Thursday, January 26, 2012

Does This Picture Prove That Romney Is "Out of Touch" Or That Some Liberals Are Hypocrites?



First it made the rounds in social media.  Now it is plastered on the website for  MoveOn.org. It is a picture that seems to show Mitt Romney getting his shoes shined on an airport tarmac, while grinning happily. Next to that image, President Obama is shaking hands with someone in a uniform commonly worn by blue collar workers. The caption states: "Notice the difference?"

Liberals have promoted the picture, claiming that it demonstrates Mitt Romney is out of touch with Americans and that he exploits low-income individuals. By contrast, Obama is a man of the people, who shakes their hands rather than using them to shine his shoes. For several reasons, the picture says more about its liberal promoters than Mitt Romney.

FIRST, the picture is highly deceptive. Romney is not getting his shoes shined. Instead, he is getting scanned by a TSA agent before boarding a charter jet. The use of deceptive photography has no place in civil political discourse.

SECOND, despite the deceptive nature of the photo, some liberals insist upon defending its use. MoveOn for example has apologized for implying that the photo shows Romney getting his shoes shined. Nonetheless, the organization says that "[w]e still feel it goes a long way in showing Mitt Romney’s special circumstances in comparison with the 99%." It is difficult to understand how a misleading picture demonstrates anything. This is poor judgment by MoveOn and others who have made similar arguments.

THIRD, even if it were true that Romney was getting his shoes shined on a tarmac, this alone would not prove anything about his character.  Wealth alone does not make a person unsympathetic to poor folks.

FOURTH, using the photo to demonstrate Romney's inability to connect with the public hypocritically ignores similar activities by other politicians -- including President Obama. Many political candidates use private planes during campaign trips. Obama does so himself.

Obama boarding campaign plane

Planes allow candidates and their staff to make multiple stops and to conduct meetings while they are traveling. Indeed, there are many photographs on the Internet of Obama traveling and boarding his own private campaign jet. Yet these photographs have never led to liberal uproar. Granted, none of the pictures shows Obama getting a security screen while sitting in a chair, but this tiny distinction could not reasonably explain the disparate reactions to the two of them. Furthermore, Obama's campaign plane has luxurious seating. Most of the "99%" have never flown in such comfort. So, if Romney's exclusive experiences make it impossible for him to understand Americans, one could reach a similar conclusion about President Obama.

Interior of Obama's campaign plane

FINALLY, liberals' disparate and partisan reactions to wealth come across as a faux class critique. There are many wealthy liberals, including esteemed persons like John F. Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton. Many other presidents in US history were wealthy, and, after adjusting for inflation, some were wealthier than Romney. Some reports estimate that the Obamas hold $10 million in assets. That wealth far exceeds that of most Americans.

Furthermore, there are several ways in which all of us benefit from the work of poor laborers, many of whom earn less than persons who shine shoes for a living. Apple products, for example, are assembled in China by very poor and badly treated workers, including many young children. Restaurant staff are often underpaid and mistreated. And hotel housekeepers earn notoriously low wages. Yet, liberals eat in restaurants, stay in hotels, and use Apple products.  Indeed, Obama apparently uses Apple products, in spite of the fact that the company has admitted to using child labor. If getting a shoe shine is a sign of class indifference, so are these other activities that many liberals enjoy.

A Better Debate: Analyze Policy

Liberals are using the photograph to construct a narrative about Romney. They argue that his wealth makes it impossible for him to understand the struggle that Americans are facing during this economic downturn. Even if this argument were legitimate, the picture does not convey this point. For the various reasons stated above, the picture speaks more negatively about its liberal supporters than Romney.

Romney's policy positions are far more important than his personal wealth. Also, focusing on policy is much healthier and educational for public discourse. A few years ago, liberals complained that conservatives were running from real issues by probing things like Obama's religion, his minister's anger, his fondness for arugula and Whole Foods, and his international background. During his presidency, conservatives have said that he has inappropriately taken vacations while Americans are struggling economically.  Unfortunately, some liberals are replicating this negative behavior. Shame on them.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Washington Times: Possibly "Illiterate" Obama Used "Naked Thuggery" to "Rape" the Constitution Like A "Suicide Bomber"

The title of this post is not inspired by a satirical article in The Onion.  Instead, it describes an op-ed written by Charles Hurt, a columnist for the Washington Times, a conservative newspaper.  By publishing Hurt's latest column, "President Obama's Thuggery," the Washington Times proves that it does not care about contemporary journalistic ethics.

