Monday, June 13, 2011

On Political Conversation, Or The Lack Thereof: A Provocation To Debate

"Balogna?"  Really?  Photo Credit.
On the op-ed page of today's Grey Lady, liberal Paul Krugman explains why expanding Medicare will save money.  On the other side of the page, Ross Douthat explains why text messaging pictures of your muscle-y male chest and your d*ck to women who don't want them should disqualify you from sitting in Congress.  Want to know why without reading the article?  Not because it is sexual harassment, but because it is evidence of narcissism.  Whoa, male politicians!  No reason to resign en masse!

My point is not that Ross Douthat is a faux intellectual (which he is), or that the importance of Weiner's behavior does not extend beyond the playground sausage jokes of which otherwise sentient adults do not seem to tire.  My point is:  why didn't Ross Douthat write about the conservative argument behind cutting Medicare and explain to us why making Medicare less available is good for the economy and good for the health of the nation's citizens?  And why does the New York Times encourage this "You say po-TAY-to and I say po-TAH-to" form of political journalism?

See, if I were a real journalist (and not just a blogger who was super-popular with people who either agree with me or want to see me on fire in the streets so that they can decide whether to urinate on me or not) I would insist on having a discussion with newspaper folks around the following points:

Anthony Weiner

What we do talk about:  the many slang words that signify the phallus, whether men who do dumb things are also incapable of making political decisions, hypocrisy.

What we ought to talk about:  whether men who are sexual harassers should be fired from whatever job they are doing, including Supreme Court Justice; that Anthony Weiner has consistently supported women's right to choose abortion, ending the war in Iraq, expanding federal health care dollars, and  environmental legislation; and why women politicians are never involved in sex scandals and seem not to send Twitter pics of their vaginas to strangers.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

What we do talk about: How Maria could have not known; how terrible his children must feel; that all those rumors about sexual harassment and groping were true after all (surprise!); and that he supports gay marriage (which is nice, but solves not a single pressing problem except how the party-planning industry will survive the economic crisis.)

What we ought to talk about: How, under the Governator's leadership, a struggling public education system in California that used to be the finest in the country has been reduced to ashes; how he worked to end bilingual education in a state of multilingual tax payers most of whom have legal residency if not citizenship; his continuing support for private prisons, the three strikes law, and expanding incarceration at the same time as he was shrinking education dollars; his support for school prayer; his claim that he is incorruptible because he is wealthy; that, despite his wealth, he apparently owes $80K in back taxes; and why women politicians are almost never involved in sex scandals or have love children stashed away in the guest house.

Newt Gingrich

What we talk about:  That a man who wants to be President, and has repeatedly compared a sane federal budget to a sane household budget owes Tiffany's around half a million dollars; and that in a party of "family values" he seems to change out wives like other men change out cars.

What we ought to talk about: Newt Gingrich called for the expulsion of Gerry Studds from Congress after Studds admitted to being a homosexual; he was involved in the 1992 check kiting scandal in Congress (he used one of those checks to pay the IRS nearly $10K he owed in taxes); he is on record favoring the United States withdrawal from the United Nations; he led the charge against the Clinton national health plan; he designed and successfully passed a welfare "reform" bill that took welfare mothers out of college and put them in sub-minimum wage manual labor; that he has vowed to put God back in public life; AND why women politicians don't seem to be changing out their husbands like cars (sometimes owning two at the same time!) while at the same time claiming to be very religious people who believe that Family is the building block of the Nation.

I offer these remarks as a design for what a real conversation about politics might look like.  But I would also like to suggest that, unless the news media is willing to make the Ross Douthats and the Paul Krugmans have the same conversation, politics will continue to be incoherent, and citizens will continue to cast their votes (or not) on the basis of no information whatsoever.


Anonymous said...

I agree with everything you say but I want to add, as a native of California, that the destruction of our educational system began in the Reagan years and that ultimate responsibility falls on the voters who supported proposition 8 that effectively eviscerated the state tax coffers, especially as these same citizens kept voting for politicians who wanted more and more prisons. It would also be nice if those editorial page writers turned their attention to the war on children, with such things as the efforts in Maine and now Wisconsin to end child labor laws. But no, won't happen, they'll stick to stories about sex and deficits.

Anonymous said...

