, but in this speech he was submerged a bit.

As President, I will stand for the principle that every life matters – the poor, the disabled, and the unborn.  I will also fight for the freedom for you to believe what you are called to believe, not just in your places of worship, but outside of your places of worship too.

First, I sincerely doubt that Santorum wants to extend “the freedom to believe what you are called to believe” to, say, Muslims or atheists. He is talking to Christians, and maybe a few conservative Jews. Nobody else.

Second, “outside your places of worship” means that Christian-owned businesses should be able to discriminate against gays, and to dictate how female employees use their health insurance, if they can claim they have religious reasons to do so. (He called the Hobby Lobby decision “a tremendous victory for our freedom of conscience”.)

In front of a different audience, though, the culture war is still front-and-center. On a recent Glenn Beck radio show, Santorum played along with Beck’s apocalyptic fantasy of the government forcing churches to perform weddings for same-sex couples, saying “this is tantamount to government establishing religion.” He went on to echo what Mike Huckabee has been saying, that if the Supreme Court finds that marriage equality is part of the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection of the laws”,

that’s the court’s opinion. They’re entitled to their opinion. But the president and the Congress have an opinion too of what the Constitution is. And if they get it wrong and the consequences are what I suspect they will be toward people of faith, then this president will fight back.

What he leaves out. Mainly two things: climate change (or any concern for the environment at all) and women’s rights.

When he talked about his grandfather, Santorum admiringly held up a lump of coal — the dirtiest kind of fossil fuel to burn. “Cheap energy”, specifically “the shale revolution”, is one of the catalysts he sees for new American manufacturing jobs. And if he really does reverse “every executive order and regulation that costs American jobs”, that would include just about every environmental regulation ever. Didn’t the chemical companies that dumped toxic waste at Love Canal make that waste while creating American jobs?

After all, the climax of that humming-factories era Santorum is nostalgic for came when the Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969, an event immortalized in Randy Neuman’s “Burn On, Big River“.

Specifically, though, I think Santorum is targeting the executive orders President Obama has issued to control greenhouse gases. The words climate, global warming, and greenhouse gas don’t appear in this speech. But Santorum is a climate change denier, and has even criticized the Pope for defending the environment.

And Santorum’s concern for the American worker doesn’t extend to female workers who make less money than their male co-workers or don’t want their employer’s religion to control their health care options. And if a woman would like to make her own choices about when to have children, or even just to have children by someone other than her rapist, tough luck.


[1] His pro-working-class stands have not stopped Santorum from drawing large contributions from mega-wealthy donors like Foster Friess.

[2] It’s always entertaining to watch Republican candidates stretch to connect to the working class. Rick himself was a professional-class kid. His Dad got a G.I.-bill education after World War II — thanks, big government — and became a psychologist. No doubt Jeb Bush’s announcement speech will flash back to a working-class Bush in the Middle Ages.

[3] Just as family-values nostalgia leaves out the oppression of women and blacks, nostalgia for the factories of the 1950s and 60s leaves out pollution, workplace injuries, and the unsafe-at-any-speed cars they made. (In a crash, those steering wheels would go right through your chest.) Also forgotten: the unions that demanded the wages that moved factory-workers into the middle class.

[4] Locating this betrayal in the 1970s is important, because it hides Ronald Reagan’s role in dismantling unions, changing the tax code to favor the rich, and taking the teeth out of antitrust enforcement.

[5] The best capsule definition of trickle-down theory was provided by William Blum: “the principle that the poor, who must subsist on table scraps dropped by the rich, can best be served by giving the rich bigger meals.”

[6] The Weekly Sift’s “Conservative-to-English Lexicon” defines dividing the country as “Talking about the concerns of voters other than real Americans.”

real American, in turn, is defined as “A white conservative Christian born in the United States at least 30 years ago.”

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