Recess Appointments: A Brief Constitutional Analysis

Hurt's column is a racist rant that pretends to offer an analysis of President Obama's decision to make three recess appointments last week. The Constitution allows presidents to make recess appointments when the Senate is not in session and is unable to provide advice and consent. There is a legitimate constitutional debate over the legality of the recess appointments. Obama made the appointments when the Senate was in session. Accordingly, one could argue that his actions violate the Constitution.

On the other hand, it is clear that the Senate was only "in session" in a technical sense. Rather than actually meeting to discuss business, the Senate instead held multiple pro forma sessions. These sessions were designed specifically to block Obama from using his constitutional authority to make recess appointments. Ironically, the Democrats started using this subversive (and highly immature) practice during the Bush administration for the same purpose.

Legal observers who support Obama's decision argue that if Congress refused through subterfuge to offer advice and consent, the president could make the appointments on his own. The Constitution does not discuss the meaning of recess or session. Furthermore, it is possible that the Supreme Court would not intervene in this dispute. The Court could conclude that the matter presents a "political question" suitable for resolution by Congress and the President.

Racial Tirade

Hurt only discusses the recess flap for one fleeting moment. He devotes most of his analysis listing atrocities and dangers associated with Obama administration. Although Hurt's analysis is riddled with distortions, this is not its worst quality. Instead, Hurt's article is despicable because he uses graphically racist language to discuss Obama. The list below documents Hurt's racist rant. Decide for yourselves whether you consider this respectful journalism.

  • Obama used the recess appointment "to utterly rape our most cherished Constitution"
  • "Mr. Obama is now installing his henchmen to Senate-confirmed positions. . . ."
  • Questioning whether anything could stop Obama "from simply 'recess appointing' thugs to the Supreme Court in order to uphold his socialist platform"
  • Considering whether Obama "is learned, yet illiterate, which is entirely possible considering the perniciousness of affirmative action at places like Harvard Law School"
  • "Obama has become our homegrown enemy. He shreds the Constitution with the unflinching calmness of a suicide bomber, uncaring that he is destroying the only system on Earth that could have given him the life and success he has enjoyed. . . ."

In the book The Color of Crime, Professor Katheryn Russell Brown of the University of Florida College of Law examines social stereotypes that subject black males to discrimination in the criminal justice system.  Russell says that collectively, these stereotypes construct individual black males as a criminalblackman (yes -- one word).

Russell's terminology accurately describes Hurt's treatment of Obama. Hurt depicts Obama as an illiterate rapist, thug, socialist, suicide bomber, domestic terrorist, and undeserving beneficiary of affirmative action.  That Hurt invokes racist imagery in his essay is beyond dispute. By publishing this rubbish that only pretends to offer pressing analysis, the Washington Times has discarded any lingering credibility that it has as a legitimate news source.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Greenwald Gets It Wrong on Progressives and War

Glenn Greenwald has been writing a series of articles that criticize the Obama administration for endorsing recent  legislation that codifies the indefinite detention of enemy combatants under certain circumstances. Greenwald has also given a lot of attention to Ron Paul's campaign. While Paul advances oppressive domestic policy proposals, he has condemned war and many unjust antiterrorism practices. Greenwald argues that if Paul received the GOP nomination, he would bring these issues into national discourse -- unlike Mitt Romney (challenging Obama).

Greenwald has also strongly criticized progressives for not giving heat to Obama regarding these issues, even though they condemned Bush for many of the same practices. Today, Greenwald continues his series of essays on this topic. He argues that liberals seek to "deprioritize" war and civil liberties in order to focus on social issues, for which the Democrats have a better record.  Greenwad also rejects the critical observation that upper-class white male progressives might perceive war and antiterrorism practices as central to their agendas because they do not experience subordination based on race, gender or class. Greenwald describes this as "grotesque accusatory innuendo." I disagree with Greenwald's latest commentary.