Like the previous poster, I'd like to point out that CA passed Prop 227 in 1998 (5 years before Arnold took office)-- this proposition effectively banned bilingual education programs in most schools (though there are loopholes). Of course, Schwarzenegger did a lot of messed up stuff while he was governor, but it doesn't seem to me like there's a ton of evidence that the lack of bilingual education and the decline of the education system were his doing.

Tenured Radical said...

I didn't say they were his doing -- I said he supported these positions, and in fact, he perpetuated them and deepened the problem with his own policies.

Janice said...

I would love to have more of these conversations. The aphrodisiac of power shouldn't excuse, in the eyes of politicians or the public, bad behaviour, but that bad behaviour is just political theatre for the most part.

Here in Canada, all of the major papers devoted sizeable space in their print and online editions to the exciting question of what PM Harper's family was going to name their newest cat. Is that the best you can do in the immediate wake of establishing a majority Conservative government, oh mainstream press? Really?

I'll go back to getting my opinion pieces and political insight from blogs. They seem to do it better!

James said...

Good points, but Anthony Weiner hasn't been all that consistent about his opposition to the war in Iraq. (

Matt_L said...

Yes, Please! It would be fantastic if we had any of those conversations between now and November 2012.

FrauTech said...

California Proposition 13 was what really destroyed education:

It basically gutted taxes that public schools (including K-12 and the UC and CSU systems) relied on contributing to a downward spiral over the last 30 years. But it keeps property taxes incredibly low and I can't imagine repealling it would be at all politically popular. All the soccer moms who complain about lack of funding in schools and try to fundraise for it then turn around and vote for more tax cuts and nothing that supports education.

I'm mostly a leftist, but as a governor I'd consider Schwarzenegger not all that bad. He was the last moderate republican on the national scene. I'm sure his non-viability as a presidential candidate contributed to that but in a nation with no real liberal wing anymore it was refreshing to have someone in the middle, who compromised with both parties, and accordingly pissed off everyone and had incredibly low approval ratings. Democrat in name Jerry Brown will do no better as the stakes of the game were set well ahead of time.

Token Straight Breeder said...

Apologies to all you serious people, but I'm feeling trivial tonight.

After Kissinger said that power was the best aphrodisiac, some woman (can't remember who) said that that might be the case for men, but for women the best aphrodisiac was enough sleep.

Obviously, none of the responsible, hardworking, powerful women of the House, Senate, Court, Professoriate, and Boardroom . . . are getting enough sleep.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Anthony Wiener has also systematically supported the denial of basic human rights of Palestinian women by the Israelis using US tax dollars. He has consistently been one of the most extreme backers of what is the last openly racist Western state in the world now that apartheid no longer exists in South Africa. But, I doubt there will be any discussion in the US about any the massive aid given to the Israelis that allows them to continue to deny Palestinian women their basic human rights.

Tenured Radical said...

J. Otto: I know so little about this man -- being a resident of Connecticut -- that I'm not sure what you mean, but the way you put it, it seems connected. Can you write back & add a link? If it ends up in spam because of the link, I check my spam file once or twice a day and I'll release it.

J. Otto Pohl said...

I don't know how to leave a link in comments. But, James left the url to Juan Cole's piece on Weiner's racism against Palestinians and other Arabs including Americans of Arab descent.

Here it is again:

Weiner for instance tried to get Columbia U. to fire Joseph Massad for criticising Israel. Other blogs such as Mondoweiss and Political Crumbs have also run posts on Weiner's extreme even by the standards of the US Congress support of Israeli apartheid against the Palestinians. Weiner is infamous for his extremist position in support of any and all Israeli actions.

-k- said...

A number of people are discussing women politician's involvement (or not) in sex scandals, some more intelligently than others.

Anyone interested in reading could start with this morning's Amanda Marcotte post in XX and work backwards from there, as she links to a few other pieces.

-k- said...

Oop- *politicians'

Anonymous said...

But "point-counterpoint" requires two things:

1) Editors that direct columnists; and

2) Columnists that can actually organize their thoughts enough to debate.

Krugman could do that, I;m certain; Douthat? Doubtful.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Douthat is fucken slime. Every single one of his columns boils down to "Bitches ain't shit, unless they're heterosexual, monogamous, stay-at-home mothers", and that's exactly why the NY Times hired him.

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