First, let me state that I have a tremendous amount of respect for Greenwald. He is consistent in his positions, unlike many commentators across the political spectrum. He is a tireless advocate for vital issues such as liberty and peace. His articles are also usually well documented and thorough. Nevertheless, his latest article falls short of this standard.

Distorting Progressive Critiques of the Left

First, Greenwald does not establish his main point -- that "Democratic partisans" seek to deprioritize war and civil liberties in order to protect President Obama. Admittedly, many Democrats have been silent about these issues since Obama's election, but they are not the folks that Greenwald targets. Instead, he goes after folks like Megan Carpentier and Katha Pollit. Carpentier and Pollitt, however, do not fit neatly within the "partisan Democratic" box in which Greenwald seeks to force them. Rather than taking on partisan Democrats who are loyal team players, Greenwald challenges commentators who have made progressive critiques of his arguments. This is an important dimension that Greenwald does not acknowledge.

When progressives (myself included) initially criticized Greenwald for writing positively about Paul, he defended his position by stating that while he agrees with Paul on some issues, he finds many of Paul's proposals unconscionable. Yet, Greenwald has failed to return the respect he has demanded. Leftist criticism of Greenwald and others who have discussed Paul in glowing terms does not seek to deprioritize war and antiterrorism practices. Instead, these commentators seek to highlight the deep problems related to Paul's domestic policies. If Greenwald can focus on the positive side of Paul without deprioritizing his negatives, then other progressives can focus on his negative policies without marginalizing war and antiterroism. Indeed, many of Paul's progressive critics concede that they agree with some of his positions.

Identity and Ideology

Greenwald also vehemently rejects the argument that some white male progressives might overlook Paul's negative positions due to their relative social privilege. These arguments offend Greenwald. I disagree with his reaction.  The intersection of identity and ideology are valid progressive concerns.

From an empirical standpoint, Paul has generated more support among white men than others. Most of his voters in Iowa, for example, were  young white male moderates and independents. He only received 14 percent of Republican votes.  Social patterns are entrenched within political affiliation and voting. Women, the poor and persons of color support liberal causes and candidates. Whites, upper-class and man tend to support conservative and issues and candidates.

Greenwald, however, dismisses any role for societal privilege in the recent progressive debates regarding war and social issues. But people who work on issues of racial discrimination, gender, sexuality and poverty have produced substantial research which demonstrates that public opinion on these issues tend to correlate with social status. Whites, for example, have a very positive view regarding the status of race relations; blacks and other people of color do not (see, e.g, here). This leads many of them to oppose policies designed to ameliorate racial inequality.

Greenwald imples that if identity and ideology were linked, then he would have the better argument because he is defending Muslims and persons of color from abuses by the US. Greenwald, however, refuses to engage in this type of reasoning.  Yet, by raising the point, he effectively does make the argument. Many of Paul's supporters have made similar claims in online debates. It strikes me that people of color are mere pawns in this reasoning.

Presumably, Greenwald and others would remain antiwar regardless of the predominant race of people affected by it. Describing Paul as a favored GOP candidate while neglecting any substantial discussion of the group's affected by his domestic policies reveals an acute blind spot. This does make anyone in this position an evil person.  Instead, it just acknowledges the complexity of human perception and intergroup understanding. Studies, for example, confirm that when people know one or more openly LGBT individuals they have a more positive view of gay rights.  The blind spots are removed by interaction. When people treat progressive identity-based arguments as offensive they risk chilling speech on these important matters.

Conclusion

I am glad that Greenwald has written so powerfully on antiwar and antiterrorism issues. By doing so, he has caused a lot of progressives to examine Paul, which has exposed the danger of many of his ideas. Leftist critiques of Paul and his progressive defenders do not deprioritize war and civil liberty. On the contrary, they promote a comprehensive justice that antiwar advocacy alone cannot accomplish.
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